Honestly, I was dreading writing this article, because there’s just so much to cover and search engine optimization for content is ever-changing. But I’m hopeful I found a simple way to guide you through everything you need to know about Google’s latest January search update in 2020, and how to rank well in Google now and forever.
Quick navigation table of contents:
- Why Google matters
- What’s the January Google update
- How to create trustworthy SEO content
- Creating SEO expertise
- Making quality SEO content
- How to create originality for SEO
- Tools for technical SEO and content
- What to read next
Why should you care about ranking on Google?
LOL. There are 3.5 billion searches per day on Google. And, that organic traffic is incredibly valuable to businesses. Organic leads often convert to your final funnel action at between 1-2%. If you’re in a B2B business, organic leads have a 14.6 close rate, while outbound leads have a 1.7% close rate.
In addition, search is most commonly the number one traffic driver to websites, beating out social media by more than 300%. Already back in 2017, 51 percent of all website traffic came from organic search, 10 percent came from paid search, 5 percent came from social, and 34 percent from all other sources.There are 3.5 billion searches per day on Google. Click To Tweet
That’s why when Core updates get released, the Internet tends to freak out.
Why should you care about Google’s latest update on January 13, 2020?
I mean, I don’t think you really to give it any more weight than any other update. We tend to fixate on our specific moment in time, and give it more weight than all the other years in history, but there are decades of years’ in the internet’s history at this point and so what feels like big swings – over the grand scheme of things – really are not.
Today, Google updates are like earthquakes: small ones happen all the time, and you know big ones happen every once in a while but they only hit hard in a relatively small area, while most areas end up being fine. All you can do to prepare is to make smart choices about how you operate daily and what area you chose to publish in.
According to Google, “Several times a year, we make significant, broad changes to our search algorithms and systems. We refer to these as “core updates.” They’re designed to ensure that overall, we’re delivering on our mission to present relevant and authoritative content to searchers. These core updates may also affect Google Discover.“
January 13, 2020. It rolled out mid-day on January 13th, and was pretty much done by January 16th.
Yes, they made the featured snippet one of the ten results on a page. They moved related questions to the top of page two in some instances. They introduced Favicons next to each website, and then rolled it back. And introduced up to four ads at the top of results.
Google Core updates now happen several times a year. For example, in 2018, Google says they made 3,234 updates to their algorithm.
You can find detailed information about each algorithm update here. And this is Google’s announcement from the most recent launch:
Based on research done by Search Engine Land and SEMRush, the most volatile categories outside of Sports and News, were Online communities, Games, Arts & Entertainments, and Finance. However, they noted that all categories saw major changes. Mordy Oberstein from RankRanger said, “the YMYL (your money, your life) niches got hit very hard.” So basically, lots of websites saw movement: not particularly helpful.
While the January 2020 core update seems a lot bigger than the September core update, and impacted a large number of web sites, nothing has changed in the sense that Google is still invested in surfacing quality results.
Search Engine Land suggests reading the search quality raters guidelines, and focusing on the EAT sections (EAT stand for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness).
Google recommends focusing on content, referring back to a 2011 Webmaster Central blog titled, “More guidance on building high-quality sites.” Which has served as an unofficial publisher’s north star as to what Google believes is “high-quality” content.
“Our site quality algorithms are aimed at helping people find “high-quality” sites by reducing the rankings of low-quality content.” says Google
So today, I’m going to take you through how to best meet the guidelines based on the specific questions Google suggests one could use to assess the “quality” of a page or article, to get your website to show up in Google.
Here’s how to rank after the latest Google search update in January 2020:
Let’s see what we can do to improve your SEO by breaking down each question Google poses. But before we get started, remember it’s a process. It really takes Google about three months to decide where to index a piece of content. And, as a result, it can take years to rank well.
We’ll address each in the exact order they asked, because that’s likely the order they prioritize it. That means you don’t need to be overwhelmed: you can basically use this post as a checklist, and work down it, until your site nails the mark in every aspect.
1. Would you trust the information presented in this article?
Google’s aim is to map the online world, and help us navigate it. When you go get a hair cut in the real world, you don’t go back if they mess it up. So, Google needs to know that the websites (hair stylists) they recommend are trustworthy, because that great experience will keep you coming back.
When considering which doctor to see, you can evaluate choices a few ways:
Is anyone you know recommending the stylist?
From an SEO standpoint that means you need to get links from sites with high Domain Authority (50+), because links are recommendations.
Is anyone at all recommending the stylist?
That means you need to get a lot of relevant links (and ideally from sites with a domain authority of 50+ or at the very least higher than your domain authority), especially as a new site just getting started. Ever since the Panda release in 2019, there has been chatter about links not mattering or worse, potentially hurting, but that’s simply not the case. Google still relies on links as a signal; it’s just that now the quality of links is critical. Google warned against links because people were gaming the system, getting tons of links from spam farms and irrelevant sites, and that was throwing off their algorithms in unhelpful ways for users. Let’s explore a few ways to thoughtfully get links, although the very best way always is to create incredible content people love.
Here are a few ways to get more links back to your website for SEO:
- Submit to all indexes: Submit your site to other indexes besides Google, such as Bing, Yahoo, and Ask.
- Join a podcast: Offer to make guest appearances on podcasts, by just sharing content you already have in blog posts. Or create a podcast with existing blog posts, and link back to your site from it.
- Pitch: Use Help A Reporter Out by making a strong pitch to reporters looking for help on articles they’re writing. Reporters submit requests for responses on specific topics, and industry experts can answer. If your answer is used, your name and business appears with it.
- Apply for awards: Submit your business for industry awards, because the awarder will often link to you, as will any press coverage if you win.
- Post jobs: Post jobs on Craigslist, Linkedin, Indeed, Reddit, and on Facebook job groups and other job boards.
- Set up GMB: If your business has a physical location set up Google My Business which allows your business to show up on Google Maps, the local section of Google Search, and the side Knowledge panel of Google Search. To reserve even more real estate you can create images featuring reviews, then geo-tag them, to show up in image searches. You can also set up local business listings on Bing and DuckDuckGo.
- Get similar domains: Buy other domains that have similar names or similar topical areas to yours and link to your own.
- Share photos: Submit photos to photo libraries such as Pexels.
- Add to directories: Submit to any relevant directories you can find such as Blogarama and Best of the Web.
- Add PDFs: Upload PDFs to other websites, for example on Scribd.
- Comment on blogs: Leave tips and feedback on other high-domain authority blogs in your space.
- Create bookmarks: Create social bookmarks on Pinterest and Flipboard
- Comment in forums: Share thoughts on forums such as on Reddit or Quora.
- Guest post: Create a lengthy, comprehensive blog post about a pillar topic, and then chunk pieces of it off (plus add a little new) to make guest posts on high domain sites.
- Do PR: Pay to publish a press release through Newswire.
- Get reviewed: Stand up profiles on sites that offer consumer reviews such as Yelp or G2Crowd.
- Get featured: Get your site added to Product Hunt or Betalist.
- Run promotions: Hold contests and giveaways tied closely to your product, and encourage sharing of them on blogs and social. For example, ask readers to fill in the blank, such as “basketball is like….” and offer a giftcard to one winner.
- Submit questions: Search for live Q&As or Twitter chats and submit questions.
- Quote experts: Include other people in your articles and drop them a note to let them know, asking if they’d be willing to share.
- Get social: Set up social media profiles and add links to your website from every social media profile you have – Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagan, Tiktok, Snapchat.
- Publish articles on your other sites: Post parts of your original content on LinkedIn and Medium, with a link back to the post.
- Share data and trends: Release data insights as an infographic and provide the graphic as well as embeddable code linking back to you so other sites can easily use it.
- Make images: Create beautiful graphics relevant to your topic area (see what images you keep wishing you could find for your own site, and make those!) and give them away for free, provided people link back to you.
- Run classified ads: Submit ads to local newspapers or magazines online.
- Make blogger friends: Reach out to blogs on Medium that write about similar topics, and ask if they’d be willing to link to your data posts.
- Share videos: Upload videos on Youtube, Vimeo, and Facebook. Youtube is now the most visible brand in Google’s search.
- Run awards: If you’re an established site, run blogger, website or company awards, where you encourage bloggers to send their readers to vote on your site, and give bloggers links to badges they can showcase on their sites forever, linking back to you.
- Spark controversy: Write a controversial blog post where you dispel something that’s a common misconception about your industry.
- Create a tool: Check out your competitors’ top linked pages on Ubersuggest and they’re likely to be tools. Make something that your audience will find handy like a spreadsheet template, an email signature file, a ppt deck template, a calculator, and give it away.
- Create stat roundup posts: Write a post about a topic that’s a round up of 30 related data points. People will link back to you to cite the stat if they want to use it in their articles.
- Internal linking: Obviously not an external link, but it’s important! Link to other pages on your site from each page. The first link you add to the page closest to the top, will receive the most value as it’ll get clicked the most. It’s easy to add links within blog posts by suggesting the next article someone can read.
How long has the stylist been in business?
Google respects websites that have been live for longer, because it indicates a commitment to their craft. So, go ahead and get your website and content pumping the minute you have an idea. And, ideally, don’t ever update your main domain.
Do they have regular business hours?
This shows that they take their job seriously. Similarly Google wants to see you take your website seriously. So publish consistently: the same days at the same times, every week. This helps Google know when they can come to your shop, and see what’s new (i.e. helps train Google to know when to scrape.)
When you publish blog posts more regularly you help Google understand when to visit your site to start to rank your new content, and you help readers know when to come back (getting views on blog posts right away is a strong quality signal). If you’re just getting started, I’d recommend two posts per week, on the same day, at the same time. If your content is more established, I’d recommend five posts per week. You can check Google search trends to figure out when the most searches are happening for your topical area. I’d suggest publishing about three hours ahead of that.
How many customers does the stylist have?
Success begets success. Would you want to go to the bakery with a line a block long or the one no one else is going into? Google will look at your current traffic, as a factor in whether they want to send more your way. That means you need to build traffic, without Google.
Do people pay the stylist or storm out?
If you’re newer, you’ll need to wow the socks off your first customers to get the positive vibes flywheel going. So go after small, long-tail keywords (250 searches a month and under) versus big head terms (more like 10,000 searches a month). Long-tail keywords are phrases made up of three to four specific keywords that your audience actually uses in their natural language patterns. For example, rather than “hair stylist”, you’d (if you’re cheap af like me) probably ask Google to find your “cheap hair stylist for women near me.”
According to SEOMoz, long-tail keywords account for around 70% of all search queries, and they’re easier to rank for because you’re matching very specific content with a very specific niche. Rather than the broad traffic you’d get from big generic terms, you’ll scoop up an audience that’s more likely to convert.
Do people who go see the stylist come back?
Make sure you’re sticking to a consistent publishing schedule. Also, ensure you have your content in visible, consistent places throughout your website:
- Link to your blog from your main head navigation.
- Have a section of your homepage dedicated to showing your latest content, thereby training people to come back.
- Put your fresh content in a place where your customers log in to your site.
You also have to put effort into distributing blog posts so that people come back to it again. The most automated, easy ways to do this are:
- Set up an RSS feed email newsletter people can subscribe to .
- Use a tool such as Zapier or IFTTT to automatically post new posts on your social media accounts.
You need to get eyeballs on your posts as soon as they go live, this helps Google understand they’re posts people like – so it, in turn, shows your posts higher on the results page.
Great job, now your haircut and content are trustworthy!
2. Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
There are two parts to this question. Let’s start with the “who are you”. Did you go to styling school? Do you share your passion for styling anywhere online that’s not just your website? Have you won awards for your styling? You get the point. You need to position yourself as an expert.
Here are a few ways to position yourself as a topical expert or enthusiast for better ranking:
Most importantly completely fill out your author bio.
- Rely on education: Get a degree in the topic. If you have one, include it in your bio
- Get a job: Have relevant work experience, and include it. If you don’t have any offer to volunteer for a friend or company, in order to get it.
- Work for the best: Work for companies that are seen as experts in the area or that have high domain authority, and mention those in your bio.
- Produce authoritative content: Teach online classes, write books which you sell online, and include those in your author bio.
- Be a Wikipedia editor: Regularly contribute to Wikipedia in your area of expertise.
- Get on Wikipedia: Make a Wikipedia entry for your business. This would only get you nofollow links but having the page itself is important.
- Be part of relevant communities: Join Facebook and Linkedin groups about the topic, and regularly comment and ask questions.
- Highlight specific skills: Set up a Linkedin profile and have people endorse you for the specific skills related to your area.
- Create social profiles: Include links to your social profiles in your author bio.
- Create a personal website: You can use Medium or Blogger, both of which are free, to publish thoughts about your topical area.
Up next, did you cover the topic “well”. Basically, are you washing the hair, cutting it, styling it, coloring it, and blow drying it. Or are you just going all Edward Scissorhands on us?
Here are a few ways to cover a topic well to rank in search engines like Google:
- Autocomplete: Type your keyword into Google and see what it autocompletes to. Consider including some of those words, and answer them.
- Related questions: See what “related questions” Google populates for your search. Consider including those as FAQ sections (use the Yoast plugin for WordPress to get the schema right), and answering them thoughtfully.
- Related searches: See what people also searches for at the bottom of the page in the “related searches” Google shows for your search, and consider answering those.
- Analyze intent: See what “intent” the top 10 results showing today have. Basically what’s the angle? Does Google seem to think people searching for the term are looking for “fast” help, or “affordable” solutions, or just “how to do” something? Be sure to answer accordingly.
- Analyze competition: See what makes the top 10 rankings so great. Are they a long list? Do they have a lot of imagery? Do they go in depth about pros and cons?
- Be one-of-a-kind: Based on all the research you just did, think about how you can create an original piece of content that’s more compelling and more helpful to anyone who has that question. Often times this means getting as specific as possible, contributing your own data and insights, and collecting top insights from across the web (link out to them).
3. Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
OK so, like Apple says, think different. Here are some simple ways to keep your content different:
- Track your keywords: Be sure you keep track of the specific keyword you want tied to each page (and use that text to link to it from other pages as anchor text), for all existing pages as well as future pages. You can easily do this in a spreadsheet (and use Apple F to find the topic you’re looking for).
- Delete redundant pages: It’s time to Marie Kondo your content! Use SEMRush or MarketMuse to find the keywords you already rank for, and which pages rank. Export your data into a .csv and search for any duplicates. Get rid of any redundancies, by deleting the lower trafficked post/page, and redirecting the url to the url of the post or page that’s the top performer.
- Delete redundant SEO: Be sure every page title is unique, and meta description is unique.
- Update the links: If your low-performing post is linked from any pages on your website, update the URL links, and email external sites linking to it, to get those old links updated too. At that time, it probably makes sense to also ensure the top article is optimized as well as possible for the keyword. Then, submit your updated URLs to Google Search Console or re-index them using a tool such as BulkAddURL. Here’s the latest training on GSC which is a great resource to check out. And, they just released new removals report functionality including temporary removals, outdated content removals, and SafeSearch filtering.
- Don’t chose overlapping keywords: Especially when you’re going after long-tail keywords, and being very detailed in your content your post might actually end up ranking for a few different keywords. So when you’re looking for new topics, try to not do a ton of posts that are variations on one specific term. For example you don’t need to do affordable hair stylist, cheap hair stylist, and less expensive hair stylist. You could wrap those up into one post, because otherwise, your multiple posts (answers on Google) make it hard to readers to chose which to select to engage with. And Google doesn’t want that – they want the best answer.
- Avoid pillar pages: “Pillar” pages have become popular, as they’re a way of organizing related topics into one main post, making it easier on the reader to navigate. I don’t particularly like pillar pages, as they send me off in all sorts of directions without providing much actionable value up-front, and I tend to get a bit lost. You wouldn’t say “go read this whole section of this book and then come back, within an initial book.” No one would recommend your book! I’d recommend, instead, designing your “category” pages in a way that provides an easily digestible structure. And creating individual posts and pages that are super comprehensive.
- Popular content: You will likely find that certain topics tend to do well with your audience, time and time again, with slightly fresh takes on them – for example a way to do something faster or more simply, or a totally new technique has emerged. My recommendation would be to add it into your existing content’s page if it’s doing well, update the launch date, and re-distribute it, rather than creating an entirely new page.
- Timely content: Seasonal content should be updated ahead of every season. For example, look at magazine covers such as Better Homes & Gardens where one month they’re highlighting “89 ways to love summer,” and another they showcasing “celebrate summer with easy parties.” It’s best to keep these types of timely content fresh before each recurrence: Recent events or hot topics: “NBA lockout”; Regularly recurring events: “NFL scores” “dancing with the stars” “exxon earnings”; Frequent updates: “best macbook” “subaru impreza reviews”
- Do interlink your topics though: Some folks suggest creating topic clusters by choosing the broad topics you want to rank for, and creating content based on specific keywords related to that topic that all link to each other to establish broader search engine authority. That’s one approach, but remember the key thing you’re trying to solve for is better helping search engines surface the right content quickly through your link structure. So, other options include 1. creating topic funnels: make a bofu piece, mofu piece, and tofu piece related to the same topic, 2. creating three related posts for every product page on your website, and 3. creating only bofu pieces related to your product pages.
- Google news topics: If you consistently post newsworthy content you should apply to Google News. To be included in news XML’s your reporting must be original, honest, cover the 5 Ws (who, what, when, where and why), and be well-structured. Google says to add a Google News sitemap plugin, and then apply to Google News here. Try to be very specific in your articles so that you have a fresh spin on your keyword every time.
Curious if your blog posts have all the content, search intent matching, and keyword placements needed to be successful? Get in touch with me for an analysis of any blog post for just $99.
I’ll score your post on my proven success template, and provide actionable ways for you to achieve a higher Google ranking. Plus, I’ll review it all with you in a half-hour call and answer any questions you have, so you can apply the method to every piece of content you create. You can probably even put the cost on your company card! Email email@example.com to get started.
4. Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
There are a few ways to make people feel comfortable buying from you:
- Use HTTPS: One of the best ways to indicate the security of your site is to secure it with HTTPs. Google I/O called for “HTTPS everywhere” on the web already a few years ago. Basically this means Google has officially stated that HTTPS is a necessity and a ranking signal. And, as an added bonus, HTTPs also increases users trust because they know it’s more secure. So, ask your hosting provider to migrate your site from HTTP to HTTPs. Or here’s a helpful guide to migrate your site to https without damaging your search engine optimization.
- Display security badges and credit card icons: Show that you offer legitimate ways to check out.
- Many purchase methods: Let people check out the way they’re most comfortable, so offer as many solutions as are applicable including Paypal, Amazon, Apple Pay, and Stripe.
- Display peer pressure: Show that similar people like the reader have purchased before, with testimonials, or showing a number of purchases.
- Display awards: Show any awards you’ve won.
- Publish your founding date: Be sure to include the date your business was started, if it was more than a year ago.
- Publicly list your domain ownership: This just adds an extra layer of transparency.
- Have a great return policy: Provide an extra layer of comfort by offering free returns for a limited period of time.
- Have an about page: Let visitors know your story so they can see your passion, and relate to you.
- Mobile-friendly design: People are buying stuff on the go: 79% of smartphone users have made a purchase online using their mobile device in the last 6 months! So you need to ensure they have a great experience and feel comfortable too. Google has said on record mobile-first rankings are now the status quo. But don’t use AMP.
5. Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
There are a few ways to improve your article editing:
- Spellcheck: Use spellcheck or a simple tool such as Grammarly to catch mistakes.
- Proof in pairs: Pair bloggers up to swap articles an add an editorial eye.
- Wait a day: Always re-read your stuff the next day, to give it one final pass before publishing.
- Hire an editor: Pay an editor to review every article.
- Create brand guidelines: Define the words, tone, and voice of your brand. Here are a few visual examples.
- Pick an editorial style-guide: The most common to select are AP Style or Chicago style. Select one and stick to it.
- Use headers: Help people navigate the article by giving each section an H2 header (your page title should be H1, so H2 is the next in the hierarchy).
- Use lists: Lists are very easy to read.
- Pick a case for each type of item: Stay consistent with your usage of sentence case and title case.
- Cite your stats: Link to credible sites such as Wikipedia to cite facts, or link to stats from any high-value domain.
- Be precise: Don’t include fluff words. For example, rather than saying “the tree branch dangled from side to side” just say “the tree branch dangled” in order to not be redundant.
- Make a check list: Similarly to how you “proof an email”, do the same thing with a blog post by creating a short checklist you run through every time.
- Use AI where it makes sense: Use AI to pull and combine the facts, but ensure an editor does the last pass.
6. Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
When it comes to generating topics, it’s best to start with genuine interests your audience has, and then select your keywords based on those interest (rather than doing vice versa).
- Start at the bottom of the funnel: Use questions your customers have about your product. For example “types of tools to do X”, “cost of X tools”, or “how to do X” because they capture people in their research phase. You can look through customer support tickets or frequently asked questions, to get ideas and expand on that content.
- Ask readers: When your readers subscribe to your blog, ask them what they’d like to see written about.
- Ask contributing bloggers: Let bloggers who are experts in their field suggest topics to you. When someone is into a hobby, they’re often on the cutting edge of trends. Something they know about, might not even have hit Google’s radar yet, but could in a few months, and you’ll be in a prime spot to pick up that traffic before any other site, having had the answer all long.
- Use AnswerthePublic: This helpful tool provides a whole bunch of questions people might be asking about any topical area.
- Make it personal and unique: Content gets better as it gets more personal, so bring an element of you to everything you do. Look at brands you like, and try to add that flavor to your content. Or bring together other things you really enjoy, into your vertical: for example, maybe combine cooking and music.
- Write what’s already working: Take your top converting Google Adwords keywords and write blog posts about them.
- Be a good neighbor: Especially when you’re going after top of funnel terms with large traffic, show Google you’re a good citizen of the online world, that helps their neighbor. Link to at least three external sites from within each blog post. Be selective in which sites you link to, selecting those with high domain authority (higher than your site’s whatever it is, and higher than 50 in general). You can use Ahrefs tool to check.
7. Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
A lot of advice online is written by freelance writers, who are paid to research topics and share tips, while having limited-to-no actual experience. Most of these folks end up pulling the core of their information from other sites, and putting a small twist on it. Google really dislikes that: “We particularly discourage pages where neither the images or the text are original content.”
So, with your content, go deep when it comes to including new insights and facts. As Judd Apatow says about writing stand up comedy in his MasterClass, “You have to come up with your own angle, or why do it. Because there are a lot of other standups already out there.”
- Audience data: Share insights about your audiences concerns, most common questions, biggest hopes, etc by running polls.
- User data: Share insights about the way users put your tools to use.
- Publicly available data: Do research on the number of searches made about similar products, or games won, or the weather, or number of books read (Goodreads) or written (Amazon), or Facebook followers.
- Results: Run A/B tests. Publish your business successes and failures, like advertising or email results.
- Tools your business has created: Look at the tools you’ve created for internal use and see if you can share them externally. This could be as simple as a spreadsheet template.
- Go local: Add a hyper-local geo-targeting element to your content, because local is king. You can also try using “near me” in your content to get folks looking for nearby things.
8. Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
Google is probably most looking at time spent on page as the metric for this question. While this is mostly about providing original thought-leadership content, let’s explore a few ways to add more value than any other page.
- Consider voice search: Many people ask questions when using voice assistants such as Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. Since 2015, Google has been surfacing a section on the first page of its results called “people also ask” which is a simple FAQ to help address this newer need. Make sure you’re covering the topics there, and using the proper schema mark up. Also, keep in mind that people type and speak very differently. Most queries via voice integration are longer than typed ones, and most people are asking questions rather than just one or two terms. Voice queries are 3x more likely to be locally driven than typed, so ensure you’re using local keywords where applicable.
- Create helpful takeaways: One way to stand out from other similar content is to ensure you have a section dedicated to next steps or actionable tips. You could even provide this as a printable check list.
- Bring humor: Making people laugh makes them feel good. Inject humor into your writing or imagery by adding jokes, snark, or easter eggs.
- Add dialogue: Bring other people’s opinions into your work, and do the laborious work of aggregating both sides of an argument.
- Add cliffhangers: What keeps you watching a TV show? It’s probably that you want to know what happens next. Create some intrigue throughout your content by posing unanswered questions that people will show loss aversion to missing out on.
- Make your design stand out: Similar to a book cover, the top portion of your page needs to catch people’s eyes and be memorable. Consider using uncommon colors, having a large clear title, and non-stock imagery.
- Think about the F shape design: Make it easy to digest your content by following design best practices, or intentionally breaking them. Whatever you do, create consistent formatting to help train people to keep scrolling and interacting.
- Original imagery: As visual search grows, the importance of imagery is huge. If your written content is similar to other sites’, images provide one huge opportunity to set your content apart. Using non-stock photos is important, because Google and Pinterest’s visual search are so advanced they nearly know precisely what’s in an image. (Some people are currently uploading clear keyword words onto image files, but that’s not going to be something Google will reward in the long run because it could compromise their results.) So you need to show a car when you’re talking about a car, not an apple. And if they see you’re using the same on as 100 other sites, well that’s not very original is it? Consider getting a photographer to shoot themed sets of photos, or hiring an illustrator or graphic designer to make original art. But first decide whether your content is a picture book or a regular book. Only invest big in imagery if it’s an opportunity that aligns with your specific topic – do people want to see images when they search for the topics you write about? Or can the information be conveyed most clearly in text. There’s a time for both!
- Use a table of contents: Help readers understand where you’re going right from the start. Create a table of contents with each of your headers (think of your H2s as chapters in a book), and include jump-links to each section in case someone wants to skip directly there.
9. How much quality control is done on content?
This is mostly about your bounce rate and next step conversion. Google wants to ensure you’re not a spam factory, producing more content than you can handle. Here are some ideas for QC-ing your website pages:
- Implement technical best practices: Keep page title length between 50–70 characters, and keep your meta descriptions to 160 characters. Take what’s working well from your Google ads and apply those learnings to your meta copy.
- Use keywords: Use your targeted keywords in your page title, meta description, H1, at least an H2, and in your first paragraph of text. It’s also help to use your keywords in your call to action sentences, as it reinforces to the reader you understand why they’re there. Put keywords your web page’s URL, while keeping the URL clean. And, make sure you create alt text for your images using the keyword, and name your image files using your keywords.
- Open links in new tabs: Let the reader continue to easily enjoy your content, while helpfully opening your links to other sites in another tab to consume afterwards.
- Make content readable: Don’t have more than 350 words in a row without a visual break such as some blank space or a header.
- Compress images: Ensure your pages load fast. Compress all your images. You can use simple re-sizers like this or a plugin.
- Decrease load time: Test your page load time using Google’s handy tool. Then address each problem, by implementing caching, cleaning up your database by deleting post revisions, and so on. WP Optimize provides a simple way to do this on WordPress.
- Make a sitemap: Create sitemap because it helps search engines index all of your all website pages. A sitemap is a collection of the website pages, where you show the organizational structure of your website.
- Use Google Analytics: Install Google Analytics track your website users’ time on page.
- De-index pages that aren’t search-worthy: Add a robots.txt file to Google Search Console if you want to hide certain pages that are more about timely promotions such as press releases or product updates.
- Use redirects: If you have to change a URL or your domain location, use 301 redirection. SEO Redirection is a handy plugin for this. Always redirect to as specific of matching content as you can. Once you get to the point of diminishing returns you can consider redirecting pages to a category or homepage.
- Create unique 404s: If there’s no other related page to direct traffic to, design 404 Error pages for pages that are no longer available. Try injecting some humor and compassion, so that the user has a good experience.
- Create internal linking: Link your web pages with your other website pages, using relevant anchor text (their keywords). Try to ensure every page on your site has at least three links back to it.
- Create Schema markup: Provide as much useful information as you can about your content, by presenting it in the formats Google prefers. Using schema you can add reviews, your contact number, and more. You can also create Schema markup for videos, to help surface clips that answer specific questions. However, if you don’t want the featured snippet spot because you’re worried about not getting clicks because it’s now at the top of page two sometimes, and you’re ranking for a snippet, you can add the &num=9 parameter on the end of your Google search to remove it and show where you would rank without it. If you’re ranking well, you can use the nosnippet tag on-page to stop Google from showing your featured snippet.
- Delete bad content: Deleting your most underperforming content (about 10-15% every quarter) can result in a gain of traffic. Consider factors such as: search impressions, search clicks, sessions, time on page, bounce rate, and conversions when evaluating which pages to purge. Always redirect the URLs.
- Revamp existing content: Revamping existing content is key too. Take your top 20% of trafficked posts and optimize those for conversion by adding visual calls-to-action and interlinking to other pages on your site. Take your top 20% on converting posts and optimize them for traffic. Be sure to update entire paragraphs of content, if necessary, and include a “last updated date” within the piece. If you’ve changed about 50% of the content, and the post was not getting a lot of traffic, consider entirely republishing the piece as a new piece, and deleting the old one (redirecting it to the new one).
- Use dates where applicable: Keep dates on pieces that are timely such as news and trends pieces (and keep those dates updated by updating the content every year). Remove dates from evergreen content’s snippets, and instead show updated dates.
- Add breadcrumbs: Breadcrumbs make navigation easier by helping people understand where they are on a website and how they got there. They also help people visit more pages of a website before they exit.
10. Does the article describe both sides of a story?
There are a few ways to present both sides of a story:
- Optimize for NLP: Create content with a high salience value. The higher salience value, the more important and relevant the search is for the subject of the page. For example, the word “morning” may be more important than “evening” if you’re talking about breakfast. Match the query that someone is asking with the specific page by using Google’s recommendation for BERT, which is essentially to write naturally. Use Google’s Natural Language API demo, to examine any text for free. And, create content with intentional sentiment. The sentiment is the undertone represented in the content. The sentiment, the same as emotion, can be positive, negative, and neutral. Google’s algorithm calculates the sentiment value not only for the entire subpage but for each subsection of the content.
- Quote experts and cite data: Bring in both sides of the story and opposing views by referencing relevant sites or experts on both sides. You can include quotes and link back to them. You could even do a series where you collaborate with another blogger, with each of you bringing one side to the table.
- Include pros and cons lists: A simple way to share both sides is to present information in lists.
- Play devil’s advocate: Think about what someone would say if they totally disagreed with your point of view.
- Question everything: Have a keen eye for confirmation bias (the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories) and the halo effect (the tendency for an impression created in one area to influence opinion in another area).
- Call out opinions: Make it clear that what you think is “what I think…”.
- Write inclusively: Try not to be sexist in your writing. If you’re talking about a couple, and one of their names gets searched more, go ahead and put it first in your title but also include the other person’s name. Also, be inclusive with your pronouns such as he/her/them/they, and by referring to couples as partners rather than just as husband and wife.
- Include diversity: In both your imagery and written content include people and people’s perspectives of all races, sexes, nationalities, backgrounds, ages, and orientations.
11. Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
Recognized authority mostly goes back to domain authority, which is something you’ll establish over time. At its core, this is just good SEO (following SEO best practices) combined with consistently running Google ads. Oh, did you forget Google was in the business of making money!? It all depends on your company size and audience, but for a company with $20 million+ in revenue in the b2b space you should probably be spending at least $10,000 on SEM per month, and $30,000 for B2c.
12. Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
OK mass-produced and outsourced, let’s start there:
- Gather your squad: Look, think about your website like Now That’s What I Call Music disc one. You don’t need every artist in the world, need a few strong contributing artists to give you their best stuff. So round up your squad of experts (who ideally each have their own websites and blogs in the same niche, and can promote their content there, too), and create author profiles for them.
- Invite distinguished guests: Don’t accept guest posts from just anyone. Think more Meghan Markle than Meghan next door. Basically, ensure your guests have contributed to other high domain-authority sites, and are viewed as experts, too.
- Use canonical tags: A canonical tag (“rel canonical”) is a way of telling search engines that a specific URL represents the master copy of a page. Using the canonical tag prevents problems caused by identical or “duplicate” content appearing on multiple URLs.
- Create videos for sharing: A simple way to share content on more than one site, is to make a video based on your written content. You can literally show the written content in the video, or you could make it more entertaining by sharing key takeaways with new imagery. Either way, you can easily distribute this in multiple places, without getting dinged for duplicate content.
- Set up international SEO correctly: Pick the right geolocations to create sits for. You can’t distinguish between regions. So a “Middle East” or “EU” version of your site isn’t possible. You can only target countries, and you should do so using human translation, not Google Translate. Adjust pricing currency, adapt to local laws, and update HTML to local languages.
- Properly address multinational content: Google has expanded their “support of the rel=”alternate” hreflang link element to handle content that is translated or provided for multiple geographic regions. The hreflang attribute can specify the language, optionally the country, and URLs of equivalent content. By specifying these alternate URLs, our goal is to be able to consolidate signals for these pages, and to serve the appropriate URL to users in search. Alternative URLs can be on the same site or on another domain.”
- Expand niche by niche: Rather than standing up a site sharing content about everything from cooking to outer space and Taylor Swift, select one topic to go really deep in. Once you’ve established some authority there, try expanding into something immediately adjacent.
You’re half way done! Reward yourself with a water break:
13. Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
OK so, this is Google double-clicking on the importance of question number five. Would you be proud if this article were the only thing on your tombstone? Give your post another read-through! Use bulleted lists and numbered lists. Stay consistent and on-brand. Add original data, and original imagery.
14. For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
So much of this is related to author expertise which we’ve already covered (education, peer pressure like reviews, etc), but there are a few more ways to make your site trustworthy. Join along as we visit the doctor, to find out how!
- Provide assurance: Just as you want your doctor to reiterate what they heard you say, your website should use the specific terms the user searched for.
- Show compassion: Similarly to the way you want to be sure your doctor cares about you as an individual human, show the reader you understand their needs by providing comprehensive information, and quickly.
- Show your care about their best interest: Cite data from multiple sources.
- First impressions matter: Don’t overwhelm your readers. Make them feel calm with clean design. Get rid of pop-ups, banner ads, “allow notifications” alerts, and obtrusive chat bots.
- Clearly mark user-generated-content: It’s really tempting to try to get a lot of user-generated content (asking people to add their own advice, images, etc to your site) because it’s more content, but users tend not to be experts. So, generally, I’d recommend against it unless you have a team dedicated to maintaining its quality. If you do allow users to submit help content, ensure you’ve clearly marked it as such. Google provides a great example of how to best do this with its help center and community help forum.
15. Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
Basically, are you The New Yorker or a blog in New York?
- Build over time: A lot of this comes back to taking the time to establish yourself, and knowing it’s a process. That’s why for a younger blog you need to start with lower volume keywords (100-1k) and work your way up- to create a rising tide lifts all boats impact. If you go after huge head-terms with 10,000 monthly volume from the start, your website won’t have the credibility to outrank competitors.
- Create a brand: There’s no point in being someone else. Don’t do what’s already been done. Consider how you can make your look and feel different from any other content in your niche. Do a competitor analysis by taking stock of each site’s imagery, tone, voice, and topics. Do the same thing for sites you love. Then combine what you like, into something new.
- Use your brand name everywhere: Try to secure social profiles using your exact brand name if you can. Check if the name of your business has already been registered. Use your brand name in your page title’s “Article keyword + supporting keyword | Your brand name”.
16. Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
Complete and comprehensive get at level of detail and length, as well as accessibility.
- Design for accessibility: You’ve got to be using Accessibility Principles as part of your website design best practices. Here are a few: 1. Use text alternatives to convey the purpose of an image, such as including a description of the data represented on charts, diagrams, and illustrations. 2. Include captions for multimedia such as text transcripts and captions for a radio interview. 3. Create distinguishable content is easy to see and hear, such as default foreground and background color combinations that provide sufficient contrast. And, allow users to pause, stop, or adjust the volume of audio that is played on a website.
- Go in-depth: Medium found that the ideal post takes 7 minutes to consume. And, according to CoSchedule the posts that have a top-3 Google ranking are on average 4,066 words long. Plus, in 2016, Backlinko analyzed over one million Google search results, and concluded was that the average number one result on Google was 1,890 words long. I’d suggest writing as many words as it takes to fully cover a topic, that can mean 1500+ words for more timely posts and 2500+ words for more evergreen content.
- Use the right schema to show comprehensiveness: Include structured markup where possible to show you’ve included FAQs or How-Tos. With the increasing usage and popularity of http://schema.org Google decided to focus their development on a single scheme. As of April 6, 2020, http://data-vocabulary.org markup will no longer be eligible for Google rich result features. So, use this free tool that pops out a snippet of code to paste on your page.
17. Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
Hello question eight, nice to see you again. Run surveys to add original data; analyze the data you have on-hand to provide insights; be the first to call out trends.
18. Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
- People want to better the lives of others (94%)
- People want the content to reflect their online identity (68%)
- People want to grow and nourish relationships (80%)
- People share because they like the feeling of having others comment on it and engage (81%)
- People want to spread the word about something that they believe in (84%)
So here are some ways to help people share and recommend your website:
- Create good content: Address peoples’ five needs from above by sharing a vision for the future, by giving helpful tips, by sharing emotions people can relate to.
- Include ways to save: Make it easy for readers to navigate back to their favorite content. Create ways they can favorite and save your content, or remind them to bookmark the url in their browser.
- Stop gating content: No one’s sharing your ebook once they download it. And the only thing they’re doing on your download page, is downloading it – not sharing it. Just publish all your downloadable content as web pages. And, if you want, install the tracking you need to bring those folks back, or entice them with an offer they might really enjoy, such as to subscribe to your newsletter to get your posts first. Email is tough, though because everyone’s doing it – so a subscription to your monthly mailed letter might be more appealing.
- Include ways to share your pages: Add the AddThis widget on your site to display easy share buttons for everything from LinkedIn to Pinterest, and by email. You can also include recap takeaways from your articles as embedded tweets (data bites work well).
19. Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
Drop the pop-up ads. Drop the chat bot. Drop half the banner and half the video ads (keep a few if you want because this helps Google have somewhere to run ads). Keep the exit pop-up if you want, as long as you only open it when the visitor has shown exit intent. Always disclose your native ads by saying they’re affiliate links or sponsored ads.
20. Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
By saying magazine, encyclopedia, or book, Google gives a lot of leeway around the type of content you chose to produce. You can create newsworthy content, evergreen nonfiction content, or in-depth fiction. Regardless, they’re looking for facts and quality, AGAIN. To hit this question, literally try publishing an article in a magazine or on one of the biggest name sites with journalistic authority (The New York Times, WSJ, etc) and see what feedback they give your paid entry. And, as mentioned before, contribute to Wikipedia, as well as cite it and other credible news sources, where applicable.
21. Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
Ugh, I’m sorry to do this to you but I fear it’s the only way you’ll remember because it’s a common phrase you already know and part of the shared cultural lexicon: size really does matter. Though, to be clear, Google’s John Muller has stated “word count is not a ranking factor.” The thing is: you need to give the searcher a complete answer. Don’t forget that the average content length of a Google first page result was already 1,890 words back in 2016.
22. Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
A good place to start is to run your site through SEO SiteCheckup or ScreamingFrog’s free scraper to find easy fixes. For example make sure you have SEO page titles and meta descriptions for every page. And, make sure you don’t have duplicate H1s or 404 error pages that are not redirected. Here’s a list to work through with some more advanced tactics:
Ensure imagery is high-quality and relevant:
Provide good context by making sure that your visual content is relevant to the page topic. Display images only where they add original value to the page. Whenever possible, place images near relevant text. Consider placing the most important image near the top of the page.
Create an image sitemap and use structured image data:
Add image captions as necessary, name your image file with your keyword, add alt text with your keyword, and host images so they load quickly. If you include structured data, Google Images can display your images as rich results, including a prominent badge, which gives users relevant information about your page. Also, you can give Google additional details about your images, and provide the URL of images they might not have otherwise discover by adding information to an image sitemap.
Match images to your page title and description:
Google Images automatically generates a title and snippet to best explain each result and how it relates to the user query, which they pull from the descriptive information in the title, and meta tags for each page. So follow Google’s title and snippet guidelines.
Breadcrumbs make it easy to navigate to the previous page and the home page, for both the user and Google’s crawlers: They help web crawlers understand the hierarchy and structure of the website; They provide a better user experience by showing users where they are on the website; They look good in search results which could increase click-throughs.
Use Google’s mobile-friendly test. Make speed optimization a priority, such as reducing FCP (the time from when the user requests the URL until the browser renders the first visible element in the URL) and FID (the time from when a user first interacts with your page – when they clicked a link, tapped on a button, and so on – to the time when the browser responds to that interaction) on mobile. Move your main content above the page-fold on mobile so that content is instantly accessible.
Add the meta viewport tag for mobile SEO:
The meta viewport tag gives the browser instructions on how to adjust the page’s dimensions and scaling to the width of the device. When the meta viewport element is absent, mobile browsers default to rendering the page at a desktop screen width (usually about 980px, but it can vary across devices).
Set up strong information architecture:
Your internal linking structure is how your PageRank gets distributed around your website. It’s really critical that you have great linking paths down into your products, between important products, and between categories and back up the hierarchy. This is also why many SEOs recommend putting your blog into a sub-folder and linking to it from your site header. You can have kind of a subfolder type of structure or a much flatter structure where everything is collapsed into the one level. Generally this is a trade off about whether it’s better to have shorter URLs than longer URLs, or to have your keyword there than not to have your keyword there (it’s better to have it!). Keep in mind, it’s easier for Google to read and understand the whole website if the structure isn’t too deep. Some questions you can ask to set up your architecture:
- How many levels of category and subcategory do you need?
- What do you do in your faceted navigation?
- How many levels deep do you go – two? Three?
- Do you allow all of those pages to be crawled and indexed?
- How do you link between things?
Get your URLs right:
Ensure your URL Structure matches your hierarchy. Use a dash operator in your URLs: dashes are preferred over underscores. Avoid using session ID, parameters, and any special characters other than the dash, when possible.
Follow linking best practices:
Interlink among pages with proper anchor text. Ensure broken links are redirected to topically relevant content. If broken links not redirected remove them. Create a custom 404 page for all deleted content. Use canonical tags for redirection and non-indexing to indicate which pages take priority.
When serving up collections of results use pagination with the option to load more. Number each page of results with a different number in both its page title and meta to make it unique content.
Add a Favicon:
This is the little brand symbol that may or may not appear next to your site name in search results. Google rolled out showing them, and now has removed them and is testing it. The feedback was that they made the interface too confusing, as everything appeared more similar to ads. Here’s how to upload one anyway.
Improve your UX design for SEO:
Have only one H1 on each page. Use links and buttons so that link juice flows from top pages to the ones at the bottom, and ensure they have copy using the keyword. Make your UX design follow the F pattern readers use to digest a page. Have enough copy on the page to fully answer the users search. For a product page I’d recommend at least 350-500 words, maybe more (test what it takes your audience to convert and you might find incredibly lengthy copy works). Just don’t include any fluff content!
Create a high-quality blog:
A blog is a great way to create content tied to your products, so that you can ensure as you launch new product pages you’re getting links back to them, rather than releasing what looks like non-important, stand-alone pages.
XML Sitemaps are important because they make it easier for Google to find your site’s pages. Keep in mind Google ranks web pages not just websites. Since there’s no downside to having an XML Sitemap and having one can improve your SEO, it’s a best practice.
Use Robots.txt to block pages:
Keep your Robots. txt file updated as you add pages, files or directories that you don’t want indexed by search engines or accessed by users. This also keeps your website more secure.
Minimize page size and loading time:
Minimize HTTP requests, minify CSS, JS, and CSS files, place scripts outside of the HTML document, compress images to reduce file sizes and use lazy load, upgrade your hosting, use a caching solution, enable a CDN, and reduce plugin use to decrease server strain.
Use W3C validated code:
W3C compliance basically means that the HTML and CSS code that a website is built with is fully compliant with the standards set by the World Wide Web Consortium. Validating your website matters because there are code errors that can cause styling issues from a web design perspective which also cause a Google crawler not to render.
23. Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
The same way you’d clean your house before a guest came, you need to make your website feel like a welcoming home. Even that one closet you’ve been procrastinating organizing. Otherwise, visitors might come but they’ll complain the whole time, and probably never come back. Here’s how to make your website the best Airbnb:
Get rid of any low-quality content:
Pick up your clothes and trash: These parts of a website can impact the whole site’s rankings. Remove low-quality pages, improve the content of individual shallow pages, or move low quality pages to a different domain to help the rankings of your higher-quality content.
Be home when your guest knocks, and answer the door right away: Speed, and especially mobile speed, will continue to be an increasing factor in ranking.
Have great design:
Make sure the bed isn’t next to the toilet: Use lots of whitespace (can be any color), which refers to the blank areas in between the design elements, such as spacing between lines or columns of text, the space around each of the visuals, or the margins around the page. It gives any page a spacious, well-balanced feel. Put a shelf in the bathroom so they can easily lay their stuff out: Expand forms so that they take up more room on the page, making them more inviting to interact with. Give them a tour of the house: Use micro-interactions that respond to the users’ actions in real time, to guide them through any next-step conversion process.
Provide constant support:
Be a great host: Make your phone number, email address and any other contact information prominent. Plus, provide answers to frequently asked questions in a prominent place, available anytime.
Helpful search engine optimization tools:
If you don’t use these tools already, check them out to see if they fit well in your SEO-stack.
- Google Keyword Planner: Get keyword suggestions and see potential volume.
- Keyword.io: Get keyword ideas specific to channels including ebay, Amazon, Wikipedia, Youtube, and more.
- Answer the Public: Find frequently asked questions about any topic, to better match real human queries with your keywords.
- Ubersuggest: See competitors top trafficked pages.
- Google Search Console: Measure your site’s search traffic and performance, and fix issues by adding robots.txt and sitemap files.
- Buzzsumo: See what content you make and your competitors make that is most shared on social media channels. Find influencers related to particular topics.
- Ahrefs: Check a website’s authority for free.
- Alexa: A site audit tool by Amazon that can help optimize for voice search.
- Semrush: Track keyword rankings.
- WP Optimize: Clean your database, compress your images, and cache your site if you’re on WordPress.
- Yoast: Get feedback on how to improve your content for specific keywords, and use built-in Schema markup for FAQs and How-Tos.
- Screaming Frog: Crawl websites’ URLs to analyze and audit technical and onsite SEO.
Make your changes for Google’s latest update:
In short, your best bet for ranking content is creating a website that’s all about quality. If you look at the ratio of questions about quality, it’s about 40%.
Now you’re equipped to get your website showing up in Google.
Up next, send a $7 tip to my Venmo jar: @megsterr.
Or continue to improve your marketing with retargeting audience ideas.
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