Ever since I performed my first SEO audit back in 2019, I have wanted to go to BrightonSEO, thé biggest conference for search marketers. Last week, the moment was finally there, and what an experience it was. Below you can find the key takeaways from my 5 favorite tracks.
1) SEO Quality Assurance
Goodbye SEO f*ck ups! Learn to set an SEO Quality Assurance Framework
One of the talks I looked forward to the most was the one of Aleyda Solis, who I have been following for a while now and whose newsletter I highly recommend to everyone interested in SEO. I can tell you: her presentation didn’t disappoint either.
As everyone working in SEO knows, SEO execution mistakes happen way too often. Because of that, too much time is spent on fixing issues rather than building, which is how we actually get better results. However, rather than catching these errors faster, we should strive to prevent them from happening in the first place.
This is where Aleyda’s SEO Quality Assurance Framework comes in. Essentially, the framework consists of 3 main parts:
- Education: to prevent SEO mistakes
- Validation: to avoid launching SEO errors
- Monitoring: to catch SEO incidents fast
Though only 1/3 of SEO specialists does this, education should be a part of every SEO project. By creating a better mutual understanding, you can create realistic expectations, obtain more involvement and minimize issues. It is a good idea to adapt the content of your trainings to the audience you are addressing and to make it as concrete as possible by including examples. To further support your client, you can also have periodic SEO Q&As, and develop a company SEO wiki referring to important best practices, resources & templates. Furthermore, it is recommended to always include the ‘WHY’ of each recommendation in your SEO audit and to show how it can impact their business.
Validation should not only happen before or after a release, but on an ongoing basis. To guide developers & webmasters, Aleyda, therefore, suggests having configuration checklists in place for common workflows. These checklists should include the checks that need to happen before release. However, they are only valuable if they are actually used, which is why you should communicate about them on a regular basis to make sure you are aligned.
Additionally, you should set a release validation workflow with your developers in which you schedule multiple website crawls before launching, after launching ánd on an ongoing basis. Comparing before and after crawls will allow you to identify major changes more easily. Ideally, this workflow should also include instructions on what to do in case certain errors arise. This can range from fixing it within the same day to reversing the implementation.
The final step in the framework is monitoring to catch errors happening from time to time. There are several things you should include when monitoring the SEO of a brand:
- Spam & manual actions
- Mentions & backlinks
- Search trends changes
- Organic search traffic & conversions
- Web rankings & SERPs CTR
- Content optimization
- Crawlability & indexability issues
For this last step, there are several tools available:
- Real-time monitoring tools like ContentKing or LittleWarden (incl. alerts)
- Schedule daily Screaming Frog crawls that export to Google Sheets (incl. alerts)
- Set alerts for meaningful ranking changes in your rank tracker
- Set custom insights notifications for organic search visits and transactions decrease in GA4
- Use a combination of Google Trends and Glimpse to catch changes in search behavior
- Use Buzzsumo to get alerts for new mentions and backlinks
Finally, it is a good idea to use the issues identified in the monitoring phase to update your education and validation processes.
Brand vs. SEO: How to win allies and influence brand guardians
Becky Simms taught us some of her tricks to improve communication with her clients and to get her strategies accepted. All of them are backed up by actual behavioral science and nudge theory:
1) Education is key as you want to reach a common level of understanding on both sides. This can take the form of an SEO 101 training tackling key concepts of SEO like keywords, search intent, personas, … Becky gave us several tips when it comes to education:
- Use the identifiable person effect: be as specific as possible when defining a persona. Rather than focusing on search volume alone, we have to demonstrate the user journey for an actual person.
- Match your language to the person you are speaking to.
- Deployment speed: Explain that the real impact comes from actual implementation and that the deployment speed is crucial.
- Brand 101 training: let your client also educate you on what is important for their brand. What are the brand guidelines? What do they care about?
- Realize that SEO might not be the (only) answer. Make sure to think in terms of what is best for the business.
2) Mind reading: The second part is all about being able to spot issues before they actually become an issue:
- Use the availability bias: Keep providing continuous training on both sides to keep the knowledge fresh in everyone’s head and to make sure new team members are up to date too.
- Use the endowment effect: Make SEO part of the brand strategy and empower the brand owner to have control. After all, ownership makes people care more.
3) Presenting your case: When presenting your SEO strategy, there are some things you want to keep in mind as well:
- Always present in a cool and calm way
- Be aware of confirmation bias. Rather than just looking for information that backs up what we wanted to do from the start, try to look at data from different angles.
- Herding effect: People like doing what others are doing and your clients are no different. In other words, show your client what competitors are doing to make your case.
- Take the brand owner on a journey and get them excited by creating FOMO and explaining to them what they will miss out on if they don’t apply the strategy.
- Opportunity cost neglect effect: People rapidly forget what they miss out on when they make a decision. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep repeating the opportunity cost to your clients.
- Decision paralysis effect: Rather than overloading your client with options, it is better to offer them one route they can follow easily.
4) The art of compromise: You can’t always get what you want and sometimes it’s all about balance. Let’s say your client doesn’t want to include specific keywords in their metadata even though the search volume is there. Although it’s not ideal, you can still think of other places where you can use the undesired keyword, such as anchor text, alt tags, outreach content, …
5) Impact: Finally, don’t be afraid to show your SEO successes and celebrate them.
2) On-site content
E-A-T: Have we been looking at it all backward?
According to Edward Ziubrzynski, we shouldn’t strive for more expertise and authority in the hope of improving trust. Instead, we should take a “Trust” first approach and use trust to show that we have authority and expertise.
There are different factors that can help with this:
- Onsite Content: Your content should be written by actual experts and updated on a regular basis so that it can still be trusted.
- Onsite User Reviews: Try to acquire reviews from your customers continuously and use schema.org to help highlight your ratings in the SERPs.
- Off-site Reviews: Just as important as on-site reviews are high-quality off-site reviews. You want to make sure your perception across the internet is positive.
- Disavow links from websites you don’t want to be associated with.
How to incorporate machine learning in your internal linking audit
Another brilliant talk was given by Lazarina Stoy, who explained to us why internal linking audits are crucial and how we can incorporate machine learning in them.
Did you know, for example, that more than 80% of the internal links opportunities are missed? This is a very high number when you know that links are thé vessel to put your content forward. It is also something that we can easily control ourselves as opposed to many other SEO factors. Moreover, it helps to establish topic authority, boost money-making pages, build subtopic relationships and more!
Ideally, an internal linking audit should therefore contain the following elements:
- Link frequency: How many links does every page receive?
- Link quality: Where are the links coming from?
- Anchor text: Is the anchor text relevant or are you using something like “read more” or “click here”?
- Hierarchy: What are the top pages? What is the crawl depth? Presence of topics, tags, and categories?
- Errors: Broken links, nofollow tags, …
Though you can already achieve a lot with Screaming Frog and Google Data Studio, we can use machine learning to help us. A few examples include:
- Classifying anchor text
- Identifying entities in a text
- Assessing entity relationships using knowledge graphs
- Topic modeling: Find topics in a collection of documents, with the assumption that one document can have multiple topics
- Fuzzy matching: A way of calculating the similarity between two strings
- Finding where to link to
In the end, what you want to include in your deliverable is:
- An overview of new link opportunities
- Your analysis
- Priorities & timeline
- Topic models: create custom dimensions for them in Google Analytics and Google Search Console
For more details, I strongly recommend you to read her latest blog post on ‘How to incorporate machine learning in your internal linking audit‘.
How to do comprehensive research for your topic cluster
Chima Mmeje taught us her tips and tricks for creating topic clusters. Topic clusters are “a group of content that revolves around a central topic and uses a pillar-cluster approach to link between related content pieces in the cluster”.
Topic clusters have many advantages for SEO:
- Improve your internal linking structure
- Help you in becoming an authority: you want people to think about you when they think about a certain topic
- Show the connection between related content
- Guide readers through your content funnel
- Increase the time on site (=dwell time) and number of pages visited
- Close content gaps
- Create repurposing opportunities
The research process for topic clusters contains multiple steps:
- Start by choosing a topic for which you want to become an authority.
- Do audience research so that you can create content pieces for each audience.
- Conduct a content audit. Identify which content can be merged, updated, removed, …
- Turn to your audience: Directly ask your audience what questions they have, what information they are looking for, …
- Do a keyword gap analysis: Use tools like SEMrush, Answer The Public, and Buzzsumo to identify keyword gaps and trending topics that you are not addressing yet.
- Go to social media to figure out what others are saying. Find something that allows you to show authority and pick a side.
- Trim and remove keywords that are irrelevant, don’t align with your brand image, …
- Match your keywords to the different stages in your buyers’ journey and adapt your call-to-action per stage
- Middle of the funnel: Case studies, webinars, video testimonials, product pages for specific audiences
- Bottom of the funnel: At this stage, you want to offer content that allows you to capture email addresses. This stage is all about free ebooks & guides, free stuff, free trials, competitor alternative pages, discounts & special offers, pricing pages, …
- Post-purchase: Create content to take care of your customers and build loyalty.
Finally, Chima gave us the advice to create the cluster pages before the pillar page. We also need to start thinking beyond keywords and try to identify how we can help your audience instead.
3) Site performance
How to improve Core Web Vitals on a WordPress website
Louise Towler walked us through no less than 17 things we can implement to improve the Core Web Vitals on a WordPress website. Though the talk focused on WordPress, most of these improvements can also be applied to other CMS systems:
- Optimize your hosting. Examples of good hosting partners are WP Engine, Kinsta, SiteGround.
- Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN), such as Cloudflare.
- Use WordPress performance plugins, such as Perfmatters or WP Rocket. Whatever the tool you choose, make sure it offers a lot of flexibility and has good documentation.
- Load fonts locally and evaluate whether you need all the fonts included in your theme.
- Specify the dimensions of your images. In other words, don’t forget to specify the width and the height of your images.
- Convert your images to a WebP format. This can be achieved using the WebP Express Plugin, Cloudflare, …
- Preloading banner images and images above the fold.
- Use lazy loading for images below the fold. This means that they will only be loaded when a user scrolls down the page. This can be done with one of the performance plugins mentioned above.
- Embed videos on your page and use a poster attribute.
- Audit your 3rd-party tracking and remove all the unnecessary tracking.
- Fix 4xx and 5xx errors
- Use Brotli compression instead of GZIP compression. For this, you should turn to Cloudflare or your hosting provider.
- Implement font-display:swap when your fonts are causing layout shifts.
- Use CSS transform:translate to prevent Google from seeing the animations on your page as a layout shift.
Why security is the new go-faster stripe
We already know that both page speed and security are ranking factors for Google. On top of that, we also want to avoid users from seeing “your connection is not private” errors when trying to visit your website. However, did you know that security can actually have an impact on speed? That is what Crystal Carter discussed in her talk. Good to know is that, at its core, security is all about offering consistency, compatibility, and reducing friction.
There are several things that are needed for a consistent journey that also have an impact on speed:
- Best quality SSL: This can have a significant impact on DNS lookup time, server connection and server response time
- Update internal links: Do not link to HTTP links to improve the loading speed
The second aspect is compatibility, which can be improved by having the following in place:
- Enable TLS 1.3 Protocol: This is faster than the older TLS 1.2 Protocol. High authority sites use it more, so using it as well will improve connectivity to these sites.
- Upgrade to HTTP 3
- Use HSTS headers: Like this redirects from HTTP to HTTPS are no longer needed
Luckily, there are also several tools that can help you and your developers with improving the security of your website:
- SSL Shopper: Lets you check for bad chains
- SSL Labs Test
- Chrome Dev Tools: In the networks tabs, you can check the protocol (either h2 or h3) and schemes.
- HSTS Preload Tester: Test the implementation of your HSTS header
- Security Headers Test: Test which security headers are implemented on your website
- Screaming Frog Custom Search & Reports: Look for HTTP URLs in your reports
On Friday morning, I attended a talk that was not only about SEO, but more about creativity. Nevertheless, I gained some valuable insights.
How they teach you to be creative at Google
Max Hoppy, ex-Googler, pointed out that the busier our brain is, the harder it is for us to be creative. This explains why many of us have our best ideas while exercising, in the shower, falling asleep, … However, there are several ways we can stimulate our creativity while being awake. It all starts with the 3 R’s: ‘Related worlds’, ‘Revolution’, and ‘Random links’.
When using the ‘Related Worlds‘ method, you start by identifying the essence of a challenge and then ask yourself if similar challenges have been solved in other environments. This is exactly what Speedo did when developing its swimsuit using technology that replicated the structure of shark skin.
The second technique is ‘Revolution‘, in which you list all the rules around a challenge, pick one and break it. A beautiful example is the front desks of KPMG. Instead of offering the Financial Times, as you would expect, they are offering magazines with comics.
The idea of the final method, ‘Random Links‘, is to pick a completely random object and try to find a connection between this concept and your challenge. This technique was used by Abt, a company selling electronics such as washing machines. They tried to find a link with ‘Las Vegas’. From there, they came up with the idea to put a water fountain in their store. Like this, they were able to boost their in-store experience and compete with companies focusing on price and convenience instead.
Finally, Max reminded us that there are 2 types of creative thinking. First, there is ‘expansive thinking’, in which you come up with as many new ideas as possible. Next to that, there is ‘reductive thinking’ in which you start to cut in your ideas. It is crucial that we don’t mix these two though so that we don’t limit ourselves too much in the first phase.
The uncomfortable truth about link building and what you can do about it…
Aaran Rudman-Hawkins revealed why he believes in a content-first approach and showed us some impressive results from clients where he applied this. Taking this approach means that we put our energy into creating valuable content instead of wasting too many hours on link building.
Contrary to popular belief, most websites actually receive very few links from top-tier websites. Though we still see a significant impact from our own link-building campaigns, I agree that we should keep thinking critically. So before starting a new link-building initiative, we should analyze the link profile of our competitors and how many “natural” links we are already acquiring. It definitely doesn’t make sense to spend thousands of euros on trying to acquire one link when those resources could be spent on creating high-quality content.
How to create genuinely compelling content for your customers
According to Corrie Jones, creating compelling content requires an understanding of three things: Psychology, Data, and Creativity.
Concretely, this means that rather than being “pushy”, we should create content that customers actually want to interact with. Good examples of this are a ‘pet parent bingo’ post from a pet food brand, a popular DJ replying to comments with dedicated TikTok videos, … As social media managers are often in daily contact with your end customers, they have access to very valuable information. That is why it is also a good idea to include them in decision-making.
Lastly, to make your ad stand out, it can be rewarding to incorporate trending topics into your content. Think about the popular game Wordle or the series ‘Bridgerton’, for example. Corrie also gave us the example of the ‘Gender Pay Gap Bot’, which responded to companies’ Twitter updates on International Womens’ Day.
5) Content marketing
Why scaling great content is bloody hard
Joshua Hardwick shared with us how he managed to scale content at Ahrefs, one of the biggest resources when it comes to SEO. Everything starts with what he calls the 3 S’s:
- Systemize: What you’ll do
- Standardize: How you’ll do it
- Streamline: How you’ll do it better
Systemize. Before you start writing a text or instruct someone else to write one for you, make sure you have a clear outline for your text. Based on this outline, a first draft can then be created. It is a good idea to also let someone else give feedback on your content before uploading the content to your website. Joshua strongly recommends working with a peer review system for this. When creating a lot of content, it is also recommended to keep track of the status of each piece of content using tools like Notion or Asana.
Standardize. In order to create consistent content, you need SOPs or Standard Operating Procedures. This is a document that lines out the steps your writers have to take when creating a new piece of content.
How to go viral on a budget
Alex Hickson explained how he managed to make his ‘2020 scent candle’ go viral with a very limited budget. For those interested: this is a candle existing out of 4 layers of 2020-scented fragrant layers: banana bread, hand sanitizer, DIY ‘musk’ and Joe Exotic from ‘Tiger King’.
Step 1: Ty your product to a trend in the niche you want to target. Social media can be a very helpful tool to identify both short and long-term trends, but you can also draw inspiration from the products PR of more established brands.
Step 2: Before investing time in it, it is a good idea to validate your trend. For this, you can use tools like Buzzsumo, Google Trends, Exploding Topics, Answer the public, …
Step 3: After that, identify your audience. This includes thinking about product positioning, brand values, price setting, channels to target, … To understand who your actual customers are, you can use Analytics tools such as Google Analytics or Google Search Console. The results may surprise you!
Step 4: Time to pitch your idea. Well-crafted pitch takes time and should include the following:
- Subject line: Include a call-to-action and key hooks the journalist can work with
- Opener: Include WHAT the story is about, WHY it is on-trend and WHERE the product can be bought
- Primary hook: Explain your key feature in a few sentences and include contextual imagery.
- Secondary hooks: Complete your story by answering the remaining questions and link to your website so that people can discover your product.
- Quote: This is where you can give a personal touch to your pitch.
Do keep your story short and digestible if you want to increase the likelihood of being picked up by journalists.
Step 5: The final step is to actually find journalists interested in your story. For this, you can reach out to the big publishers directly, but you can also contact individual journalists using Twitter or a combination of Hunter. The latter allows you to discover the patterns used in the email addresses of companies. If you have the full name of the person whose email address you are looking for, this tool should help find out their mail address. Before sending, you can test the email address using Mailtester.
Stay tuned for the key takeaways of my colleague Valentine next week.
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