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Most SEO professionals know the ins and outs of the trade – that content is king, that technical SEO optimization is a must, and that you can’t get serious rank traction without quality backlinks. The thing is, that succeeding as an SEO agency is not just about knowing SEO, it’s about understanding how to manage the client relationship, a central part of which is knowing the right way to prepare SEO reports.
Before we can set out to understand the “how to report” question, we need to ask a much more basic question: what do we hope to achieve by sending our clients SEO reports? Well, the popular (and insufficient) answer is that we send out reports to clients to let them know what we’ve done and how their SEO campaign is performing, i.e., to keep them up to ****.
The problem is, if we’re just telling our customers about what we’re doing and showing them a bunch of data, that doesn’t necessarily show the value of the services we’re providing.
SEO Reports Need to Reflect
Your Agreed Upon Goals
In order to demonstrate the tangible value of the SEO services we provide to our clients, we need to first clarify what they would like to achieve with their online presence. Most likely, savvy customers will be able to easily spell that out, whereas others will need more information and some guidance before they can decide on their specific goals. Once the goals have been defined, the next step is to agree upon certain metrics that will signal that we’ve successfully achieved their goals.
Setting agreed upon goals is a crucial part of meeting and exceeding your clients’ expectations. My father, who worked for years as a successful financial consultant, loves to use the following metaphor to drive home the importance of clarifying expectations with everyone you do business with:
“Imagine you’re holding two pieces of paper”, he says. “One piece of paper represents what you’re aiming to achieve, and the other one represents your client’s goals. The more the papers overlap, i.e., the more your vision of what ‘success’ will look like converge, the greater the chances that your client will be satisfied with your performance. On the other hand, the less the papers overlap, and the more your expectations are divergent, you may think you hit it out of the park, but from the client’s point of view, you didn’t even reach first base.”
With this in mind, you need to engage your client right from the outset in order to find out what their goals are. You may need to help them to determine concrete targets, and you can do so by offering them some examples of goals such as:
- Increasing leads
- Growing online sales
- Building up free trial sign ups
- Driving phone calls
- Boosting traffic to the website
- Expanding brand awareness
Once you have the client’s buy-in into the goals, your reports can focus on which goals were achieved and what progress was obtained towards achieving those goals yet to be obtained.
SEO Reports Need to Focus on the Big Picture
After the goals have been set, we can now proceed to the central topic at hand and that is how to report on our results. The general rule
As the old saying goes, “the devil is the details.” Well, aside from the idiom’s usual meaning, it could be said that providing your customers with too many details may be the work of the devil…
Including tables with hundreds, or even “just” dozens, of keyword rankings in your reports just because your SEO program tracks them, is not a good practice. The client is not going to hunker down over a thick sub sandwich and a cold beer at the end of a hard work day to excitedly look through all those reams of data.
That’s why every SEOer has to have a clear dichotomy in their head between the detail-laden reports which serve them to analyze and monitor keyword rank and those top-level reports which are built to communicate and show value to clients.
Providing data in tabular form is not taboo by any sense, but remember that you should be providing a report that focuses on goal achievement, and thus, since you cannot concentrate simultaneously on optimizing for 200 keywords (not to mention 2,000 keywords), don’t include voluminous tables, they don’t impress anyone. They just turn people off from reading your reports.
So a table of 10-30 keywords accompanied by a short summary of the progress made is totally legit, but remember, you’re reporting, not doing a data dump…
No Boilerplate Reports, Pleeeeease
It’s a great idea to set up informal templates that you’ll use to create SEO reports for your clients, but it’s important to be aware of the different knowledge levels your clients may have, as well as their degree of sophistication and even attention spans. One size (and one report format) does not fit all. Just like different websites need slightly different SEO strategies, so too you need to tweak your reporting template to match the client’s needs.
Many people, particularly entrepreneurs with small, local businesses, have very little SEO knowledge, even of the basic terminology, and so you need to provide clear explanations of the concepts and metrics that appear in your reports to make them understandable. Even reporting to more knowledgeable clients requires thought – in most cases, bombarding them with lots of long, detailed tables will achieve the opposite of what you had hoped to. Instead of impressing them with your achievements, you may be dooming your reports to end up in the digital version of the infamous circular file.
In your initial meeting with a client, you should get a pretty clear picture of their knowledge of SEO concepts and terminology (you’ll also obtain an idea of what type of person they are and what’s important to them).
As you’re building your SEO report template, spend some time creating little informative snippets to position adjacent to your tables and graphs. It’s time well spent. These snippets can be part of a customized report template that you use for less knowledgeable clients.
Some Winning Report Formats
Now that we’ve laid out some general guidelines for SEO reports, let’s review some impressive formats you can use to convey data in an attractive, easy-to-understand way. One of my favorite reporting formats is the single metric widget.
Single Metric Widgets
The reason that single metric widgets are so powerful is that they highlight that one metric that you want to spotlight in a visually attractive way — simplicity and beauty blended together. See the example below presenting the average rank of Jaguar versus the competition. Take note that average rank can be misleading if you include all the keywords being tracked to figure the average because you’re almost certainly tracking more keywords than you have optimized, but if you set up the widget to include only a subset of the keywords that you are ranking, it can be a great comparative metric.
Besides the main metric, the trend graphs and comparisons to the previous period and the previous year provide valuable perspective on performance over time.
Graphs and Widgets
Graphs and widgets have some of the same magic as single metric widgets because they visualize and simplify. They make you look professional, and that never hurts. The following is an example of a blended widget showing a rank distribution table, a visibility graph, and a traffic graph showing sessions. With this one widget you are able to show the breakdown of rank on several search engines, overall trends for organic visibility, and a snapshot of traffic. That’s an awful lot of information condensed into a compact widget. Together with a brief explanation, this widget can provide customers with a good portion of the information they’re interested in.
Being able to plot whatever metrics are important to your client is a big plus. To do that, you’ll need a reporting tool that allows you to plot data from a wide variety of sources. Once such tool is Rank Ranger’s Insight Graph. The Insight Graph below includes keyword rank data, revenue data from Google Analytics, ad spend from AdWords, and offline advertising costs pulled from a Google Sheet. One thing you need to pay attention to when creating custom graphs is to choose colors that go well together and a combination of chart formats (line, bar, area, etc.) which help the different metrics stand out.
Below is another example of how a graph can present SEO results in a visually engaging fashion. This graph shows the number of Featured Snippets, image thumbnails, reviews, and
Reporting to Less Savvy Clients
For your less SEO savvy clients, don’t shy away from using some visual aids to show value achieved. Even the most novice computer user knows what a SERP looks like (even though they don’t know what a “SERP” is), so you can include before and after SERP snapshots in your SEO report to visualize a significant rank change. See the example below.
Avoiding Pitfalls with Uninformed Clients
There are some professionals in the SEO industry who have come to the conclusion that for small, uninformed business clients it is counterproductive to show them rank at all. One such professional is Joy Hawkins, a well-known name in the local SEO field, who wrote that she spends tons of time analyzing rank reports but remarked, “How many times have you had a client call you freaking out because they noticed a drop in ranking for one keyword? I chose to help stop this trend by not including ranking reports in my monthly reporting and have never regretted that decision.”
I think Joy’s approach might be beneficial when working with small, unsophisticated clients. The staff time required to service the client could be prohibitive if providing details of rank in reports causes them to overreact to rank fluctuations.
What SEO Reports Should Include
Obviously, SEO reporting can vary greatly depending on the types of services you’re providing to a particular client. One thing is for sure though and that is that in addition to rank, reporting on traffic analytics and conversions
Below are some report options to choose from and some sample reports. We’ll start out with rank reporting because that’s kind of the meat and potatoes of SEO.
Average rank is a metric which gives some indication of the overall success of SEO efforts and as such is an important indicator for clients. Its main value is derived from comparing average rank values to the past or versus competitors. When you blend average rank together with metrics like visibility and traffic, you can show how rank performance has translated into traffic.
Organic Visibility Graph
An organic visibility score is similar to average rank in that it quantifies whether, on aggregate, a website’s organic profile is gaining or losing traction. The value added by the visibility score is that it is calculated by weighing the rank of each keyword appearing in the top 30 search results by the average search volume for that keyword. That means that the rank of keywords with greater search volume influences the visibility score more giving you and your client a much more accurate picture of how successful the SEO efforts are in getting more eyeballs to see your presence on the SERP.
Monthly Rank Snapshot
To provide some detail on the rank of specific keywords, a snapshot report showing the average monthly rank is a great way to go because it focuses your client on the rank trends over big picture. Including daily or weekly rank data in your reports will expose your client to the almost inevitable, and sometimes wild, rank fluctuations. That can put clients (and as a result you) on an emotional rollercoaster ride paralleling the ups and downs dictated by Google’s algorithms.
Depending on the client, you may want to provide a list of the most important keywords and/or those being optimized. You could also include a report showing your client’s rank vs the competition for the top keywords (see examples below).
Website Rank Distribution Report
Although the monthly rank snapshot, average rank, and organic visibility provide valuable metrics as to SEO progress, a website rank distribution report, like the one seen below, gives a unique, top-level understanding of the website’s organic success versus the competition. The report shows the number of keywords ranking in the oh-so-important 1st, 2nd, and 3rd positions, as well as the 4-10 and 11-20 positions, and so on.
This summary level format allows the client to easily see the ranking performance on each search engine being tracked and allows for easy comparison across the board – from Google desktop and mobile to Google’s Local Finder or Google Maps, Bing, Yandex, Baidu, or whatever.
Another great way to present the website rank distribution data is to use a customized Insight Graph. Using a graph has several distinct advantages:
- It’s a great format to show the rank distribution trend over time
- It visualizes the data in an attractive way
- You can color code your and your competitors’ data for side by side comparison
Traffic analytics are a very basic part of an SEO report. You’re not trying to push results to the top just to boast that you reached #1 on the SERP. You want to be able to show your clients the tangible benefits they’re getting from your services. Driving traffic is pretty darn tangible. Below is a prime example of why it’s important to review SEO reports before they go out. Sometimes the short-term results show negative vis a vis the previous month, but that might be due to seasonal trends or other factors. Meaning, you might consider adding a year over year report to show the same seasonal trend from last year and to point out the long-term upward trend.
Another way to report on traffic analytics is to use single metric widgets like the ones below. Just one row of widgets tells the story of how website traffic progressed, and it keeps your report short and to the point.
For more sophisticated clients, you can include a deeper breakdown of site traffic that includes data on traffic sources, demographics, geo-location, etc.
Conversions and Revenue Reports
I emphasized this enough (actually if I really wanted to be a noodge, I could overemphasize it…), the most important reports are those that show revenue and return on investment for the money spent on your SEO services. You could use single metric widgets like the ones below to show online sales from organic traffic broken down by region.
To provide a detailed report on online revenue over time, or any other type of goal completion for that matter, you can use a customized Marketing KPI report. Using any Google Analytics filter or custom segment you’ve set up, you can break down your revenue reports to compare organic-driven sales versus sales from overall, direct, and paid traffic. You can report on online sales by region, by device, by location, etc. You’re limited only by the segments you’ve set up in Google Analytics.
The following report compares sessions, completions, and revenue YoY for the months January to May for 2017 and 2018.
Another great way to show conversions over time is a trend graph like the one below which compares organic conversions on Google and Bing versus conversions from paid traffic.
Including a brand visibility overview in your monthly report is a great service to provide. Particularly when your client is a large entity that wants to keep close tabs on their brand name. Sophisticated clients will probably request such a report. Your SEO team can use it to monitor the progress of their efforts to push up the client’s online assets such as their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts (and placement in the Local Pack for local businesses). The report shows the coverage of page one and page two search results by the brand’s website, the brand’s social media properties, and even positive third-party websites.
The detail of the top 20 positions is shown visually with an icon which makes it easy to identify the website’s organic results, local pack results, social media properties, etc. As with other reports, adding a brief note bringing attention to the actions taken and progress achieved goes a long way to point out value provided.
Technical Audit Summary
It’s a good idea to include a periodic technical audit summary which shows that you’re making sure the client’s website has a clean bill of health. It can range from a couple of sentences summarizing the technical situation of their site to showing trends using a graph or an overview table with the issues and their statuses.
Rank Ranger’s site audit tool provides you with a detailed report of the issues that need to be corrected on a website, but leave the nuts and bolts data for yourself and the summary level report for your customer (see below).
A lot of time and resources go into link building efforts (or at least it should), so for certain
PDFs vs Marketing Dashboards – Which Way to Go?
After you’ve decided what to include in your SEO reports, depending on your SEO software, you may have the option to send out your reports as PDFs or to use customized marketing dashboards for your clients.
What’s the best format to use?
Each of the two formats
That being said, the two mainstream reporting formats are PDF reports and online marketing dashboards. Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each format.
Advantages of PDFs
- Minimal client effort required, just to open the PDF attachment
- Very conducive for printing (when the printer works!)
Disadvantages of PDFs
- File size can become an issue, particularly with long, graphic-heavy reports
- The email with the PDF may not arrive due to anti-spam filters
- Some companies block the downloading of email attachments
Advantages of Marketing Dashboards
- The report archive is readily available to
- Reports can be responsive and interactive
- More design flexibility
- Tables and other reports aren’t cut off by inconvenient page breaks
- Allows for embedded reports and multimedia
- Tables can show the most important results but can also be expanded
Disadvantages of Dashboards
- Clients need to be reminded to review the reports
- Clients may experience some latency in data load times from 3rd party data sources
- Some less technically savvy clients may not feel comfortable using a dashboard
The bottom line is that there is no one winning format, and it’s best to have access to both so that you can provide customers with the format that works best for them.
And Finally – Is Sending Out a Report Enough?
After preparing your killer SEO report which you have honed and perfected, you pressed the send button (or better yet, it’s sent out automatically) and off it goes to your client. Whew, what a relief!
But wait a second, are you really done? How do you know your client opened your email? Maybe they didn’t even see it because it ended up in the ominous spam folder or disappeared into their overloaded inbox! Moreover, even if they did open your report, maybe they took a quick glance and didn’t get any value out it. For these reasons, it may be worth regularly reviewing SEO reports with clients in an online or face to face meeting (depending on the client).
I discussed this very topic with SEO expert Ari Nahmani, CEO at Kahena Digital Marketing, at a recent conference we both attended. Ari said that, based on his experience, reviewing SEO reports with clients is crucial: “It’s a way to ensure the customer sees the value they’re getting and allows the account manager to build a warm, personal relationship with the person overseeing our work.”
Summing it Up
Creating SEO reports is both an art and a science. It’s an art because you need to understand your clients and tailor your reports to their needs, their industry, and their level of knowledge. It’s an art because you need to design a report that looks professional and attractive. It’s also a science because there are general rules like focusing on top-level reporting, highlighting tangible results, and building templates for “types” of clients.
SEO reporting is an integral part of managing the client relationship and so it deserves strategic thought and planning to maximize results. So many resources are invested in acquiring clients. However, keeping them happy and retaining them is probably one of the most worthwhile (but neglected) areas to invest time in.
There’s no time like the present.
Just admit it, SEO is scary. Between the inherent complexity of what we do and Google not exactly being the epitome of clarity, the ground that is doing SEO can be a bit shaky at times. That’s pretty much why we’re obsessed with what works and what doesn’t work and are vigilantly on the lookout for content that offers a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.
In the not too distant past, I wrote a piece highlighting how machine learning has impacted rank volatility (in that rank is considerably more volatile). At the time, we touched on what machine learning means for understanding how ranking works and how the process directly influences rank. Here, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of it all by analyzing the holy of holies of optimization information, ranking factor studies, particularly niche ranking studies by asking one very simple question
Do ranking factors studies still apply in a world where machine learning and intent reign supreme, and if so, to what extent?
Recap of Machine Learning’s Impact on Rank
The increase in rank volatility aside, in what for all intents and purposes was “Part I” of this post we discussed how machine learning impacts rank qualitatively, i.e., what rank “looks like” as a result of RankBrain and the like. Since I’m a nice guy, let me recap (and expand on) what we said there so that you don’t have to comb through the last piece trying to glue together all of the pieces to the puzzle.
Machine Learning Sets Site Proportions
In serving up results that align to user intent, Google uses machine learning to determine the proportion of sites to meet that intent or those intents. OK, Mordy, say that in English, please?!
If you’ll remember, in the last post I took a very straightforward search term, buy car insurance, and showed that Google sees two (or really more than two) intents embedded in that phrase: to buy an actual insurance policy and to get information about doing just that.
How should Google handle these two intents? Should 50% of the results on the page be geared to sites offering car insurance? Is buying a car insurance policy the essential intent and learning a sub-intent? If so, should 75% of the results be sites that offer you the opportunity to buy car insurance? You get my point, there has to be some way to determine how many sites should be allocated to each intent on the SERP shown below.
When machine learning does this, it either limits or enhances ranking opportunities, depending on how you look at it or which kind of site you happen to be. In our case, 60% of page one (or 6 out of 10 results) was allocated towards sites where you could buy an actual insurance policy. Meaning, sites like Geico and Allstate were limited to just over a majority of the only page of the SERP that actually matters. On the other hand, sites like NerdWallet were given the chance to rank on 40% of this page that without Google’s ability to understand intent would not be possible (all things being equal).
Machine Learning Determining Actual Rank Positions
That can’t be… can it? “Search your feelings, you know it to be true.” (You can scream now if you want, no one will judge you, this is a safe place.)
Look back up at the SERP above. See Geico there in the top spot? Think that was an accident? I don’t mean that Geico ranked over StateFarm or whatever other insurance company, I mean that an insurance company ranked over a site that only helps you go about the buying process (such as found in the second result).
That second result, How to Buy Car Insurance, it can never rank in the top spot (as things currently stand). Not because it lacks in optimization or whatnot, but because it doesn’t align to the essential intent here, to buy a car insurance policy.
Boom! Machine learning can determine rank down to the position (in certain instances)!
Machine Learning Precedes Ranking Factors
So how about those ranking factors, huh?! They really impacted rank at this stage right? Of course, I’m being a bit facetious. We never discussed
That is, there are two questions that machine learning’s “ranking presence” forces us to deal with:
- How does machine learning impact the optimization process per se?
- How does machine learning impact the point of optimization departure, or, how does it change the entire way we view what determines rank?
We’ll get to both of these below, but did I really need to say that?
Is RankBrain Actually a Ranking Signal?
The underlying premise to what I’m saying is that RankBrain is not the third most significant ranking signal, because it’s not a ranking signal at all. Let’s take a step back for a second and ask what is a ranking factor fundamentally? Well, it’s a signal that tells Google that a site may very well achieve what it set out to do. RankBrain is a major factor in determining what it is that both users and sites have set out to accomplish. As such, this machine learning process has a major role in determining what factors, or what signals are relevant to a given site. This is why you hear people talk about RankBrain in the context of determining how to apply Google’s various algorithms (and why we need to answer question #1 in the section above).
How then can the thing that is determining the signals, vis a vis their relevance, be one of those signals? It’s logically impossible. The ‘thing’ telling the elements of the algorithm what to do cannot be one of those elements at the same time, much the way a light switch cannot be both on and off simultaneously. RankBrain is really an extension of Hummingbird, which is the algorithm. Think of RankBrain as a way of optimizing Hummingbird, or making it more efficient and effective. RankBrain, as such, relates to the underpinnings of the algorithm per se, it exists beyond the signals/factors, it’s a meta-element.
Yes, I am well aware that Google has said that RankBrain is the third most important signal. I’m also well aware that Google recanted, and said no top signals even exist. Instead, Gary Illyes said, “… it (the signals) very much depends on the query and the results which signals count more.” Which of course sound suspiciously similar to what someone else whose name rhymes with Gordy Loberstein just said two paragraphs ago. Of course, Gary’s statement got a lot less attention than when Google indicated the top few ranking signals. Which just goes to show that we crave definition and information and loath obscurity. However, our want and desires don’t dictate what Google does and does not do.
What Does Machine Learning Mean for Ranking Factor Studies?
There’s actually a pretty big implication to the above in that each “intent” deserves its own weighing of the factors that determine rank. In other words, since a ranking factor is a signal that a site is likely to achieve what it seeks to do (and therefore satisfy its users), and since different sites are intent on achieving different things, the extent to which a given ranking factor applies hinges on the very purpose of the site.
With that, let’s ask the two questions from above but from the context of ranking factor studies:
1) Where Google is able to parse intent as well is it can, and where each intent demands its own weighing of the applicable ranking factors, just how relevant are general and even niche ranking factor studies?
2) How relevant are ranking factor studies when they don’t deal with the true underpinnings of rank, i.e., machine learning’s ranking impact?
A Look at Intent and Ranking Factor Study Relevancy
Let me be clear at the onset. I am not advocating that we throw some really good ranking factors studies that are out there in the trash. This is not some sort of sensational post aimed at rocking the boat simply for the sake of causing waves. Rather, this is a comprehensive look at how the underpinnings of rank work in regards to the various levels of intent that intrinsically exist within any keyword or piece of content, so as to determine the role of the various categories of ranking factor studies. So let’s do just that.
General Intent for General Ranking Factor Studies
Any given query phrase or web page is subject to multiple layers of intent at both the general and specific levels.
As such, you can imagine that “factors” such as a keyword in the title, or links, or being HTTPS are generally relevant to almost any site to varying extents. When you see a “general” ranking factor study indicate as much, the sentiments/data are all things considered, entirely accurate. And, if you want to “get ranked” you need to make sure your pages more or less comply with these sentiments. However, that is not to say that doing so will result in ranking well on the SERP. Rather, it means that doing so may allow you to enter the
What’s the difference?
As opposed to being that which determined your rank, ensuring your page meets the most basic of standards is what allows you to even be considered for top-level rankings.
For illustrative purposes let us say there is a raffle to play first base for the New York Yankees (or whatever sports team you like, or if you hate sports, imagine a raffle to star in your favorite movie… everyone happy now?). You and 1,000,000 fanatics line up outside the stadium for the raffle and sure enough, your name is called. Super excited, you run to claim your prize, except you’re a bit disappointed since this stage of the raffle only allows you entrance into the stadium to participate in the next round of bidding.
Optimizing your page so that the content is of good quality, or that it’s safe for users to navigate only gets you into the stadium, it does not get you onto the field.
Niche Ranking Factor Studies for More Specific Levels of Intent
Moving right along down the funnel of intent, and we get to the niche level. Niche ranking factor studies rely on, and are applicable
Now, does this apply to every site within the finance niche equally? No. Do you care that investopedia.com be as secure as the site where you do your online banking? And even if you are an online banking site, does being HTTPS mean you’ll hit the top of the SERP, even if your competitors are not?
Not sure? Let me ask it this way, is the essential intent of an online banking user to have a safe experience, or is to manage their money?
Think about it like this, general ranking factor optimization gets you into the stadium, but only so you can sit in the cheap seats. Optimizing for niche specific factors (all things being equal) take you from the bleachers and puts you in a better position to see the field… but you’re still not on the field.
Catering to Query Specific Intent
While there are multiple layers of intent, it is the essential intent that differentiates one page, or one piece of content, or even one search term from the next. In other words, what factors are the most influential? The factors that most closely relate to the essential intent of the site/page. If a ranking signal is an indicator that a site has a good chance of achieving what it seeks to do, or what users want from such a page, then the most important signals are those that relate to what gives the page its identity (not to get too philosophical here, that’s for later).
Let me give you an example from the health niche. Consider the query do I have cancer, which is what one might consider
Let’s, however, consider another query within the same niche, desserts for diabetics. Would you believe that for such a query the top recipe sites do not
Here are two sites, both in the same niche, with each site having two very different factors that influence ranking. In this case, to what extent is a niche ranking factor study helpful?
Take the travel niche for example. We’re talking about hotels, resorts, etc. Images are going to be a dominant factor here, I don’t even need to do a study to know that. Consider though a site reviewing hotels. Images are still going to be highly relevant, but so will offering a longer sort of content experience. Whereas a tourism site may get away with a quick snippet of content for the top attractions a city has to offer, would users want the same from a site where they expect a detailed review of a hotel?
So yes, in the travel niche there is a general expectation to see images, and as such, it may be (or may not be, I have not studied it in-depth) the prevalent factor across the niche, but not at the site level.
If a niche ranking factor study gets you close to the field, understanding the factors that are more essential to your page or to a query is what gives you actual playing time.
Summing Up Where We Stand – General and Niche Ranking Factor Studies
I know this can be a lot to digest, and that’s because the underlying concept is one that has filled up the pages of philosophy masterpieces for the past thousand or so years. This is like some sort of crazy cosmic merger of the world of SEO and the world of philosophy. So let me take a play from my old teacher’s playbook and summarize what I said above in slightly different terms.
Here are a few sentences that if you were to take them out of context would show me to be a simpleton:
Humans, as a general rule, have two eyes. We usually have two arms, two legs, two ears. We have toes and fingers. We have hair (for some of us less each day, which makes looking down at the shower drain a dreadful nightmare of an experience).
Do any of these things give us our identity? Not really. Sure, in a general sense the human form is part of who we are relative to squirrels, but it’s not who we are.
Ok, how about this:
Humans, as a general rule, are compassionate (I know, fool, he still believes in humanity), we all have dreams and ambitions, likes and dislikes, and so forth. Are these things “us,” do our desires and ambitions define us? Well, they say a lot about us, but they sure don’t make me… me (if my mood defined me, I’d be in big trouble).
What in the heck am I doing here… this is SEO, not Aristotelian logic 101?!
Actually, funny you should mention the Greek freak, because all of these things, our bodily structure, our emotional makeup… are in Aristotlean terms called secondary substances (don’t ask me why I know this). Meaning, they are a part of us, but a secondary part, not the essential component of our identity (I’m taking a bit of leeway with the concept but who cares, this is SEO, not logic class).
The common intent found across all pages (see above) is like the commonality we all have physically. Sure, it’s a part of what makes us human and so forth, but no one would identify as their body per se (relative to something deeper, such as the personality, and so forth). The ranking commonality, or the ranking correlations, shown at the top level of intent, while legitimate, don’t get anywhere near the core of intent, and as a result are extremely hard to apply at the page or even the site level.
The same within the common intent that exists at the niche level. Yes, this layer of intent is deeper than at the general level. Most users of pages within the finance niche are more sensitive to security issues, but does that “intent” define the user’s aims and aspirations? Niche level intent, though deeper, still misses the
Much like people, each individual page has its own unique qualities that differentiate it from all other pages (in a perfect world where people don’t publish the same dribble over and over and over…). Each site or page is intent on achieving a very specific goal, one that is far more refined than any niche level “purpose.” Jump back to the health industry… could you say that every site is aimed at helping people be more healthy? Sure, that’s not a terrible way to put it. Now apply that to the page level. Take the page offering my diabetic uncle some tasty treats, should we say its essential aim is to make people healthier? That sounds a bit too general, no? Then why would you engage in an optimization strategy that is based on just that?!
Remember, what is a ranking factor? It’s a signal that tells Google that a site is likely to achieve its aim of satisfying user intent. Which intent? The general or niche level intent, or the user’s actual intent? Just like with people, the essential intent is the most specific, the one that differentiates the thing in question from all other things. For us as people, it’s that ineffable quality that makes me different than you, and just about everyone different that grandma Edna (I don’t have a grandma Edna per se, but we all have a figurative one in our families). For a page or for a site, or even for a user (approaching this from another vantage point), the essential intent is that which makes the site, or the page, or the search term different from all others (or most others). As such, why would Google measure success and weigh its signals on anything but that highly specific essential intent (especially now that it can do as such)? The answer is they don’t. So then why are we as an industry still bank on studies that are intrinsically far too broad for the world of intent as ruled by an always improving machine learning system?
Query Level Ranking Factor Understanding
Great Mordy, you threw out all of that data I’ve been relying on for God knows how long… thanks a lot!… No problem, you’re welcome.
Let me be clear (again), I am not saying that you should trash ranking factor studies. For the most part, whether general or niche, they are well written, well-researched pieces of SEO knowledge written by some folks that I have a tremendous amount of respect for.
You should read these studies, you should learn from these studies… but you should also go far beyond them.
It’s important to know what gets you into the ballpark these days, it’s important to know what ranking trends your niche shows, but if you want to know what will be the difference maker for your site, for your pages, for the keywords you are targeting… go query specific, I beg you.
Optimizing for Intent, Not Niche
If a study says that longer content is the most influential factor in the health niche (I’m just making up an example) and you have a “health” recipe site, does that really make sense for you? Do users really want to read through a 1,000-word recipe? Wouldn’t you be better served with some bullet points and well-placed images of the succulent delights you are offering?
I know “Google” and “ranking” and “signals” are complicated topics, but it’s not rocket science either. You literally have to think about what makes sense and what does not make sense for your site/pages based on what the user would expect, because if the user expects a given experience, you can bet that Google does too.
Of course, this is not an exact science, and experimenting with this formula is a very, very, very good idea. If you think optimizing for “A” is really important, track your progress, experiment with optimizing for “B” instead and see where it goes. If you’re totally clueless, have a look at the niche study and start with the most influential factor and take it from there. But experiment.
By the way, this may mean looking at the more influential ranking factors from other niches. Running with this case of a site offering diabetic dessert recipes… I would have a look at what works for the food and drink industry first, not the health niche.
Whatever it is, think query and page specific, and don’t get trapped in data. Meaning, don’t get so obsessed with incorporating data that you don’t allow yourself to think critically about what makes sense for your site, not your niche!
Forget About Ranking Factors (Initially), Focus on Intent Analysis First
There is a whole other way to go with all of this. Yes, optimizing based on how Google views you through the lens of intent makes far more sense than doing so based on the nature of the niche you exist within. Still, like the 1960’s, I’d like to expand your mind, by telling you to forget about ranking factors, at least initially. Rather, try to make sure you first are able to fill all of the intent slots on the SERP.
In other words, do you really want to spend all of your time optimizing for this and improving the page for that, and whatever… or do you want to make sure you aren’t limiting yourself to just 40% of page one? What’s the point of optimizing something (based on page specific signal analysis of course), if that page only has access to a limited amount of the SERP? Perhaps, adding on to that page, or even writing all new pages that
In the era of machine learning,
How to Uncover Multiple Layers of User Intent
This is where it all comes together. You might be asking, “Why do I need to know all of this theory? Can’t I just get insights?”. No, because if you don’t understand the concepts, the tips will be meaningless. I know, I know, everyone wants quick “actionable” tips. The problem is, if you don’t understand something, you both cannot run with it, and cannot act on it since you don’t really know how important it is. This is all the more applicable in this instance. What I am about to show you
So here we go:
Method #1 – The Marketing Mind
The entire idea here is to understand the multiple intents embedded within a keyword term. One really easy way to do this is to apply a marketing approach to your keyword targeting. Get into a user’s head the same way you would when running a marketing campaign. Only in this instance, don’t ask why a user would buy a certain product, but why they would search for a certain term or set of terms.
In other words, what are the multiple reasons why a user would run a certain query? What are the implications of that? What subtopics or ancillary information might a user want or need depending on the reason behind the search?
Take the query content marketing pro. I can think of four intent tracks off the top of my head:
- To find a content marketing professional for hire
- To learn how to become a content marketing pro
- To find a list of content marketing pros (as in to follow on social media or something of the sort)
- To learn what a content marketing pro is
If you want to rank for this term, and don’t want to limit yourself to one “bucket” of intent, and therefore only one portion of the SERP, considering these intents could be a powerful tool. Again, this is just a simple example that I literally conjured up in less than 3 minutes.
While this method is not as profound as what I’m about to offer you below, it’s a good way to break into the habit of centering your content strategy around meeting user intent at multiple levels. Baby steps.
Method #2 – Digging for Intent on the Google SERP
This is the “money” method (at least until SEO tools start to break into parsing intent from the eyes of Google).
I could describe what I call ‘digging for intent on the SERP’ or I could just show you what it is:
Earlier, we discussed the multiple intents of a very simple keyword, buy car insurance. I like this keyword (which is why I’ve been sticking with it for both
To answer this, I ran another 150 “buy” keywords. I took simple things like buy socks and keywords for more complex items like buying a house, a car, or even a boat and plugged them into Google. Out of the 1,500 or so results that I got back (150 keywords x 10 results per page on average = 1,500), 26% were informative sites. Meaning, roughly 1/4 of the results I got back from these “buy” searches.
That was a bit lower of a proportion than what I saw for buy car insurance, so I took out some of the less complex items from the dataset and sure enough, the number started to rise. Seeing this, I decided to hone in on one item, one “complex” item… software. I ran 100 ‘buy’ keywords for all sorts of software, eLearning software, tax software, asset management software, and so on. Guess what percent of these 1,000 or so results were ‘informative’ sites… 40%.
Great, so there is a very real connection between the term ‘buy’ and learning. Meaning, when you type ‘buy’ Google understands it as ‘learn’, 25% of the time for less complex items (on average) and 40% of the time for more complex items (again, on average).
However, that’s not where this ‘intent’ story ends. Within my ‘buy software’ dataset, 70% of the informative sites, or 70% of the 400 or so sites that did not allow me to buy software, but to learn about buying software, were what I call “best of” sites. You know these sites… they’re the kind with titles
Let’s count up our intents here:
1. To buy software
2. To learn about buying software
2a) To learn which product to buy
2b) To learn how to choose between the various products, what to consider before buying
What You Get for Your Intent Analysis
OK, so what did we do here? We took a keyword that any given number of sites may be vying for (buy car insurance) and found an intent patten (buying sites and informative sites appear together). We then determined that this pattern was pervasive, i.e., this is how Google generally understands the word ‘buy’ in
Great, let’s apply this to a real-world scenario. Say you have a client who has an e-commerce site where they sell a whole bunch of products, complex products, who is targeting a whole host of ‘buy’ keywords. You would probably recommend they start a blog so that they don’t preclude themselves from ranking on 40% of the SERP. You might even suggest they write about both which products to buy, and how to go about choosing between all of the wonderful products available to them.
If you know what intents Google sees in the keywords you are targeting, you have the ability to design a content strategy that hits on all of those intents, and sub-intents, and sub-sub-intents… you get my point.
Get In the Game, For Crying Out Loud, Get in the Game!
Ranking factors are obviously important, and the studies that analyze them are wonderful… but hyper-focusing on them won’t get you out of the stands and onto the field. The fact is, you have to optimize on a per site/per page basis. Signal weights are contingent on the purpose of the page and its content, that’s what a ranking factor is, a method of determining if a page will succeed or fail in what it has sought to do relative to user intent.
General levels of intent and purpose are prerequisites, they are not difference makers. Having a quality page with decent links is not going to make your page highly relevant to a user, it means, for lack of more eloquent language, that your pages ‘don’t suck’ so there’s the chance Google will show them on the SERP when appropriate. Is that what you’re really aiming for? So while the data of a general or niche level ranking factor study can be helpful, they simply don’t deal with the crux of optimization for your site and your pages.
Forgetting all of that, if you’re not aligned to Google’s lens of intent, your hours of optimization are for naught. Don’t get caught in the trap of worrying about which factors are the weightiest for your pages when you haven’t even jumped into the **** yet. If you don’t consider how your content fits into the various buckets or slots on the SERP, then forget ranking factors, your entire foundation and starting point is on shaky ground. By the way, I don’t mean some sort of quick general analysis, how Google parses up a SERP is very nuanced, to the extreme, so give it a good run.
The point of departure in today’s world of SEO is not “ranking signals.” A deep, nuanced, and ever-changing understanding of how Google sees user intent for your content and targeted keywords is what puts the ball in play. And we all want the ball in play.
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Does Google favor older, established domains in its search results?
Does buying a brand new domain name put you at an SEO disadvantage?
These are just a couple of the questions surrounding domain age as a ranking factor – a topic that has been hotly contested and debated during the past two decades.
We know that Google at least considered it as part of a document scoring algorithm at one point in time.
Read on to learn whether domain age is really a Google search ranking factor.
The Claim: Domain Age As A Ranking Factor
The claim here is twofold:
- The longer Google has had a domain in its index, the more it will benefit your search ranking.
- The longer the domain is registered, the more it will benefit your search ranking.
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Basically, here’s the argument:
Let’s say you registered two domains, one in 2010 and the other in 2020. Until three months ago, you never published a piece of content on either site.
That means Google will consider the 2010 domain “stronger” – simply because it was registered more than 10 years prior to the second site, and it should have an easier time ranking.
Does that seem logical?
The Evidence For Domain Age As A Ranking Factor
Back in 2007, some folks in SEO believed domain age to be one of the top 10 most important ranking factors.
More recently, some have pointed to this Matt Cutts video as “proof” domain age is a Google ranking factor.
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Because in it, Cutts said: “The difference between a domain that’s six months old versus one-year-old is really not that big at all.”
To some, this makes it sound like Google uses domain age as a ranking signal – although perhaps not a very important one.
The Evidence Against Domain Age As A Ranking Factor
The thing is, that video is from 2010.
And here’s what else Cutts actually said:
- Registrar data doesn’t matter at all. It’s too difficult to gather and Google doesn’t have access to enough of it for it to be a reliable signal.
- What Google was able to measure was when the site was first crawled and when the site was first linked to by another site.
Even then, he stated,
“The fact is it’s mostly the quality of your content and the sort of links that you get as a result of the quality of your content that determine how well you’re going to rank in the search engines.”
A 2005 patent application called “Information retrieval based on historical data” by Matt Cutts, Paul Haahr, and several others gives us a bit more insight into how Google perceived these domain signals at the time.
The patent outlined a method of identifying a document and assigning it a score composed of different types of data about its history.
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This data included:
- Information about its inception ****.
- Elapsed time measured from the inception ****.
- The manner and frequency in which the content of the document changes over time.
- An average time between the changes, a number of changes in a time period, and a comparison of a rate of change in a current time period with a rate of change in a previous time period.
- At least one of the following: the number of new pages associated with the document within a time period, a ratio of a number of new pages associated with the document versus a total number of pages associated with the document, and a percentage of the content of the document that has changed during a time period.
- The behavior of links relate to at least one of appearance and disappearance of one or more links pointing to the document
There’s a lot more, but already you can see this patent was never only about domain age.
There are elements of links and content quality/freshness in here, too.
Domain age may have been a factor back then. But there’s no clear evidence it was a direct ranking factor so much as a weak signal inside of a more comprehensive document history score (and that was/maybe still is the ranking factor… maybe).
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Domain Age As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict
Google has said domain age is not a ranking factor – and we have no reason to doubt them on this one.
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How long you register your domain doesn’t matter to Google’s search algorithm.
Buying old domains won’t help you rank faster or higher. In fact, you could inherit junk links or other negative associations that could hurt your SEO efforts.
But again, that’s not purely because of the age – it’s what happened to that domain during those years.
Bottom line: Google does not use domain age as a direct search ranking signal.
Featured image: Paulo Bobita
Source link : Searchenginejournal.com
How in the world are you supposed to compete with SERPs that contain an Answer Box, a Top Stories carousel, a video carousel, a Twitter carousel, multiple related search boxes, and even a Knowledge Panel? Oh, Mordy, no such SERP has that many SERP features. Right. No SERP besides any for a sports team in the middle of their season. Type in your favorite band followed by the word “songs”… good luck to you producing a SERP with more than 8 results.
I don’t really need to tell you this. I think everyone at this point gets the problem. SERP features have become a mighty and formidable SERP competitor. Want to hear a generic piece of advice on how to deal with this? No, of course not. So I’m not going to tell you to score more Featured Snippets, because that helps but one site, and if your site isn’t it, then what? What if Featured Snippets isn’t the feature posing a problem for you? (For these reasons I specifically asked the contributors to offer advice outside the “Featured Snippet” context.)
I have no idea what to tell you. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I have “fragments” for you. Things like ‘make sure you actually use the Q&A feature inside the Knowledge Panel – It’s free SERP space for your FAQ’, or ‘don’t let the opportunity that is Google Posts pass you by, especially since they will enter organic results at some point (mark my words).
My point is, when I sat down to write a post about how to deal with feature heavy SERPs, I honestly did not feel that I had a comprehensive answer. In fact, when I looked around, I didn’t see that anyone had a comprehensive answer. Perhaps none exists. Perhaps no one person has the answer. Obviously, dealing with feature heavy SERPs is a big problem for a lot of folks. Instead of offering my meager crumbs, I went around and asked some pretty smart people what they thought. The idea was to combine the different pieces of the puzzle into one resource. To be blunt, this is not another roundup so that a bunch of people can walk away with links where nobody really says much of anything. These are the best thoughts these fantastic folks have on how to deal with a SERP where Google itself is a formidable competitor.
Without further adieu (i.e., without me rambling on any further) here are the insights from the experts as presented in alphabetical order. (No favorites here. It’s like I tell my kids, “you’re all my favorite.”)
What to Do When Competing with Google’s SERP Features According to the Experts
SEO Account Supervisor: Catalyst Canada
When asked what I think SEOs should do to best deal with feature-heavy SERPs, I immediately thought about the 1-result SERPs that were much talked about in March. Even though they were pretty swiftly rolled back, I stand by what I initially wrote about the matter, do not target unsustainable queries. By unsustainable, I mean queries that can be easily and precisely answered right in the search results in one or several sentences. I assume everyone agrees that going after weather, time, unit conversion, and similar types of queries
So, the two recommendations I could probably give are:
1) If you can afford it, build a strong brand known for something specific, so users go to your site directly even for simple answers.
2) If, like most companies, you don’t have the resources to do so, don’t go after feature-heavy SERPs, your CTR and ROI is going to be lower there. Before you go after a keyword or a topic you need to research the landscape. Not just competition score, keyword difficulty, or whatever metric your tool of choice gives you, but actual result pages as well.
I think all SERP features and elements compete for their place in search results (including the blue links). One of the biggest signals Google probably considers is whether the features meet users’ needs. To assess that, Google must look at user interaction with the features (i.e., click-through rates). So, if you see that a SERP above the fold for a particular query is full of various SERP features with no organic results, chances are – users are happy with it. Don’t spend your valuable time trying to prove your result is better than a Wikipedia-sourced Knowledge Panel, a Top Stories carousel, or an Image Box. Find a topic that Google already serves blue links for. Create a page that is 10 times better than anything you see there, promote the hell out of it, and enjoy the results.
Senior SEO Specialist: Optimising
This is obviously a tough one. We want to stay on top of Google SERP feature changes, although we don’t want to get too caught up in altering our strategies just to make the most of a new opportunity. I learned this one the hard way with meta descriptions. Google increased the length, then they decided to pull them back again. And I’ve noticed recently that length is now somewhere in the middle…
Aside from Featured Snippets, one area which is often lacking for many local businesses is keeping their Google My Business listings in check – with some studies showing that ~70% of keywords are now returning a Local Pack. This means that we shouldn’t solely rely on our website to get more visibility and instead integrating this strategy in with local. With many of the features that were once just on Google+ now being added to GMB, the emphasis on this product is only going to increase as time goes on.
For any queries that you want to rank for local, try to optimize your site for these terms to the best possible extent. This means having targeted landing pages and a solid link building strategy that can’t be easily replicated by competitors. It also pays to try and influence engagement on your GMB listings which correlates well with improved rankings. Anything from added high res imagery, Google Q&A’s, having a description, or an additional appointment link can make all the difference.
Classic SEO’ers answer but: “It depends.”
It depends on which SERP features there are – there are so many. You need to use different methods to approach securing different SERP features. For example, if there’s a big Map Pack, local SEO is the answer. That said, I’m not sure that’s what Mordy had in mind when he asked me to contribute to this piece, so I’ll try to be more specific.
Generally, schema and rich text markup will help. Google likes to know what it’s showing, especially in SERP features. It wants to help searchers get to the best result as quickly as possible. That’s why you see answers to certain questions directly in the SERP.
Try it yourself, if you search for “How old is Barack Obama?” Google tells you, right in the SERP. Heck, for things like that it now tells you in the auto-complete, even before you’ve finished typing the search.
That kind of stuff, it’s pulling from web pages like Wikipedia.
Most of us are not Wikipedia.
Google looks at your website and it sees a whole bunch of words and a stack of numbers. Schema markup helps it work out which number is which. So, for a shoe product page: which number is the size; which is the price; which is the amount left in stock, etc.
It’s the same with words. Which is your company’s name; which the address; which is the name of your CEO, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, you can get into SERP Features *without* schema and adding schema is not a guarantee of features. However, it’ll really help. And there is a schema for *everything*. There’s even one for public toilets; including sub-schema to specify if it’s within another address, like a café or library.
So yes, you can find
Marketing Scientist: Moz
The dissatisfying but honest answer is “it depends.” I think we have to be much more aware of what SERP features signal about intent. Let’s say, for example, that you’re competing on a SERP with a Knowledge Card and it’s a definitive answer, like “When is Labor Day?” CTR data suggests that this is a lost cause. That answer is closed (you can’t compete on it, like a Featured Snippet) and it’s going to be enough for most searchers. You’re better off moving on.
Likewise, consider a SERP that’s loaded with paid/shopping features. Should you be spending a ton of organic marketing effort and money to compete on a competitive SERP with four ads on top and multiple product ads (PLAs) down the right-hand column? Should you be thinking about paid search in those cases? Should you be targeting keywords at a different stage of the funnel? From an organic marketing standpoint, I think we need to consider shifting up and down the funnel sometimes. It might not be worthwhile to rank for “wedding dresses” (which also has local intent, making it even more tricky), but what about a query like “How much is the average wedding dress?” where the intent is informational, you can compete on it, and it likely leads to a commercial query?
These are just a couple of examples, but ultimately we have to stop taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Every set of SERP features signals a unique intent and we have to target the intents that match our objectives the best. That’s going to mean giving up some keywords (say goodbye to your vanity) and doubling down on others.
Director of Growth: Survey Monkey
I like to think about focusing on general topics rather than on one or just a few keywords. I want to open up the possibility of ranking for a topic where there are hundreds of keywords that are relevant. The idea is to be able to appear in not just “a” search, but in a series of searches. The upshot is that I can either rank on SERPs that are not feature heavy, score more Featured Snippets, or appear closer to the top of the page.
To do this, I “broaden the tail.” The idea is to make the keywords more applicable to more queries. So instead of targeting a keyword like best air conditioner, I might try something along the lines of best air conditioner with low noise. With the former, you have the chance to rank for a high volume keyword but will need to face-off against Google’s SERP features (most likely a Local Pack or even a Featured Snippet). However, with the longer keyword, you open the possibility of being more relevant for more searches, which is a nice balance to appearing on feature heavy SERPs. Also, I would bet a good deal of the SERPs relevant to the long-tailed keyword would not be feature heavy.
To sum this up, the idea is to try to not limit yourself. I’m not saying don’t try to rank on feature heavy SERPs, but don’t make that your sole practice. Keep your options open by opening up your ability to rank for a variety of keywords. The best way I would say to do this is to gear your content towards longer tailed keywords.
SEO Manager: SixtUSA & SixtUK
Although it may be tough to deal with the fact your hard-earned organic results are being pushed lower by Google’s SERP Features, take it as a chance to learn more about what Google considers the searcher intent to be and use that to make your website’s content more relevant, and to be more present across as many channels as possible.
Right now, my advice would be to utilize Structured Data best practices across your pages. This not only ensures you can leverage the data Google uses for entity-type features such as Knowledge Panels and Quick
Yes, you may be feeding Google’s ability to take your data and use it how they see fit, but ask yourself if denying them that possibility is more important than being available in those features in the first place. Not being present in transactional-intent features such as Local Packs or Google Jobs (to name a few!) allows you to take full control over your website’s belongings but it also means you could be missing out on many potential leads or conversions, or giving them away to your competitors.
Fresh content helps you rank better in Google’s organic search results.
That’s the claim – you’ve probably heard it quite a few times in SEO.
But is it true, false, or “it depends”?
Read on as we dive into the idea of content freshness as a ranking factor.
The Claim: Fresh Content As A Ranking Factor
New or fresh content on your website helps you rank better because… science?
First, let’s think about freshness. One dictionary definition defines it as “the state of being recently made or obtained or not having decayed.”
Well, then you have to think about how we’re defining “recently” here, as this will vary depending on the topic. Or the industry. Or the niche. Or some other factor.
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Think about it, how fresh is this article?
Are you reading it the day it was published? A week later? A year later?
Is it still “fresh”?
Other questions we could ponder and debate about freshness:
- Can only brand new content be considered fresh?
- Does freshness only impact trending topics (news/events)?
- Will updating existing (AKA, old) content make it “fresh?”
- Does user search behavior determine whether a query is “fresh” or “stale?”
Okay, okay, that’s a lot. Where are we going with all this?
The point is that there are a lot of misconceptions about what fresh content is and whether it impacts your rankings.
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Let’s look at the evidence.
Fresh Content as a Ranking Factor: The Evidence
Let’s start with the first and biggest question: Is fresh content a ranking factor?
On November 3, 2011, Google announced an improvement to its ranking algorithm. It said that the algorithm “better determines when to give you more up-to-****, relevant results for these varying degrees of freshness.”
However, the definition of what is classified as “freshness” varies when this topic is discussed in SEO.
Google uses Query Deserves Freshness (QDF) to decide when to serve users new information and when not to.
Google broke down fresh content into three categories in 2011:
- Recent events or *** topics.
- Regularly recurring events.
- Frequent updates.
In addition, Section 18 of Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines (Oct. 14, 2020 edition) breaks down the types of queries that demand “fresh” information. Those are:
- “Breaking news” queries.
- Recurring event queries (e.g., elections, sports events, TV shows, conferences, etc.)
- Current information queries.
- Product queries.
Some search queries need to be connected to fresh content, while others can be served with older content.
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For instance, Google’s patent related to freshness states:
“For some queries, older documents may be more favorable than newer ones. As a result, it may be beneficial to adjust the score of a document based on the difference (in age) from the average age of the result set.”
Can Updating Your Content Improve Rankings?
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Our team at Search Engine Journal, led by Executive Editor Danny Goodwin, kick-started this project to update old content in 2017 and saw 2x the pageviews over a year.
How Much of Your Old Content Do You Need to Update to Influence Rankings?
The amount of content you change on an old webpage does play a role in rankings.
For example, simply updating an article title from 2021 to 2022 without making any other change to the content won’t impact your rankings.
Google may completely ignore those changes.
“Also, a document having a relatively large amount of its content updated over time might be scored differently than a document having a relatively small amount of its content updated over time.”
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Botify conducted a study to compare content changes to crawl frequency. They found that larger content changes improved crawl frequency and the average keyword rankings of a piece of content.
Essentially, content with the most changes to the page had higher crawl frequency and more keyword rankings.
Freshness Content as a Ranking Signal: Our Rating
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Yes, freshness of content is a ranking factor.
While fresh content can help boost your rankings, it goes much deeper than updating old content or writing about news or events in a timely fashion.
Remember, there are multiple reasons your content may be considered fresh.
But even if freshness wasn’t a Google ranking factor, it’s always a best practice to keep your content up to ****, relevant, and valuable for your audience/customers/clients.
Remember, too, that freshness alone won’t make your content rank. It’s just one element of your content that Google looks at.
Always focus on quality – because high-quality fresh content (in theory, anyway!) should always beat low-quality fresh content. This is true as long as Google is doing its job: providing the best, most up-to-**** results possible.
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Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
Source link : Searchenginejournal.com
There was no major Google algorithm update this past month that shook up the entire SEO community. Instead, we got a few shorter “bursts” of rank volatility that had their own story to tell. On top of that, mobile indexing multiplied by immense proportions, Chrome’s update brought us more direct answers, and a good dozen or so SERP feature tests and changes popped up.
Oh, and Google announced a slew of some pretty big changes that could change the entire way we think about search and go about optimization vis a
Big Changes to Search Coming Your Way as Google Goes for Guiding Users on their Search Journeys
We’re coming up on 20 years of Google search and to mark the occasion Google held an event. At this celebration of search, Google just so happened to announce a series of changes that I for one think will change search as users know it (which means it will change “optimization” as we know it as well).
Let’s dive in.
New Activity Cards SERP Feature to Show Pages from Your Previous Searches
In early September an astute searcher caught a test that had Google showing a tab on the SERP called “Relevant history.” The tab, when activated, showed your pages from your past searches. As part of these “20th-anniversary” announcements, Google said it is going with the new tab. Activity Cards, as they will be known, will show pages you visited as the result of previous searches that Google thinks is relevant to your current query.
Google Collection Cards – Bookmarks of the Future
Coming this fall, Google will be adding Collection Cards to the mobile SERP that are synced with the Activity Cards I mentioned above. Meaning, you will be able to directly add a page from the Activity Cards to a collection. The cards will also offer users some search suggestions.
New Google Collections Cards were announced at an event celebrating Google’s 20th birthday (Image Source: Searchengineland.com)
Google Feed Becomes Discover & Finds a New Home on the Mobile SERP
Believe it or not, but according to Google, its “Feed” has 800 million active users. Google Feed, as found in the Google app, is a set of content that Google thinks you might be interested in. Google Feed, per the Google’s 20th birthday bash, will now be known as Discover… and it will show up on the mobile SERP as well!
How will Google Discover work? If you’re logged into your Google account and head over to the Google homepage on mobile, you’ll see a slew of content that Google thinks you might be interested in. So instead of heading off to whatever search you meant to execute, you’ll spend more time than you wanted to
Topic Surveys Come to the SERP with Knowledge Panel Functionality
This is the one that I think will have the most impact on users and how they search. Google is using mobile Knowledge Panel functionality (where you have sub-topics represented as tabs within the panel) to bring up new SERPs related to the “entity” a user has searched for. What am I talking about?
Let’s take Google’s example and my favorite species of , Pugs:
What you see here looks like your everyday Knowledge Panel, but it’s not. For starters, Google has added a host of new tabs, i.e., the Buy or Adopt tab. Clicking on a tab takes you to a brand new SERP! Like any SERP, Google utilizes elements such as Featured Snippets within a given tab/SERP. As such, if Google creates a tab that is relevant to your content, ranking well or scoring a Featured Snippet could be a real boost to a site’s traffic as in this instance a user would not need to execute a new search to access it. Whereas a user may not have done such a search on its own, they very well might click on the next tab if it’s there already.
What’s more is that the new layered topic format is custom fit. Queries that produce the panel will now often show a set of topic tabs that align to that specific entity. For example, when I did a search for big
Seeing more tabs within Movie Panels. Tabs also seem to vary per movie.
— Mordy Oberstein (@MordyOberstein) September 26, 2018
Simply, instead of a user executing multiple searches to gather the answers they are looking for, Google is guiding the user as they navigate their search journey.
Visual Stories Come to the SERP & Other Changes to Image Search
Remember AMP Stories? Well, Google has taken the “story” format to a whole new level. Per their celebratory announcements, Google themselves are creating stories for celebrities, athletes, and the like. Functioning exactly like an AMP Story, the format is built off content contained on a variety of sites. Meaning, Google is creating visual stories by grabbing content from actual sites (like it does with Featured Snippets). And as with Featured Snippets, you can click on the source of the content within any frame of a Story.
Here’s a “Google Story” on Joe Montana in action:
Image Search Undergoing Changes
Along with the visually striking “Stories,” Google also announced that image search itself has undergone an overhaul. Specifically, Image Search on
The desktop changes, in some way mirroring the mobile UI, mean that captions, as well as a new top showing filter that contains images within each option now appear on the Image Search SERP.
Google’s new Image Search UI includes a top of the page bubble filter that now contains image thumbnails
Also, Google Lens, which recognizes images you take and provides information on it via search, is coming to mobile image search. The result should be the ability to find images similar to the one you took so as to be able to find more information about it.
What Google’s New Changes Mean
The announcements and changes that came out of Google’s 20th birthday bash have endless implications and numerous themes. This being a digest post of sorts, I can’t get into all that here. However, I will say that many of the changes seem to have a commonality in that they alter the natural course of a user’s search path.
Be it a new “Google Story” format, the Discovery feed on the mobile SERP, or the tabbed search results, Google is placing content in front of the user that they may never have searched for directly. In other words, Google is in a way guiding the user’s search journey. In doing so Google is creating the more than likely potential that that journey will be different than what it would have been had Google left the user’s path alone. Users will now see all new forms of content as well as content they may not have been interested in at the outset placed before them. This has the ability to send users to all new and unexpected sites.
I hope to write up something on the topic that is a bit more comprehensive in the near future.
Short (Yet Spunky) Google Algorithm Updates in September
No, there was no monster update like that seen in early August (you know, the Medic Update, or whatever you want to call it). Rather, there were two curious little updates that hit the SEO world in early September (followed by an even smaller end of month update that Google surprisingly confirmed).
The first update hit the pavement on September 6th and lasted through the 7th. During that time the Rank Risk Index caught rank fluctuation levels as high as 74 (out of 100). Interestingly, fluctuation levels were slightly lower on mobile.
Then, just a few short days later, the index caught another wave of rank fluctuations. On September 11th the index showed fluctuation levels that hit 75 on desktop and 71 on mobile.
Multiple spikes in rank fluctuations spread across the entire month of September
But that’s not what’s interesting, or that’s not what’s entirely intriguing. As you may know, Google has a propensity to tack on a host of “changes” to its algorithm updates. Often, these changes include shifts in SERP feature data patterns… as was the case here.
To get the full story, we have to jump back to August 22nd, when Google also rolled-out an algorithm update. With this one, we saw a host of SERP features change their trajectories. Have a look at
Organic AMP underwent two significant and highly unusual increases with the latter taking place on September 6th
That’s right, there was a second spike that coincided with the September 6th update. In other words, with these updates came some serious shifts in SERP feature data patterns.
Now, that is entirely interesting.
Mobile-First Indexing Spreads Its Wings
Did you get a notification in September letting you know “you’ve been indexed?” Circa the 20th of the month, Google sent out a barrage of notifications that sites had been placed within the mobile-first index. This latest wave of indexation seems to have placed mobile-friendly sites within the new construct (reportedly, most sites indexed prior to now were those lacking in their mobile-friendliness).
So I guess that’s it. The bulk of the sites out there have been placed within the mobile-first index. Wrong. Google noted that there is still “a lot” left to do before mobile indexation is complete.
Google Gives the World a New Data Search Engine
Released in early September, Google gave us the gift of data in an all-new way… a dedicated search engine. Called Google Dataset Search, the new search engine is dedicated to helping you find datasets (hence the name). Dataset search actually makes use of dataset schema, so theoretically you can get your data added to the search engine by implementing the markup on your site.
The search engine’s format seems very much similar to that of Google for Jobs and is predisposed to data from government agencies and data organizations. I’m not sure if that will change or not, but it’s a bit peculiar in a way in that the results I’ve seen a lack in diversity to an extent. Here’s what you get for the search Johns Hopkins Medical Data:
Notice, nothing from the actual university appears within the top results. Nor did it appear as I scrolled down either. It would appear that the number of sources Google is pulling from is quite limited. This is a broad query that did not produce an endless number of results (as one might expect). Seems that the search engine is really in its infancy, but should grow accordingly as time goes on.
September’s Changes to the Google SERP
Another month, another huge round of tests and changes to the SERP. By the way, Google just revealed that it made over 2,400 changes, whether it be to its algorithm, SERP features, or the SERP itself, in 2017. So it makes good sense that each and every month we have
With that, here’s how the SERP was altered in the month of September in the year 2018!
New SERP Design Officially Tested
As the month rolled in Google confirmed it was testing the very appearance of the desktop SERP itself. The limited test showed a sticky search box that followed you down the page as you scrolled through results.
Google tests a SERP with a sticky header that follows users down the page (Image Source: Searchengineland.com)
Some people really liked the test, others not. I guess I can see how it would be helpful being that you wouldn’t have to scroll back up a SERP to do a new search. Although, if Google is your default search engine you wouldn’t need to utilize the search box anyway.
Shopping Carousels Go Deeper Into Products
In another early September test, Google showed a “See More” button within its shopping carousel. Tapping the button brought you deeper into Google Shopping where one could peruse through even more products.
— #ppcchat (@ppcchatbot) September 2, 2018
If I were a ******* man, I would say there is a good chance we’ll see more of the “See More” button as the functionality is consistent with Google’s strategy of getting and keeping users within its ecosystem.
No Descriptions in Ads
This is an interesting one. Google was showing mobile ads at the bottom of the SERP that did not contain descriptions. All a user saw was the headline and URL.
A test produces ads that do not contain any description (Image Source: SERoundtable.com)
At first thought, you have to wonder why Google would do that?! But if you think about it a bit more, it kind of makes sense in a weird way (perhaps). I have to wonder, do users really want ad descriptions? Do they really read them? Is the headline enough to grab them regardless? Quite possibly. Perhaps more so than with descriptions (which I personally never read).
SiteLinks Get Image Thumbnails
I’ve always said it, Google very much adheres to its desire for a visual mobile SERP. As such, it makes a good deal of sense for the search engine to show images within the SiteLinks carousel. Meaning, each and every element within the SiteLinks carousel is image potential (which makes your result that much more visible).
The Sitelinks carousel showing with Image Thumbnails
For the record, this is not the first instance of Google using small image thumbnails within a mobile carousel. Among other instances, Google uses the format when searching for an actor/ actresses’ other movies via the Knowledge Panel:
Omnibox Answers the Norm in Updated Chrome
September gave us Chrome 69, which gave us an
The Omnibox within Chrome 69 showing the weather in London
Let’s be fair
The September SERP Roundup
OK then, here’s the rest of the changes to the SERP I’ve deemed as being newsworthy per my very scientific and exact method of defining what is and what is not fit to be print.
Knowledge Panel Changes in September
There were an interesting few updates to the Knowledge Panel in September (par for the course at this point).
Business Panels Get Tabbed: You may be accustomed to seeing tabs used within mobile Knowledge Panels for entities such as books, movies, famous folk, and so forth. September, however, saw Google try the format for brands.
This branded tabbed test saw sub-topics that included a brand’s various physical locations, related news stories, etc. Using tabs allows Google to better guide a user’s search path (as discussed above), so it makes a good deal of sense to think that the tabbed format will become increasingly pervasive.
Edit Reviews in the Local Panel: In what I think is a step in the right direction, Google has made it possible to edit reviews right in the Local Panel. Why do I say it’s a step in the right direction? Because allowing people to edit their reviews with ease encourages not only more, but better and more accurate reviews.
Expected Openings in the Knowledge Panel: Have a business that is set to open soon? Now you can share the **** of your grand opening in the Knowledge Panel:
Family Led Panel Attribution: In the
Expanded Top Stories List
When showing news results within the News Box, aka Top Stories, users expect to scroll through a nice set of articles via the carousel. However, Google does employ another format when displaying such news articles via a list. Within this “mode” what you see is what you get. However, in early September Google tested the idea of showing expandable news story lists.
Google tested showing News Box list results that expand to show more news articles
New Video Carousel Format Caught on Mobile
A new format for the mobile video carousel popped up in mid-September. The tested format prominently featured one large video above the other results.
A tested mobile video carousel format showing one large video above the other carousel cards
In a way, it seems the test took the format used for video Featured Snippets (with its large top showing placement) and applied it within the video carousel
Google Posts Get a Serious Content Boost
If it seems that each and every month I’m discussing another breakthrough for Google Posts, it’s because I am. Towards the end of September, Google gave creators using the feature a bit more breathing room. As in an extra 1,200 or so characters. Previously, Google Posts had between a 100-300 word limit. Now Google is gracing us with a whopping 1,500 characters per post. I’ll say it again, keep on top of the feature, and use it as much as you can… it’s going places!
Where Will the Rubber Meet the Road?
Often, I feel as if we over-emphasize certain changes that Google makes. There are certain ***-button issues that if Google gets a hold of we all sort of go to the extreme with. Mobile indexation would be a good case. Certainly significant, certainly impactful… but to an extent. At the same time, we gloss over what I think are some of the most telling changes. The new topic layered “Knowledge Panels” – if you can even call them that – is such an instance. The new format represents a new willingness to use machine learning to energetically target the user’s very search path. That’s a game-changer – if not now then in the relatively near future as this sort of “use” progresses.
If you look at some of the other changes Google announced, specifically the Activity Cards, the new Discover feed coming to the mobile SERP, and Google’s “Stories” the same pattern holds true. Google is engineering the SERP to work as a vehicle to help guide users. The SERP is no longer the end of the road. It is now a vehicle to propel your search journey in all new directions. This will impact user behavior and it will impact SEO. It will force us to think more strategically and more broadly about how a user goes about search and where a user may be directed.
I’d **** to hear your thoughts on how you think Google’s recent announcements will change search…. reach out to me!
Thanks for joining me on this SERP journey. See you next time for more SERP news!