In 2019, we watched as other media platforms joined in on the Google Search quest for quality. Facebook cracked down on clickbait while Google News and Google Discover continue to define the number one factor when choosing content to include as high-quality. The advice of having a well written article has now expanded to having a reputable and authoritative author bylined on your blog pages, as well. With the organic search ranking criteria stricter than ever, we continue to prioritize the importance of SEO with our SHE Media Partners. In order to both educate and inform our partners, we engage in SEO sessions. These sessions are not as in-depth (particularly on the technical SEO side) as full SEO audits. The purpose of the session is to review basic best practices and give high-level recommendations.
But don’t wait for us! You can conduct your own DIY SEO session by following our checklist:
1. Check the number of website pages that Google has indexed for your blog
HOW: The best place to find this information is Google Search Console. If you don’t have a GSC account set up, you should. Over the last year, Google has made more information accessible through GSC on the technical health of your website than ever before. Once you’re into your dashboard, click on where it says coverage, in the left side rail. This will show you all the pages that Google sees as excluded from the search engine, those that are 100% valid, as well as pages where Google registers an error for. You can dig down further, to explore why the pages have errors or are excluded from the index.
Another way you can get a rough estimate of the pages Google has indexed is to go to a new tab in your browser and type out: site:www.yourdomain.com. This will return the pages that Google has indexed for that domain.
WHY: For a blogger, this gives you an idea of your content inventory. The example dashboard on the left is pulled from one of our largest owned & operated properties. For the average blogger, depending on how long they’ve been at it, the amount of indexed content can be anywhere from 500 pages to 10,000.
If you’re using Google Search Console, this is a great place to start to understand where technical page errors may be occurring. And every now and then, an SEO session may uncover an area of your site that isn’t indexed, but should be or vice versa.
2. What keywords do you rank for in Google positions 1-20?
WHY: Understanding the topics that Google is giving your web pages authority on will help you further build your content strategy for new content. See if you can group pages together to understand this data on the topic level vs. the page level. Similarly themed content should be inter-linked.
HOW: We use SEM Rush for ranking insights.
3. Check that your homepage has an optimized HTML title tag & meta description
WHY: For publishers, your homepage likely isn’t driving the most organic search. It’s the article pages within that more commonly rank for search queries, although your homepage is still the strongest page of your site. It’s important to use the available SEO fields to tell Google what the content on your blog is about. These are important signal for search and you’d be surprised at how many sites we talk to that haven’t
HOW: There are several ways to check these tags on your blog, but the easiest way is to look directly in the code. When you’re on the homepage, right click somewhere on the page and select ‘view page source’.
Once in the code, look for the tags that appear like this:
<meta name=”description” content=”example description”>
The majority of sites in our network are on WordPress. Within WordPress, it depends on the SEO plugin you’re using, but the fields you’re looking for are labeled with Homepage HTML Title and Homepage Meta Description. If you’re using Yoast, you can learn how to update the title tag here.
4. Are you optimizing each blog post for Search?
WHY: Every page on your blog contributes in some way, either positively or negatively, to the overall health of your site. Before you hit publish on your post, make sure you’ve taken the time to fill out all the important SEO fields. This includes the SEO title, meta description, image alt text and file names, content on the page, the URL and the heading tags.
HOW: Again, this depends on the SEO plugin you’re using, but they all have some sort of SEO box on the page where you will find the title tag and meta description. Heading tags can be adjusted in the body of your post and the slug can be modified directly under the article headline, at the top. The image alt text and file name can be added in the media library, when you upload the image into WordPress.
5. Structured data
WHY: There are two main reasons you want to take advantage of structured data code. The first is in order to get Google clear information about who you are. Sure, we add About pages, authors and some contact information, but with those we are still relying on Google to process the information. If, via code, we are able to tell Google all of this information in a very clear manner, it is the safer route. The second is to stand out in the search results. The SERPs are a competitive place, so many sites all vying for the same search terms. Every little bit counts and Google uses structured data to enhance your search page listings. One example of structured data is for recipes.
HOW: Prior to the session, I run the partner’s site through Google’s testing tool. This will return all of the structured data that Google sees on the page. There are several different structured data language types, but we recommend Schema.org.
6. Mobile user experience
WHY: Last year Google moved to mobile-first indexing. This means that how your site looks/loads/works from a mobile device takes priority over your desktop experience. And Google uses engagement metrics in their search algorithm, metrics like time on page, bounce rate and pages per session to get an idea of how happy your users are when interacting with your site.
HOW: Get on your phone and click around through your blog. If you were a user, would you be satisfied? Is the navigation easy to use? Do pages load fast? These are the type of things you want to look for when it comes to the user experience of your website. Your internal link strategy is important for this reason as well.
WHY: Users hate slow loading websites. If your pages are taking more than three or so seconds to load, chances are that they are leaving before they even arrive. This can go even further if they remember your slow loading brand the next time they see it in search and choose to pass up.
HOW: Use tools like GTMetrix or Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to check your site speed. Be careful though, these reports are very technical and many of the numbers are directly search related. When I talk to partners I stress the importance of the First Contentful Paint number. This is the time it takes for your content to load for the user. It’s a give and take when it comes to running ads on your content. On one hand, yes, they slow down your load times some but if you have no ads, you won’t make money from display on your content. It’s important to find the balance between the two and not overdo it. There are many other reasons for slow load times as well, like image sizes, old WP themes and code bloat.
8. Image quality
WHY: If the images on your blog are too stocky or blurry, it can be an automatic turn off to the user and an indicator of the quality on the page.
HOW: Click through your pages to see how they look, both on mobile and desktop. Find an image database that has unique looking photos. Custom images are great too, but make sure to compress them before uploading them to your pages, otherwise it can slow them down.
9. Author bylines
WHY: Users want to know who wrote the content so Google has advised that every post on your site has an author listed on the page. The more authoritative your writer is on the topic, the more impact the byline can have.
HOW: Just check your pages. Authors should be listed at the top or the bottom of the article and if they link to author bio pages, even better. One thing I always look for are author aliases. It’s not uncommon to see a name like ‘Staff Writer’ or ‘Editorially Intern’ as the author, but this should be updated to have an individual name on the page.
10. About Us page
WHY: It seems so simple, yet many of our partners still miss this step. Users are savvier than ever before, they want to know where their information is coming from. Google wants to know there is a real human/business behind the screen and recommends information about your business is available online.
HOW: Your About page should be front and center, easily located from your top navigation. This is where I look for them in the SEO session. If I don’t see one there, I’ll look in the footer or even check the top level domain by adding a /about or /about-us to see if one loads there. Your About page should be robust and interesting. It should include the history of your brand, the expertise/credentials listed required to write on your niche (should one exist) and your mission. Make it interesting! Talk about you as a person, your interests, what makes you stand out. Including photos is a great way to make it even more personal with your readers.
11. Sponsored content inclusion & affiliate programs
WHY: Google has guidelines when it comes to websites using affiliate links and sponsored posts. The most important part is that any outbound links to products or to sponsor brands must be nofollow. Another important part is to make sure the content goes above and beyond when it comes to quality. If you’re publishing blog posts that has an intro graph of 3 sentences and then 25 product links in a list format, you can pretty much kiss your chances of organic search traffic good-bye. If there’s a lot of this kind of content on your site, there’s a good chance you’ll be de-valued by Google as some point. Users don’t like or trust content that feels overly product based. Also, make sure your affiliate content includes a disclosure of commission received. Sponsored content should be clearly marked.
HOW: Using the same method as we talked about above, in #3, look in the code of your page. If the link is nofollow, the code will appear like this: <a rel=”nofollow” href=”http://www.example.com/”>Example Anchor Text</a>. To get the functionality of adding nofollow code to your links, there are several WP plugins that will do that job. Our partners have recommended Ultimate Nofollow and Rel Nofollow Checkbox. If you’re not already using the Yoast plugin, Rank Math is a great alternative that also has nofollow capabilities.
12. The ads
WHY: User experience is everything for SEO and users don’t want to be assaulted by ads. Data shows the average user doesn’t mind ads being on the page, they get it, but once you have pop-ups, auto-play videos and ads blocking the words, game over. They also don’t want to be tricked into clicking on ads or sponsored content, so ALL ADS should be properly identified as such.
HOW: In prep for the session, I spend time beforehand just clicking around the blog on both desktop and mobile, looking for ads that interfere with a smooth experience from page to page. Sometimes it’s about the layout. If the partner has done the layout themselves, they may have put too many or put them in places with low viewability. The revenue is what our partners love most about SHE Media, so we’re careful to advise on smart ad strategies that don’t jeopardize your user.
13. Content length
WHY: It’s true that Google says quality over quantity, they’ve never given a recommended word count. But countless case studies evaluating first page rankings would indicate that Google favors long-form content. The reason is simple: more content, more information included from the author on the topic gives the user a better experience on the page. Engagement metrics like bounce rate, time on page and pages per session tell Google how users interact on a page with more words vs. less. For some search queries, the best result might be just a sentence. But for the majority of search queries, longer content is better for the user.
HOW: Before the session I spot check the blog posts for length. It’s common to see posts that would be considered thin from Google’s perspective. I also like to use a feature from SemRush.com, called SEO Content Template. You can put in a search query and it analyzes the top rankings. One of the data points it includes is the average words on the page for the ranking sites. On average, I see anywhere from 800-1,200 words returned. Not every topic needs this much content, and never force your words, but think about it from the user’s perspective. If you were the user and landed on your page, what else would you want to know?
As a last step, we review our recommended content strategies for bloggers. One of the most important things to remember about modern SEO is that even if you can easily check off every item from our checklist, it’s your blog content quality that is the number one factor that Google looks at.