SEO will remain an important part of your website strategy in 2021. And while the process and focus of SEO have evolved over the years, its modern-day equivalent is even more complex and includes many more factors than it once did. What’s great about this evolution of SEO and organic search traffic is that Google has advanced the algorithm to favor quality sites. And by following Google’s guidelines for things like a seamless user experience, fast-loading web pages, and trustworthy content, sites will perform better in every other area as well. Your priority should always be the user.
Personalized SEO sessions are something we offer to members of the SHE Media Partner Network but the list of what we focus on is available to all. Don’t wait, get your SEO in check now by working through these standout categories.
1. Brand Presence
How: Go ahead, Google yourself. When we’re working with new partners to jump-start their SEO, it’s one of the first things we do. Factors like whether or not a Knowledge Graph is listed, what links Google displays in the SERPs (search engine result pages), and other results can indicate brand authority.
Why: Newer to the SEO ecosystem, brand reputation has become an important part of a domain’s ability to rank well in the search results. Google introduced E-A-T several years back as a sign of emphasis on brand perception.
Once in the session, we stress the importance of brand building and having a strong reputation amongst relevant communities.
2. What Pages Does Google See?
How: The best place to find this information is Google Search Console. If you don’t have a GSC account set up, you should. In the last few years, 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, on 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.
3. Find Your Ranking Keywords
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. We call this building content clusters and still see the most organic traffic growth experienced by consistently using this strategy for a long period of time.
4. Homepage Optimization
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 an important signal for search and you’d be surprised at how many sites we talk to that haven’t bothered to put in a basic homepage SEO title and meta description.
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.
This page is your #1 most valuable real estate. Going back to #1 above, how others perceive your brand is often based on their experience with your homepage. What can people glean from your messaging, are the visuals appealing? The appearance of your homepage matters to both users and Google.
5. On-Page Optimization
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.
6. 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, with 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.
7. Mobile User Experience
Why: Google now adheres to mobile-first indexing. This means that how your site looks/loads/works from a mobile device take 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. People tend to blame ads for slow site speed, but this is just one of many reasons a site might be slow. Heavy images, old code, code bloat, and other code issues are often the culprit.
How: With Google’s Web Core Vitals algorithm on the horizon (ETA: May 2021), we now know the three main metrics that matter most specifically for SEO and user experience purposes. The extension captures speed metrics for Largest Contentful Paint, Cumulative Layout Shift, and First Input Delay.
Highly recommend using Chrome’s WCV extension to see these metrics on the page level.
9. 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.
10. 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 is 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.
11. 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 load 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.
12. Sponsored Content & 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 no-follow. 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 the 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 no-follow, the code will appear like this: <a rel=”nofollow” href=”http://www.example.com/”>Example Anchor Text</a>. To get the functionality of adding no-follow 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 no-follow capabilities.
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.
If you’re a SHE Media Partner and would like an ad layout audit, please reach out to Support@shemedia.com.
14. 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 the 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.