International Women’s Day is on Sunday (8 March) and to mark the occasion, we spoke to some leading female SEO experts to get answers on some of the burning questions in the world of search. Hannah Thorpe, Head of SEO at Found, Miracle Inameti-Archibong, Head of SEO at Erudite, and Stacey MacNaught, SEO and Content Marketing Consultant at MacNaught Digital, share their top tips, give advice on best practices, and give an insight into the latest SEO trends that digital marketers should be aware of in 2020.
What are the best practices surrounding multi-modal search in the digital age?
HT: “Make sure everything is connected and aligned. With search moving towards entities and discovery, and away from single-point search > answer queries, context becomes key to everything you’re doing. Utilise schema to provide a structure to your content and pages, and then internal linking for site hierarchy improvements. Give search engines as much data about your site and content as possible, and make sure it is all connected through context.”
MI: “Google is putting a lot of emphasis on entity understanding. Make sure your brand is establishing itself as an entity using clear and consistent messaging throughout all your online presence. Example: ensure your social media channels cross link each other and list all your social media profiles on your Google My Business (GMB) profile. It’s important that on whichever channel or SERP feature your customers find you, you’re offering the same consistent value.
“As organic listings continue to get reduced real estate and optimising for keywords gets more difficult, focus on building and owning as much of your brand digital landscape as possible.
“The number of sites I see with inconsistent URLs across different social channels, or no cross links between channels because they are being serviced by different agencies, is shocking.”
Is SEO a practical, strong channel for businesses that are not consumer focused?
HT: “Yes, if done correctly. Take a news site for example: these by nature are not consumer focused in that they are not there to sell goods or services, but are there to service the needs of the people. If a business exists to assist as a point of information, data, or news then they are still going to need to be found in order to provide that information to people when they need it. A huge part of that is strong SEO, but it shouldn’t be the only channel. Social is also a strong channel for non-consumer focused businesses, as much for awareness as for performance.”
MI: “Yes, because there are still goals that B2B clients can achieve with SEO. Lead generations, content view, click to call, brand awareness. etc. In the past, SEOs struggled to show ROI in sectors like this because of the tunnel-vision focus on keywords. But as the industry has evolved and become more data focused, we have become better at tracking and reporting on these KPIs. We recently worked with a B2B brand and achieved a 23 per cent increase in form submission through technical changes and CRO. We knew from the sales team what the average conversion rate for calls were, and with whose figures we were able to work out the ROI. We have a few other case studies of working with B2B sites.”
SM: “Absolutely. It’s not just individual consumers who seek products, services, and information on search engines. Even if you’re marketing towards businesses, consider the fact that procurement managements and buying teams also use search engines. For the overwhelming majority of businesses, SEO can make valuable contributions.”
What sort of content would prove interesting while at the same time benefit SEO?
HT: “Data-driven content is great for this as long as the data is unique, and the content dissects and displays it in readable, digestible, and interesting ways. You need text for SEO, but the data provides the interest, so things like visual reports do really well for this when executed properly. The key is not to let the content just sit there – it needs to be relevant to your business, relevant for your users, and provide genuinely interesting information that can then be used for a) improving contextual relevancy across related pages/content pieces, and b) increasing the likelihood that the content will be of value for users and, in turn, search engines.”
MI: “Whenever you publish a piece of content you should ask yourself, why should anyone trust this content? What value does this add to an already flooded market space? What can I do differently? What am I an expert on? Go and sit with your customer service team for a day listen to the questions they get asked frequently, listen to their response, and think, how I can make this content available to our users, so they don’t have to keep calling? Looking in Google Analytics, review your site search. See what your users are searching for that they can’t find. Create a landing page for it. What PDFs and manuals do users access often on your site? Take that content from PDFs and create html pages. If you can’t, then optimise your PDFs.
“Unfortunately, as an industry, with the birth of content marketing we have opened the flood gates to content spam, and Google is desperately trying to combat this with several of the algorithm updates. If you stick to these basic principles – as simple as it sounds – you will future proof your content against algorithm updates.”
SM: “For me, the best “seo content” is just good content! I tend to start out by assessing objectives and keywords for any given page. Who’s the audience? What do we want them to do on the specific page (ie find info then call up or find a product and then buy? Just get informed and share the content maybe?) From here, we look at keyword research and yes, we still want a list of keywords to include. But the keywords should fit naturally – not be rammed in and stuffed. I still see ludicrous amounts of keyword-stuffing going on. But ultimately great content is content that helps the user to achieve their goal on that page.”
What are the key factors for high SEO-friendliness?
HT: “Relevance and usability. Relevance is key to everything you do for SEO. Are the keywords relevant to the landing page? Is the content relevant to the topic? Is the topic relevant to the theme? Is the theme relevant to the business? If the answer is “no” to any of those, then you probably need to rethink the approach. Relevance is what drives contextual understanding, so every content piece, and every page, needs to be tied into the wider picture. Usability then closely follows relevance, because even if you’re doing everything you can to make sure the relevance is there, if users can’t understand your page, or crawlers can’t access it properly, then you’re not focusing on the best practice element. Understand what your users want and how they interact with your pages, cross that against how crawlers understand your pages (eg schema potentials) and then reassess at regular intervals as user (and crawler) behaviour changes.”
MI: “Crawlability, indexability, and speed. There is no point in having a super optimised page, which satisfies the user’s intent, if Google can’t access it and index its content.”
SM: “Great content, sensible basic on-site optimisation, landing pages that understand and meet user intent, solid tech foundations, speed, and a site that is generating inbound links. Easier said than done, I know!”
What are the latest SEO trends that businesses should take into account and add to their strategy?
HT: “Focus on in-SERP optimisation. The SERPs are becoming so convoluted with different features, different appearances, and increased page one competition for the “10 blue links” space, that if you’re not looking at your in-SERP experience you’re missing out. Focus on what elements you can be appearing for, and more importantly which ones you want to be appearing for. Take up SERP real-estate instead of focusing on position one ranking – always, always, make sure you’re getting the best message across that you can to meet user expectations and outweigh the competition, especially for more research-based queries.”
MI: “Voice search is being integrated into every facet of our lives (cars, domestic appliances, digital assistants). Even with featured snippets receiving less clicks than position one, it is still of great value to target featured snippets as these results are most likely to be used to answer voice queries.
“Above all the trends and evolution of search engines, I believe that the key to any business surviving is to algorithm proof your business by providing a consistently good and valuable service to your client, and build positive citation in the digital space. You cannot optimise for BERT and RankBrain but, at the end of the day, Google’s goal is to serve its users what they want to see and, if what they want to see is your site because of its expertise, trustworthiness, and authoritative content, then you would be rewarded. In summary, machine-based search algorithm will reward user demand.”
SM: “The funny thing with SEO is that for all the updates and changes that happen, there are some overarching elements that remain very much the same. Links still matter, basic on-page elements like page titles are still critical… but for me the one thing over the last couple of years that I think has really advanced is how search engines are tying in search intent with results shown. So I think it’s really important that businesses are now thinking about whether the pages they’re trying to rank in search truly to match with the intent of the user (or Google’s interpretation of it, of course).”
How can we make sure that SEO performance will not take a blow during site migration?
HT: “Thorough benchmarking is one of the most important steps of the preparation side to make sure that:
- You know exactly what content is where on the site and how it performs (from organic, all traffic, keyword, and external link perspectives),
- You know exactly what the relationship is between different pages on the site (internal linking, site structure),
- You know exactly which pages are important from an organic perspective versus those that attract traffic from various sources.
Only when you have all of that can you start the redirect mapping process, which is the primary requirement to get correct during the migration so that everything has as close to 1-2-1 redirects as possible. For a (rare) best-practice migration, the ideal outcome would be:
- 1-2-1 mapping for all pages on the site,
- No (or minimal) changes to site structure,
- No (or minimal) changes to URLs,
- No (or minimal) changes to on-page copy and metadata,
- All internal links updated in full,
- All canonical tags updated in full.”
MI: “The key to a successful site migration is a well-planned and executed redirection strategy. Use like-for-like URL mapping, and not a blanket rule to send all URLs to the homepage, as Google will treat those redirects as soft 404s. Create a domain profile in Google Search Console to ensure you capture all URLs. Check your CMS and server to ensure all current redirects are carried over and remapped to the new URLs to avoid redirect chains.
“Bonus point: if you have a large site, ensure your server can handle Google crawling on both versions of your site at the same time so the new site can be indexed quickly.”
SM: “Ah big migrations! There are some epic migration checklists out there (like https://www.semrush.com/blog/website-migration-checklist/) but the key piece of advice I would offer is to invest plenty of time BEFORE you even consider the migration in understanding what URLs you have on your site, which URLs are driving traffic and sales, what they’re ranking for and which ones have inbound links. If any URLs are changing, there’s a big job to do in properly mapping all the existing URLs to the most appropriate new ones. It’s a big job now but can save a world of pain later.”