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Erik Wardell

Erik is an SEO coach that loves breaking down complex SEO topics into understandable instructions anyone can follow. He thrives on helping people do what it takes to see their businesses succeed in search. Stay in touch on Twitter — @wanderinwardell.

All Resources by Erik Wardell

How to Use Header Tags for SEO

April 15, 2021

Have you ever tried to quickly skim a web page that is nothing but text-heavy paragraphs devoid of header tags? Well, next time you do, you'll likely ended up clicking the back button in search of a resource that is easier to interact with.

Let's look at how header tags benefit both your users and search engines, and how you can properly optimize them.

What Are Header Tags?

Header tags add structure to your web pages and create valuable hierarchy within your content. The rank in order of importance from H1 to H6.

When you properly order header tags on a page, the content on that page becomes much easier to understand and interact with for both search engines and users.

Here is the preferred hierarchy for header tags on a page:

header structure

H1 is typically the title of a page or post.

H2 is a sub-header and is used to signify the main ideas or sections of a page or post.

H3-H6 further tag content and create an organizational hierarchy. Often, these are used in bullet-pointed lists.

Why are Header Tags Important?

Readability and usability are two key measures that search engines pay attention to when deciding how well to rank a page.

Headers play a major roll in not only adding context to your content, but also making a page more engaging and enjoyable to interact with.

Header Tag SEO Best Practices

  • Sequence tags in a logical order from H1-H6.
  • Ensure the H1 includes the page's focus keyword and comes first in the sequence.
  • Only use one H1 tag per page. For blog posts, the H1 should be the title of the post. For product/service pages, the H1 should be the name of the product/service.
  • Integrate the focus and secondary keywords in lower-order tags where possible.
  • Use header tags to pose common questions about a topic. Then, immediately answers those questions with paragraph copy.

What to Avoid

  • Placing lower-order headers before higher-order headers, i.e. H3 before H1.
  • Using non-sequential headers i.e. H5, H2, H4.
  • Using headers to visually style (versus organize) text.

Take Action

Add structure to your pages and posts by properly formatting header tags. You can apply this on-site SEO tactic to your existing pages and posts. Start with your most important content and ensure those pages meet the best practices described above. Then, continue to use keyword-optimized headers in your blog posts and any new pages you create.

TAKE A GUIDED APPROACH

Follow our step-by-step process and grow your business.

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How to Create SEO Friendly URLs

April 15, 2021

Properly formatted URLs are useful for both your website visitors and search engines. Well-formatted URLs give your pages a better chance of ranking in search results and also encourage users to click on them across the web.

Learn how to create SEO-friendly URLs in this quick guide.

What is URL SEO?

When we talk about formatting URLs properly for SEO, we are more specifically talking about formatting the “path” or “slug” portion of a URL.

For example, in pathfinderseo.com/guided-seo, the term guided-seo occupies the slug or path portion of our URL. Optimizing this element of a page's URL with relevant keywords is URL SEO.

Why is URL SEO Important?

Search engines look at this text in a URL to figure out what that page is about. More importantly, users look to it when deciding whether or not to click a particular URL when they discover it in search results or on other web pages.

If a URL is too long, poorly structured, or contains a jumble of letters and numbers, search engines will have a hard time deriving context from it. Not only that, but users are less likely to click on it when they come across it across the web.

How to Optimize URLs for SEO

  • Make your URLs concise and human-friendly.
  • Communicate the core topic of a page in the “slug” or “path” portion of your URL.
  • Include your focus keyword, if possible.

What to Avoid

  • Long URLs.
  • Strings of ambiguous numbers and letters.
  • Text that doesn't provide useful context.
  • Unnecessary words like in, and, the.

Should I Update an Existing URL?

As your build awareness around what makes a URL good for users and the search engines, you'll likely discover existing URLs that are in need of a refresh.

The concern with changing an existing URL is that the search engines are already familiar with the current URL. The current URL is in the search engine's index and likely there are links from other websites pointing to that page.

Changing an existing URL risks rocking the boat, so to speak. To minimize the impact, utilize a 301 redirect. The 301 redirect sends the search engines crawlers and users from the old URL to the new URL. 301 redirects pass 95-99% of the original value of the page to the new page so they are an effective SEO tactic.

That being said, tread lightly when it comes to changing existing URLs. If the change is subtle, then it's best to leave the URL as is. If the change, however, takes a URL from bad to great, then it is likely worth it.

URLs for a New Website

If you are designing and developing a new website, it is the perfect time to perfect your URLs. There is a lot of change that comes naturally with a new website. Ensuring that the URLs on your new website meet SEO best practices is recommended. Just be sure to redirect the old URLs to the applicable new URL so that the search engines and users don't get lost in the shuffle when the new website launches.

SEO is Incremental

Start applying these URL SEO best practices to all new pages and posts on your website. Review your current URLs to see if any pages warrant an update.

SEO is a series of small, step-by-step changes that lead to big results. URL SEO is just one piece of the process.

TAKE A GUIDED APPROACH

Follow our step-by-step process and grow your business.

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Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

Title Tags & Meta Descriptions — A Beginners Guide

April 15, 2021

Knowing title tag and meta description best practices is essential knowledge for those wanting to optimize pages to rank better.

Let's get into how to make the most out of these two key on-site SEO elements.

What are Title Tags & Meta Descriptions?

Title tags (also known as page titles or SEO titles) and meta descriptions are two HTML tags that live in a page's header. They tell search engines what a page is about and are one of the first things crawlers look at on a page.

title tag and meta description code

As a result, title tags and meta descriptions need to clearly explain what a page is about and use the focus keyword that page is targeting, if possible.

Why are Title Tags and Meta Descriptions Useful?

Well-crafted title tags and meta descriptions send signals to search engines that clearly tell them what keywords you want a page to rank for.

title tag and meta description example

Not only that, title tags and meta descriptions are what show up in front of users in search results as search snippets. Great search snippets attract clicks. Clicks that can end up turning searchers into customers or clients.

Title Tag Best Practices

Search engines use the content of title tags as a ranking factor. That means how well, or how poorly, we craft a page's title tag will impact that page's ability to rank.

A quality title tag is well-written and engaging. It should always include a page's focus keyword and compel people to click.

An example of a good title tag for our “fly fishing in Aspen” page might be something like:

How to Optimize Title Tags

  • Draft title tag copy that is unique, descriptive, and compelling.
  • Write for humans, not search engines.
  • Include the page's focus keyword at the front of the copy and your brand at the end.
  • Keep title tags under 60 characters if possible.
  • Use separators like the pipe, hyphen, or colon to separate different elements.
  • Place your brand name after the title separator, except for on the homepage, where it typically goes first.
  • Capitalize like a blog title.

What to Avoid

  • Keyword stuffing
  • Not including a focus keyword
  • Sloppy formatting

Meta Description Best Practices

Unlike the title tag, a page's meta description is not a ranking factor. However, we still want to craft it in a way that encourages people to click on that page's snippet in search results. You can think of a meta description as an abbreviated sales pitch for a page.

A quality meta description for the fly fishing in Aspen page could read:

How to Optimize Meta Descriptions

  • Draft in sentence format so they can be easily read.
  • Tell users how a page will help solve their problems or provide a solution they are in search of.
  • Write meta descriptions in an active voice.
  • Include your focus keyword if possible.
  • Have a clear call to action like “learn more” or “buy now”.
  • Make sure the meta description is less than 160 characters long.

What to Avoid

  • Boring meta descriptions.
  • Using passive voice.
  • Including a phone number instead of a call to action.

Take Action

Crafting great title tags and meta descriptions is part art and part science. Start with a spreadsheet. List your top 10-20 pages along with the focus keyword for each page. Then, follow the best practices above to write the first draft.

Title tags and meta descriptions in hand, it's time to get feedback. This is where SEO coaching comes into play. Pathfinder subscribers schedule a one-on-one call to review their title tags and meta descriptions before implementing them on their website.

Take a Step-by-Step Approach to SEO

The key to growing your organic search traffic is taking a steady, step-by-step approach. SEO is a series of small actions that accumulate and lead to great results.

Customizing title tags and meta descriptions is one of those steps. Rely on our process and work with an SEO coach to take your website further, faster. Schedule a demo to learn how guided SEO works.

TAKE A GUIDED APPROACH

Follow our step-by-step process and grow your business.

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Scrabble Keywords

Where to Use Keywords for SEO

April 15, 2021

One of the strongest on-page (also referred to as on-site) signals we can provide search engines and users is the proper use of keywords that are highly relevant to the content on a particular page. 

As a reminder, there are two categories of keywords you want to use in your on-page optimization:

This is the keyword you want a page to target and rank well for, above all others.

Since search engines rank individual pages instead of websites as a whole, it's important to pair each page on your site with its own unique focus keyword. In other words, no two pages should have the same focus keyword.

A page's focus keyword should first and foremost be highly relevant to the content on that page. People searching that focus keyword should also have their search intent satisfied by the content on that page.

For example, if we pick the focus keyword “fly fishing in Aspen,” the content on our page better be all about fly fishing in Aspen (relevant) and tell visitors everything they might want to know about it (fulfills search intent).

Other, slightly less important, relevant keywords that you want a page to rank for.

While pairing a page with just one focus keyword was a useful approach back in the day, it no longer works terribly well. Instead, we want to compliment our focus keyword with two or three secondary keywords on the same page. These are keywords that are highly relevant to that page and similar to the focus keyword.

To complement our focus keyword above “fly fishing in Aspen,” we might use secondary keywords like “Aspen Colorado fly fishing,” “Colorado's best fly fishing,” and “fly fishing around Aspen.”

We call the process of selecting one focus keyword and a few secondary keywords to be paired with a page “keyword mapping.” Once you've mapped keywords to a particular page, it's time to integrate them into the content on that page.

Where to Use Keywords for SEO

Now that you have a fresh understanding of the two main types of keywords (focus and secondary) we need to integrate into our on-page SEO, let's talk about where to integrate keywords on a page.

Your focus keyword should appear at least once on a page's:

  • Title tag and meta description
  • URL (optional)
  • H1 and H2 headers
  • Paragraph copy
  • Image alt text and file names

Secondary keywords can supplement your focus keyword in all those places where it makes sense. However, we recommend making sure you sprinkle them throughout your:

  • Subheaders
  • Paragraph copy
  • Image alt text and file names

One thing you want to avoid is using the exact same, or very similar, keywords on multiple pages. When you do, your pages might end up competing against each other. This is sometimes referred to as “keyword cannibalization.”

If you find that you have pages competing for the same keywords, it might be worth combining the content on those pages into one. If that's not an option, you may want to find distinct keywords to pair with each of the pages.

Learn more about how to use keywords for SEO in our comprehensive guide.

Step-by-Step Approach

SEO is a series of small actions that when combined lead to growth. Like all things, it's a process.

At Pathfinder SEO, we share the process we developed over the past 10-years and break SEO into a series of easy-to-follow lessons. You don't have to be an SEO expert to get found on Google. Instead, take a guided approach with Pathfinder SEO. Schedule a demo to learn more.

TAKE A GUIDED APPROACH

Follow our step-by-step process and grow your business.

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wordpress

The Best SEO Plugin for WordPress — Yoast vs. Rank Math vs. AIl in One SEO

January 11, 2021

There are hundreds of plugins available to WordPress users looking to grow their website traffic via SEO. This makes the process of picking one overwhelming. Which WordPress SEO plugin is the best? How do you choose?

In this post, we'll compare three of the best multifunction SEO plugins available: Yoast SEO, RankMath, and All in One SEO.

Yoast SEO is the largest player in the space with 5+ million active installs. All in One SEO has been around the longest and has 2+ million active installs. Rank Math is relatively new to the space but it offers some amazing features and is rapidly eating up market share.

Over the past few years, the feature set of each of these plugins has multiplied, as each plugin competes for dominance. This comparison will help you find the SEO plugin that will drive the greatest growth for your website.

Who is This Comparison For?

This comparison of Yoast, Rank Math, and All in One is for power users – freelancers and agencies who offer SEO services and site owners serious about their SEO.

You may still find value in this comparison if you manage a small brochure site, occasionally blog, or are looking for a “set it and forget it” SEO solution (note: we don't really think that's an effective solution when it comes to SEO).

WordPress SEO Plugin Comparison Criteria

These plugins have enormous numbers of features. Instead of focusing on comparing each and every feature, we'll look at the features we consider most essential to a holistic SEO strategy. These are the comparison criteria we'll use for our feature analysis:

Technical SEO – Which plugins help search engines find, index, and properly display your site's content in the search results?

Content & UX – Which plugins help you optimize the text, images, videos, and other media on your website? And, will they help make your site easily accessible and highly useful to your audience?

On-Site SEO – Will these plugins ensure all the elements of your website are properly optimized so that they send the right signals to search engines and users?

Off-Site SEO – Do these plugins improve your site's authority and increase trust in the eyes of the search engines and your audience?

Plugin User Experience – How easy is it to use these plugins and what kinds of resources are required to get the most out of them? (While this has little to do with your site's ability to rank in the search results, it's still important, because you'll need to dedicate time and resources to configure and maintain these plugins.)

Now that you know our comparison criteria, let's start our actual comparison by tackling Technical SEO, the foundation of any comprehensive SEO strategy.

Technical SEO

If search engines can't find and index your site, it can't show up in the search results the way you want it to. Dialing in your technical SEO is the first step to getting found by your audience via the search results. Here's how each plugin stacks up when it comes to technical SEO features, followed by descriptions of what each feature can do:

✓ – Included in Free Version 

X – Not in Free Version 

$ – Pro/Premium Subscription Required

XML Sitemap
Basic Structured Data
Google Search Console / Bing Webmaster Tools Verification
Robots.txt Editing
htaccess File Editing
Permalink / Slug Control X
Redirect Manager $ X $
Canonical URL Control
Advanced Link Options X X $
AMP-Friendly
Ping Google & Bing
Robots Meta Control
Fix Crawl Errors X X
Site Speed X X $

XML Sitemap Support – XML sitemaps are files that tell search engines which pages you want appearing in the search results. All three plugins allow you to generate high-quality XML sitemaps. 

Basic Structured Data – Structured data is code that gives search engines more context about the content you have on your site. Schema markup is the type of structured data all three plugins use. All three let you specify whether your site is for a person or an organization, and each provides basic markup for your website as a whole, as well as for the most common content types. The Rank Math plugin offers more advanced schema markup options in its paid versions. 

Search Engine Verification – Making sure that the various search engines know about your website is essential if you want to increase your organic traffic. All three plugins help you verify your site with Google, Bing, Baidu, and Yandex. All in One and Rank Math both allow you to verify with Pinterest, and Rank Math additionally provides Alexa and Norton Safe Web verifications.

Robots.txt – A Robots.txt file tells search engines which pages you want them to avoid crawling and indexing. All three plugins allow you to edit your robots.txt file, in the event you need to make changes. 

.Htaccess File Editing – An .htaccess file is a configuration file that modifies how a website works on a server. All three plugins allow you to edit this file as needed. 

Permalink/Slug Control – All in One is the only plugin that doesn't allow you to edit your permalinks. However, since these edits are already easy with WordPress, this feature is largely unnecessary. 

Redirect Manager – 301 redirects are incredibly useful if you don't want search engines getting lost when they crawl your site, or if pages occasionally get moved and/or deleted. If you want to manage your redirects using your SEO plugin, you will need either the premium version of Yoast or the free version of Rank Math. 

Canonicalization – If you have duplicate pages of content, you can tell search engines which is the master version of that content with rel=canonical tags. All three plugins allow you to easily add these tags at the individual page level. 

Link Control – Rank Math is the only plugin that has advanced link control settings, allowing you to add default actions for all of your links, such as the useful “open internal links in new tab” and the less useful “nofollow all external links.” 

AMP-friendly – Want your pages to load quickly on mobile? You might want to use the AMP for WordPress plugin. All three of these SEO plugins play nicely with the Amp for WordPress plugin. 

Ping Google and Bing – All three plugins let Google and Bing know every time your sitemap gets updated, so the search engines prioritize the latest version of your site. 

Robots Meta Controls – Want to control how each individual page gets crawled and Indexed? Then you need control over your robots meta tags. All three plugins give you advanced control over these tags. 

Crawl Errors – Rank Math is the only one of our three plugins that automatically flags crawl errors so that you can fix them right away.

Content and UX Considerations

Content is (still) king/queen in the world of SEO. You need to be providing highly useful content to your users, answering their questions and providing them with the solutions they seek. 

✓ – Included in Free Version 

X – Not in Free Version 

$ – Pro/Premium Subscription Required

SEO Content Analysis
Breadcrumb Control X
Readability Check
Cornerstone/Pillar Content ID X

SEO Content Analysis – While none of these tools will tell you how useful your content is, they will tell you if it's optimized around the right keyword(s), as well as if it's user-friendly.

Breadcrumbs – From a user standpoint, breadcrumbs can be an incredibly helpful tool for navigating a site. Rank Math & Yoast SEO allow for the most breadcrumb customization. At the time of this review, we couldn't find any breadcrumb controls in All in One.

Readability Check – Nine times out of ten, your audience isn't willing to suffer through content that isn't readable. All three plugins have readability checks to ensure you're providing users with a high-quality experience. 

Cornerstone/Pillar Content ID – Both Yoast and Rank Math allow you to identify your most important pieces of content, i.e. your “pillar” or “cornerstone” content, so that they can help you improve that content's visibility.

On-site Optimization Considerations

On-site optimization often makes the difference between getting found in the search results and wasting away on page two (or below). Fortunately, on-site optimization is the sweet spot for all three plugins.

✓ – Included in Free Version 

X – Not in Free Version 

$ – Pro/Premium Subscription Required

Individual Page SEO
SEO for Custom Post Types
Keyword Research $ X X
Focus Keyword ID
Secondary Keyword ID $ X $
Keyword Implementation Direction X
Keyword Counter $
Focus Keyword List X $
Automate Title Tags
Automate Meta Descriptions
Automation Variables
Title Tag Separator Select
SEO for Categories, Tags, Taxonomies
Internal Linking Guidance $ X
Snippet Preview
Image SEO X $ $
News SEO $ $
Advanced Local Business SEO $ $ $
Advanced WooCommerce SEO $ $ $
Search Analytics X X $
Bulk Editor X

Individual Page On-site SEO – One of the best things about all three of these plugins is that each gives you a heap of on-site optimization options at the page level, in addition to having robust on-site automation at the global level. 

SEO for Custom Post Types – If your site is using custom post types, fear not. All page-level optimization options apply to that content, as well.  

Keyword Research – Keyword research is the foundation of SEO. After all, how can you provide your audience with value if you don't know what they're looking for? Yoast is the only plugin that has a keyword research tool at this time and it requires a SEMRush account. Yoast users get up to ten free keywords per day without having to upgrade plans. 

Focus Keyword Identification – All three plugins allow you to identify a focus keyword. Yoast and Rank Math use that information to provide content and optimization recommendations. It is unclear what All in One currently does with that information. 

Secondary Keyword Identification – Want to optimize your content around secondary keywords? Yoast will help you do this in a clever way if you pay for the premium version of the plugin. Rank Math will provide secondary keyword optimization tips, but the way it does so is currently a bit clunky. 

Keyword Implementation Direction – After you've identified your keyword(s), you need feedback to make sure you're using them correctly. Yoast and Rank Math will provide many of the insights you need at the page level. All in One has nothing for you in terms of keyword advice at this time. 

Keyword Counter – The need to have specific keyword density on your pages is gone; once upon a time it made sense, but no longer. It's still useful to know how many times you've used your keywords in your content, though – be sure to shoot for that sweet spot between too many and too few. 

Focus Keyword List – The paid version of Rank Math will give you a tidy list of all the keywords you're targeting in one place. Not only that, but it will also tell you how well you're ranking for each. Yoast is the only plugin that will allow you to export a CSV of your keywords. 

Automate Title Tags & Meta Descriptions – All of these tools will allow you to automatically assign title tags and meta descriptions sitewide. They all also allow you to customize your title tags and meta descriptions

VariablesVariables allow you to automatically pull specific values into your title tags and meta descriptions. Say you have 100 products and don't want to write custom tags for all of them. You can use variables to create great title tags and meta descriptions for all those pages with little more than a few clicks. All three plugins allow this. 

Title Tag Separators – Title tag separators break up search snippet titles and make them more user friendly. For example, the “pipe” or “bar” in our homepage's title tag “Pathfinder SEO | Guided SEO” is the separator we prefer. Whether you prefer the pipe, a colon, arrows, dashes, bullets, etc., each of these plugins will allow you to select a default separator. All in One and Rank Math will even let you customize yours. 

SEO for Archive Pages – Archive pages can be some of your greatest assets if you have a ton of useful content. Fortunately, all three of these plugins allow you to optimize archive pages the same way you would a blog post or a page. 

Internal Linking Guidance – A solid internal link network is critical to spreading link equity throughout your site. Rank Math is the only plugin that provides this option for free, although Yoast includes it with their premium subscription. 

Snippet Preview – All three of these tools will show you what your meta tags will look like in the search results when Google and Bing display them. 

Image SEO – All in One SEO and Rank Math will automate image alternative text and title text for you. You have to pay extra for this feature in All in One, but it's free in Rank Math. All three plugins provide image information in their XML sitemaps as well as the ability to set a default image for each page. Unfortunately, though, none of these plugins will optimize your image file sizes. 

Advanced News, Local Business SEO – Both Yoast and Rank Math are going to be the best tools if you need advanced news or local business SEO support. 

WooCommerce SEO – All three plugins offer advanced WooCommerce features if you are willing to fork it over for the paid versions. If you are running WooCommerce site, it's definitely worth investing in the paid versions of these plugins. Afterall, you have to spend money to make money. 

Search Analytics – If you want your plugin to connect to Google Analytics (GA) and Google Search Console (GSC) data, expect to pay for that option in Rank Math. They're worth it, though: Rank Math's single post SEO reports are truly impressive.  Neither Yoast nor All in One have search analytics integrations. 

Bulk Editor – Yoast and Rank Math will allow you to bulk edit your title tags and meta descriptions. All in One currently lacks this capability.

Off-site Optimization Considerations

Off-site SEO means everything you do outside of your own website to gain the trust of search engines. This includes link building, Local SEO, citations, and more. It's safe to say that off-site SEO is not the focus of any of these plugins, but there are a few features that will assist your off-site SEO efforts here and there.

✓ – Included in Free Version 

X – Not in Free Version 

$ – Pro/Premium Subscription Required

Open Graph Optimization
Social Previews $
Link Building Tools X X X
Local SEO $ $ $

Open Graph Optimization & Social Preview – If you want your content to have maximum impact when it gets shared across social media, you need to optimize its open graph appearance. All three plugins allow you to do this – Rank Math will even automate it for you. If you're serious about your social presence, the free version of Rank Math will give you the most bang for your buck, while the paid versions have extra perks such as branded watermarks on your social images.

Link Building Tools – While Yoast Premium and Rank Math have internal linking suggestions, neither do much when it comes to helping you build external links.

Local SEO – If you want to hand search engines your basic local business information in a tidy little package, all of these plugins will help you do that with their structured data features. However, if you want advanced local SEO features, all three plugins will make up pay for upgrades.

WordPress SEO Plugin User Experience & Cost

The cost and usability of these plugins won't directly impact your ability to rank. However, you are doing to dedicate a bunch of time setting up, configuring, and learning how to use the plugin of your choice. As a result, you want to pick one that's going to be a fit for your business for the long-haul. These considerations might tips the scales one way or the other as a result.

✓ – Included in Free Version 

X – Not in Free Version 

$ – Pro/Premium Subscription Required

Cost per year Free / $89 Free / $99 / $199 / 299 Free / $59 / $199
Average Update Timing 2 Weeks 1 Month 2 Weeks
Setup Wizard
Basic Support
Premium Support $ $ $
Documentation ★★★★★ ★★ ★★★★★
Ease of Use ★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★
Free Educational Support Blog / Courses X Blog
Warnings & Notices
Multisite Compatible
Bloat Heavy Light Medium
Toggle Features On/Off
Keyword Ranking X X $
SEO Score/Analysis X
User Control

Cost – One of the most important factors when comparing plugins is obviously cost. If cost is a major factor, Rank Math's free version will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Rank Math also gives you more useful features with the Pro and Business plans when compared to the cost of Yoast Premium.

However, Yoast bundles its courses into premium subscriptions, which is a massive value add! Afterall, these tools are only as good as the SEO knowledge that underpins them. Yoast's awesome courses are an amazing resource for growing your SEO knowledge.

Average Update Time – Updates are important. Without regular updates, these plugins can create security vulnerabilities and other issues on your site.

Yoast and Rank Math are the best at updating their plugins; they update roughly every two weeks. We don't see updates to All in One happen nearly as often, but that might change soon, since they just launched a new version of the plugin.

Updates shouldn't break your site. Since Yoast is the most widely used plugin, its team does a ton to make sure each update is reliable. Rank Math's updates happen just about as regularly as Yoast's, but the updates aren't as reliable – it's more likely to accidentally break something on your site.

Wizard – Properly configuring your plugins is key if you want to get the most out of them. All three plugins have setup wizards to get you on the right track from the beginning.

Support – If you run into an issue with any of these plugins, you'll either need to rely on forums or pay extra for premium support. All three offer premium support plans to help you solve your problems. If you don't want to pay for support, you will have to take a ticket and jump in a long queue, waiting to hear back from customer service.

It's also important to note that support won't assist you with SEO strategy related questions, they merely help with technical support issues. If you need assistance with SEO strategy, you might want to consider a guided approach to SEO.

Ease of Use – When it comes to usability, all three plugins are great. That being said, the most user-friendly interfaces belong to All in One and Rank Math.  Yoast's user interface, although relatively intuitive and user-friendly, feels more dated by comparison.

Free Educational Support – Yoast's blog is a wellspring of free SEO knowledge. They also offer paid SEO courses that come free with a Yoast premium subscription. All in One and Rank Math leave a lot to be desired in terms of educational SEO material; however, a tool like Pathfinder SEO can help you make up for those deficiencies.

Warnings & Notices – All three plugins provide warnings and notices about your site's SEO in addition to offering recommendations about improving the function of whichever plugin you're using.

Multisite Compatible – All three plugins are multisite compatible, allowing you to use the plugin across the various sites in your multisite setup.

Bloat – Both Rank Math and Yoast have more features than most plugin users will ever need. That's why they include the ability to toggle features on and off. 

Toggle Features On/Off – If you have every available feature running in your SEO plugin, your site's speed is likely to take a hit. Fortunately, all three plugins allow you to control which features you want to activate and which you want to remain inactive. We highly recommend that you only activate those that you need. 

Keyword Rankings – Rank Math is the only one of these plugins that provides keyword ranking information to keep track of page performance without needing a third-party tool like Pathfinder SEO. You will need to pay for a Pro version to access keyword rankings, though. 

SEO Score/Analysis – All three plugins provide SEO score analysis. While you'll get some helpful nuggets, we don't find them to be quite as useful as expected. Rank Math and All in One focus on an overall SEO analysis, while Yoast focuses more on content analysis. 

User Control – Don't want to give everyone who has access to your site control over your SEO? No problem. All three plugins allow you to limit the interaction of various types of users. If this function is important to you, we recommend you look closely at the capabilities of each plugin.

What is the Best WordPress SEO Plugin?

Ultimately, it's you who chooses the winner. The best WordPress plugin depends on what you value most.

Yoast

Yoast SEO continues to be the leader in the WordPress SEO plugin space. It's the plugin our team uses and recommends most often.

The team at Yoast is made of as SEO professionals and continues to stay on the cutting edge of what's going on in the world of SEO. That makes them more focused on adding features that will help generate real-world SEO results. A perfect example is the keyword research tool they recently added to the plugin.

In addition, let's not forget that SEO plugins are merely tools. They're only as good as the SEO knowledge that underpins them. 

The Yoast team's unparalleled dedication to WordPress SEO education is another reason why we love the plugin. They have assuredly done more to advance the WordPress community's knowledge of SEO than any of the three plugin creators on this list. This means you'll get online SEO training for beginners through advanced practitioners to pair directly with the plugin, and for free when you have a Yoast Premium subscription. 

The biggest drawback when it comes to using Yoast is the fact that you have to upgrade to paid versions of the plugin if you want valuable features like the redirect manager, social previews,  advanced local SEO, and advanced WooCommerce.

Rank Math

Rank Math is really shaking things up. It offers the most advanced features of the three plugins. Many of them at no additional cost. If you're shopping based on price, this plugin gives you the most for free. 

The Pro and Business versions of the plugin are exceptionally innovative with great new features such as the integration of Google Search Console and Google Analytics data. Having this SEO performance data right in your WordPress dashboard can be a game-changer. After all, you can't improve what you don't measure. 

The only downside when it comes to Rank Math is its number of features. If you're relatively new to WordPress SEO, you may not know whether or not a certain feature matters. This plugin is most helpful to WordPress users with more advanced SEO knowledge and skills.

All in One SEO

As for All in One SEO, the new version of the plugin is a welcome improvement compared to the old version. You'll find all the necessary features one would expect in a multifunction SEO plugin. It's also easy to use.

That said, the future is bright for this plugin.  It was acquired by Awesome Motive (WPBeginner, OptinMonster, WPForms, etc.) in early 2020. If you know anything about the Awesome Motive team, you know they transform software, making it more brilliant and easy to use. We'd bet that this will be the easiest SEO plugin to use in the next year or so.

Don't Forget, SEO Plugins Are Only Tools

Choosing a WordPress SEO plugin is a big decision. No matter which you choose, rest assured that all three of these multi-function SEO plugins are great! They give you the infrastructure you need to excel in the search results.

Pathfinder SEO's guided approach to SEO pairs well with all three of these plugins. The plugins provide the infrastructure; we provide the process, tools, and coaching.

Your website's ultimate success in organic search comes from following a holistic strategy and steadily taking action. This means measurable growth for your website and your business.

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Yoast SEO Variables

Yoast SEO Variables Explained

August 21, 2020

Variables in the Yoast SEO plugin give you the power to autogenerate page titles and meta descriptions for your entire website based on a set of rules defined by content type. This is one of the many powerful tools in WordPress that make it a search engine friendly content management system.

Variables help you automate the process of creating page titles and meta descriptions that are properly formatted and information-rich. A few commonly used variables include:

%%title%% – Title of the post or page.
%%sitename%% – Name of the website.
%%excerpt%% – Excerpt of the post or page.
%%date%% – Date of the post or page.

Yoast variables act like placeholders. When a variable goes into action, it finds a piece of information, like the title of the page and it shows that instead of the naked variable…because no one wants to see %%title%%.

To Automate or Not? It Depends.

Automating page titles and meta descriptions is a powerful way to optimize WordPress websites at scale. The downside is that customization of page titles and meta descriptions typically leads to better results via on-page optimization specifically targeted to a well-researched keyword.

We recommend an optimization process that blends automation and customization. Start with automation by configuring the Yoast SEO plugin Titles & Metas at the content type level. Then, customize for top-level pages and any content ripe for driving traffic to the website.

Automation is also great for larger organizations with multiple players adding content to the website. For example, if you have multiple authors of a blog. In this instance, blog posts instantly are assigned page titles and meta descriptions which is pretty good. And then you, as the SEO expert, can jump in and overwrite them with custom page titles and meta descriptions on an as-needed basis.

Identify Important Pages

One strategy for when and how to use Yoast variables is to identify the most important pages on your website. This strategy is especially helpful for your blog.

Do you have a blog post that’s really important to you, and you really want that blog post to rank for a keyword or phrase? If so, write a unique page title and meta description for these important blog posts.

Say you have another blog post about a winter sale from 5 years ago and it’s really short, just describing the sale details. That’s a blog post that doesn’t need the special attention of an optimized page title and meta description. Leave that one to autogeneration.

Sift through the pages on your website to identify where you should devote your time, and where you can automate meta descriptions with Yoast variables.

Another Opinion – What Yoast Says about Automation

Autogenerating page titles is all good. What’s open to question, though, is whether or not to autogenerate meta descriptions using the Yoast SEO plugin. Yoast’s founder, Joost de Valk, doesn’t recommend using the Titles & Metas section to automate meta descriptions.

Why not?

According to Joost, “if you’re thinking of auto-generating the meta description, you might as well not do anything and let the search engine control the snippet.”

When you leave your meta description field empty, the search engines are more likely to pull a sentence or two from your page containing something close to the searcher’s query, if not the exact query itself. When search engines locate words or phrases similar to the searcher’s query, they display those words or phrases in bold text. This improves your visibility on the search engine results page (SERP) because not all of the results will have bold text.

Joost says depend on the search engines because autogenerated meta descriptions in the Yoast SEO plugin don’t have the intelligence (yet) to pull sentences from your page containing the searcher’s query.

When you autogenerate meta descriptions using the Yoast SEO plugin, you’re telling the search engines to grab the first 160 characters (give or take) of text on your page. Now, what’s in that first 160 characters? Probably not a keyword matching a search query, unless you’re in the habit of starting off your page copy with your keyword…not always the best idea.

But, what if you don’t want to autogenerate your meta descriptions or depend on the search engines? Well, what’s left is manually writing each of your meta descriptions. Still, depending on your website’s size, writing unique meta descriptions for every page can be time-consuming and not the best use of your time.

Here Is How to Automate Page Titles & Meta Descriptions in WordPress with the Yoast SEO Plugin

Now, how do you go about automating page titles and meta descriptions in the Yoast SEO plugin? It’s easy. But first, you need to have the Yoast SEO plugin installed.

If you have the Yoast SEO plugin installed, then we’re ready to go.

  • First, log into your WordPress website.
  • Hover over the Yoast SEO plugin in the left-hand menu, and click on Search Appearance.
  • In the first tab, General, select your title separator. The vertical line, or pipe, is most commonly used.
  • Next, click on the “Content Types” tab. This is where we’ll finally get into the variables.
  • The first content type you’ll see at the top of the page is Posts, meaning your blog posts. There are 2 fields for you to complete, SEO title and Meta description template.
    For the majority of your post types, we recommend using something like this for the Title template: %%title%% %%sep%% %%sitename%%. When these variables go to work, they’ll pull the title (%%title%%) of the page, your chosen separator (%%sep%%), and the name of your site (%%sitename%%). This is a basic variable construction, and it gets the job done.
  • To automate your meta descriptions, in the Meta description template field, type %%excerpt%%. The excerpt variable pulls the first 160 characters (give or take) of text from the page copy.
Yoast SEO content type variables

Those are some of the most basic Yoast variables. Though basic, they’re powerful and help you autogenerate page titles and meta descriptions across every page on your website. However, if the variables above don’t work with your site configuration, Yoast lets you create custom variables and variables specific to WooCommerce.

Check out all of Yoast’s variable options by visiting the Help center in the Titles & Metas section. Go to Help center > Basic Variables and Advanced Variables.

In Closing

Variables do a great job of taking lots of repetitive work off your plate. Use them to make your job easier and ensure a consistent appearance for your pages in the search results.

If you need human help getting your variables dialed in, learn about Pathfinder SEO's guided approach to SEO.

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WordPress Robots.txt & Robots Meta Directives Explained

August 21, 2020

What is a robots.txt file?

Before search engines crawl your website, they check the robots.txt file for instructions. Robots.txt is a very powerful file, so tread lightly when updating it. Double-check that you are indeed communicating your intended goals.

You can view your robots.txt file at www.mywebsite.com/robots.txt.

WordPress & Robots.txt

WordPress websites in development typically use the robots.txt file to block crawlers from indexing the website. The code looks like:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

“User-agent:” followed by an asterisk addresses all crawlers. “Disallow:” followed by a forward slash instructs crawlers to not index any page on the website.

To update your robots.txt file, navigate to the Reading settings in your WordPress website. When you’re ready for search engines and people to visit your website, go to Settings > Reading in the left-hand menu, and uncheck the box for “Discourage search engines from indexing this site”.

robots.txt

Then, your robots.txt file will read:

User-Agent: *
Disallow:

We recommend a very clean robots.txt file since, in addition to its pages, search engines also like to crawl your website’s JavaScript, CSS, and Ajax.

Should I add my XML sitemap to the robots.txt file?

Rather than adding your XML sitemap to the robots.txt file, submit it directly to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.

How do I update my robots.txt in WordPress?

An easy way to update your robots.txt in WordPress is in the Yoast SEO plugin.

  • Log into your WordPress website.
  • In the left-hand navigation, go to Yoast > Tools and click on File Editor.
  • Update the robots.txt file.

What are robots meta directives?

Robots meta directives provide firm, detailed instructions on how search engines should crawl and index an individual page’s content.

<meta name=“robots” content=“[parameters]”>

The most common content values are:

  • Nofollow – Don’t follow the links in the page’s content.
  • Follow – Follow the links in the page’s content.
  • Noindex – Don’t index the page.
  • Index – Index the page, please.

If you want to exclude a page from search engine results, but you want crawlers to follow the links on that page, use:

<meta name=“robots” content=“noindex,follow”>

How do you add a robots meta directive in WordPress?

Yoast SEO makes it easy to update the robots meta directives at the content type and taxonomy levels.

  • Log into your WordPress website and go to the Yoast SEO plugin in the left-hand navigation.
  • Select Search Appearance.
  • To change a content type’s meta directive, slide the bar from Yes to No in the “Show [content type] in search results?” section. Save your changes.
Yoast No Index

In Closing

Robots meta directives can be a powerful SEO tool. Learn how to use them properly and you will be able to better manage how Google and Bing interact with your site.

Want to learn more about WordPress SEO, check out our Field Guide to SEO.

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WordPress Website Not in Search

Why Is My WordPress Website Not Appearing in the Search Engines?

August 21, 2020

By default, a WordPress website includes a robots.txt directive that prevents search engines from crawling and indexing it.

This is helpful while the website is in development, as it prevents the development website from appearing in the search engine results. However, after launching your website, the first thing you should do is to update your robots.txt file to allow the search engines to crawl and index your website.

It’s easy. Log into your WordPress website and go to Settings > Reading. Uncheck the box that discourages the search engines from indexing the website and click save.

Discourage search engines from indexing

Allow 24-48 hours for the search engines to respond to this update.

Still not indexed? If you have a brand new domain and website, the search engines may not pick up on its existence. As a start, verify the website with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. You will also want to gain high-quality links that point to your new website. Explore our tips on link building to get started.

Want more help figuring out the complex world of WordPress SEO, check out our field guide to WordPress SEO. Or, learn how we help people get their websites found in search results with Guided SEO.

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What are 301 Redirects?

August 21, 2020

A 301 redirect sends users and search engines to a different URL than the one they originally requested. For example, with a 301 redirect, we could direct a person trying to access www.example.com/cats to www.example.com/pets.

How to Use 301 Redirects

301 redirects are a useful SEO tool as they allow a webmaster to communicate a URL change to users and search engines. 301 redirects pass 90-99% of the original page’s value (ranking power) to the new page, which is great for SEO. And, they ensure that a user doesn’t hit a page not found error (also known as a 404 error), which is great for user experience.

Here are some common situations where you might want to use 301 redirects.

New Website Launch

If you’re launching a new website, then URLs most likely will change. The search engines have indexed the content on your existing website and will expect to find content at those URLs. If you simply launch the new website without mapping old URLs to new URLs, then the search engines will get lost in the shuffle.

Use 301 redirects to map old URLs to the new URLs so that you can ranking power from old URLs to new URLs. And when we say URL mapping, here's a quick example of what we are talking about.

URL Mapping

Content Updates

Removing a page from your website? Merging content from two pages to one? Let search engines and users know with a 301 redirect from the old URL(s) to the new URL.

Broken Links

Sometimes, you will have broken links on your website that lead to pages that no longer exist, or never did in the first place. When users click on these links, instead of getting a functional page, they are given a 404 page, a.k.a. a page not found message. Landing on one of these 404 pages typically creates a less than ideal experience for users.

In order to keep users from landing on pages that don't provide any value (404 pages), you can use 301 redirects to send them to functional pages similar to the ones they were looking for.

For example, let's say someone clicks on a link to an article about fishing Aspen's rivers on our site, but that page got deleted and the link now returns a 404 page. To remedy that situation, we could set up a 301 redirect from the URL where the deleted article once lived to a URL where we have a similar piece of live content all about Everything You Want to Know About Fly Fishing in Aspen.

To see which URLs on your site are returning 404 page not found errors, jump into Google Search Console. Click Coverage > Errors > Not Found (404) and you will see a list of all the pages on your website returning page not found errors.

Not Found Errors in GSC

What’s the Difference Between 301 and 302 Redirects?

A 301 redirect tells users and search engines that the content of a page has permanently moved to a new location. A 302 redirect tells users and search engines that this change is temporary. More often, you will use a 301 redirect. However, a 302 redirect would be useful if a product you sell is temporarily discontinued. In this example, you would create a 302 redirect to point the discontinued product page to a similar product. Then, when the original product is back in stock, remove the 302 redirect.

How Do I Add 301 Redirects to My Website?

Suggested resources, organized by content management system, are listed below.

WordPress Expand

The most common way to add 301 redirects to a WordPress website is via a redirect plugin. Plugins such as Redirection, Yoast SEO Premium, and RankMath all make implementing 301 redirects easy.

For this example, we’ll use Redirection. The same process applies regardless of the specific plugin.

  • Log in to the dashboard of your website.
  • Navigate to your 301 redirect manager.
  • Click “Add New.” Paste the URL causing the error into the source URL field. Paste the new, working URL into the target URL field.

Click “Add Redirect.”

  • Try to visit the URL which triggered the page not found error and confirm that the redirect is working.
  • Repeat this process for each page on your list.
Squarespace Expand

Squarespace makes it easy to add your 301 redirects. Here is their help article to show you how.

Wix Expand

Wix makes it easy to add your 301 redirects. Here is their help article to show you how

Shopify Expand

Shopify makes it easy to add your 301 redirects. Here is their help article to show you how.

Drupal Expand

Drupal websites leverage 301 redirect modules to implement their URL matchings. Redirect and URL Redirect are the most common. Install one of these plugins, go through your list, and test.

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Internal Links

Understanding Internal Links

August 18, 2020

Every now and then we’ll meet with someone who is so caught up in creating external links that they totally neglect to create an internal link network. Although they probably aren’t as impactful on rankings as external links are, internal links are still an integral part of any SEO strategy.

Let’s take a quick look at what internal links are and why they matter.

What are Internal Links?

Internal links are links that point from one page to another on a website. They are not to be confused with external links which point from one website to pages on other websites under different domain names.

Are Internal Links Important for SEO?

Yes. They help improve SEO in several ways.

Site Structure

Internal links allow you to create a solid site structure starting with your homepage. From there, you want to create internal links that allow people to navigate to all the other pages on your site in as few clicks as possible.

Google looks at how many internal links each page on your site has pointing to it in order to understand how important each of those pages are to you. By pointing lots of links at a page or piece of content, you are telling Google that you believe it is important.

Crawling

When search engine crawlers come across internal links on your site, the likelihood is that they are going to follow those links to find out where they lead. By including relevant internal links across your entire site, crawlers will be able to easily navigate your site and discover all your content.

Discovered content then gets added to a search engine’s index and is available to the public in search results.

If you don’t have internal links, you can easily end up with orphaned content. These are pages with no links pointing to them that search engines may never discover. This is a problem because search engines can’t send searchers to web pages they don’t know exist.

It’s best practice to make sure that every page on your site has at least a couple of relevant links pointing to it. It’s also best practice to create an XML sitemap and submit it to the search engines so they have more tools for discovering content on your site.

User Experience

More importantly, internal links allow you to provide users with additional resources while allowing those visitors to discover other relevant content of interest.

Notice that we said “relevant” content. If you are linking from one page to something completely unrelated, you are bound to create a less than ideal user experience for people clicking on that link.

Link Equity

And, internal links can help you pass link equity (link juice or ranking power) from pages that are ranking well to pages that could use some love. Keep reading to find out how.

Can Internal Links Improve Rankings?

Yes, you can improve a page’s ability to rank using internal links.

If you link to a low-performing page from multiple relevant pages that have good external links pointing at them, you pass some of that link equity to the low-performing page and improve its chances of ranking.

So, if a page on your site has a lot of good external links pointing at it, you might want to consider linking to a few other pages on your site from it.

Keep in mind that pages with lots of links are going to share less ranking power than pages with just a few links. If you have a page with 20 links on it, you are going to be splitting the ranking power of that page up amongst the twenty pages those links point at. If you have a page with two links on it, you will be splitting up the ranking power of that page between the two pages those links point at. So, in general, the fewer the links on a page the better it is for the pages they are pointing at.

Can Internal Links Hurt SEO?

Yes, internal links can potentially be detrimental to SEO.

If you have lots of internal links with the same anchor text (clickable link text) on the same site and they all point to the same page, there is a chance Google will penalize you for trying to manipulate that page’s rankings. This is an example of over-optimization.

Instead of using the same anchor text over and over, diversify it a bit by using synonyms and other phrases with similar meaning.

Keep in mind that pages with lots of links are going to share less ranking power than pages with just a few links. If you have a page with 20 links on it, you are going to be splitting the ranking power of that page up amongst the twenty pages those links point at. If you have a page with two links on it, you will be splitting up the ranking power of that page between the two pages those links point at. So, in general, the fewer the links on a page the better it is for the pages they are pointing at.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know why internal links are important to SEO, pencil in some time on your calendar to do an internal link audit.

Here are a few resources that will help you out.

At the very least use Google Search Console’s Internal Links Report to make sure that you don’t have any important pages that are lacking links, or unimportant pages with tons of links pointing to them.

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computers

SEO Copywriting Tips: Write for People, Not Search Engines

August 18, 2020

SEO copywriting is about writing for people who use search engines, not writing for search engines. Why? Because search engines serve people. Their priority is to deliver relevant, high-quality results to people.

For example, if you use Google to search for “blueberry pancake recipe”, you don’t want to see results for taco salad recipes. Search engines frequently tweak their algorithms to keep pace with what we expect to see when we search for something like “blueberry pancake recipe”.

SEO Copywriting “Philosophy”

When you write for your audience—when you create valuable and unique content for your audience—you improve your chances of ranking higher on a search engine results page (SERP). One way this can happen is when your audience shares your article on Facebook and Twitter; then, their followers share it, too; and then, their followers share it, too. More and more people learn about your article. They might even link to your article on their own website, which builds your external link network (think of external links like references on a résumé). That external link from a quality website is a vote of confidence for your website in the eyes of Google, and so, your article moves up in the SERPs.

It’s the “you reap what you sow” lesson.

If you sow excellent content, you reap excellent engagement. If you sow excellent engagement, you reap excellent rankings.

Now that we have the “philosophy” of SEO copywriting down, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

Goals, Voids & Topics

What’s your goal? One goal can be to fill an internet void. For example, is the internet missing an article on “the best places to enjoy a slice of pie in Iowa”? (By the way, it’s not.) Or, were you unable to find any info on how to make “XYZ”? If so, then you found your internet void and a great topic.

Alternatively, your goal could be to teach people something new; to drive more foot traffic to your brick and mortar store; or to promote an upcoming special on your e-commerce shop.

y website is a vote of confidence for your website in the eyes of Google, and so, your article moves up in the SERPs.

It’s the “you reap what you sow” lesson.

If you sow excellent content, you reap excellent engagement. If you sow excellent engagement, you reap excellent rankings.

Now that we have the “philosophy” of SEO copywriting down, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

Keyword Research

Now you have your topic, your next step in SEO copywriting is keyword research. The goal is to find relevant keywords with search volume in your target location.

To illustrate, let’s say you own a bike shop in Denver, and you want to write an article about how to fix a flat bike tire using products you sell in your shop. When doing keyword research, you evaluate keywords and phrases people use in Denver on fixing flat bike tires. You decide to focus on the phrase “how to fix a flat bike tire”, which has an average of 10 monthly searches each month (at the time of writing). Not many people in Denver are searching for “how to fix a flat bike tire”. Still, you see this as an opportunity to highlight your small neighborhood bike shop and your repair kits.

During keyword research, you’ll sometimes find lots of keywords you’d like to use, but narrow things down to 1-3 relevant keywords.

Who’s Your Audience? Write for Them.

Use words your audience wants to hear. It’s easy to describe a product using your own words. However, often our own words are laden with jargon; they don’t get to the point; and they’re harder to understand. Forget your words. Instead, use the words that will make your customers think, “I had that exact idea! I like the way this business thinks!”

Also, what does your target audience expect from an article like the one you’re writing? In our Denver bike shop example, your audience might expect a video or images that show how to fix a flat. In this case, it’s much easier to watch how to fix a flat than to read about it. But if you’re writing about eating slice after slice of pie in Iowa, text and images make a great combination, since readers may want to linger on the pie photos. I would.

Write

Write. Then, write, and write some more until you have your piece of content! It’s that easy, right?

Not always.

Create a Flow

At times, getting the ball rolling is difficult. So, start small and write in a conversational style. You can think of this writing style as a stream of consciousness, just write down whatever comes to mind.

For example, “This blog post is about how to fix a flat bike tire. The first time I had a flat bike tire was when I was 12, and I was overwhelmed because I was 8 miles from home without a repair kit!”

That’s a start.

Plus, people love stories, so you might even want to keep in that bit about being 12! Whatever you come up with, you’ve created a flow of words. Now, just go! And keep going.

Write in Bursts

Another helpful writing strategy is to write in short blocks of time of 15-20 minutes. Writing is taxing, so stay creative by writing in short bursts. Take a short break, and then return. Before you know it, you’ll have a whole page of words!

Sprinkles

Sprinkle your keywords throughout your writing, in the blog title, subtitle, headings, paragraphs, page title, meta description, and image alt tags. But don’t go crazy. Use your focus keyword―the keyword you really want to rank for―once in the blog title, in 1-2 headings, 1-3 paragraphs, once in the page title, once in the meta description, and in 1-2 image alt tags, depending on the length of your article.

Edit

Editing is more than checking for spelling errors. When you edit your copy, check that your article structure makes sense. Should this entire section be moved? Can you delete that paragraph entirely? Do it. Does that paragraph really belong in another section? Then, move it. Can you concentrate your sentences so they express their purpose in as few words as possible? If yes, then concentrate!

Now you’re ready to write your article with these SEO copywriting tips in your toolbox. Have fun and good luck!

Bonus Tip

Ever wonder if you’re correctly capitalizing titles? If so, check out this nifty tool called Capitalize My Title.

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how to use keywords for seo

How To Use Keywords for SEO

August 12, 2020

The most common questions our SEO coaches get are “How do I put keywords on my website?” and “How do I use keywords for SEO?

After reading this guide, you'll never again wonder how to use keywords for SEO. Instead, you'll have a clear process for proper keyword placement (a.k.a keyword optimization) on every page you create or update on your site.

Contents

  1. Benefits of Adding Keywords
  2. Focus & Secondary Keywords
  3. Where to Put a Focus Keyword
  4. Where to Put Secondary Keywords
  5. Keyword Placement vs. Great Content
  6. Keyword Optimization Process
  7. Keyword Placement Checklist
  8. Auditing Keyword Optimization

TLDR – How to Use Keywords for SEO

  • You need to choose one focus keyword for each page you want to optimize. Don't use the same term as a focus keyword on more than one page; each page should have a unique focus keyword. If you choose to ignore this advice, you may end up in a keyword cannibalization scenario.
  • Complement your focus keyword with numerous highly-relevant secondary keywords sprinkled throughout the page you are optimizing. These are keywords and phrases synonymous with – or closely related to – your focus keyword. They provide value by giving the search engine more context.
  • Place your focus keyword in each of these locations:
    • Title Tag / Meta Description
    • URL
    • H1 Heading
    • Subheadings
    • Paragraph copy
    • Image file names and alt attribute tags
    • The anchor text of internal links pointing at the page you are optimizing
  • Add your secondary keywords to:
    • Subheadings
    • Paragraph copy
    • Alternative text
  • Great keyword placement will not make up for poor-quality content.
  • Use a spreadsheet to track your keyword implementation. Get our free template below.
Keyword Placement Infographic

Benefits of Properly Adding Keywords

There are multiple benefits to proper keyword placement. Good keywords:

  1. Send strong signals to search engines about what terms you want your pages to rank for in the search results.
  2. Make it crystal clear to users what your content is about and provide a high-quality user experience – starting in the search results.
  3. Enable every page on your site to potentially rank for a variety of highly-relevant search terms.
  4. Attract high-quality traffic that converts into sales and revenue for your business.

Now it's time to make sure you know the difference between the two types of keywords we're going to address.

Using a Focus Keyword & Secondary Keywords for SEO

In order to decide where to add keywords to your pages, you must first know that Google ranks individual pages – not websites as a whole.

This means each page on your site has the potential to rank for the topic it covers – if you pair it with a focus keyword (sometimes called primary keyword) that people are already using to search for information about that topic.

Supplementing your focus keyword with relevant secondary keywords may allow your page to rank for a wider variety of search terms.

Using Focus Keywords for SEO

For example, let's say Diet Doctor wants to rank its Ketogenic Diet For Beginners page for the keyword “ketogenic diet” above all other keywords. They'll want to make “ketogenic diet” that page's focus keyword, as they have in the example below.

Focus keyword example

Using Secondary Keywords for SEO

If you want a page to rank for terms that are synonymous with – or closely related to – your focus keyword, then you need to include those secondary words and phrases on the same page as your focus keyword.

For example, if Diet Doctor wants its ketogenic diet page to rank for keywords like “keto diet,” “low carb diets,” etc. – in addition to “ketogenic diet” – those terms get added as secondary keywords on that page. As in the example below.

secondary keyword example

While you only want one distinct focus keyword on a page, it's okay to incorporate a handful of secondary keywords. And while focus keyword placement throughout your content is A MUST if you want to rank for that specific keyword, placement of secondary keywords is optional (though highly recommended).

In order to pick the best focus and secondary keywords, make sure you spend some time conducting keyword research. A large portion of the Pathfinder SEO Checklist is dedicated to exactly that.

Once you know the difference between focus and secondary keywords and you've done your keyword research to choose them, it's time to place keywords on your pages.

Where to Put a Focus Keyword for SEO

When you're ready to place any keyword on a page, remember these basic rules: 

  1. Keywords should be naturally incorporated into content in a compelling and informative way. They should never be awkwardly jammed into your webpages.
  2. Skillful keyword placement should be imperceptible to the average person. Normal users interacting with your content shouldn't even notice that you are intentionally integrating a keyword.
  3. If you can't easily work a keyword into a section of your content, you might need to rework that section or choose a different keyword to include. 

Here's how you can cleverly integrate your focus keyword to maximize SEO impact.

Title Tag & Meta Description

Title tags and meta descriptions are meta tags that communicate to searchers what a page has to offer before they choose which link to click. Google will also take notice of them. Make sure to include your focus keyword in your title tag, ideally near the beginning. Google reads from left to right – just like users – and places more importance on the words at the beginning of a title.

Focus keyword in title tag and meta description

If your focus keyword is more of a phrase and can stand alone to inform users what a page is all about, you can use it as a title tag along with a separator and your brand name. If your focus keyword is short and doesn't accurately explain what a page is about, integrate additional descriptive text to help. 

In the example above, “A Ketogenic Diet for Beginners: The #1 Keto Guide – Diet Doctor” tells users a bit more about the page than “Keto Diet – Diet Doctor” alone would. Using descriptive text like this will help encourage users to click on your title. 

It's also an SEO best practice to include your focus keyword in your meta description. If a user searches for “ketogenic diet” and then sees the exact term they searched for in both your title tag and meta description, they are more likely to click through to your page.

Keywords in URLs

Yes, it is still best practice to include your focus keyword in a page's URL, even though Google says it doesn't care about keywords in URLs.

That said, change existing URLs at your own risk – especially if Google already knows a URL and it's getting lots of traffic. Changing a URL just to include a keyword can have an undesirable impact on a page's ranking.

Focus keyword in url

However, if you are creating a new page or updating a page that gets very little organic traffic, it might be a good time to consider placing your focus keyword in the slug or file portion of a page's URL. Many SEO professionals argue that putting a keyword in a page's URL, title tag, and meta description makes for a more click-worthy search result.

In this example, Diet Doctor chose to use a highly relevant secondary keyword in their URL instead of their focus keyword. Since it looks clean and conveys what the page is about, we can't argue; however, they could have used their focus keyword instead: /ketogenic-diet.

H1 Heading

Your H1 heading is usually – but not always – the title of a page. It's also where search engine crawlers will look right after reading a page's URL, title tag, and meta description to understand what the page is about.

Skillfully integrating a focus keyword into a page's H1 heading is a must whenever possible.

Focus keyword in H1 heading

Subheadings

After you've eloquently worked your focus keyword into your H1, see which of your subheadings might also be appropriate places for inclusion.

Your keyword doesn't need to be included in each and every subheading (that might look a bit like keyword stuffing). Instead, try to include your focus keyword in one or two subheadings, then work secondary keywords into the others.

Keywords in subheadings

Paragraph Copy

Ideally, you want to place a focus keyword in a paragraph that's somewhere near the top of your page. The closer to the top, the better. 

Then, make sure to sprinkle that same keyword throughout your copy wherever it makes sense. Note our use of “sprinkle” instead of “jam” – be delicate with its placement in keyword copy and take note when it's starting to feel like you are overusing it, i.e. keyword stuffing.

Focus keyword in parahraph copy

A great way to avoid overusing your focus keyword is to use multiple synonymous secondary keywords. In our example, you'll notice the use of “higher-fat diet,” “keto diet,” and “low-carb diet” regularly in addition to “ketogenic diet.” 

Image File Name & Alt Text

All SEO professionals agree that you should include your focus keyword in the image alt attribute of an image, or several, on your page. Most also recommend that you include it in the image filename. 

In the example below, you'll notice that the focus keyword is included in the alt attribute, but not the filename. We recommend playing it safe and including it in both places when possible.

Keywords in alt attributes

Be careful about keyword stuffing your alt tags, though. Alt attributes exist to help people understand what's in an image when they can't see it; they also help search engine crawlers make sense of an image. As a result, you need to use the alt attribute to explain what is actually depicted in the image. 

If you can skillfully incorporate your focus keyword into that explanation, great. If you can't, it might be better to just describe the image and move on. Don't just jam your focus keyword into image alt attributes if it has nothing to do with the picture and doesn't make sense.

Anchor Text in Links on Other Pages 

One of the many ways search engine crawlers make sense of the content on a page is by reading the anchor text associated with internal and external links pointing to that page. 

It's worth incorporating your focus keyword into the anchor text of any internal links that you can control on your website. In the example below, there's a blog recommendation at the bottom of a page on the Diet Doctor website. The title text in the link's anchor tag clearly includes the focus keyword “diet doctor.”

internal link anchor text keywords

If you can get other websites to include your focus keyword in the anchor tag for any links that point to your site, please do. This can be much more challenging to manage than working with the internal links that you can control on your own site, though.

Where to Put Secondary Keywords

Secondary keyword placement follows a slightly less rigid set of recommendations. It's often best to add your secondary keywords naturally to your content. Here are some key locations to place them:

Subheadings & Paragraph Copy

Subheading and paragraph copy are the most eligible placements for your secondary keywords. As mentioned above, in an attempt to avoid overusing a focus keyword, it makes perfect sense to add your secondary keywords here instead. See where various secondary keywords have been added in the example below:

Secondary keywrod placement

When it comes to secondary keyword placement, sprinkling them throughout your content is the best approach. But be careful about accidentally keyword-stuffing your content by incorporating too many.

You'll find that by integrating multiple secondary keywords, your content will not only rank better for your focus keyword, but regularly rank for some of the secondary keywords, as well. When your content ranks for a variety of keywords, you are casting a wider net and catching more potential leads and customers.

Image Alt Attributes

Image alt attributes are another great place to add secondary keywords. In the example below, you'll see that the alt attributes for images on the page contain highly relevant secondary keywords.

Alt attribute keyword example

Where Not to Put Secondary Keywords

It's okay to include secondary keywords anywhere as supplements to your focus keyword; they can even replace your focus keyword if it's getting a bit too repetitive. 

That being said, you don't want to include secondary keywords in place of your focus keyword until you've used your focus keyword at least once in each of the recommended places.

Great Keyword Placement is a Poor Substitute for Useful Content

If you look at the example we've been using throughout this guide, you'll notice it's an AMAZING piece of comprehensive content that links to related articles on the site, and also incorporates keywords very well.

Quality keyword placement can help any content punch slightly above its weight class; however, keywords in all the right places won't guarantee that Google and other search engines will decide your page is worth ranking.

Why are we bringing this up?

It's important to remember that perfect keyword optimization is no substitute for amazing content. For best results, create useful content first and then properly optimize it with your focus and secondary keywords.

Keyword Optimization Process

In order to act upon all the guidance above, here is a keyword optimization process you can follow.

  1. Craft best-in-class content that provides users value. 
  2. Do keyword research to find the ideal focus and secondary keywords.
  3. Choose unique keywords to pair with each page you want to rank in the search results. 
  4. Skillfully place your keywords throughout your content and website elements using the recommendations above. 
  5. Track your keyword placement in a spreadsheet for quick reference. 
  6. Analyze your keyword performance over time and tweak as needed.

Keyword Placement Checklist

Whether you're adding new content to your site or trying to optimize existing pages with freshly found keywords, it's worth tracking your optimization efforts in a spreadsheet. This will allow you – and anyone else on your team – to stay on the same page when it comes to your keyword strategy and implementation progress.

This is especially helpful when you analyze your keyword performance with tools like Google Search Console.

Keyword Placement Tracking Template

Get a copy of this Keyword Placement Tracking Template and use it to track your keyword optimization. If you are a Pathfinder SEO subscriber, copy the sheet and move it to your SEO Workbook.

Keyword placement checklist

Auditing Keyword Use on Pages

While software, plugins, and various tools can help you assess how many times you've used keywords for SEO on any given page, we like the good old fashioned Command + F (mac) or Control + F (PC) to find keywords used on a page.

Simply plug your focus and secondary keywords into the Find field (one at a time) to see every instance of a keyword on a page. While this may seem archaic, we find that it's the best (and fastest) way to spot potential keyword bloat or notice important keywords missing in the content.

In Closing

When it comes to ranking your pages in the search results, having best-in-class content that is worthy of placing high in the search results is the top priority. Then, using the right keywords (both focus and secondary) for SEO will make all the difference.

Don't forget to measure the outcome of your keyword optimization using Google Search Console and adjust your keyword targeting and optimization if necessary.

Finally, guaranteeing results in the world of SEO is typically frowned upon, and only sketchy SEO companies will make grandiose claims promising results. However, if we were to guarantee one SEO strategy that can improve just about anyone's organic search performance, it would be properly using your keywords for SEO.

If you need an SEO process that addresses keyword research, keyword optimization, keyword performance measurement and all the other elements of a holistic approach to SEO, check out Pathfinder SEO.

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