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

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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Write for People Not Search Engines

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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Content Cleanup — Remove Low-Quality Content for SEO

May 29, 2020

When was the last time you went through your site to make sure all the content on it is truly useful and valuable to your audience? If you're like most, it’s probably been a while. And, If you’re paying attention to what Google’s algorithm is favoring these days, that might be an issue.

Google is better than ever at understanding the content on your site and assessing the quality of any given page. As a result, it’s devaluing websites, and web pages with low quality content and elevating those with high quality content. Sure Google’s always done this, but it’s getting better than ever at separating the wheat from the chaff.

“Our site quality algorithms are aimed at helping people find “high-quality” sites by reducing the rankings of low-quality content.” — Google

If you want your pages to rank, you need to follow Google’s advice:

“We suggest focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can. That’s what our algorithms seek to reward.” — Google

So how do you ensure you are offering nothing but high quality content? By doing a content cleanup exercise.

Here’s how you can make sure your content is nothing short of stellar.

1. Understand What Google & Users Want From Your Content

Start by getting to know what users, and by proxy Google, are looking for in quality content.

Key Attributes of Quality Content:

  • It’s unique and covers a topic in-depth.
  • Provides original analysis and insights others haven’t.
  • Trustworthy while highlighting the expertise of the author and other contributors.
  • Well cited and full of references and links where necessary.
  • Useful, packed with helpful specifics that catalyze people to take action.
  • Easy to interact with, presented professionally, and free of factual errors.
  • Provides more value than other content about the same topic.
  • Mobile friendly and produced with great attention to detail.
  • Shareworthy, easily shareable, and worth bookmarking.

Quality Content Is Not:

  • Mass produced by unnamed writers.
  • Brief, shallow and relatively uninformative i.e. thin or useless.
  • Hard to read, full or errors, spelling mistakes and generally sloppy.
  • Untrustworthy or questionable in terms of the expertise backing the content.
  • Irrelevant or unrelated to the website it’s on.
  • A reproduction of other content that already exists elsewhere on the internet.

Once you know what your audience and Google expect out of your content, you can start your content cleanup.

2. Create a Spreadsheet & Two Categories for Your Content

First things first, you need a place to do your work.

Create a Google or Excel spreadsheet called Content Cleanup where you can conduct this exercise. If you are a Pathfinder SEO subscriber, just add a new tab to your SEO workbook labeled Content Cleanup.

Here is a Content Clean Up Google Sheet template you can make a copy of.

Whether you are copying the template above or the example below, you need two categories in your spreadsheet. One where you can list all your high-quality content and one where you can list your low-quality content in need of improvement.

Each category should have four columns and multiple blank rows under each header. It should look something like this:

Content-cleanup categories

Column headers for your first category (High Quality, Extremely Useful) should read as follows:

High Quality, Extremely Useful | Three Month Traffic Volume (Organic Clicks) | Status – (Good, Update, Improve, Delete) | Necessary Actions

Column headers for your second category (Low Quality, Outdated, Thin, Irrelevant or Not Useful) should read as follows:

Low Quality, Outdated, Thin, Irrelevant or Not Useful | Three Month Traffic Volume (Organic Clicks) | Status – (Good, Update, Improve, Delete) | Necessary Actions

Now that you have a place to do your content analysis, here’s how you do it.

3. Categorize Your Content Into High-Quality & Low-Quality

Your goal is to categorize each page on your site into one of the two categories (High Quality or Low Quality) in your spreadsheet.

Here’s how to think about each category:

High Quality, Extremely Useful

This is highly useful content that is making people happy and providing ample value to your audience. It’s up to date and would likely be qualified as high quality based on the criteria above.

Low Quality, Outdated, Thin, Irrelevant or Not Useful

This is content that is lacking in one way or another. Maybe it’s not comprehensive, lacks E-A-T, is too brief i.e. thin, poorly written, or just doesn’t provide much value. The bottom line, it could be better.

Categorize Your Content

Now that you have a better idea of how to categorize your pages, start placing them in the categories where they belong.

Need a list of all your pages? Your XML sitemap is a good place to look.

If you have a large site, you can do this section by section. Maybe start with your product or service pages, then move onto your blogs, etc.

Either way, start with the ten most important pages on your site (or in a section of your site).

Be honest with your categorization! If you are on the fence about a particular piece of content, it can probably be improved and should fall into the Low-Quality category.

The end result should look something like this:

Categorized Content

4. Quantify Organic Traffic Volume

Once you have the important pages on your site (or a section of it) sorted into the two categories, quantify how much organic traffic each page is getting.

You can confirm this by:

Going into Google Search Console > Performance (or Search Results) and setting your date range to last three months. If your business experiences lots of seasonality, you might want to set your date range to the past twelve months.

From there, click on Pages in the dimensions table and expand your Rows per page to 250 pages.

Google Search Console Traffic Volume

Record clicks for each page listed under the column labeled Three Month Traffic Volume in your workbook.

Search Volume

Now you have quantitative organic traffic data to help you make a more informed decision about the quality of your content.

Note: If pages on your site have large amounts of traffic from other channels than organic search, you may want to take that data into consideration. You can find out if this is the case by going into Google Analytics > Select Property > Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels.

Click on each channel to see the pages that are driving that particular type of traffic. If pages have a large amount of traffic from other channels, you may want to take note of that in your workbook and take it into account when considering what to do with a page.

5. Analyze Content & Assign a Status

Now that you know how much organic traffic each page is driving, it’s time to pair that information with a qualitative analysis of each page on your list. This will help you determine if a page is good as is or if it needs improvements or updates of some sort.

Good — A page needs no changes, is serving its purpose and driving quality organic traffic.

Update — All, or portions of, the content on a page should be updated because it is outdated.

Improve — A page is relevant and worth keeping, but content quality needs improvement.

Delete & Redirect — Page is irrelevant, not useful, outdated or not worth investing time in, i.e. low-quality.

Update & Improve statuses can, and will, often go together.

Along with each status, you will also want to identify necessary actions, if any, that you should be taking to improve the quality of your content.

Identify & Note Necessary Actions

When you assign a page an Update and/or Improve status, consider how you will make it better.

Start by looking at the pages Google is ranking for the same topic your page covers. What are those pages doing better than yours? How can you learn from those pages and create a higher quality, more useful resource for your audience?

Here are some common content improvements worth considering:

  • Break your content up using headers and improve its readability.
  • Expand your content to make it longer and more comprehensive.
  • Provide more topically relevant expert insights gathered from around the internet.
  • Integrate better keywords and phrases related to the topic you are addressing.
  • See what questions people are asking about your topic using AlsoAsked.com and integrate answers into your content.
  • Add useful internal and external links.
  • Add high-quality imagery and descriptive alt text attributes.
  • Edit it for clarity and simplicity.
  • Include more relevant examples, stories, and lists.
  • Bold or underline important keywords and phrases to make it easier to scan.
  • If you assigned a Delete status to a page, now is also a good time to identify a good page to redirect its URL to with a 301 redirect once you delete it.

In general, you want to redirect the URL of the page you are deleting to a live page with content similar to what was on the page you are deleting. If no similar pages exist, consider redirecting to a category page relevant to the page being deleted. Avoid redirecting all deleted content to your homepage.

Don’t be afraid to include multiple necessary actions when required!

Here’s what your spreadsheet should look like as you begin to work through it.

Analysis in spreadsheet

Tips for Analyzing High-Quality, Extremely Useful Pages

Pages that fall into the high quality content category may require no changes and are probably driving quality traffic already.

With that said, it’s still worth looking at each page and noting any improvements or updates that might be needed. It’s always worth making good content even better! After all, how else are you going to fend off up and comers in the rankings?

If a page isn’t getting as much organic traffic as you might like it to, that’s also a great opportunity to identify ways you can improve the content on it or its on-site optimization.

If you discover pages that aren’t actually that great during your analysis, don’t hesitate to move them to the Low-Quality category. This will help you prioritize what to do with them.

Tips for Analyzing Low-Quality, Outdated, Thin, Irrelevant, or Not Useful Pages

When it comes to content that isn’t really pulling its weight, we want you to ask one key question:

Is this content worth keeping?

Here’s how you answer that question:

If a page isn’t getting organic clicks, isn’t essential to the site, and/or isn’t providing users with much value, the answer is likely NO, it’s not worth keeping. If you can’t — or don’t want to — improve that page to make it more useful, consider deleting it and redirecting its URL to a similar page using a 301 redirect. Alternatively, you can merge it with another piece of content to create a resource that is actually valuable to users.

If a page is getting good organic clicks, is essential to your site (i.e. landing pages, contact forms, etc.), and/or providing value to your audience, the answer is probably YES, it’s worth keeping. With that being said and if it’s in the Low Quality category, it can probably be improved. What improvements will make it the most useful page imaginable?

The end product of this phase is a spreadsheet that tells you which page you need to Update, Improve, Delete and Redirect, or leave as is because they are good to go.

Complete Content Analysis Spreadsheet

You’re almost done! Now you just have to create a plan to make all those changes.

6. Prioritize Improvements & Get To Work

Once you know what actions need to be taken to cleanup your content, start prioritizing which pages you are going to take action on first. Reorder the pages in your categories accordingly.

We like to start by deleting and redirecting low-quality content. Then we move into addressing smaller required improvements to existing content. From there we dive into bigger tasks like completely reworking or combining content.

You get to decide how you prioritize your work, but the bottom line is that you need to pull together a work plan and start taking action!

Final Thoughts

Conducting a content cleanup doesn’t have to be rocket science. You just need to follow this process:

  1. Understand What Google & Users Want From Your Content
  2. Create a Spreadsheet & Two Categories for Your Content
  3. Categorize Your Content Into High Quality & Low Quality
  4. Quantify Organic Traffic Volume
  5. Analyze Content & Assign a Status
  6. Prioritize Improvements & Get To Work

If you can fill your site with nothing but highly useful content, you will never find yourself sweating when Google rolls out fresh algorithm updates. Instead, you will have a future-proof website capable of driving qualified traffic.

If you like this process for cleaning up your content, learn how Pathfinder SEO can help you clean up your entire site using our guided approach to SEO.

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Google Review with Stars

How to Respond to Google Reviews

April 24, 2020

Getting customer feedback can be nerve-wracking, especially when it’s delivered online in the form of a publicly available Google review. You can set your fears aside and instead, recognize that all reviews — both the good and the bad —  build the public's trust in your business.

How you respond to a Google review can be more impactful than the review itself. Learning how to properly address both good and bad reviews will help your business thrive. This guide will teach you how best to respond.

Let’s dive in.

What Are Google Reviews 

Let’s start where your Google reviews appear. When someone searches for your exact brand name on Google, there’s a good chance your Google Maps listing will display prominently on the search engine results page (SERP) on desktop and mobile, like the listing in the images below.

Standard Google Review Example Google review mobile example

An abbreviated view of your Maps listing may also pop up in the results for certain local searches as part of the “local pack.”

Notice that in all of these instances, a star rating appears as part of your Google Maps listing. When users click on these star ratings, they will be taken to a page where they can see all of your reviews. Not only can people see every review that’s been submitted, they also (more importantly) have the ability to see every reply you have made in response.

These reviews act as social proof that your company provides a high level of customer service. They also have the ability to impact your search engine rankings as well as the decisions people make about whether or not to buy your products or services. Afterall, online reviews are digital markers of trust, and Google values websites and businesses with strong trust signals.

Now that you know where reviews live and what they do, let’s take a look at some of the most common questions about responding to Google reviews.

Can a Business Respond to a Google Review?

Absolutely! It’s even recommended as a best practice. Engaging with your customers after they’ve shared their feedback is a great way of showing potential customers that you value your clientele and their opinions.

Which Google Reviews Should You Respond to? 

Every review on your Google My Business listing deserves a reply! This shows people that all customers are important to your business — not just those throwing a fit. If your customers take the time to share their feedback — positive or negative — your business should take the time to acknowledge it. After all, who doesn’t want to be heard?

Can You Delete a Bad Google Review?

If only it were so easy! The answer is no; deleting a review once it’s been posted is not an option. Instead, you have three ways to get rid of a bad review:

  1. Turn it into a good review by addressing your customer’s issues head-on with exceptional customer service and compassion. If you can prove that you care about the reviewer, own up to mistakes that were made, and offer a high-quality solution, they might end up regretting the bad review and change that single star into three or four.
  2. Convince the person who wrote it to delete it. This is a long shot in most cases, but you never know unless you ask. If you wow the reviewer with compassionate customer service like we recommend, it just might happen.
  3. Flag the review as inappropriate if it violates Google’s posting guidelines. If someone is using profane or derogatory language, posting off-topic, threatening you, or using a fake profile, you can probably get it pulled. Refer to the Google posting guidelines for more reasons reviews can get removed.

How to Respond to Google Reviews

Here’s the official advice from Google:

  1. Be nice and don’t get personal.
  2. Keep it short and sweet.
  3. Thank your reviewers.
  4. Be a friend, not a salesperson.

At Pathfinder SEO, we break down Google review responses into two categories: responses to positive reviews and responses to negative reviews.

How to Respond to Positive Google Reviews

Show your customers appreciation for their business and let them know that you value their opinion by following this three-step process:

1. Address Reviewers by Name

Have you ever heard that a person’s own name is the sweetest word in the world to them? It came from Dale Carnegie’s book: How To Win Friends And Influence People. Apply this concept to your review responses. You can typically find the reviewer’s name in their Google profile. Calling them by name is a great way to make your response feel personalized.

2. Show Appreciation

There are two things you should overtly thank your reviewers for:

  1. Doing business with you.
  2. Taking the time to write a review. Describing why you appreciate them is a great way to show that you truly care and show potential customers what's in store if they choose to do business with you.

3. Encourage Future Patronage 

If someone is taking the time to share how much they love your business, you might have a brand advocate on your hands. Encourage them to share their experience with their friends outside of Google and to keep coming back for more.

If all reviews were positive, your job would be easy. Unfortunately, that’s not the world in which most of us live.

How to Respond to Negative Google Reviews

While your survival instincts might tell you to ignore negative reviews, rally your friends to submit enough positive reviews to bury the negative one, or even lash out at the reviewer for being a jerk, those impulses will betray you.

Curb your frustration and put on your cape because it’s time to be a customer service superhero.

1. Be Compassionate and Keep it Professional 

Remember what Google said about “Be nice and don’t get personal”? We recommend you go beyond being “nice” and try out some genuine empathy or compassion. In fact, you should probably deliver a large dose. Show your customers that you truly care about their feelings. If you don’t actually care, that might be the reason for the bad review in the first place and this article may not help.

That part about not getting personal is important, too. Don’t sink to the level of a customer who is being flat-out rude. Show you have integrity by keeping things professional and solution-oriented.

2. Own up to Missteps and Apologize 

Things go wrong; it’s part of life.

Explain why things may have gone wrong — why they unfolded the way they did. A bit of internal investigation might come in handy before writing your response. Then, empathize with the reviewer and offer a sincere apology.

There’s also no need to be a total pushover. If the reviewer has written something that just isn’t true, politely point out the inaccuracy and move on.

3. Offer Quality Solutions

If you’ve followed the first two suggestions, you’ll hopefully be on better footing with your customer already.

Use your public reply to offer them specific solutions, and give them the ability to contact your business privately. Keep in mind that responding publicly is key. You want to show your customers that you are willing to do what it takes to resolve grievances and make good on your mistakes.

Where to Reply to a Google Review?  

Now that you know how to reply to Google Reviews, here’s where you can add your reply on either your desktop or your mobile device.

Where to Reply to Google Reviews on a Desktop

Where to reply to Google reviews on desktop
  1. Navigate to https://www.google.com/business/ in your browser and login in the top right corner where it says “Sign in.”
  2. If Google prompts you to add a business with “What’s the name of your Business,” click on “My Business” next to the Google logo in the top left corner, and you will be taken to your dashboard (assuming you have a single business).
  3. If you are managing multiple businesses via Google My Business, you will need to select which business has the reviews you want to respond to.
  4. Once you see your dashboard, click on “Manage reviews” in the dash or “Reviews” in the left-hand navigation. All existing reviews will be displayed.
  5. Click “Reply” on all reviews that don’t yet have replies and follow the response guidelines above.

Where to Reply to Google Reviews on a Mobile

Where to reply to Google reviews on mobile
  1. Download the Google My Business app on your Android or Apple device and log in.
  2. Click on “Customers” at the bottom of the app.
  3. This will display all of your reviews. Click on “Reviews you would like to reply to” and you will be given a box where you can type your response.

How Do You Get (Great) Reviews on Google?

Great Google reviews can be surprisingly easy to come by when you follow the proper steps.

Provide Great Service & Exceptional Products

It all starts with providing great service and/or exceptional products in the first place. Getting reviews on Google Maps is an easy marketing initiative once you have many satisfied customers who want to share their experiences doing business with you.

Create a Culture

Create a culture of asking for reviews within your business or organization. If a salesperson or cashier receives positive feedback, teach them to say thank you followed by asking for a review.

For example, if the cashier at your local hardware store hears from a customer that “Your paint color matching is the best,” train the cashier to reply, “Thank you! If you don’t mind leaving a similar comment on our Google Maps listing, that would be a big help.”

Gauge the Experience

If you feel your customer had a great experience with your product or service, go ahead and ask them to write a review on Google My Business. You could also give them something as a reminder. When they’re done checking out, place a card in their bag that kindly directs them to where they could leave a review.

Or, if you’re mailing a physical invoice, include a handwritten note mentioning your appreciation in advance should they take the time to review your business on Google. Yet another option is to send an email with a similar message.

Make it Easy 

Figuring out how to leave a review on Google Maps can be a barrier for some customers. Make it easy for them by providing either a written/printed URL or a direct link. There’s also a free Google Chrome extension called GatherUp that makes directing customers to the Google review page easy.

Tying It All Together 

You now have all the tools you need to properly respond to any Google reviews your business gets. Keep in mind that prevention is always the best medicine. Make sure you are offering your customers the best experience possible both online and in person, and hopefully, the only reviews you’ll reply to will be positive.

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google search console

Google Search Console Tutorial — An Introduction for 2021

April 9, 2020

Google Search Console (GSC) can seem vast and complicated if you aren't familiar with it. However, learning how to use Google Search Console isn't as hard as it might appear.

We suggest you invest 10-15 minutes reading this Google Search Console tutorial (or watching the video below) and another 10-15 minutes exploring the platform itself. Not only will you learn how to use Google Search Console, but you'll also be able to quickly start gaining valuable insights that can drastically improve your website's ability to rank in the search results.

Here is where this tutorial will take you today:

Watch the Video

What Does Google Search Console Do?

Here's what Google has to say about what GSC can do: “Google Search Console is a free service offered by Google that helps you monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot your site's presence in Google Search results.”

We appreciate Google's modesty in the statement above because Google Search Console is the most powerful FREE tool available to anyone who owns a website. Even SEO professionals with expensive subscriptions to data-rich SEO platforms still turn to Google Search Console on a regular basis to advance their SEO strategies.

In our eyes, Google Search Console also allows you to:

  • Establish a direct connection between your website and Google.
  • Monitor the way your site is appearing and performing (ranking) in the search results.
  • Identify what's helping or hurting your site's performance.
  • Spot opportunities for improvement.
  • Update Google when you make changes to your site.
  • Diagnose and fix certain website issues as they arise.

The following will shine some more light on the capabilities of Google Search Console.

Verifying Ownership of a Website with Google Search Console

Verifying a website with Google Search Console achieves three aims.

  • It shows Google that you own and/or manage your site.
  • It establishes a formal connection between your website and Google.
  • It gets you access to Google Search Console's tools and reports.

Quick Tip: Using the same Google account (email address) to manage both Google Analytics and Google Search Console makes verification far easier.

There are a couple of different types of verification that will prove to Google that you own/manage your site:

  • Domain verification.
  • URL prefix verification.

If you have only one canonical (definitive) version of your site, you can verify using a URL prefix. Just make sure to use the full URL. That is, if your homepage lives at https://www.example.com/, make sure that the URL you verify includes the full prefix (https://www) and the trailing slash (.com/) – paste it exactly as it appears in the browser above your homepage.

The cleanest way to verify a site with subdomains or multiple protocols is by using the domain verification option. It's slightly more time-consuming and complicated than verifying via a URL prefix, and you will need access to your DNS records.

If you use the URL Prefix option and you have already connected your site to Google Analytics, your ownership may be automatically verified by Google Search Console.

If your ownership is not automatically verified, you have several other options to complete your verification.

Depending on how your site is set up, one of these options may be better than the others. More often than not, using the HTML tag is the easiest method.

If you are a WordPress user, most popular SEO plugins like Yoast and All In One SEO Pack already have a field in their “webmaster” sections where you can easily place your HTML tag to complete verification. Click on the links above for further information on how to verify your site using those plugins.

Squarespace, Wix, Shopify, Weebly, and other CMSs each have a different process for site ownership verification.

Once you have properly verified your site, you should receive a success message. You will then be redirected to your Google Search Console Overview page.

If you are verifying your site for the first time, it might take Google a few days to crawl and index it. In the meantime, GSC won't display detailed site information. Wait for your site to get fully indexed and for Google Search Console data to populate before continuing this tutorial.

Overview

The Overview page will appear every time you log in to Google Search Console once you've successfully verified your ownership of a Google Property (your website),

This Overview provides a snapshot of how well your site is doing in three of the GSC's most important reports:

Performance

The Performance chart will show you how many people are clicking to your site from the organic search result listings. This includes regular web results, images, and videos.

Coverage

The Coverage chart will tell you how many of the pages on your site Google has crawled and added to its index.

Enhancements

You will also see information about Enhancements you may have added to your site. What you see in this report depends on which enhancements have been added to your site.

Click OPEN REPORT on any of the displayed line items to open the corresponding report in GSC.

Menu

The Overview page is the first place you'll notice the menu – the left-hand navigation listing all available tools and reports. If you don't see this navigation, click on the hamburger menu next to “Google Search Console” in the top left corner, and it will appear.

Not everyone's menu looks the same; Google provides some properties with more options than others.

Now that you understand what you'll see when you first log in, let's dig into some of the most important reports you'll want to use.

Using the Performance Report in Google Search Console

The Performance report is arguably the most valuable tool in all of Google Search Console. Here's how you can learn to leverage the valuable data it provides.

For some users, the Performance report in Google will be broken up into two sections:

Search Results – Reports on your site's performance in traditional Google Search results.

Discover – Reports on your site's performance in Google Discover, a scrollable browsing experience customized for users of Google's mobile app.

If your Performance report is not broken into two, it will only display data related to traditional Google Search results.

In this intro, we are only focusing on the Search results section of the Performance report because that's the data everyone will have access to.

Performance Report Filters Bar

Start by getting to know the filters in Google Search Console. Filters allow you to sort and display your data based on the parameters that are most important to you.

By default, you will see Search type: and Date: displayed in the filters bar. You can add others by selecting the + NEW dropdown.

Search Type – Allows you to filter based on image, web, or video searches. It's set to “video” by default.

Date – Allows you to set the date range, going back as far as sixteen months. The default range is “three months.” Twelve months is the most useful time frame in most cases.

+New – Allows you to add the Performance report's various dimensions as additional filters.

Three Need-to-Know Filters

Individual Page – By using the + New > Page filter with Exact URL and then typing in any URL on your site, you can see how that particular URL is performing in search results, which keywords (queries) it's ranking for, and much more.

Content Type – By using the + New > Page filter with URLs containing and then typing in a slug like /blog/ or /product/, you can see how pages in a particular category are doing. This can be great if you want to evaluate the performance of all your blog posts, product pages, etc., separate from all your other pages.

Keywords – Using the + New > Query filter with Queries containing or Exact query and then typing in a keyword will let you see how well your pages are performing for the specific keywords and keyphrases most important to your business.

Once you have your filters set, you'll see your metrics displayed in a graph below your filters:

Performance Report Metrics Chart

Metrics are the quantitative measurements of your site's performance in Google Search. There are four key metrics in the Performance report:

Total Clicks – Tells you how many people are clicking through to your site when they see your pages listed in the search results.

Total Impressions – Shows how often pages on your site are appearing as listings in the search results.

Average CTR (click-through rate) – The average percentage of people who see your pages in the search results and then decide to click on one.

Average Position – The average position/rank for your page when they appear in Google Search results.

If you want any one of those four metrics graphed, simply click on the corresponding tab to highlight it. If you want a metric removed from the graph, just click the tab again.

If you want more information about any one of those metrics, click on the little question mark icon, and Google will provide additional information.

Once you've looked through the metrics chart, you can scroll down to the dimensions table.

Performance Report Dimensions Table

The dimensions table displays the various measurable attributes of your site's search performance across the top.

You can analyze each dimension using the four key metrics: Total Clicks, Impressions, Click-Through Rate (CTR), and Average Position. If a metric isn't displaying in the table, make sure it is highlighted above in the metrics chart.

Here's the data you can access by clicking on each dimension:

Queries – Shows the search terms (keywords or key phrases) that trigger your site to appear in the search results.

Pages – Shows how individual pages on your site are performing in the search results.

Countries – Compiles search metrics based on the country in which searches are conducted.

Devices – Shows metrics based on the specific devices being used to conduct searches.

Search Appearance – Allows you to see data for special categories of search results such as AMP, Job Listings, Media Actions, etc.

Dates – Displays metrics based on individual days of the year.

If you want to further refine the information displayed in this table, you can use any of the filters above to add parameters. This is especially helpful if you want to see information for a single page, keyword, particular date range, etc.

Using The Performance Report to Drive More Traffic & Business

We recommend you experiment with this report to see what kinds of insights you can gather. As a fun exercise, try to answer some of these questions:

  • What are the top performing keywords on each important page of your site? Are you correctly optimizing those important pages around those keywords?
  • Which queries are returning the highest click-through rates (CTRs)? Does your content provide more useful information to answer those queries than other sites on the internet?
  • Which important pages on your site are driving little to no organic traffic? What can you do to improve and optimize them?
  • Which pages received the most clicks over the last six months? Are you making it easy for people to convert on these pages?
  • Which pages on your site are showing up frequently in search results (Impressions) without receiving clicks? Can you improve your title tags and meta descriptions to improve your click-through rate?
  • Which of your pages are on the cusp of breaking into the first page, i.e. average position lower than ten? How can you improve the content on those pages and their on-site optimization?

Answering each of these questions can help you make sense of your site's performance in the search results and help you start thinking about strategies that will help your site rank better in the future.

If you want to gain a better understanding of your Performance data, check out Google's documentation.

Indexation Reports

There are three key indexation reports/tools that Google gives you access to in GSC. Let's take a look at how to use each one starting with the URL inspection tool.

Using the URL Inspection Tool

If you are ever wondering “Is this page appearing on Google?”, there's a simple way to find out: the URL inspection tool.

Click on “URL inspection” and/or simply type the URL into the search bar at the top of GSC, then hit return.

You will be able to find out if that page:

  • Is/isn't on Google.
  • Has/hasn't been submitted for Google to index via your sitemap.
  • Is/isn't mobile-friendly.
  • Is/isn't eligible for any enhancements.

If the page you just inspected is not already in Google's index (which means it's not yet appearing in the search results), click REQUEST INDEXING. This will trigger Google to crawl and index that individual page so that it can start showing up in the search results.

This is a great tool to use on an as-needed basis. However, using it to request indexing for every page on your site is not inefficient, which is why Google supplies us with the Sitemaps tool.

Using the Sitemaps Tool

An XML sitemap is a list of all the URLs that are available to appear in the search results. The best way to get this list of pages into Google Search is by submitting your XML sitemap via the Sitemaps tool in Google Search Console.

Before you submit your sitemap to Search Console, make sure it doesn't contain any URLs with thin or duplicate content.

Then, copy the entire URL of your XML sitemap (typically https://examplesite.com/sitemap.xml or https://examplesite.com/sitemap_index.xml) and paste that complete URL into the Sitemaps tool in GSC. Click SUBMIT.

This will trigger Google to immediately crawl your sitemap and make sure you're not missing any of the pages that you want to appear in the search results.

You'll want to resubmit your XML sitemap (using this tool) any time you create new content or make changes to your site that Google should know about.

Once you've submitted all your URLs to Google, the Coverage Report will show you how your site is being indexed. That is, which pages are and are not appearing in Google search results, and why.

Using the Coverage Report

Coverage is short for “Index Coverage” Report. This report shows you which pages Google has either crawled and indexed, or attempted to crawl and index.

It categorizes pages into four main categories based on indexation status.

Error – Shows pages that aren't showing up in the search results because Google is having issues indexing them.

Necessary Actions: Google will tell you the specific issue for each page marked with “Error.” Address each error using either Google's documentation or guidance from elsewhere on the internet.

Valid with warnings – Google isn't really sure if you want these pages shown in the search results, but is showing them anyway.

Necessary Actions: Identify why Google is taking issue with these pages and address the issues using the suggestions in Google's documentation.

Valid – Displays pages Google has indexed and is actively displaying in search results.

Necessary Actions: Make sure the quantity of pages is relatively flat over time. Noticeable spikes or drops may indicate issues. Also, make sure this list does not contain any pages you do not want to appear in search results. If it does, add no-index tags to each page you want excluded from the search results.

Excluded – Shows pages that are not indexed – either because you told Google not to index them, or because Google thinks they shouldn't be indexed. These pages will not appear in the search results.

Necessary Actions: Make sure that no pages you actually want to appear in the search results have accidentally been included in the Excluded category.

Indexation issues can get complicated, but in general, you want to make sure that:

  • Google indexes all the pages on your site you want to appear in the search results.
  • Google doesn't index the pages you want to keep out of the search results.
  • You address any errors or warnings Google flags.

For more information on the Index Coverage report – and to find out how to fix specific errors – the Google documentation is helpful.

Using the Removals Tool

The Removals Tool can be useful in certain situations if you want pages on your site to be temporarily removed from the search results. It's not possible to permanently remove URLs using this tool, since Removals requests only last about six months.

google search console removals
There are three types of removal requests:

Temporary Removal – Great for taking individual or entire categories of URLs out of Google search results immediately. You can also clear any cached page information still appearing in the search results.

Outdated Content – Shows instances of people reporting outdated content on your site, as well as pages missing content that's been indexed.

Safe Search – Shows instances of people reporting sexually explicit content on your pages.

Use the Removals tool when you want something to disappear from search results right away, or if you want to clear and refresh the meta description in the search results for a particular page.

If you want any content permanently removed from the search results, you'll need to use noindex meta tags, or make sure your server returns 410 (gone) or 401 (page not found).

Using the Enhancements Report

Which enhancements appear in Google Search Console's left-hand navigation will be largely dependent on your site's structured data or lack thereof.

That being said, you may see data on two key enhancements that aren't directly related to your site's structured data.

Speed

One of the foundations of a good user experience, and thus SEO, is having fast-loading pages. If pages take too long to load, people will quickly leave your site in search of pages (and content) they can actually use.

The Speed report shows you both mobile and desktop page speed performance. Each of your pages will be categorized as slow, moderate, or fast.

Slow-loading pages on your site need to be addressed. If they aren't in the “moderate” or “fast” categories on both desktop and mobile, consider looking into Google's recommendations about how to improve your page speed and taking action.

Mobile Usability

Another key principle of creating a quality user experience is having pages that are mobile-friendly, i.e. responsive. That's because so many people are using mobile devices to browse websites like yours. If your pages aren't mobile-friendly, Google will take notice and send people elsewhere instead.

The Mobile usability tool in Search Console allows you to see how many pages on your site are mobile-friendly, how many are not, and how each individual page is categorized.

Make sure that all the pages on your site are mobile-friendly, and that you address any that aren't. Google provides some guidelines on how to prioritize and fix specific issues.

Google also offers great documentation on dealing with enhancement issues. All you have to do is click on a particular type of enhancement in the Details table, then click LEARN MORE to access documentation related to that enhancement.

AMP & Rich Results

Two other and more common enhancements in Search Console reports are accelerated mobile pages and rich results. While we aren't going to go into detail here (since not everyone will have them), it's still worth learning how to leverage the reports if your site is using those enhancements.

Using the Links Report

Internal and external links are important in SEO. Internal links help Google understand the relative importance of your various pages. External links (links on other sites that direct users to yours) tell Google if your website is authoritative and trustworthy. A solid internal link architecture and lots of high-quality external links pointing to your site are both critical for successful SEO.

The Links Report in Google Search Console is the best free way to inform your SEO link building strategy. That's because this report shows you:

  • Which sites are linking to you the most,
  • Which pages they're linking to,
  • The text most frequently used in those external links, and
  • Which pages on your site have the most internal links pointing to them.

Use this report to make sure that the most important pages on your site have the most internal links pointing to them and the least important pages have the least internal links pointing to them. Link architecture set up in the opposite way will send Google mixed signals about what pages are important on your site.

Also, use this report to analyze the effectiveness of your link building strategy and to identify new opportunities that you are not yet taking advantage of.

Pay Attention to Manual Actions and Security

Google is able to tell a lot about your site just by crawling it. On occasion, Google will take issue with something.

When this happens, a human reviewer will look at your site to see what's going on. If that reviewer identifies something that is not in line with Google's webmaster quality guidelines, you will be notified in the Manual actions section of Google Search Console. You will be told what the issue is, and given advice on how to fix it. If you do not fix the issue, your site may be demoted – or omitted from the rankings altogether.

Using the Security Reports in Google Search Console

When Google is crawling your site, there are three types of security issues that it can easily identify:

  • If your site has malware or undesired software on it,
  • If it's been hacked,
  • If it's experiencing a social engineering attack.

Take action immediately using Google's documentation if your site is experiencing any of these issues.

If you're playing by the rules and nobody is attacking your site, you should never see anything other than “No issues detected” in the Manual Actions and Security sections of Google Search Console.

Getting Help & Documentation in Google Search Console

You should now have a solid idea of what the various reports and tools in Google Search Console can help you accomplish. However, this is just an intro to the platform; there is much more that we just can't cover here.

If you have any questions about a particular report, simply click on the question mark icon when looking at that report and relevant documentation will appear.

Also, don't be afraid to click on the little question mark icons or the LEARN MORE links when you see them.

Lastly (and it may seem like a no brainer), if you don't see the answer you're looking for in Google's documentation, do a Google search. There are millions of people using Google Search Console, asking questions about it, and getting answers from other users. A Google search is often the quickest, most direct way to get moving in the right direction.

Get Google Search Console Training

If you're thirsty for more Google Search Console training, Google has a great video series dedicated to teaching you all things GSC.

If you want help with your SEO strategy as it relates to Google Search Console and beyond, learn how the team at Pathfinder SEO can help you take a guided approach to improve your site's performance in search results.

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books

How to Add Page Titles and Meta Descriptions in WordPress

April 9, 2020

Title tags and meta description tags, a.k.a. page titles and meta descriptions, are the little things that make it possible for your website’s pages to appear in search results the way you want them to.

Not only that, but search engines use the content of a WordPress page title to help rank the corresponding page in search results. And, potential visitors use both the page title and meta description when making a decision about whether or not to visit a page they see listed in search results.

To illustrate this point, which of the two search results below are you more likely to visit?

bad page title

good page title

If you are like most, you probably think the second option is far more enticing.

Thankfully, adding a page title tag and meta descriptions tag to each page of your WordPress site is a cinch with a plugin like Yoast SEO. Here’s how to do it.

Draft & Organize Your Page Titles and Meta Descriptions

Before adding page titles and meta descriptions to your website with a plugin like Yoast, you need to draft them.

Doing your work in a spreadsheet is the most efficient way to do it.

To start the process, open a new Google or Excel spreadsheet and start organizing your work using the following as column headings:

  • Page Name
  • URL
  • Focus Keyword
  • Page Title
  • Page Title Length
  • Meta Description
  • Meta Description Length
  • Implemented

Here is what it might look like.

example spreadsheet with meta data

Once you have your spreadsheet formatted you can use the formula =len(celltoleft) in each cell under your Page Title Length and Meta Description Length columns. This will allow you to automatically calculate the number of characters in your page titles or meta descriptions. In the example above we would input =len(D2) in cell E2 to calculate page title character length for cell D2 and =len(F2) in cell G2 to calculate meta description character length for cell F2.

Once you’ve formatted your page title and meta description spreadsheet, it’s time to fill it in.

Start by listing all the pages that need pages titles and meta descriptions. Then, add the focus keyword(s) for each and start drafting your page titles and meta descriptions.

How to Write Great Page Titles and Meta Descriptions

Your page titles and meta descriptions are often a person’s first contact with your brand. As they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

As a result, your page titles and meta descriptions need to be drafted in a way that makes search engines want to show them and people want to click on them. Here are some best practices when drafting each.

Best Practices for Writing Page Titles

  • Write them for users
  • Make sure they communicate what a page is about
  • Capitalize them like you would a blog post
  • Use your focus keyword at the start of each one
  • Keep them under 60 characters
  • Include a separator like a colon, a dash, or a bar
  • Include your brand name in every one
  • Include modifiers that make them more readable
  • Make each one unique to the page it’s paired with

Best Practices for Writing Meta Descriptions

  • Write them for users
  • Make sure they properly describe a page’s content
  • Use your focus keyword once
  • Keep them under 150 characters
  • Sell the reason people should click
  • Use an active voice instead of a passive one
  • Create a unique one for each page
  • Include a clear call to action

Fill out your entire spreadsheet using these best practices as a guide.

Once all your page titles and meta descriptions are drafted, don’t forget to run a spell check on them.

Install an SEO Plugin

With content in hand, you now need a place to put it. A plugin will help you get it where it needs to go.

There are plenty of great SEO plugins in the WordPress Plugin Directory. We recommend Yoast SEO or All in One SEO Pack. Yoast, however, is our preference.

Complete the installation process. Once it is installed, activate it and you will be up and running.

We will be using Yoast as our example in this guide, but you can use All in One SEO Pack and several other SEO plugins in much the same way.

How to Add Meta Title and Description in WordPress

To add your page titles and meta descriptions, login to the backend of your website.

Then navigate to the page you want to add them to and click on Edit Page at the top of the page.

Once you are able to edit that page, locate the Yoast SEO meta box and click Edit snippet.

edit yoast snippet

Go back to your spreadsheet and locate the row that corresponds with the URL you are working on. Copy the page title and meta description from that row of your spreadsheet and paste them into the Yoast meta box. Enter your page title in the SEO title field and your meta description in its own field.

adding meta data to yoast

Once you have pasted them in, click Update in the top right-hand corner of WordPress page or post.

Last but not least, go back to your spreadsheet and mark that you have implemented your page title and meta description for that page in the far right-hand column.

Once you’ve updated the page titles and meta descriptions on all your pages, resubmit your XML sitemap to Google using the sitemaps tool in Google Search Console. This will prompt Google to crawl and index all your changes so it can start showing your new page titles and meta descriptions in search results. Give Google a couple days to crawl and index your site.

Once your changes have been indexed, you can use site operators to see your fresh page titles and meta descriptions in search results.

Start by typing site:https://www.anypageonyoursite.com into the search bar of Google to see the unique page title and meta description populating in search results for that page.

Or, you can type in site:https://www.yourhomepage.com to see how Google is displaying all your page titles and meta descriptions in search results.

In Summary: How to Add Meta Title and Description in WordPress

Adding page titles and meta descriptions is a simple and highly impactful way to drive more organic traffic to your WordPress website.

Make sure to use a spreadsheet so you can keep track of which page titles and meta descriptions are paired with the various pages of your website.

Make sure to follow SEO best practices when drafting your page titles and meta descriptions.

Use a WordPress plugin like Yoast SEO to easily upload your work.

Resubmit your XML sitemap to Google Search Console after uploading your work and check the search results using a site: operator to confirm your new page titles and meta descriptions are being shown.

There it is. You now know how to add page titles and meta descriptions to your WordPress website. If you want to make sure all your page titles and meta descriptions include the best keywords possible, sign up for Pathfinder SEO and we’ll show you how to identify those keywords.

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