All Resources by Erik Wardell
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:
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:
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.
Record clicks for each page listed under the column labeled Three Month Traffic Volume in your workbook.
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.
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.
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!
Conducting a content cleanup doesn’t have to be rocket science. You just need to follow this process:
- Understand What Google & Users Want From Your Content
- Create a Spreadsheet & Two Categories for Your Content
- Categorize Your Content Into High Quality & Low Quality
- Quantify Organic Traffic Volume
- Analyze Content & Assign a Status
- 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.Read More
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Be nice and don’t get personal.
- Keep it short and sweet.
- Thank your reviewers.
- 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:
- Doing business with you.
- 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
- Navigate to https://www.google.com/business/ in your browser and login in the top right corner where it says “Sign in.”
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Download the Google My Business app on your Android or Apple device and log in.
- Click on “Customers” at the bottom of the app.
- 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.Read More
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:
- What does Google Search Console Do?
- How to Verify your Website with the Google Search Console
- Overview Page
- Manual Actions & Security
- Help & Documentation
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.
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.
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:
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.
The Coverage chart will tell you how many of the pages on your site Google has crawled and added to its index.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.Read More
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?
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
- Focus Keyword
- Page Title
- Page Title Length
- Meta Description
- Meta Description Length
Here is what it might look like.
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.
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.
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.
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.Read More
One of the most common questions we get as Pathfinder SEO coaches is “How do I link Google Analytics to Search Console?”
Let’s take a look at how to integrate Google Analytics (GA) and Google Search Console (GSC). Then we’ll do a quick overview of the reports that the integration gives you access to in GA.
Watch the Video
Submit Your Site to Google Search Console
Start by verifying your website in Google Search Console. This is an essential step in the SEO process. It allows you to establish a direct communication channel with Google, see what keywords are driving traffic to your site, and much more.
If you’ve already verified your site with GSC, you are good to go. If you haven’t, learn how to submit your website to Google Search Console.
Link Google Analytics to Search Console
Once you have verified your website in GSC, it’s time to log into Google Analytics. Make sure you are using the same Google account to log into both.
Once you are in GA, click on the cog in the bottom lefthand corner of your dash to pull up the Admin interface. Then click on Property Settings.
Scroll down in Property Settings until you see Search Console. Click the button right below it that says Adjust Search Console.
You will then have access to Search Console Settings. Click the blue text that says Add.
This will take you over to Google Search Console where you will find yourself in a window called Enable Search Console data in Google Analytics. Identify the site you want to link to Google Analytics and click the radio button to the left of it. Once selected, click save.
You will be asked to confirm the association, click OK.
Navigate back to Google Analytics and click refresh on your browser window displaying Search Console Settings. You know the connection is a success if you see your site listed when you click the Enabled views dropdown.
If you want further confirmation, navigate back to the Property column in the Admin view of GA and click on All Products. You should see a green check mark located under Search Console.
Finding Google Search Console Information in Google Analytics
Once you have completed the process above, you will have access to several great Search Console reports right in the Google Analytics acquisition report.
To find these reports, click on Acquisition > Search Console in the left hand dash of GA.
You will now be able to see the following reports:
This tells you what pages people are arriving at when they come to your site through Google searches. Click on a particular page URL and you will be able to see what search queries brought those people to that page.
The Countries report tells you where your traffic is coming from. Click on a country and you will be able to see what landing pages those folks are arriving at. Click on a resulting landing page and you will once again be able to dive into search queries.
The Devices report will show you how people are searching for your business using desktop computers, mobile phones and tablets.
The queries report tells you what search terms (a.k.a. keywords) Google is showing your website in search results for. We also like the Average Position information which tells what our average ranking is in the search results for a particular term.
There it is! You now know how to link Google Analytics to Search Console and find the resulting reports in GA. If you feel like you still need more information about how your website is performing in search, check out our Google Search Console tutorial.
If you want to know how to make sense of all the data available to you in GA and GSC one of our coaches can teach you how to pull actionable insights out of your website’s data. All you have to do is sign up for one of our guided SEO offerings.Read More
WordPress is SEO friendly from the outset and is our favorite content management system. Leverage the full power of WordPress by following these tips. Let’s keep this actionable. Dozens of tips can be overwhelming — which do you follow first? Instead, let’s look at the 5 most actionable tips.
5 WordPress SEO Tips to Grow Your Business
1. Install Yoast SEO and Complete the Configuration Wizard
Yoast SEO is an excellent multi-function SEO plugin. It’s appropriate for websites small to large. Start your WordPress SEO efforts by installing Yoast.
You’ll need to decide if you’re going to use the free or premium version. Is Yoast Premium worth it? We share our insights here.
Installing the plugin is the first step. You’ll need to configure the plugin to see its full value. Start by using the Yoast SEO Configuration Wizard.
2. Sign up for the Google Search Console
Signing up for Google Search Console gives you a direct line of communication with the biggest search engine in the world. It is the most powerful FREE SEO tool available.
The first step is verifying your website. This shows Google that you own or manage your website.
3. Sign up for Google Analytics and Benchmark Your Organic Traffic
Knowing how many people are currently visiting your website from search engines (your organic search traffic) is essential if you want to be able to measure the impact of your SEO work.
Google Analytics is a free analytics tool that will tell you how your website is performing. It can get incredibly complex, but at its most basic, it will show you how many people are visiting your website during any given period of time.
Sign up for Google Analytics and add its tracking code to your website using the Monster Insights plugin. Once you’ve connected your site to Google Analytics, it’s time to see how many people are visiting your site from the search engines.
Login to Google Analytics. Then go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels in the left-hand menu of your dashboard. Set the date range to last month in the top-right corner. Record the number of Organic Search Sessions your site has seen in the last month so you have a benchmark to measure your future performance against.
4. Dial-in Your XML Sitemap
An XML sitemap acts as your website’s resume. It gives the search engines a roadmap so that they can seamlessly crawl and index your website. You wouldn’t show up to a job interview without a resume. Take the time to customize your XML sitemap and share it with Google.
Yoast SEO makes this easy. Learn how to update your sitemap so that your resume is up to date and accurate.
Then, dive back into the Google Search Console. Go to Sitemaps and submit yours.
5. Gain an understanding of your Website’s SEO Strengths and Weaknesses
SEO audits are a great way to gain awareness around your website’s strengths and weaknesses in the eyes of the search engines. At Pathfinder SEO, we break SEO into 4 pillars — technical SEO, content, on-site SEO, and off-site. The first step of our SEO process is building the awareness around which pillars are strong and where the opportunities lie.
There are lots of tools that will scan your website and pass along red-flag warnings. We take a different approach. Our SEO coaches go through an SEO scoring exercise and give you actionable feedback.
Submit a request for a free SEO Score. You’ll walk away with a solid understanding of where to focus your efforts. You can take those insights and proceed with a do-it-yourself approach to SEO. Or you can be like many others who take a guided approach to SEO with Pathfinder.
Step by Step Approach
Follow these 5 WordPress SEO tips to jumpstart your growth. From here, success comes from taking an incremental step-by-step approach. SEO is all about action. Invest a few hours a month into SEO and the traffic will follow.Read More
Simply put, Yoast has become the front-running multifunctional SEO plugin for WordPress users. The premium version provides even more value. Learn why.
What is Yoast Premium?
Yoast Premium is the paid version of the popular Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress websites. It is a multi-functional SEO plugin that ensures you have the right infrastructure to be able to grow your website traffic. Just like the free version of the plugin, Yoast Premium requires configuration to meet the best practices for your website.
The free version of Yoast includes everything you’ll need to get started with SEO, while the paid version extends its functionality to include features like managing 301 redirects, internal linking suggestions, and ongoing support.
Is Yoast Premium Worth It?
Yoast Premium is extremely valuable. When deciding if Yoast Premium is worth it for your website, consider its features against the backdrop of your unique case. There are three main groups of users who need Yoast Premium — website redesign teams with numerous potential redirect problems, website managers aggressively competing for competitive keywords, and users new to SEO who will appreciate the included support.
Three Groups of Users Who Need Yoast Premium
Marketers who are managing many 301 redirects (those with new websites going live).
Yoast Premium includes an amazing tool called the redirect manager. This module comes in handy when you have a complex, interlinked site that is undergoing a rebrand or a complete overhaul.
When a site changes dramatically, many past leads and customers may try to visit URLs that no longer exist. Ideally, the entirety of your old site would redirect seamlessly to pages on your new site. Each link would map to valuable content in a way that allows visitors to appreciate the new design, rather than experiencing endless frustration due to missing content and dead ends.
You can manage redirects manually, but be forewarned that it can take a good amount of time. The other option is a Yoast SEO Premium subscription, which (for less than $90/year) gives you access to the easy-to-use redirects manager and makes wrangling redirects simple.
The Premium redirect tool pays for itself pretty much instantly in this case, since manually managing redirects is both frustrating and time-consuming, and can still result in missing links.
Website Managers Aggressively Competing for Hotly Contested Keywords
When you know your competitors are maintaining sophisticated SEO-driven sites that compete for top ranking with certain organic search terms, Yoast SEO Premium can give you the upper hand.
Context is becoming a more and more important factor in search engine algorithms. This means that many users will want to choose not just a focus keyword, but also supporting terms to demonstrate the value and depth of their content.
Yoast Premium’s ability to incorporate multiple focus keywords can increase an individual page or post’s chances of ranking .
The Word Forms feature of Yoast SEO Premium allows you to optimize even further by evaluating the context of your most important keywords.
For mostly-uncontested search engine queries, these features may seem like overkill. However, if you rely on organic search engine traffic and want to get even one place higher in the rankings, Yoast Premium may provide the perfect fuel to push your content to the top of the page.
Users New to SEO Who Appreciate the Expertise and Support Included with Premium
While Yoast’s basic features are quite helpful, every constantly-updating plugin occasionally encounters bugs, such as conflicts with a specific WordPress theme or other plugins.
If your team is still getting the hang of SEO and trying to maximize your use of Yoast, Premium may be worth the money in exchange for a year of free updates and customized support.
The team at Yoast knows SEO backward and forwards, so if the plugin seems to be malfunctioning, they can either fix it or show you how to implement it more effectively.
Having a support team in call makes it easier to move from being an SEO novice to being an advanced Yoast user without worrying about the heavy analytical lifting that Yoast so effortlessly performs.
More Features of Yoast Premium
Not sure if you fall into any of those three categories? Here are some additional features that might make a Yoast Premium upgrade worthwhile.
Find Lost Content With The Orphaned Content Filter
As your site changes over time, there will occasionally be pages or posts that are “orphaned,” meaning they aren’t linked to from anywhere else. This is an issue because if they aren’t linked to or haven’t already been indexed by search engines, no one will be able to find them.
To create a truly cohesive site that also takes advantage of the helpful and valuable content you and your team have created, you can use the Orphaned Content Filter to help you identify any pages that are unavailable to search engines and/or potential visitors. Then, all you have to do is link to each page from elsewhere on your site.
By taking advantage of the Orphaned Content Filter, you get more play with search engines because every piece of content can pull more weight.
Get Valuable Link Recommendations With The Internal Linking Tool
One of the best ways to increase time-on-site (and thus conversion rates) is to create meaningful and useful links between related posts throughout your site.
In the past, this had to be done manually by a person with comprehensive knowledge of the history of the site. But with Yoast SEO Premium, an automated suggestion will pop up to recommend potential content for linking. By creating links based on these recommendations, you will give users and search engines a better overall experience of your site.
Plan Your Social Posts Perfectly With Social Preview
When you want your brand’s image to be perfectly conveyed in every single social post, you can use Social Preview to ensure that everything is working smoothly before you post on your brand channels. Yoast SEO Premium includes this Social Preview tool, which can be a saving grace for busy digital marketers who need to stay on top of social presence and brand consistency.
How Much Does Yoast Premium Cost?
Cost inevitably matters when making a decision around the value of a new tool. Yoast Premium is available for $89/year for one website. We consider this to be a small price to pay for the value of convenience and the additional features it provides.
The true value of Yoast (whether SEO or Premium) is ultimately determined by its configuration. Both versions are simply tools; your strategy and action items are what will actually drive traffic growth. While there are various approaches you can take when it comes to SEO strategy, we always recommend a guided one.Read More
One of the many great things about the Yoast SEO plugin is that it automatically generates an XML sitemap for your website. This file acts as a resume for your website. It tells the search engines how to crawl and index the pages of your website.
Yoast’s automatically-generated sitemap will need a bit of customization. We’ll show you how to configure it.
What is an XML Sitemap?
An XML sitemap is a list of pages on your website you want search engines to crawl and index. Sitemaps provide valuable information such as how many images are included on each page, when each page was last updated, and each page’s relative importance. In short, the XML sitemap says, “Search engine crawlers, please follow this path.”
An XML sitemap generated by Yoast SEO looks like this:
As you can tell by the look and feel, an XML sitemap isn’t user-oriented; it’s meant to communicate with the search engines.
When you look closely at a Yoast generated sitemap, you’ll see that it’s actually an index of additional sitemaps based on content type. Each content type sitemap organizes all URLs associated with that particular type of content. Starting at the top of the sitemap index above, you’ll see it includes a sitemap each for posts, pages, categories, post_tags, and authors.
You can click on any one of the individual sitemaps to see all the pages/URLs on the site associated with that particular type of content.
What to Include/Exclude in Your Sitemap
Yoast SEO automatically creates a sitemap for your website. It’s your job to customize it so that it includes a URL for each page you want to have a chance of appearing in the search results.
You’ll want to exclude any URLs that point to pages with:
- Thin content – Content with little to no added value for users.
- Duplicate content – Content that appears at more than one URL.
Where is your Sitemap?
Let’s locate your WordPress sitemap. If you’re using Yoast, you’ll find it at www.mydomain.com/sitemap_index.xml.
You can use other WordPress plugins to create an XML sitemap instead. All in One SEO Pack and RankMath are two multi-function SEO plugins that also include XML sitemaps. In this tutorial, though, we’ll only cover Yoast SEO since it’s the most widely used.
How to Create a Yoast SitemapAs we’ve noted, Yoast includes an XML sitemap as part of the default package. The steps outlined below will show you how to customize it for your unique website.
Let’s start by deciding which sitemaps you want your XML sitemap index to include. Then, we’ll look at individual content.
1. Log in to your WordPress website in one browser tab, and have your XML sitemap open in another tab.
2. Customize the Yoast settings relating to content types. In the left-hand menu of your WordPress website, hover over the Yoast SEO plugin, then click on Search Appearance. Click through the tabs at the top to get an idea of how Yoast organizes the controls for your various kinds of content.
Notice the dropdowns on the content type, taxonomies, and archives tabs. Each dropdown opens a control panel to help you optimize the way a particular kind of content will appear in the search results.
Each dropdown also includes a toggle that allows us to add or remove a particular kind of content from the XML sitemap. Yoast asks a simple question: “Show (individual sitemap) in search results?”
The default setting is usually Yes — for good reason. You generally want search engines to see all of your content unless you have a good reason for them not to.
Go through each content type listed and ask yourself if you want that type of content to appear in the search results. For most content types (like pages and posts), your answer should be Yes, unless those pages contain thin or duplicate content.
By leaving a particular content type set to Yes, Yoast will make sure to include that individual sitemap in your XML sitemap index.
If you set a content type sitemap to No, Yoast will remove that entire sitemap — along with all associated URLs — from your sitemap index. Yoast will also apply noindex robots meta directives to each piece of content in that sitemap, further ensuring robots won’t find and index them. Make sure you’re positive you don’t want search engines seeing any of that content before setting it to No.
3. Continue with this exercise for the Taxonomies and Archives tabs in the Search Appearance portion of the Yoast SEO plugin.
It’s likely that you do want the search engines to show your Categories and Tags. We will optimize these taxonomies so they’re even more valuable to the search engines in an upcoming monthly task.
4. Customize individual sitemaps. Open your XML sitemap index. Click on the individual sitemaps so that each opens in a new tab.
Our goal is to evaluate the pages included in each individual sitemap. Go through each sitemap, URL by URL, asking yourself if each piece of content will benefit users.
If you find pages such as /hello-world or /testing-123 that signal they may be of low value to the search engines, open each in a new tab for evaluation at the page level. If they don’t contain content that could be valuable to users, you want to exclude those pages from your sitemap.
To exclude individual URLs from your XML sitemap, click on “Edit Page” at the top of each page or post you want to exclude.
In the page editor, scroll down to the Yoast SEO metabox. Click on the “Advanced Settings” gear icon and set “Allow search engines to show this Page in search results?” to “No.”
You can still allow search engines to follow the links on that page — even if it’s hidden — by leaving “Should search engines follow links on this Page?” set to “Yes.”
Leave this set to Yes unless there’s a reason you don’t want crawlers following the links that live on that page.
Finally, click “Update” in the top right corner of the page to save these settings. Repeat this process for each page you wish to exclude from each individual sitemap.
Nice work! You’ve customized your XML sitemap! Your final step is to submit this customized sitemap to Google via the Google Search Console.Read More
If you're thinking about building a website (or redesigning an existing site), one thing you definitely want to do is get all those new pages appearing at the top of Google's search results. Using WordPress as your site's content management system (CMS) is one of the best ways to do that.
But does WordPress' SEO-friendliness mean it's the best CMS for SEO?
Why Is WordPress Good for SEO?
Google and the other search engines don't actually care which CMS your website uses.
Google's Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, says that Google's algorithms don't consider CMS as part of their ranking, but that WordPress is a great choice for SEO.
no. WP is a great CMS & works well in search, but afaik our algos don't explicitly check for any particular CMS.— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) November 1, 2016
While Google may not care which CMS you choose to build and maintain your site, it will care about the outcome of all your SEO work. Or, more specifically, Google cares how accessible and useful the pages on your website are.
WordPress happens to be the CMS that facilitates the creation of accessible and useful webpages – better than any other. This is why our team at Pathfinder SEO (and most other SEO professionals, too) believe it's the best CMS for SEO.
Before we tell you how WordPress helps you achieve great SEO outcomes, let's define WordPress SEO so that we are on the same page. Once defined, we'll tell you how each element of WordPress contributes to those outcomes.
What is WordPress SEO?
WordPress SEO is the set of collective actions you must take to get your WordPress website ranking higher in the search results of Google, Yahoo and Bing.
At Pathfinder SEO, we break WordPress SEO into four pillars. Each pillar consists of related SEO actions. The four pillars of SEO include:
Technical SEO – All the actions you take that make it easier for search engines to discover your site, index it, and show your pages in the search engine results.
Content & User Experience (UX) – All the actions you take to provide visitors with high-quality, easily accessible information.
On-site SEO – The actions you take to improve the elements on your site and give it a better chance of appearing in the search results.
Off-site SEO – The actions you take outside of your site that determine how frequently it shows up in the search results.
When your WordPress site is following best practices within each of the four pillars, you've created a solid, holistic SEO strategy and a site set up to perform well in Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
Why WordPress is the Best for SEO
You have a lot of choices when it comes to which CMS you use for your website. These choices include Wix, Squarespace, Joomla, Shopify, Weebly, and more. We've spent time with almost all of them and, at the end of the day, our favorite CMS for SEO is still WordPress.
There are three major elements contributing to the overall SEO-friendliness of WordPress
The WordPress CMS – The inherent functionality, low cost, and usability of the WordPress CMS.
SEO Friendly WordPress Themes – The high caliber and variety of SEO-friendly themes available for WordPress.
The Availability of SEO Plugins – The diversity and quality of SEO-focused WordPress plugins that extend the functionality of your website.
This unique combination of elements makes WordPress an SEO powerhouse. Other CMSs include a couple of these elements, but none have all three combined in the same strategic way WordPress does.
Here's how each element of WordPress facilitates amazing SEO outcomes.
The WordPress Content Management System is Best for SEO
When you're building a website, you can either code one from scratch or use a content management system (CMS) as the foundation. If you choose to use a CMS, its core features will make it intrinsically better – or worse – for SEO.
WordPress' standard features make it the best CMS for SEO out-of-the-box, even before choosing a theme or adding any plugins.
Here are some of those features.
WordPress is Free (Technical SEO)
You can't get found in search if you don't have a website. And custom websites developed by professional agencies can be expensive.
But anyone with a computer, access to the internet can download WordPress and create a website relatively quickly. Sure, you will need a domain and hosting if you want to customize your site, but the fact that WordPress is free is the first reason it's great for SEO.
From an SEO affordability standpoint, WordPress is hands-down the best CMS, even when domain and hosting fees are accounted for.
While you'd have to pay for some CMSs like Shopify, Squarespace, and Wix, there are other free options – take Drupal and Joomla, for example. With that said, no other free CMS is as easy to use (or as set up for SEO) as WordPress.
Easy to Use Without Knowing How to Code (Content & User UX)
You don't have to be a web developer to create a WordPress site that looks great and functions incredibly well. Especially when there's an abundance of both free and paid online resources to answer your WordPress questions and provide step-by-step instructions on how to build a site.
With a little bit of work ethic, some time and a handful of Google searches, just about anyone with modest computer literacy can figure out how to build an SEO-friendly WordPress site.
WordPress Support & Education Are Ubiquitous (Content & UX)
Over 35% of the websites on the internet are running on WordPress. That means there are plenty of people asking questions about WordPress SEO. And just as many people are answering those questions in the form of blogs, documentation, forums, and courses.
You'll find both amazing documentation and a massive online community that is proactively supplying answers to people's WordPress questions – many of which are SEO-related.
There is an equally large community of course creators and online instructors providing educational content to help people improve their sites and their SEO.
Whether you're just getting started building your site, wanting to create amazing content for it, or trying to get it ranking in the search results, there are many options when it comes to finding exceptional guidance that will help you further your SEO goals.
While some other CMSs have great support, especially Squarespace, none have an active online community as large as WordPress.
WordPress Makes Creating Great Content Easy (Content & UX)
One of the cornerstones of a great SEO strategy is exceptional content. After all, it's the content on your site that determines its usefulness to visitors. Some CMS platforms make creating great content kind of tricky.
WordPress recently did away with its Text Editor in favor of The Block Editor, a.k.a the Gutenberg Project. The new block editor allows you to compose and format amazing content with great flexibility. You just need to show up with your expertise and some writing skills.
WordPress Makes Structuring Your Pages Simple (On-Site SEO)
Heading tags (Heading 1 – Heading 6) allow you to structure your content in a way that makes it more understandable for Google and your users.
WordPress will automatically wrap your page title with a Heading 1 (H1) tag and allow you to easily manage which tags you apply to the rest of your headings. Using these tags to create hierarchy and content structure is an SEO best practice, made simple thanks to WordPress.
In some other CMS platforms, you'd need to know how to use HTML code to achieve the same outcomes.
Managing Alt Text is Simple in WordPress (On-Site SEO)
Neither Google nor other search engines can actually see images on your webpages to make sense of them. Instead, the search engines rely on image alt attributes, a.k.a. alt text in WordPress, to accurately describe the contents of an image.
WordPress makes the SEO best practice of including alt attributes on all images easy. You can add alt text to images on a particular page, or add it to all your images at once using the media library interface.
WordPress Automatically Generates a Robots.txt File (Technical SEO)
Robots.txt files tell the search engines which sections of your website are off-limits. Having a robots.txt file that search engines can understand is another SEO best practice.
By default, WordPress is going to generate one (example above) that both makes search engines happy and addresses security vulnerabilities at the same time.
Some other CMSs automatically provide this; others do not.
Many WordPress Themes Are SEO-Friendly
In order for a WordPress theme to be SEO-friendly, it has to be responsive, quick loading, user-friendly, be written with great code, and make implementing SEO easy.
WordPress Themes are Responsive / Mobile Friendly (Technical SEO)
A WordPress theme is a set of files that you can download and install on your site which defines the styling and user display. By default, in order for WordPress to include a theme in its Theme Directory, the theme must be responsive (mobile-friendly).
This makes sense. Given the pervasiveness of smartphones and mobile devices, every website should be responsive or able to adjust to the screen size of any device a visitor is using.
When Google is crawling websites, it acts like a user with a mobile device, because Google knows this is how most people will view the site. If your website isn't mobile-friendly, Google will demote your site in the rankings.
Just because a theme is mobile-friendly doesn't mean it's SEO-friendly. An SEO-friendly site has additional requirements.
Many WordPress Themes Offer a Great User Experience (Content & UX)
It's critical to have a theme that speaks to your audience, compliments your content, and makes it easy for people to navigate and engage with your site.
WordPress' custom themes allow you to easily tailor your site's appearance to your content, your business and your brand. After all, you wouldn't want an e-commerce site looking like a news site.
While other CMSs provide beautiful themes and templates, no other CMS has the variety of high-quality and eye-catching selections that WordPress provides.
Developed for SEO With Tidy Code (Technical SEO)
Not all themes are created equal. Some are pieced together by developers lacking theme development experience and specific SEO knowledge. Others are created by teams of expert developers who write clean code and take into account the latest in SEO best practices.
Here's a selection of some of the best WordPress themes available today:
WordPress Page Builders Allow You to Take Control (Content & UX)
If you can't find a theme that meets your needs and you want to design your site your way, there are a handful of great WordPress page builders.
Page builders allow you to have more control over user experience and still benefit from WordPress tools when executing your SEO strategy.
Here's a selection of some of the best WordPress page builders available today:
Once you have a great theme and/or page builder in place, plugins will allow you to further dial in your SEO.
WordPress Plugins Extend Your SEO Capabilities
If you aren't familiar with WordPress plugins, they are small software packages that extend the functionality of your WordPress site. There are thousands of them, many of which are purpose-built to help you improve your SEO.
With a library of plugins at your disposal, you are able to accomplish a much more diverse set of (beginner to advanced) SEO tactics.
Many other CMSs have neither plugins nor plugin equivalents, leaving you stuck with the basic CMS and its available themes/templates.
Here are some critical SEO tactics that plugins can make easier.
Connect to Google Analytics & Search Console (Technical SEO)
In the words of Peter Drucker “You can't manage what you don't measure.”
If you are serious about getting more qualified visitors to your site and keeping them on it, you need to be using Google Analytics and Google Search Console. They are two necessary tools that measure how many people are visiting your site, which keywords led them to it, and what they do after they arrive.
In order to connect your WordPress site to either tool, you either need to know how to implement a snippet of code, or you need plugins that will do it for you.
Other plugins like Yoast SEO and All in One SEO Pack will help you easily verify your site with Google Search Console. Take special note of these two, because they're the most powerful multifunction SEO plugins in the entire WordPress plugin library.
WordPress Plugins Can Tell You if You're Using Keywords Properly (On-site SEO)
If your pages aren't built out around the right topics and keywords, they won't rank easily in the search engines. Figuring out the right topics and keywords is a totally separate article, but effectively using those keywords on your pages is relevant here.
There are many reasons we love the Yoast SEO plugin. One of them is because its content analysis tool helps ensure you're using your target keywords properly. As far as we know, no other CMS has a tool that will do this for you.
WordPress Plugins Allow You to Manage Your Meta Tags (On-site)
Two of the most important meta tags used in SEO are your title tag and your meta description tag. These tags tell Google how to display your pages in the organic search results.
Plugins like All in One SEO Pack and Yoast SEO allow you to customize these tags, so that your pages stand out in the search results and get better click-through rates.
WordPress Plugins Speed Up Page Load Times (Content & UX)
Google heavily weights page speed when determining rankings. Pages that take forever to load create a poor user experience and Google tends to demote them in the search engine results. Fortunately, there are plenty of WordPress plugins to help you speed things up.Caching Plugins
These plugins create HTML copies of your web pages that load much faster than the default WordPress PHP scripts. All you have to do is install and then configure this plugin to improve your page load times.
Images are some of the “heaviest” elements on any web page. That is, the amount of data they contain slows down the speed at which browsers can pull a page off of a server.
Properly sizing and compressing images is key if you want your pages to load quickly so that your users have a quality experience when visiting your site. Two image optimization tools we love are Short Pixel and Smush. Both can improve your site speed.
WordPress Plugins Help You Create Great Structured Data/Schema Markup (Technical SEO)
Structured data, a.k.a. Schema markup, is code applied to a webpage in a standardized format to give search engines clear information about that page. Schema provides search engines with context so they can make better sense of the content on your site.
There are all sorts of different types of Schema markup tools to help your pages appear more consistently in the search results. Whether you want your site to appear with Google's rich results or you just want your pages to rank better, structured data can help.
Yoast SEO automatically applies basic structured data to your site on install. This is another reason we love it. WordPress also has numerous additional plugins that create specific types of schema markup. Some of our favorite plugins in this category are Schema Pro and All In One Schema Rich Snippets.
WordPress Plugins Make it Easy to Connect With Social Channels (Off-Site SEO)
Lastly, we love that WordPress plugins provide better control over the formatting of shared content on social media channels. While social media doesn't have a direct impact on page ranking, it does have an indirect effect. That's because social media improves brand awareness and the frequency with which people interact with your site.
As far as WordPress plugins are concerned, Yoast SEO allows you to set meta tags for both Facebook and Twitter. These allow you to customize what displays when you or others share your content on social media. This customization helps boost click-through rates and improves your brand image as a whole.
How to Implement WordPress SEO
Now that you know what makes WordPress so incredibly SEO-friendly, you need to be aware that using WordPress alone won't get your site ranking high in the search results.
You'll need to create a site that provides users with the exact information they're searching for and an exceptional experience. In order to accomplish that higher-order goal, you'll need an SEO strategy.
Three Types of SEO Strategies
There are three main ways WordPress users typically approach SEO:Hire an SEO Agency
You can hire an SEO agency to do your SEO for you. Although this is arguably the most effective way to accomplish your SEO goals, it's going to cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars. Do-It-Yourself (DIY) SEO
Do-it-yourself SEO is a great option for those with lots of time on their hands. That's because it takes an often-overwhelming investment of hours. Hours invested in taking courses, reading articles, and figuring out how to extract and make use of mountains of data generated by complex SEO tools. Guided SEO
This third strategy offers a completely unique approach. It combines SEO coaching, custom tools, and a proven process for you to follow step by step. It is much more efficient than the DIY approach and is far more affordable than the agency approach.
If you want to take this guided approach to SEO, please reach out to the team at Pathfinder SEO and we'll tell you more about your options.Read More
What are Keywords?
Keywords (also known as key phrases or search queries) are the terms people type into search engines to find the information, products, or services they seek.
When a page on your site includes keywords that are the same as — or very similar to — the keywords people are typing into search engines, that page is more likely to show up in the search results.
If you are selling to a local audience keyword research for local businesses is a must-know SEO tactic. Let's dive in.
What is Keyword Research for Local Business? Why Is It Important?
Let’s face it — most local businesses have competition. Keyword research can help one local business gain a strategic advantage over other local businesses targeting the same customer base.
Keyword research allows you to identify the keywords people are already using when trying to find what you offer your customers. It also allows you to quantify which keywords people are using most often, and how much competition you’ll have when trying to rank locally for a particular keyword.
Keyword research can give you direction when considering what content you should be creating, as well as which keywords you should target to generate more local business through your website.
You can do qualitative keyword research just by looking at what shows up in the search results for a particular keyword. To get the most out of your keyword research, however, you;ll need to use a keyword research tool.
What are Keyword Research Tools?
Keyword research tools allow you to plug in an individual keyword and see how many people are using it on a monthly basis. These tools measure search volume, which is the average number of times people type that keyword into search engines each month.
When you collect search volume for a variety of similar keywords, you can discern which keywords will likely deliver the most qualified traffic to your local business website.
Many keyword research tools provide additional data that can be extremely useful to local businesses. Localized search volume for specific towns, cities, or states is especially useful. You can also analyze competition metrics, which tell you how difficult it may be to rank for a specific keyword or phrase.
The best keyword research tools also suggest other keywords that could be productive.
How Does a Website Target Keywords?
Once you’ve used a keyword research tool to identify the keywords being used to search for content like yours, you can selectively target the keywords that will generate the largest number of visits and conversions.
To target a particular keyword, you need to create extremely useful content on your website that is highly relevant to that keyword. Then, you need to make sure your target keyword and its variants are included throughout your amazing content.
For example, if you are a dentist in Boulder, Colorado, you might do keyword research to identify whether people are searching for “Boulder teeth cleaning” or ”Boulder dental cleaning.” If you find out that people are only searching for “Boulder teeth cleaning,” you could create a page on your site to feature your “Boulder teeth cleaning” services.
For that page to rank as close as possible to the top of the first page of Google search results, it would need to provide more valuable and useful information than any other “Boulder teeth cleaning” page on the internet. It would also need to include the exact keyword you are targeting, ”Boulder teeth cleaning,” along with several close variants like “teeth cleaning in Boulder.”
Professional keyword research gets a little more nuanced, but that’s the general idea. If you don’t target the right keywords, your website will likely have a hard time ranking in search results and driving visitors who convert.
Keyword Research for Local SEO
When it comes to local SEO, keyword research boils down to keywords that are a combination of the geographic area you serve + your product or service, e.g. “Boulder dentist.” This can either be straightforward or more nuanced, depending on your location.
If you’re a dentist in a small- to mid-sized town, it’s unlikely people will search for something other than “your town + your product or service” e.g. “Boulder dentist.”
If you’re in a big city like New York, though, your customers may come from all over the city or they could come mainly from a particular neighborhood. This can make targeting the right keywords a bit tricky. Do you target “New York City therapist” or “Brooklyn therapist?”
You know where your customers are coming from and their willingness to travel. Using keyword research tools, you can estimate how many people search for each keyword each month, then decide whether to target the city level, the town level, or the neighborhood level.
You should also look for the words people are using when trying to find your product online. Do more people search for “interior designer” or “decorator?” “Attorney” or “lawyer”? “Plumber” or “plumbers?”
Keywords that Imply Local Intent
Google uses location data to “localize” search results. This means a person sitting in Manhattan who searches for “sushi restaurant” will only see sushi places in that area.
Google can understand when people want local results based on the keyword they use to search, even if they don’t include a location in the search. That’s because Google recognizes that some keywords have local intent, while others do not.
The quickest way to see if a keyword has local intent is to type it into Google and see if you’re given local business listings and a map of your geographic area.
You can use a keyword research tool to investigate keywords without geography and find out whether “attorney” or “lawyer” has more volume in your area. But when it comes to keywords to your content, you’ll want to include geographic modifiers — like the “Boulder” in “Boulder therapist.”
What About “Near Me” Searches?
It’s unnecessary to do keyword research specifically for “near me” search terms. Instead, just make sure that your website and Google My Business profile each include appropriately-placed mentions of keywords that are highly relevant to your business.
This makes it easy for Google to understand the nature of your business, so you’ll be more likely to show up for relevant “near me” searches.
How to Use Keywords on Your Website
Keywords alone aren’t going to drive traffic to your site. They need the support of highly useful and well-written copy that’s full of contextual phrases in order to achieve their full potential.
Which words might add useful context to the phrase, “Houston architect?” Here are a few examples of contextual phrases:— home
— building design
— window placement
By adding these contextual phrases to your content, you’ll amplify the use of “Houston architect.” That’s because you’ve given Google enough clues to make sense of your content. If two “Houston architect” pages are trying to rank, and one is packed with contextually-relevant information while the other is not, the one with great context is likely to win.
Where to Put Your Keywords
With keyword research in hand, you can apply it to your content and on-site optimization. Here are the main places you should incorporate your keywords and how often:
- Once in your title tag
- Once in your meta description
- In the H1 header
- Somewhere in your copy near the top of the page
- Sprinkled throughout the rest of your page copy
- In the alt text of images on that page
- In the anchor text of internal links which point to that page
The biggest thing you DO NOT want to do is overstuff your content with a particular keyword. That’s a great way to get Google (and users) to completely ignore your site. Check out this resource for a better understanding of how to use keywords for SEO.
It’s important to note that after optimizing a page around a particular keyword, you should not optimize any other pages on your site around that same keyword. If you do that, your site is “cannibalizing” the ability of one of those pages to rank for another, unique keyword.
For example, the Boulder dentist would not want to have two pages targeting “Boulder teeth cleaning.” That’s because Google will only rank one of those pages for that keyword, so the second page will get buried in the search results, never to be found.
Instead, that second page should target a different relevant keyword relevant. If the content on both pages is highly similar, though, combining them into one powerful page often makes more sense than diluting the content — and your keyword efforts.
Where Else Should Local Businesses Use Keywords?
Once your keywords have been thoroughly integrated into your content and you’ve completed your on-site optimization, your keywords also need to be added to your off-site optimization efforts.
The two most valuable places for your keywords to live are in your Google Maps listing (via Google My Business) and in the anchor text of links on other websites that are pointing to your site.
It also doesn’t hurt to add your best keywords to your social media profiles where possible.
Take a Deeper Dive into Keyword Research
With local SEO, the quick and simple tips we’ve mentioned above will generally set you up for success.
If you’re looking for a more comprehensive guide to keyword research, though, and want to take an in-depth, process-based approach, check out Keyword Research — A Step by Step Approach.Read More