All Resources by Lindsay Halsey
When you prepare for a call to pitch SEO services, it's easy to follow into a trap – investing too much time and energy into the evaluation of a prospect's current SEO performance.
It's a trap for two reasons. First, you haven't been hired yet and time is money. If you invest an hour into assessing a site in the sales cycle, that is lost time. Second, if you spend too long getting ready for the call, you are more likely to overwhelm your prospect with a laundry list of to-dos during your SEO discovery call.
In this post, you'll learn a 10-minute process to evaluate a site during the sales process.
10-Minute SEO Evaluation
Does the website rank for its own brand name?
This is SEO 101 – a website should be easily found when searching by brand name. This isn't a given. Sometimes a business has a generic brand which makes it competitive to rank for its own name. Other times, a site might be brand new and not yet on the map.
Go to google.com and search for the brand. Assess how visible the site is and how much real estate the business owns via additional assets such as a Facebook or YouTube profile.
If the business is local, check to see if the Google Maps listing appears in the right column of the search results.
How big is the website?
Next, explore the scale of the site. Stay on google.com and do a search for site:thedomain.com. This tells you how many pages Google has indexed on the domain.
Is the site small, medium, or large?
Is it easy to convert into a lead or a customer?
Go to the website. Evaluate the calls to action and usability. Can you find the contact page within 5 seconds? Are there calls to action to help a visitor become a lead or a customer?
If you are going to focus your attention on driving traffic to this website via SEO, then you want to make sure that traffic can generate sales. Otherwise, your work will have no impact on the bottom line.
Who is the website trying to reach?
This question is all about the audience. Spend a minute looking through the main navigation and homepage content. Can you tell who the website is trying to reach? You might not be 100% sure (and this is a great question for an SEO discovery call), but you should be able to get some clues.
Does the site represent a business with a local, national or international audience? What problem does the business solve for this group of people?
Is the website mobile-friendly?
This is a quick check. Go to Google's Mobile-Friendly Test tool. Drop in the homepage and check to see if it passes Google's bar.
Does the homepage have content? Is the blog regularly updated?
Spend a minute reading exploring content. Does the homepage even have content? If so, does it include keywords? Does the site have a blog? If so, when was it last updated?
Does the brand engender trust?
This is a first-impression question – would you trust this website? If it took you a minute to find the contact page and the blog hasn't been updated in a year, then you might say no. Alternatively, if you are greeted with testimonials and trust symbols from third parties, then you might say yes.
Also, note the quality and quantity of reviews on Google Maps or Facebook. What are customers saying about this business?
Does the website have authority?
A great website won't perform well on Google without domain authority. Get an early understanding of this measurement via the aHref's Backlink Checker.
What makes “good” authority depends on the industry space. The more competitive the industry, the higher the domain authority for the top-ranking sites. You can add a few competitors into the tool to see how your prospect stacks up.
Create a list of your key takeaways. These can be high-level talking points during a sales call. For example:
- Solid brand results. “Your website has great visibility for brand-related keywords. This is a great baseline. Now, the site is ready to get more traffic in the non-brand keyword space. We can really amplify your traffic by going beyond the brand.”
- Not mobile-friendly. “I noticed your homepage isn't mobile-friendly. This means it doesn't have good usability on smaller devices. Is this something you are already tackling? Perhaps you have a new site in development?”
- No domain authority. “I noted your site doesn't have any links pointing from other websites to your website. Google uses these links to understand your business's authority in a space. I've seen this many times for brand new websites. Is your site new? If so, we can really jumpstart growth by focusing on high-quality link acquisition.”
- No homepage content. “Your homepage is the most important page on the site and I see it has very little content on it. We'd want to start here by expanding the content on the homepage. This is SEO 101 and it'll have an immediate impact on results.”
During your SEO discovery call, avoid reviewing a laundry list of these takeaways. Instead, use one or two as conversation starters to help ask good questions. The SEO discovery call is all about asking good questions and listening carefully.
You are ready for the call! Happy pitching!
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When should I start thinking about SEO for a new site? Will I lose my rankings on Google when I redesign my website? What are 301 redirects?
These are just a few of the questions our coaches answer frequently about SEO for a website redesign. In this post, we'll cover the steps needed to position a newly designed site to perform better than an old site in search engines.
The action items are broken into four sections based on when the tasks are best accomplished. Timing is everything when it comes to SEO and a website redesign.
SEO Checklist for a Website Redesign
WHAT TO DO NOW
1. Set up Google Analytics and the Google Search Console. Before you invest in a new website, it's important to collect baseline data about your existing website performance. The two best portals for this are Google Analytics and Google Search Console. Both are free tools from Google.
Google Analytics provides you with general website performance statistics such as how many sessions your website receives, what traffic sources are responsible for, and how each page on the site performs. Here's how to get started with Google Analytics.
Google Search Console is an SEO-specific platform. It helps you understand what keywords are driving traffic to your current website and what pages are most important. It also is a communication channel with the search engine as it provides you feedback on how your site is being crawled and indexed. Here's how to get started with the Google Search Console.
2. Analyze your current organic search traffic. Now that you have Google Search Console set up, it's time to understand the keywords that drive traffic to your site and what pages or posts they correspond with.
Log into the Google Search Console and navigate to the performance section. Look through the list of top-performing keywords. Make notes or export the list.
Change your view so you can see what pages these keywords map to you. You want to make sure to preserve the top-performing pages on the new website. For example, if all of your organic search traffic comes from blog posts, then you'll want to ensure the new site has a blog and that you migrate your old blog content to the new site. Alternatively, if you have strong traffic to services pages, then you'll want to make sure you have a page for each of these services on the new site.
The information you gain in the Google Search Console will inform the site map for the new site.
3. Crawl the live site with Screaming Frog. We want to create a list of all of the pages on your existing website along with pertinent information such as the title tags and meta descriptions. The easiest way to do this is with a tool called Screaming Frog. The free version is sufficient for most websites. Download the tool, scan your website, and export the HTML information. Store this for future use.
4. Dial in your keyword research. We started thinking about keywords in step 2, but now it's time to expand on it. The goal is to have clarity around what keywords you will incorporate into your copy.
Keyword research can be overwhelming. If you aren't already familiar with it, follow the step-by-step process at Pathfinder SEO. We break keyword research into small lessons with actionable assignments. Learn more here.
5. Start tracking your keyword performance. Now that you have a list of the keywords that are important to you, start tracking your rankings. SEO software such as Pathfinder SEO allows you to track your keyword performance over time. We want to start tracking this data now so we have a before and after picture. Learn more about rank tracking.
6. Plan your URL structure. Once you have a site map, you can start thinking about URL structure. You want to ensure your URLs are concise and keyword-friendly. This is an art and a science. Use a spreadsheet to organize your work. Think about nesting similar content into sub-folders to give your website structure.
For example, perhaps all of your blog posts live in /blog/, all of your services pages in /services/, and all products are in /products/. Define the URLs for all of the pages on your website. For frequently updated content such as blog posts, you can follow a standard permalink format like /blog/post-title.
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ONE WEEK BEFORE LAUNCH
7. Create 301 redirects. The search engines have indexed all of the pages on your existing website. They will keep going to these URLs and expect to find the pages intact. These pages also have authority and we want to pass that authority to the pages on your new website. An essential step in successfully launching a new website is creating 301 redirects.
A 301 redirect sends a visitor and the search engines from one URL to a new URL. For example, if your current contact page is at /contact-us and on the new website the URL will be /contact, then we need to redirect /contact-us to /contact.
You have a list of all of your existing URLs from the ScreamingFrog export. Use this list to determine what URLs will be changing. For every URL that changes, select a corresponding new URL that maps nicely.
Once you have your list, you can implement the 301 redirects into your development site. If your site is built on WordPress, Yoast SEO Premium offers easy redirect management. There are also stand-alone plugins such as Redirection that work well. Other platforms such as Squarespace, Shopify, and Wix, have built-in redirection management.
Be sure to have your 301 redirects in place before the site goes live. Here's more information about 301 redirects.
7. Create your title tags and meta descriptions. These are fields in the header HTML of each page on your website. They are utilized by the search engines when they market your pages on the search engine results pages.
Draft your title tags and meta descriptions in a spreadsheet and then implement them on your development site. Here's more information about title tags and meta descriptions.
8. Dial in your alternative text. Alternative text is the written description of an image. It is first and foremost a principle of accessibility. The alternative text on each image is what a screen reader uses to describe the contents of an image.
It is also helpful to search engines. If you haven't already, go through your Media Library and update the alternative text on each image to meet SEO best practices. Here's more information about alternative text.
IMMEDIATELY AFTER LAUNCH
9. Add Google Analytics to the new site. Use your existing Google Analytics account. We like using Google Tag Manager to implement Google Analytics.
10. Verify the site with the Google Search Console. If your domain stayed the same, then likely you'll just need to update the verification method.
11. Create and submit an XML sitemap. This file acts as your website's resume. It includes a list of all of the pages on your new website that you'd like the search engines to crawl and index.
If your site is built with WordPress, you'll want to use your SEO plugin of choice to create and configure your XML sitemap. Here's how.
If your site is built with Squarespace, Shopify, or Wix, you have a built-in XML sitemap. Simply navigate to the help section of your site and search for XML sitemap to get detailed information about how to access it.
Once you have your XML sitemap URL, log in to the Google Search Console and submit it.
12. Test your 301 redirects. Go to google.com and search for site:mydomain.com. This will pull up all of the URLs that Google has indexed. Start clicking on each URL to test to ensure you don't hit any page not found errors. If you do, note it and add a 301 redirect for it.
If you have a small website, this is quick and easy as there aren't many pages to test. If your site is large, then this could be time-consuming. You don't have to test all pages. Just test the top 50 links and look for a pattern. If you only hit one or two page not found errors, then your initial work on 301 redirects was thorough and you're all set. If they are all page not found errors, then your initial work needs additional follow-up as those redirects may not be working properly.
WEEKS AND MONTHS AFTER THE LAUNCH
13. Keep an eye on the results. You have Google Analytics, the Google Search Console, and rank tracking set up. Watch the data on a weekly basis to look for trends. You can expect to see some volatility in a week or two after the site launch. Then, your rankings should stabilize (ideally better than they were before).
14. Communicate with your team. As you watch the results, communicate regularly with your team. If it's good news, then it's fun to celebrate the win with all. If you have cause for concern, it's better to be in front of this. Note what you found and what you are doing in response. For example, maybe you found a rapid increase in page not found errors in the Coverage report of the Google Search Console after launch. Let your team know and get back to work on your 301 redirects.
15. Keep writing content. A new site launch is a time for celebration, but it's not the end of the road. Now it's time to keep evolving. Content is one of the most powerful forms of ongoing evolution for your website. Content is how you share your expertise and it's this expertise that Google values. Learn more about blogging and keep writing.
Follow a Step-by-Step Process
In this post, you've learned a 15-step process to successfully navigate a website transition in the search results. If you are looking to learn more about how to complete each of these steps, consider taking a guided approach to SEO. It includes a series of short, easy-to-follow lessons.
Guided SEO also includes the tools you'll need to do keyword research and track your rankings. And the best part is coaching. Subscribers meet with their SEO coach each month. Get your questions answered and get advice tailored specifically to your business. At $99/month, this can't be beaten.
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I remember it well, my first client call as an SEO account manager. I was new and had been warned that a few of the clients that were now in my care weren't happy with their past service.
One such client asked a reasonable question, “why am I not seeing results?”. I froze. My initial response was “how am I supposed to know? It's my 4th day on the job.”
Instead, I paused. I put myself in the client's shoes.
I responded, “I understand that you aren't happy with your results to date. My job is to turn this around. Much like a ship in the ocean, we can't change this direction overnight. I will spend the next week researching your website's past performance and putting together an action plan. Then, we'll execute the plan and measure results along the way. Are you available for a call every other week to review strategy and results to make sure we were on the same page?”
In many ways, I didn't answer the question as I didn't know why. But, I listened to the question, acknowledged the client's concern, and mapped a plan of action. This laid the foundation for a partnership built on trust.
How to Answer Client Questions about SEO
If you are starting to offer SEO services, you may be worried about moments like this. What if a client asks a question and you don't know the answer? What if you don't have good news to share? Here are a series of frequently asked questions along with tips for answering them successfully.
When will I see results?
This is one of the first questions asked in the sales process. Your answer sets the expectations for the project.
Don't over-promise on results or timelines. Often, those promises aren't intentional. It's easy to get swept up in the energy of a sales call.
Note where you expect to see immediate results (local search) and where it will take months (competitive keywords).
Explain that SEO is a long-term marketing strategy. Initial results occur within a few months and over time the results compound.
Share the ingredients that will speed up the timeline. For example, if you are going to rely on your customer to write content for a blog, explain to them that much of the pacing of success will depend on their delivery of content.
Lastly, note that SEO services are a partnership. You won't be operating in a back office and delivering results in a vacuum.
Why is my traffic dropping?
The best way to answer this question is to get in front of it. When you are running a monthly report for a customer and you note declining traffic, sales, or rankings, call it out immediately. This builds trust with your client as they know that you will share with them the good, the bad, and the ugly.
When it comes to SEO, not all news is good news. Sometimes rankings drop. Sometimes traffic and sales decline. Rather than covering up such news, always be honest.
Sometimes a decline is caused by elements in your control – a blog that hasn't been updated in years or a recent site migration that lacked proper 301 redirects.
At other times, a decline is caused by external factors like a drop in the demand in search volume for a product or service. Turning those declines around may be out of your immediate control. It's important to differentiate between internal and external factors. Sometimes it's a combination.
How are you different from other SEO agencies?
This is another common question during the sales process. It may not get asked in this direct manner, but rather by the prospect telling a story of being burned by an SEO agency in the past. The prospect wants to know how/why it'll be different this time around.
Then, note that you understand they have had a poor experience with SEO in the past. Let them know you've heard of many experiences like this.
Next, describe your process in easy-to-understand language. Describe the partnership you create and the terms of your agreement.
Talk about your commitment to communication. How quickly do you respond to email? What's the cadence of ongoing meetings?
A tricky question.
It's important to define a time range for the response and then deliver on it. This is where SEO coaching at Pathfinder is invaluable. Simply schedule a coaching session and review this challenging question with our team. We'll help ensure you get the right answers and you don't have to spend hours researching.
What is SEO?
When you first start working with a client, don't assume they know what SEO is. Whether this question gets asked or not, be sure to cover the basics. Take the time to break SEO into its component parts using the 4 pillars of SEO framework. Use easy to understand language that isn't packed with SEO jargon.
Your client doesn't need (or want) to be an SEO expert. You don't need to get into the details of XML sitemaps, robots.txt files, or even page titles and meta descriptions. Instead, they need to have a big picture understanding of how the search engines work and what steps to take to grow traffic.
Does my website need a blog?
Many customers have heard that blogging helps with SEO. They might have been blogging for years without seeing growth. It's time now to pause to determine if your client needs to blog and if so, how often.
Before investing in blogging, we need to consider the costs and benefits. Here are additional resources about blogging:
- Does my website need a blog?
- How often should I blog?
- How long should a blog post be?
- How to think of blog post topics?
Schedule several calls with your clients to talk about SEO. Note what questions they ask and start creating documentation for your agency so that you and your team are equipped. You'll quickly find comfort in answering questions about SEO.
You'll also find value in meeting with our SEO coaches. During your monthly one-on-one coaching sessions, you'll hear an expert answer your questions. In turn, you'll get better at answering your client's questions. Schedule a demo to learn more.
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You might have heard the often-cited statistic that the average 1st-page result on Google has over 2,000 words. As a result, many content marketers have focused on “Definitive” and “Ultimate” guides to nearly all topics in an attempt to seize the number one spot on Google by sharing exhaustive content.
But, if you've ever read a “Definitive” guide, you likely walked away exhausted. These posts have multiple takeaways. As a result, you have a long list of action items. This actually causes inaction because you don't know where to start.
Good news, it turns out that many blog posts perform well on Google with fewer than 2,000 words. These posts are digestible for your readers and less time-consuming to write.
How Long Should a Blog Post be in 2021?
Like many things in SEO, it depends. Target 800 – 1,200 words as a good standard. An 800 – 1,200 word blog post is:
- Long enough to cover a specific topic thoroughly.
- Short enough to write in 1-2 hours.
- Easy to read in 4-5 minutes.
Of course, there are times when you will write fewer than 800 or more than 1,200 words.
A how-to blog post is a great example. Some how-to guides are short because the task only includes a few steps with little nuance. Others will be longer as the task is more complex or lengthy. At these times, your goal isn't a specific length, but rather getting the job done. If you find a how-to post is getting exceptionally long, look for ways to narrow your topic to make the task more specific.
What about Google and Blog Post Length?
There was a time in SEO when the length of a blog post made it stand out from the crowd. Google rewarded this long-form content and the weight of the word count of the post was dominant in the search results.
Then, everyone started writing massive posts and we were back to competing based on domain authority.
So what does a blogger do?
Focus on specific topics. Write more often.
Tackle a Topic from Multiple Angles
The best way to differentiate your blog is to tackle a topic from multiple angles. This post is a good example. I could have written, “The Definitive Guide to Blogging”. You can imagine that this would be a 5,000 – 8,000 word post because I'd need to cover so many different subtopics.
The post would be cast into a high-volume keyword space for keywords like “blogging” or “how to blog”. Turns out, that high-volume space is also highly competitive. Our site likely wouldn't rank well.
Instead, I've broken blogging into a series of topics and written an 800 – 1,200 word post for each one.
- Does My Website Need a Blog?
- How Often Should You Blog?
- How To Think of Blog Post Ideas
- How To Create a Content Calendar
- How To Outsource Blogging
These smaller topics hit on more specific keywords like “should I blog” or “how often should I blog”. My site is perfectly apt to rank in this less competitive keyword space. As a result, our website receives more traffic than had I written a “definitive guide”.
If you haven't already, start brainstorming blog topics with this concept in mind. Here's how to think of blog post topics. Then, get writing!
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As your business evolves, you might want to change your domain name. Such change typically fits into one of the following scenarios:
- You have a new brand. It's time to update your website to reflect the new brand name. That includes changing your domain.
- You'd like a shorter, simpler domain name. A better domain name is now available and you'd like to utilize it.
While changing domains is easy, it is an important time to pause and plan to preserve your organic search traffic.
In this post, we'll share with you the necessary steps to take to make a smooth transition in the search results as you change domains.
Does Changing a Domain Name Affect SEO?
Yes, changing a domain name can impact SEO. The search engines have indexed the pages on your existing domain. The change throws the search engines for a loop.
Moreover, your current domain has an established track record. This track record is in the form of authority. It is your current domain's authority that helps propel your content to the top of the search results.
The good news is that you can safely change your domain name and preserve traffic by following a series of steps that communicate the change to the search engines and your website visitors.
How to Change Domains without Losing SEO
1. Make sure the new URL is sound. If you are going to make this move, you want to fully understand the history of your new domain. If you purchased an entirely new domain, then there is no history. You can move to step 2. But, if you are purchasing a domain from a third party, then you want to understand its history.
A big part of a domain's history is its backlink network. Other websites might link to this domain. You want to make sure that the domain has a solid backlink network and hasn't been red-flagged for suspicious activity such as low-value link building.
To do so, go to the aHrefs Backlink Checker. Explore the list of backlinks along with the authority of the domain. Make sure that this new domain is a good one.
2. Migrate the site to the new domain. When you are ready, you can migrate your site to this new domain. You'll want to coordinate this change with your hosting provider and web developer. Be ready immediately after this change to delve into the SEO-specific tasks highlighted in the steps that follow.
3. Redirect your old domain to your new domain. This can be coordinated via your domain registrar and/or your hosting provider. Your goal is to make sure that each old URL such as www.myoldsite.com/cats redirects to a matching new URL such as www.mynewdomain.com/cats.
In this example, the redirect passes along the path information so that each page on your old site matches the same page on your new site. If your old domain was secured via HTTPS, you also want to make sure that the HTTPS version of the links redirect properly. This step is domain change SEO 101. It's essential.
4. Verify your new website with the Google Search Console. The Google Search Console (or GSC) is your communication channel with Google. By verifying your new website with the GSC, you can be both webmaster and marketing director. The GSC platform includes information about the keyword performance of each page on your website and a myriad of technical SEO feedback around the crawling and indexation of the site. Start here to verify your new domain.
5. Update all mentions of the old URL. Start with those entities you control such as Google My Business and your business profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Then, reach out to partners and other site owners who might link to your website. Ask that they update the domain in any links pointing to your site.
6. Update Google Analytics. Your existing Google Analytics property has settings within the admin portion that are matched to your domain. Log into Google Analytics, go to Admin and update all mentions of the old URL.
7. Monitor the results. Anytime we make a sizable SEO change like a new domain, we want to keep a closer eye on the results. You can do this in both Google Analytics and the Google Search Console.
Congratulations! You've migrated your website to a new domain and communicated this change effectively to the search engines.
Be sure to maintain ownership of your old domain for the years to come. And be sure to keep forwarding it to maintain the authority signals via the redirect that is in place.
The timing is good to invest in evolving your site's SEO foundation. Our guided approach to SEO shares a step-by-step process that you can easily follow. It also includes built-in SEO tools and one-on-one coaching. Schedule a demo to learn more.
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Not everyone likes to write. And you may not have time to blog. For these reasons, you may look to outsource blogging for your business.
There are three options to consider:
1. Outsource Part of the Process
Blogging is a process that includes several phases – writing, editing, publishing, and promoting. It's possible to decrease the amount of time spent and avoid completing an unwanted part of the process via outsourcing. There are a lot of great content delivery services such as CrowdContent that are available to execute your blog post strategy. You provide the content calendar. They write the content and edit it. You review and revise it. They publish it.
This is often the most cost-effective way of taking work off your plate. You remain in the driver's seat of your blogging strategy while a team of outsourced writers delivers the final product.
2. Hire a Content Marketing Agency
There are great agencies that focus on content marketing. Content Journey and Audience Ops are our favorites. You can outsource the entirety of your blog to these teams. They'll start by getting to know your audience to craft a custom strategy. And then, they'll execute the repeatable process of writing, editing, publishing, and promoting your content.
The quality of the final product from a content marketing agency is exceptionally high. They also know SEO so your posts will be search engine friendly out of the gate.
3. Hire your SEO Agency
Because SEO and content are related, SEO agencies often offer content marketing services. If you already have an SEO agency of record, this is a great way to keep all of your services under one umbrella. Your SEO agency already knows your business after all.
Just like hiring a content marketing agency, the quality of the content from an SEO agency is exceptionally high. They already know your audience, they know your keyword strategy, they know the gaps and opportunities within your space that warrant blogging.
How to Outsource Blogging
The biggest challenge with outsourcing your blog is subject matter expertise. Google values your expertise. If you outsource your blog, then you are one step removed from sharing your expertise.
This challenge can be overcome with each of these approaches. You can overcome this by providing great content briefs in option #1 or by partnering with great agencies in options #2 and #3.
If you are going to outsource your blog, take the time to vet prospective partners. Take a look at examples of other blogs they author. Ask for a client referral so you talk to a fellow customer to see what their experience has been like.Read More
Hours of operation are a critical part of running a business. For local businesses, t's a marketing essential to have the correct business hours on Google.
For those of you wondering “How do I change my hours on Google?” Google Maps is the place to start.
Your Google Maps listing is powered by Google My Business (GMB). To update your hours of operation on Google Maps, we'll need to access your business listing in GMB.
Before you update your hours of operation, it is important to identify what category this change falls into:
- Changed Hours of Operation – If your hours of operation are changing then you fall into the category of needing to update your standard hours of operation.
- Temporarily Closed – If you have decided to close your business for a period of time, then you fall into the category of having a temporary closure.
- Permanently Closed – If your business is closing permanently (hopefully not), then you fall into this category.
- Combination – Your business may have a combination of a changed hours of operation and an upcoming temporary closure.
The goal when updating your Google Maps listing is to give Google the most accurate information possible. You can update this information today based on your current plans and then change it anytime as your business operations evolve.
How to Update Hours on Google Maps
1. Log in to Google My Business.
3. Select Info in the left navigation bar.
4. Update your hours based on what category your business fits into:
If your business has Changed Hours of Operation, click on the section with the clock icon and existing hours. Then, edit these hours and click Apply.
If your business is Temporarily Closed or Permanently Closed, look to the right and click the button the corresponds to your situation.
If you have upcoming Special Hours, for a holiday for instance, then click special hours. Enter the date and note your hours of operation. Move the toggle on closed if you will be closed that day.
Additional Updates to Consider
- While you are in Google My Business, review all of your local business data to ensure it is up to date. The more complete the information is in Info, the better Google can market your business. Pay particular attention to the categories.
- Add a few new photos to freshen up your Google Maps listing.
- If you use other local search management tools like MozLocal or Yext, make the same updates in those portals.
Ongoing Management of Google My Business
Now that you are comfortable with the Google My Business platform, add a note to check your listing on an ongoing basis. Ideally, you log into GMB once a month to double-check that all information is up to date and accurate.
Google listens to third-party feedback on local business listings including customer feedback. If Google receives such information about your business and it's inaccurate, you want to be there to accept or reject such changes.
Managing Google My Business is one step within a broader local SEO strategy. If you are looking to get your business more visibility on Google to grow your website traffic, take a guided approach to SEO with Pathfinder. We break SEO into a series of easy-to-follow steps so you can grow your business in a matter of a few hours a month. At $99/month, it's a cost-effective solution to SEO unlike any other. Schedule a demo to learn more.
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Content calendars create a schedule that you and your team can follow as you blog. It's a great way to stay organized and committed to blogging.
Content calendars can be as simple as the title of the post and a due date. They can also be much more complex.
In this post, you will learn how to create a content calendar that is simple and effective. Before you dive in, you will need two things:
- Cadence – How often will you blog? If you don't know, start by reading this post.
- Topics – What will you blog about? If you don't have a brainstormed list of topics, start here.
How to Create a Content Calendar
1. Create a Template
Let's make this easy for you. Download this Content Calendar template to get started.
FREE CONTENT CALENDAR TEMPLATE
Alternatively, you can create your own spreadsheet with the columns: Date, Title, Status, Category, Author, Keywords, Notes.
2. Create a List of Titles
You have your brainstormed list of topics. It's time to turn these into titles. Some of your topics will already be blog post titles. Others will need a little spicing up.
Let's take “WordPress SEO” for example. That's a pretty general topic. We'll need to get more specific in the title of our post. Maybe we'll call it “WordPress SEO for Beginners” or “Getting Started with WordPress SEO”. Alternatively, we could create a list of tips and title the post “17 WordPress SEO Tips”.
Here are a couple of title formulas along with examples to make it easy to go from topics to titles:
- How To – “How To Get Started Investing” or “How To Solve a Rubix Cube”
- Numbers – “10 Best Things To Do in Denver” or “14 Reasons to Go Vegan”
- Comparisons – “Yoast vs Rank Math” or “Miami vs Orlando for Your Next Vacation”
- Comprehensive – “Definitive Guide to Google Analytics” or “Ultimate Guide to Scottland”
- Questions – “What is SEO?” or “When to Plant a Garden in Colorado?”
3. Order Your Posts
Your titles may not be in logical order. It's time to organize the timing of each post so that the posts are timely. Maybe your business is seasonal and thus you want to blog about certain topics at certain times of the year. Alternatively, you may have a blog post series and want to publish that series in sequential order over a period of weeks or months. Apply that logic to your blog post calendar. This makes your content calendar strategic.
4. Add Due Dates
You already have a sense of your cadence – how often you'll be publishing a new blog. Apply that logic to your calendar. Add in due dates, simply go down the line.
5. Add Additional Details
The remaining columns can be customized to meet your business's needs. We recommend a combination of these additional headers:
- Status – You may add a column for status to track where in the production cycle each post is. For example, “Scheduled, Write, Edit, Revise, Publish, Promote, Complete”.
- Category – Blogs contain categories that organize and group related content. As you look through your topic list, you'll see which blog posts relate to one another and can create your categories accordingly. The right number of categories for a blog depends on how many posts your site has. Ideally, you start with a limited number of categories. Think 3-6.
- Author – Will your blog have multiple authors? If so, add a column for authorship so you can keep track of who is writing each post.
- Keywords – It's essential that your blog posts use the words and phrases that we want the post to rank for on Google. Identifying those keywords for each post before you start writing ensures that the keywords stay top of mind. It's also helpful if you'll be passing the writing off to somebody on your team or outsourcing production.
- Notes – As you crafted a topic and title, you may have come across a competitor with a great post on the topic or have other things you want to remember like “link to this resource in the post”. Make those notes in the content calendar so you don't forget.
6. Fill in the Gaps
You might find your calendar leans too heavily to a specific topic or maybe you need additional topics to meet your desired cadence. Now is the time to fill in the gaps. You can go back to the brainstorming stage to generate additional ideas.
We recommend creating a blog post calendar in 6-month batches. This enables long-term planning while still allowing for evolution as your blog takes shape over time.
It's Time to Start Writing
Now that you have your blog post calendar, it's time to start writing! Here's how to write an SEO-friendly blog post.
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We are excited to work together to grow your website traffic from Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Before we dive into strategy and action items, it is important to have a foundational understanding of search engine optimization (SEO).
What is SEO?
How does Google Work?
To understand SEO, you first need to understand how search engines work. Search engines use computer programs called web crawlers, spiders, or bots to crawl the web. When they find a new page, they add it to an index. We think of the index as being similar to an old-fashioned Rolodex.
A person then searches on Google, Yahoo, or Bing. The search is known as a search query or more simply, a query. The search engines use an algorithm to determine which pages get pulled from the index and displayed in the search engine results.
An algorithm is nothing more than a process or set of rules to be followed when solving a problem. In SEO the problems are the search queries and the answers are the web pages in search engine results. The algorithms are the computer programs in between that pair the two.
The goal of the search engines is to provide the best possible webpage for each search (also known as a search query or query). Notice how we say webpage, not website. Search engines don't display entire websites. Instead, they display individual webpages.
The algorithms that calculate search engine rank are complex, ever-evolving and secret. That can make SEO feel overwhelming. Don't let it. Google's mission stays the same “To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.” By taking a holistic SEO strategy, you ensure that the pages on your website help Google fulfill its mission today and tomorrow.
Four Pillars of SEO
Let's break SEO into parts – the four pillars of SEO. We consider the four pillars of SEO to be scaffolding that helps anchor action items under the umbrella of a holistic strategy.
The four pillars of SEO include technical SEO, content, on-site optimization, and off-site SEO.
Pillar 1 – Technical SEO
The first pillar is technical SEO. Why? In order for the search engines to show your web pages in the search results, they first need to find, crawl and index them.
As we learned above, Google, Yahoo, and Bing use spiders to crawl the internet and collect information about the webpages they come across. There are files and directives (snippets of code) in your website that give search engine spiders instructions for how they would like to be crawled and indexed.
A robots.txt file tells the search engines where not to go. Most of the time, you want to allow the search engines to crawl all of your web content. Sometimes, you'll use the robots.txt file to keep the crawlers out of sections of your website which may have duplicate, thin, or private content you don't want appearing in search results. For now, all you need to know is that the robots.txt file tells spiders “No, don't go there. Don't index these webpages.”
An XML sitemap is the opposite of the robots.txt file. It provides the search engines with a list of all of the pages on your website that you do want to be crawled, indexed, and shown in search results. Think of it as your website's resume. It contains the high-level information that is needed to get the conversation started such as when a web page was last updated and its relative priority compared to other pages.
There are also meta directives in the form of code snippets that live in the header of each webpage. These directives aren't visible to website visitors. Instead, they provide search engines bots page by page instruction on how to index the content on a page.
We include security, responsiveness (mobile-friendly) and speed within technical SEO. These three key technical factors impact usability.
It should come as no surprise that the search engines like websites that are served via secure HTTPS connections.
And, with over 60% of searches coming from mobile devices, it's essential that your website displays well on all devices – desktops, tablets, and mobile phones.
Lastly, speed matters. It doesn't matter how great the content on a page is if it loads slowly. People are quick to leave a page that loads slowly (more than 2 seconds) and in turn, they'll be frustrated with Google for sending them there. Hence why the search engines reward high-speed sites.
The last element of technical SEO is site structure. The search engines need to understand the relative priority of pages on your website and how your site fits together. You can think of structure as being a pyramid with your homepage on the top and your main navigation in the layer below. Each layer below those top two is an increasingly less important collection of webpages. Our goal is an equilateral pyramid. We don't want our website to be too wide or too tall.
Technical SEO can seem overwhelming at first. However, if you break it down into these component parts and understand the why behind each one, then, it becomes digestible. And, it becomes much easier to carry out the tactics that will improve it.
Pillar 2 – Content & User Experience
With technical SEO in place, the search engines can find and index our web pages. What they find on each page is the content.
Content has been the backbone of SEO since its inception. It includes text, images, video, tables, PDFs and much more. The search engines extract meaning from each webpage based on the content on the page.
There are five factors to keep in mind as it relates to content and SEO:
- Quality – Unique, well-written content that provides visitors with great value is a must.
- Keywords – Content needs to include the phrases you want to gain exposure for in the search results. Cluster related keywords together and use synonyms to provide greater context.
- Recency – Fresh, new content is popular with search engines. Often, the most frequently updated content on a website is your blog.
- Type – Depending on the topic of the page, you will want to integrate a meaningful combination of text, images, video and more to ensure the page is dynamic, visually appealing, and engaging.
- Relevancy – How well the content on your website matches to search queries is content relevancy. The more relevant, the more likely your web page will perform well in the search results.
You can have great content on your site, but if users have a hard time finding and interacting with it, search engines are going to notice. When it comes to user experience, you can make visitors and search engines happy by addressing the following:
- Navigation – Your site has a logical information flow that makes it easy for users to find the content they are looking for.
- Look – Your site is presented in a simple and visually appealing manner that conveys trust, authority, and the spirit of your brand.
- Feel – People enjoy how they interact with your site and how your site interacts with them in return.
- Usability – The site is easy to use and functions in a uniform way that aligns with visitor expectations.
Now that you know the role that content plays in SEO, let's take a look at how you can improve other elements of your website to appeal more to search engines and visitors.
Pillar 3 – On-Site SEO
The word “optimization” is overused and vague in search engine marketing. What does it mean to “optimize” your website? It could mean many things – speed up its performance, improve usability, or insert keywords into the copy.
The primary on-site elements that need to be “optimized,” or improved, for users and search engines include:
Page titles and meta descriptions are tags in the header of each webpage. The search engines use these to craft the snippets of information you see on the search engines results page. Page titles influence rank and a person's likelihood of clicking on the listing (click-through rates). Meta description tags only influence click-through rates.
H1 – H6 tags standardize the format of headers and break up your content into easy-to-read parts. The search engines recognize these tags as being the header of a page or a section of content.
Alternative text on images provides the search engines with a written description of an image. Alt text is first and foremost a principle of accessibility but help the search engines derive meaning as well.
Internal links allow the search engines and website visitors to easily click-through to other pages on your website. The clickable text on a given link (anchor text) conveys the context and meaning of an internal link. They also pass ranking power from one page to another on your website.
Structured data are snippets of code that give search engines precise information about what the content on a webpage is about. It also allows them to easily place webpages in the proper context in search results. Ever wonder how Google quickly displays recipes, movie times or concert information directly in the search results? Structured data a.k.a. schema markup is to credit.
The opposite of on-site SEO is off-site. Let's take a look at what that entails.
Pillar 4 – Off-Site SEO
So far we have focused on your website and the various elements that influence the search engine rankings. But, SEO isn't just about your website. It is also about your website's trust and authority on the internet.
You could create the world's best website for a pizza restaurant in New York City. Great menu, testimonials, lightning-fast. You can imagine it. Google isn't going to trust this website and display it in the search results until it hears an online echo that you are indeed New York's best.
There are three main places that Google, Yahoo, and Bing are listening for these off-site signals:
Links that point from other websites to your website. These links are valuable because of their ability to pass authority (ranking power) from one website to another. In the simplest terms, links act as votes of confidence from one website for another. The higher the authority of the website giving a link, the more authority that link will pass to the website it's pointing at. A link pointing to your site from The New York Times website is going to pass a lot more authority than one pointing to it from your dog groomer's website.
Local search profiles such as Google Maps. If you have a brick and mortar location or serve a particular area, then a Google Maps listing via Google My Business is a must. Simply verifying your location and contact details with Google builds trust. And, you can build more trust by getting five-star customer reviews and comments.
Social media influences SEO. A link from a Facebook Post to your website doesn't pass the same trust and authority as a traditional backlink as outlined in #1. But, your social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and beyond do carry value via the link they provide to your website.
Getting Started with SEO
SEO doesn't have to be overwhelming. Instead, break it down into its component parts as we have here.
And, you don't have to be an expert at SEO to get found in Google. All you need is a process. Here's the process we coach our Pathfinder SEO customers through via the SEO Checklist and Monthly Tasks:
Common Approaches to SEO
As you get started with SEO, pause to consider which approach best fits your unique business. There are three common approaches:
Hiring an Agency – Outsourcing your SEO to an agency allows you to rely on experts. Some agencies like ours focus only on search engine marketing, while others offer a full suite of services – from web design and development to email marketing and more. Agencies can save you time, but they always come at a cost. Because SEO is a long-term initiative, most SEO services need to be managed via a monthly retainer. They also don't occur in a vacuum; they require active collaboration with you and your business. We liken this to an 80/20 rule. The agency can do 80% of the work, but you'll need to contribute 20%.
Do-It-Yourself SEO – A DIY approach saves money, but costs (a lot of) time – most businesses that engage in DIY start by learning SEO before doing SEO. There are a lot of online resources to learn SEO – courses, blog posts, and tutorials. The primary value of DIY SEO is that you already know your business and audience, which is required. The downside is that you probably don't want to become an SEO expert just to grow your business.
Guided SEO – Guided SEO is the middle ground between DIY and hiring an agency. It gives you a process without asking you to become an expert in SEO. It offers a series of lessons with specific homework assignments so that you can start to get your site ranking in just a few hours a week. It also adds monthly coaching to keep you accountable and answer all your critical questions. Pathfinder SEO offers this kind of guided approach.
The first step in guided SEO is establishing your starting point. We do that with an SEO Assessment. Our coaches will identify where your website is today and will create a roadmap for growth.
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You are ready to blog! Now it's time to think of blog post ideas. This is the fun part. In this post, we'll share a few tips so you never are wondering what to blog about again.
Grab a piece of paper so you can start brainstorming blog post ideas as you go. You might be surprised and have a list of 10 or 20 posts to jumpstart your blog.
How to Think of Blog Post Ideas
Tip #1 – Start with your Customer's Frequently Asked Questions
If the goal of your blog is to reach new customers, start by thinking about your current customers. The best way to find high-quality prospects is to look to your current customers.
Do you find yourself answering the same customer questions over and over? This is common. At Pathfinder, we integrate SEO coaching into our software and our coaches get asked similar questions each day. Each one of these questions is ripe for a blog post.
Your customer likely searched for their question on Google before reaching out and asking you. Make sure you have the content on your blog that answers these frequently asked questions. It's a great place to start.
Plus, you'll be creating a resource library that you can point your customers to in the future so that you don't have to answer the same question hundreds of times.
Tip #2 – Turn to Google Search Suggest
Go to google.com and enter in a two-word search relevant to your service or product. Pause before leaving the search bar and you'll see Google fill in suggestions of what you might be interested in.
This is a great way to get blog post topic ideas. After all, Google Search Suggest is powered by the searches that people enter each day.
Tip #3 – Look at the People Also Asked Questions
Go to google.com and enter in a two-word search relevant to your service or product. Scroll down to see if there is a “People Also Ask” block. If so, you'll see questions people searched for that are related to the topic at hand.
Click on one of these and you'll see more options. Google is trying to answer your questions directly on the search engine results page so that the searcher continues to search on Google. While this can be frustrating for marketers who are trying to get traffic to a website, these questions are great inspirations for blogging. You might even find your blog post featured in the People Also Asked section of the search results.
Tip #4 – Check out Answer the Public
Navigate to answerthepublic.com and enter a two-word phrase related to your products and services. This nifty tool will generate questions, comparisons, and more.
Answer the Public is a great way to break a complex topic into smaller topics so that you can follow our next tip.
Tip #5 – Create a Series
In the previous tips, we started with a seed phrase like “local SEO” or “Miami vacations”. We came up with ideas for different blog post topics around each of these keywords. We could create one, massive blog post that tackles the topic fully. Google does like comprehensive (long) content after all.
But, in some cases, like “local SEO”, a definitive guide approach would be totally overwhelming. There is just way too much to write about to create that guide. When you come across these massive content topics or a pattern, you can create a series of posts. Let's look at two examples.
You may not realize it, but you are in the middle of a series of blog posts we created about blogging. Blogging is a huge topic. A definitive guide would be totally exhausting for both the author and the reader. Instead, we broke the topic into a series of posts including:
- Does My Website Need a Blog?
- How Often Should I Blog?
- How To Write a Blog Post
- How To Publish a Blog Post
- Outsourcing Blogging
You can take one theme and turn it into 5, 10, or even more posts by tackling the specifics in bite-sized pieces.
Here's another example. Let's say you are writing for a vacation rental company in Miami. You may have discovered that people search for “Miami in June” and “Miami in February”. A good portion of these searchers may be in the very early stages of planning a vacation. You could create a series of twelve blog posts – one for each month – that all follow the same format. Maybe they look at the weather at that time of year along with what there is to do such as events. Then, you can have calls to action within the blog post that encourage people to plan their vacation.
Tip #6 – Put Yourself in Your Customers' Shoes
Our last tip is to put yourself in your customer's shoes. Think about what they might be looking for before they need your product or service.
For example, if you are relocating to a new city you might be looking for real estate. But, before you do, you search for “Chicago real estate” you start searching for phrases like “relocating to Chicago” or “best neighborhoods in Chicago”. By creating content about these topics, you can get in front of a prospect before they enter in that super competitive phrase “Chicago real estate”.
What to Blog About
By now, you should have a long list of topic ideas for future blog posts. Turns out brainstorming blog posts can be fun!
It's time to create a content calendar. It's by turning this list of ideas into a calendar that you can get on a committed schedule. It's that steady commitment to writing and publishing that will make your blog a success. Learn how to create a content calendar.
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How often you should blog for SEO depends on a variety of internal and external factors. Let's explore these in more detail.
Start by looking at the competition. Who are your top 3-5 competitors online? Do they blog? If so, how often?
The cadence that your competition publishes new content gives you a sense of what it will take to be successful in your industry space.
In some industries such as local businesses, a monthly post may be appropriate. In others, you may be looking at weekly or even daily blogging as the competitive norm.
Evaluate your Resources
Just because your competition publishes a daily blog, doesn't mean that your business will have the resources to do so.
Let's say that each blog post request 3-4 hours to write, edit, publish, and promote. If your team has 10 hours per month to invest in blogging, then you certainly can't commit to a daily blog.
There are ways to expand your internal resources by outsourcing pieces of your blog post production or hiring a content marketing agency. Learn more about outsourcing and content marketing agencies here.
Of course, even with outsourcing, you'll still need to evaluate your resources. In this case, you'll want to know how much money you can invest and what that will equate to in terms of blogging frequency.
Quality over Quantity
When it comes to blogging, it's more about the quality of each post, than the number of posts being published.
A quality blog post is:
- Easy to read
- Grammatically sound
- Written on a specific topic
- Includes images and/or video
- Easy to skim thanks to thoughtful headers
When exploring your competitors' blogs, you may have noticed some businesses that blog frequently but the posts are of low value. Maybe they are short or perhaps they are a series of long paragraphs making it difficult to scan and read. You can focus your efforts on the quality of the content, and worry less about the number of posts being published each month.
Commit to the Schedule
Have you ever seen a blog that hasn't been updated in over a year? Maybe you noticed that a company blogged every week for ages and then went silent. While it's likely that the business simply got busy, it does create a moment of pause. Perhaps they are out of business?
The most important component of blogging is committing to a steady schedule. You might be really excited today about blogging and start with a daily post only to need to invest your efforts elsewhere in the months down the road.
Instead, be honest with yourself about your commitment and resources. Choose a schedule that is realistic and then stick to it month in, month out.
It's time to brainstorm topics for your blog posts so that you can create a schedule and get writing. Here's how to think of SEO-friendly blog post ideas.
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You may have heard that blogging is good for SEO. This is true, but whether your site needs a blog or not is a more nuanced question.
Let's start at the beginning.
What is a Blog?
A blog is a regularly updated website or section of a website that is written in a casual or conversational style. Blogs are updated regularly with new material. Each blog post is date stamped. A site can be 100% blog posts or can be a blend of page content along with a blog.
Why is Blogging Good for SEO?
The search engines love content. Because content is the basis of a blog, blogging is considered good for SEO.
More specifically, blogging is good for SEO because it:
- Enables you to frequently update your content. This keeps your website current. The search engines value a site that is ever-evolving and thus the steady content expansion that comes with blogging is naturally good for SEO.
- Encourages the sharing of expertise. Content shares your expertise and it's this expertise that Google values.
Blogging is an Investment
Blogging is good for SEO and thus you'd assume that a blog would be a must for all site owners who care about traffic from Google.
But before starting to blog, consider the investment. Blogging is also a commitment. You have to create a content strategy, write regularly, edit content, publish the content, and promote it across social media, and more.
Before starting a blog, we need to weigh the costs and benefits.
Benefits of Blogging
Blogging enables you to grow the traffic to your website. In many ways, it creates long-term capital. Take for example the blog post on our website about which WordPress SEO plugin is best.
It drives approximately 300 new visitors to our website each month. Over the course of a year, that adds up.
These visitors come to the post via keywords – the words and phrases our prospects are searching for on Google. Via our blog, we have the opportunity to share expertise and grow brand awareness. With each visitor, we can promote calls to action that encourage lead generation and new sales.
As a guided SEO platform, one of our audiences is site owners who are trying to grow the traffic to their own websites. They are investing in do-it-yourself SEO and as a result, often turn to Google to search for how to do something. For example, “how to create an XML sitemap on WordPress”. We can meet this audience by creating how-to related content for SEO. Then, we can provide readers with the option to get even more training and education by becoming a customer and following our full SEO process.
In this close-to-home example, you can see that blogging is highly beneficial to a business like Pathfinder SEO.
This isn't always the case. Think about a dentist. If you were to move to a new city and you were looking for a new dentist, you'd likely search for “dentist near me” or “dentist in Seattle”. You'd look at the Google Maps listings, paying particular attention to the number and quality of reviews. You'd also look to proximity to your location. Then, you'd visit the website. You'd look through services and see if the particular service you need is available. For example, maybe a dentist who can provide care for your whole family. You'd look to the specific services pages and ideally, get reassured by reading testimonials. Maybe, you'd ask a few friends for recommendations. Then, you'd call to make your appointment.
Nowhere in that journey did you check out your new dentist's blog. Sure, a dentist has a lot of expertise to share. But, if the goal of the dentist's website is to get new patients, then a blog isn't a necessary step in the process.
Costs of Blogging
The primary cost of a blog is the time it takes to execute. Depending on your blogging schedule, you and your team will need to regularly write, edit, publish and promote.
You can calculate this cost by looking at the number of hours you will need to invest each month to maintain the blog.
Factor the costs alongside the benefits before committing to blogging.
Does my Website Need a Blog?
In addition to weighting the costs and benefits, you can also use this framework to help you answer the question:
- National to international audience … my customers are everywhere.
- Your audience seeks your expertise via searches on Google.
- Examples include a WordPress hosting company, an attorney, a real estate firm, and a wedding planner.
- You serve local customers.
- Your customers generally don't seek your expertise via searches on Google.
- Examples include a restaurant, dentist, and auto shop.
As SEOs, you can imagine that we do love blogging! We just suggest entering into it understanding what blogging can do for your business along with the investment it takes to be successful.
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