google rankbrain header

Google RankBrain, The Rise of Machine-Learning, and The Future of Search

The past six months have seen a spike in interest in artificial intelligence (AI). Most of this has been focused on the increasingly widespread application of the technology behind what makes AI work: machine-learning. While the impact of machine learning is being felt in industries all over the world, from manufacturing to advertising, where it affects all of us equally is in the realm of Google search.

The web has become such a part of everyday existence that we barely question it. Google is supplying us not only with the answers to all kinds of queries, but also providing us a globally accessible portal for business and commerce. Google’s success can be summed up in one word: relevance.

These algorithm updates are designed to help Google realize their mission to be the best search engine in the world: by being the most relevant.

Of course, in order to achieve this, Google has to collect and collate data on virtually every topic imaginable, while scaling an ever-expanding Everest of information, and managing billions of requests for directions to extremely specific locations. A near impossible task for even the most skilled engineers. So, Google introduced RankBrain!

But what exactly is the Google RankBrain algorithm update, how does it affect SEO, and what are the key things online content creators should know? Find out in today’s infographic on the topic. Did you learn anything, or have an extra point on the subject to make? Let us know in the comments. Don’t forget to share this infographic!

#Infographic: Google & the rise of machine-learning, AI and #RankBrainClick To Tweet

google rankbrain infographic

What is Google Rank Brain?

Very simply, Google RankBrain a machine-leaning AI system that forms part of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update.

Hummingbird is all about semantic search, or in other words, contextual relevance.

Google handles over 2 billion searches every day, of which 15% (or 450 million) the search engine has never seen before. RankBrain sorts these unique queries into contextual “entities,” chunks of language that have meaning, rather than simply returning results based on keywords.

RankBrain translates unique queries, ambiguous sentences, and more obscure “long-tail” keyword phrases into mathematical vectors, which it then uses to search for patterns in the gigantic pool of data that is the web, in order to sort and return the most relevant pages and results for the searcher.

It essentially searches for common queries and relates the more complex ones to them, based on context, and then refining its abilities to make similar connections in the future.

It is this aspect of RankBrain that makes is so powerful.

Each search is an opportunity to for it to learn. After processing each query, the machine-learning engine makes slight adjustments to itself, essentially updating its part of the algorithm automatically as it makes connections and relates complex searches to data about similar or related searches it has collected in the past. It then revises search results based on this new information.

RankBrain, then, is the part of Hummingbird that makes the algorithm so powerful and effective at fulfilling Google’s mission.

Why Does It Matter?

After the devastation the Panda and Penguin algorithm updates caused online marketers, SEOs (and their clients) in 2012-2013, the entire landscape of online marketing and business has been on edge about any major announcement coming from Google about their new algorithm updates.

Part of why RankBrain caused such stir when it was announced in an article published by Bloomberg in 2015 is that it was revealed that out of the 200+ ranking signals Google currently uses to rank pages, RankBrain was named as the third-most important.

(The first and second most important are links and content, in case you were wondering.)

However, what is most significant about RankBrain is that it is not a ranking factor that can be “gamed” by SEOs. In fact, it encourages Google’s prime directive of extreme relevance by forcing best practices in content production and link-building.

This is not to say that traditional SEO doesn’t matter anymore. In fact, RankBrain interacts dynamically with Google’s other ranking factors to return relevant answers – factors like social shares, bounce rate, time on site, etc. Part of what it does is read data from how other users interacted with a particular site related to a specific query, and uses that data to rank search results.

So the reason RankBrain matters is because it is geared towards improving the overall user experience of Google search, by affecting search results. But hopefully for the better.

How Google Rank Brain Affects SEO

RankBrain is primarily designed to handle the 15% of Google searches that are uncommon, so the impact on SEO is minimal.

What is crucial to understand, however, is that RankBrain represents a significant step forward in Google’s use of machine-learning and AI to sift, sort and filter search results.

What this means in practice is that SEOs and marketers looking to rank highly in search results need to pay attention to where Google is going.

In 2015, Rand Fishkin declared that Google is a “two algorithm world” and that the major impact of the future of Google on SEO was the fact that optimization had to account for ranking inputs for machines, as well as user outputs for humans.

So as well as ranking factors like keyword targeting, quality and uniqueness of content, being spider friendly, having excellent UX, and multi-device optimization, user output factors like task completion success, relative CTR, and content gap fulfilment are now a much more significant piece of the SEO puzzle.

This seems to be the very essence of RankBrain, which is the first major step toward the refinement of Google’s evolution into the realm of machine-learning.

For now, however, what is important to know is, firstly, sticking to SEO best practices means that RankBrain won’t affect you too much. Secondly, instead of being concerned with the effects of an algorithm update on your SEO, you should focus on building your page and creating content for search engines and human users.

Here’s what that means according to the wizard of Moz:

  1. Onsite SEO has to be optimized for more for clicks, less for keywords
  2. Go for better engagement by:
  • Making sure your site is as fast as possible
  • Providing content that satisfies searcher needs
  • Having excellent UX across all devices
  • Including features that draw users deeper into your site
  • Leaving out features like pop-ups and auto-play videos that tend to annoy visitors
  1. Fill content gaps in your visitors’ knowledge
  1. Earn more links and social shares, and encourage visitors to return
  1. Create content based on user task fulfillment

Most of this advice is pretty standard, and will take you to 80% of ranking success. Points 3 and 5, however, is where you have the opportunity to provide searchers with that vital 20% which will put you head and shoulders above the competition.

Fishkin calls these essential success factors “10X” content and they are 100% in line with where Google is headed in the future.

Here are Fishkin’s criteria for 10X content:

  • Delivers an exceptional user experience through visuals, layouts, and general design
  • The content should be “meaty,” unique, authoritative, and trustworthy
  • Content should evoke a positive emotional response
  • The content has a viral quality about it, or at least has been shared enough to make it part of the wider conversation in a market
  • Content that solves a problem or provides an answer in a way that is complete, comprehensive and actionable

What All of This Means For You

These criteria are already being held up as the gold standard for content marketing success, and users are being trained to expect this higher quality of content from online businesses and marketers.

This kind of “10X” approach to content creation is going drive the gap separating the winners and the losers online wider and wider as we move further into 2017 and beyond.

So what can you do about it?

First of all, you can’t approach anything related to content marketing online today without a well-developed strategy. Anything less than a professional, committed approach is going to deliver mediocre results.

Here are my top 5 suggestions for creating content that will help you win in 2017:

1. Get specific

As I’ve mentioned multiple times throughout this post, Google wants the most relevant, accurate and content rich results to be delivered to searchers. One of the best ways to do this is to get specific.

The major problem with most content out there today is that it is too broad, which is the result of not knowing your audience well enough. Find out what their most pressing concerns are and create ultra-targeted content pieces that address those very specific problems. You can also take a specific angle or perspective on an issue, make it your own and deliver a unique solution for your market.

2. Get visual

It’s a given these days that you need great design for your website. But as the web becomes more visual and users get used to having a multimedia experience, no only should you start including more images in your blog posts, because online video is more popular than ever, you should also look to post video content and repurpose your most popular written content as videos.

3. Be original

This means not only having a unique perspective, angle or opinion on your industry or topic, it also means being able to deliver original research as part of your content. Talk to your audience, survey your email list, and mine insights from influencers in your niche. Then create stellar content around it.

4. Go Social

This goes without saying in 2017, but to maximize shares and earn quality, natural links you need to be proactive about promotion. Instead of focusing on pumping out reams of “good” content all the time, pour that energy into creating fewer, more valuable content assets and promote them relentlessly.

5. Be Influential

OK, we all know this is way easier said than done, but if you approach your content marketing with this intent in mind, you will make very different choices before you create, publish and promote your content. Look at how the influencers in your market position and promote themselves. How can you take a fresh perspective on the major issues in your market? Is there an opportunity to segment the audience and become the top influencer in that sub-niche?


While Google RankBrain represents a breakthrough in the application of machine-learning, what we have seen up to now is just the beginning of a new way the algorithm behind search is operating.

What this intelligent algorithm will evolve into remains to be seen, which means the best we can do for now is to keep a close eye on Google in 2017.

As far as SEO goes, the best advice from top SEOs is this: stop trying to trick Google and follow where the search giant is going by optimizing for the future, because the future of search belongs to the machines.

Ultimately, what ranking highly comes down to is simply what Google has always wanted – fresh, natural, relevant content that solves searchers’ problems and gives them comprehensive answers to their questions.

If you haven’t been doing this, well, here’s your opportunity to up your game. In fact, this is all in line with the top trends in content marketing anyway.

If anything, RankBrain is a wakeup call to us as marketers that the web has finally grown up and now is simply time to get serious.

What steps can you take today to make your site more relevant?

Let me know in the comments!

engagement cta

keyword research

Why Keyword Research is Vital to a Strong Content Presence Online & Our Favorite Tools

Ongoing, consistent keyword research is critical to a strong online presence.

While keyword research has seen its share of changes over the years, it remains a useful part of content creation.


Keyword research is online ROI. 

Real, true, return-on-investment: find the right keywords, and you can create content with the potential for high Google rankings inside the next year (remember, content is a long-term investment). Using the right keywords allows you to use the direct terms of your customers and target audience.

Keyword research is the tool you use to spread your message and stand out in your field. Every content developer worth his or her words knows it is a piece of the bigger picture when it comes to ranking and reaching.

Understanding why, and how, will add vitality to your brand’s presence. Skimp here, and you’ll find yourself stuck in the same place with the same results. But there is a way to dive in, find the right keywords, and strengthen your online presence. Let’s discuss!

keyword research and discovery

Why Consistent Keyword Research Is Fundamental to a Strong Online Presence

Let’s dive in with three big reasons why keyword research is vital to a strong presence.

1. Consistent keyword research helps you get to know and understand your ideal target persona.

Focusing too much on specific keywords without a focus on the user behind the screen is a big mistake.

Keywords are the words we are trying to rank for, but your buyer persona doesn’t really care about the “keyword” itself. What they care about is finding the best results for their search term.

When you type something into a Google search, you have a purpose. Your goal is to find out more information about a new restaurant, read a news story, or look for a local service.

This means that one simple change in a word can produce far different results.

It’s all about intent.

Example: When someone searches for “hire a gardener” on Google, the first results are fairly generic and include results from sites like Home Advisor, WikiHow, and Gardens Illustrated. These are general how-to guides aimed at anyone who wants to know how to plant a flower, when to weed, and what type of fertilizer works best. The results are not specific to location or service type.

google general results

But change that search to “hire a gardener in Austin,” and the results are much different.

google search on gardeners

With the addition of just a few more words, we see the best gardeners in the Austin area based on reviews from other customers. These are meant for those searchers who are far into the process and want real answers.

There is intent behind this specific search.

By understanding how a user will search, you can narrow your focus and dive deeper into keyword research, rather than just stringing words together. This will allow you to craft focused content, target your persona, and see results.

Content creators often make the mistake of spending too much time on specific phrases and terms while neglecting to understand the user intent behind the words. Rather than try to guess what your audience means by a search query, keyword research helps you understand the intent behind the language.

2. Consistent keyword research keeps it natural.

How we search on the web has changed significantly over the past few decades. The rise of voice search and advanced technology has contributed to the way we look for everything from pizza delivery to books on Amazon.

Today, users are more likely to phrase a search as a question, as if they are talking to a friend, rather than searching with just two or three words.

Or in some cases, they search online the same way they ask Alexa or Siri a question. It’s natural and less stuffy.

This trend toward more natural language is due to a few factors, including:

Search engine capabilities: No one wants to sit and string together a bunch of keyword combinations, especially as they search through a mobile device. We are searching quickly, and we don’t have time to wait around for an answer.

Search technology: Google welcomes complex questions, as explained in this blog post, and the search engine understands more specific queries. Technology is keeping pace, and the faster it answers, the faster the user expects it to be.

Search through digital assistants: Ask Alex, Cortana, or your smartphone, and you’ll get an answer. Here is what Will Oremus from Slate had to say about the future of search in the wake of these popular devices:

In the beginning, computers spoke only computer language, and a human seeking to interact with one was compelled to do the same. First came punch cards, then typed commands…the 1980s brought the mouse click and the graphical user interface to the masses; the 2000s, touch screens; the 2010s, gesture control and voice. It has all been leading, gradually and imperceptibly, to a world in which we no longer have to speak computer language, because computers will speak human language—not perfectly, but well enough to get by. And the implications…will be tremendous. (Slate)

Using long-tail keywords in a natural way will reach your audience quicker as they search, which will make your communication more effective and specific. 

3. Consistent keyword research brings relevancy and leaves an impression.

When content creators take the time to find the most relevant and meaningful keywords for their target group – which happens when we understand our audience – it changes everything. Relevant, long-tail keywords contribute to successful SEO and more qualified traffic.

Here is the truth: if someone is searching with a long-tail keyword in the form of a question, and you have optimized for shorter keywords that don’t hold meaning, your results will not be as relevant.

We can challenge ourselves here to go even beyond just relevant content and strive to produce amazing content. Relevance combined with amazing equals results that will go beyond our expectations.

How do we find relevant terms, those that our target audience is searching for? With consistent keyword research.

3 of Our Favorite SEO Search Tools

When you’re ready to dive into keyword research, here are some of our favorite tools you can use right now. Check ‘em out!

1. SEMrush

This killer SEO tool performs keyword research, tracks keyword strategy used by your competition, runs an SEO audit of your blog, and looks for backlink opportunities, just to name a few of the features. SEMrush houses a database of over 46 million domains and 120 million keywords while tracking the organic position of a domain and competitor analysis.


 2. KWFinder

This keyword research and analysis tool offers real-time keyword SEO difficulty and generates long-tail keywords related to your niche that your competitors may be missing. Perform a search on a keyword and the site will analyze, providing you with an SEO competition score out of 100, giving you the keyword difficulty based on comparison across the market.

Also, one reason I love this tool is the absolutely gorgeous UX. I mean, what other tool is this pretty?

 kwfinder 2017

3. AnswerThePublic

This cool search tool grabs and maps keyword suggestions and predictions with a free visual report. The common Google and Bing autosuggest reports show you what is actually being searched for based on the keyword you enter.

A recent AnswerThePublic search for “online content writing” resulted in this visual and alphabetical list.


The site works to automate the gathering of questions related to your keyword, creating a visualization of the data so you can answer more effectively. The insight you can gain is invaluable and may serve as a jumpstart to relevant long-tail keyword creation for content writers.

answerthepublic 2

Of course, you can only use this tool if you’re comfortable doing so while having a stranger stare at you and, at times, pick his teeth. 😉

Are Keywords Still Relevant? The Big Ticket Question Discussed

 When it comes to keyword research and its effectiveness for online content, the opinions are as varied as a can of fruit cocktail.

I talk about this question more in-depth in my recent post, Is Keyword Density Dead?

TL;DR: keyword density is certainly dead. But keywords themselves are certainly not.

While keywords may not be the only factor we now consider, they remain an important part of content development in a world of ever-changing SEO and technology.

In fact, long-tail keywords (those with more than four words) still account for 50% of search queries, which reminds us that it’s important to use them in page titles and content, in internal links, and in user-generated reviews.


Keyword research has changed, but the goal of creating quality content remains the same.

When brands and website owners commit to understanding their audience, keeping the word flow as natural as possible, and staying relevant, the results will be a solid offering that meets the reader right where they are.

Are you ready to build the cornerstone of great content? Our Content Strategists are trained to do just that in our Keyword Strategy service! Connect with us today and let’s get to work.

Intrusive Interstitials Mobile penalty

Google Launches The Intrusive Interstitials Mobile Penalty This January: What It Means for Content Creators

Ask just about any mobile user, and the answer will probably be the same.

We could all do without those intrusive pop-ups that block content and ask us to click one of two choices that go a lot like, “Yes, I want to know more about…”, or “No, I don’t like free stuff.”

And more recently developed in the marketing sphere, what about the pop-ups out there now that downright insult our intelligence, revenue and status?

This screenshot of ad opt-out choices was pulled from a leading content marketer’s site:

neil patel

Sucky, that last choice!

Back to the main point of pop-up ads as a whole.

Overall, the truth is, no one likes to be interrupted. Most of us are taught from very early on to say “excuse me”, or at least wait our turn before speaking.

So, why is it okay for us to be interrupted when we visit a mobile site?

Turns out, it is NOT okay anymore.

In mid-January, Google launched the intrusive interstitial-killing algorithm update, and it is going to have an impact on content marketing efforts and our attempts to reach our audience with relevant content. Read on for all the details.

ads mobile popup penalty

Intrusive Interstitials 101

Intrusive interstitials are a fancy way to describe pop-up ads, those page-covering, content-blocking images on mobile and desktop sites. These ads can be almost as annoying as a line-cutter on Black Friday (no one likes them).

Intrusive interstitials block the intended destination, forcing Google searchers to go through a process before proceeding. Interstitials can cover an entire page, making it especially frustrating for mobile users.

The poor experience can make content less accessible to a site visitors by:

  • Covering a page with a popup
  • Displaying an interstitial that must be dismissed before proceeding
  • Delaying the show of content a user was originally trying to access

Thanks to Google’s new algorithm, webpages where content is not easily accessible may now not rank as high. Google is currently only looking at those popup ads that appear when a user initially arrives at a mobile website; as announced during a Google+ hangout, the goal is to look for interstitials that show up between the time when a user searches and sees the intended content.

The Good, the Bad, the Popups: What Won’t Be Penalized vs. What Will

So, what does this mean for content creators?

To put it simply, if it’s annoying, bothersome, or frustrating, it risks being de-ranked.

This change may not impact those popups that are for more helpful purposes, like in the case of a live chat box.

Here are examples-in-action to demonstrate the good vs. bad.

The Good, Non-Penalized Pop-Ups: Defining & Example

Obviously, having a user-friendly mobile site right from the beginning is the first step in appealing to the growing population of mobile-only web visitors (our EW team learned about this way back in November when they traveled to New York for the SEJ Summit).

These types of pop-ups are permissible and will NOT be penalized:

  • Banners that are easily dismissible and use up a reasonable amount of screen space. While what is “reasonable” may be open to interpretation, Search Engine Journal recommends keeping it at 15% or less.
  • Interstitials that are used for legal reasons, like age verification. In cases where an interstitial is in place for ethical or legal reasons, no penalty will be dealt.
  • Login dialogs on sites not publicly indexable, like in the case of email and other private sites.

Here’s an example of a GOOD, effective ad we’re doing for our Content Shop.

It’s a tiny banner at the top, meets the 15% or less rule (“Start your New Year with great content! On any of our services, check out with an instant 5% savings with code five 2017″), doesn’t block significant content on mobile (we tested, it works), and offers a code that customers can simply checkout with–no additional clicking, email signup, etc. needed. It works, too: 100% of the inbound leads that don’t need a sales call have been using it.

content shop non annoying popup ad

The Bad Pop-up Examples

We did turn off our live chat popups that blocked content on the lower-right hand corner of our site (no example to show: it’s gone).

Irrelevant and uninteresting content that is preceded by intrusive pop-ups is a recipe for low conversion rates, not to mention those Google ghosts lurking around the corner.

Never do the following types of ads with an opt-out phrase that insults intelligence or status. Just don’t.

neil patel bad popup

We love you Neil, but really? How do you know we don’t like our traffic stats as they sit? Are you some omnipotent presence instead of a mere marketer?

conversion popup

Dear lord how insulting. No, I’d prefer my prospects convert today, thank you very much, and luckily for me, not you, they are. 😛


And last but my top favorite…a pop-up from MarketingProfs suggesting we read an article called “Your Pop-Up Ads are Annoying Your Prospects.” It’s so ironic, it’s funny. 😀 😀

3 Types of Intrusive Interstitials that Will Be Penalized

Three interstitial types are currently at risk for being penalized by Google. Knowledge is power:

1. Regular Popups

These windows block the content of a page and often dim everything else on the screen. They often look like this:

1 regular popups

2. Full-screen interstitials

Full-screen ads often stand alone and sit above the header of the website, forcing the user to scroll before viewing the intended content.


3. Standalone interstitials

These full screens block all content with no opportunity for content preview.


Remember, anything that covers over 15% of the page content, as an ad, is at risk of being penalized.

While Google continues to focus on the user, the company also recognizes that corrections need to be made every so often in order to improve how sites perform. This includes smacking down on mobile pop-up ads and other algorithmic changes geared toward providing an optimal web experience.

Are Pop-Up Ads Worth It?

Pop-ups work, but only if you do them right. Companies continue to include them on sites because they have the potential to provide a certain level of effectiveness.

Unless, of course, they shove their way in like an intrusive early-morning shopper.

Which begs the question: are pop-up forms always worth it?

Content marketers want to generate as many leads as possible, but using too many pop-up ads and forms may actually do the opposite and detract from reader engagement and conversion growth.

But maybe there is a middle ground, one in which the user is not put off by the pop-up and the marketer sees results from the effort.

How & Why Not All Pop-Ups Are Poopy

Not all pop-ups are evil. In fact, some can actually be good and – dare we say it? – healthy for inbound marketing.

If we focus on intentional development, pop-ups can be less poopy and more profitable.

Pop-up best practices include elements like:

  • Attractive colors
  • Free stuff
  • Engaging headlines
  • An image as a CTA

SumoMe took a look at over one billion pop-ups and found that the top 10% highest-performing pop-ups averaged a 9.28% conversion rate, meaning the user took action in response.

After all of that analyzing, there were some elements that increase conversion rates, which include:

  • Increased context that builds on the page’s value
  • Valuable offers in exit pop-ups
  • Clear and direct headlines that include the action and value
  • Personality – attention-grabbing, unique, and friendly

Should Content Marketers Use Pop-Ups?

In its simplest form, a pop-up has to be compelling and relevant, or you risk losing that potential reader or customer. If a visitor is engaged with the content that pops up, that’s good news. On the other hand, if it turns them off, they’ll click and dash faster than Hatchanimals flew off the shelf at Christmastime.

There are some positive benefits to pop-ups, especially when a visitor signs up for your email list, coupon, or content download. The key is in using a pop-up as a tool at the right time and with the most appealing call-to-action.

Refer to our Good vs. Bad section again to see actual ads that we recommend / recommend against.

What’s a Content Marketer to Do in An Age of Intrusive Interstitials? 4 Takeaways from the Mobile Penalty

There are certain boundaries that content marketers should be aware of in the age of intrusive interstitials.

1. Practice Relevancy

Do you have a bleh gift-giver in your life? You know who we’re talking about – always showing up to the party with something, but it’s usually a re-gift or last-minute afterthought.

No one likes a bleh gift.

Do your readers want what you’re offering? If not, change up your strategy and work toward a more attractive product. The time between their landing and exit is short, and you don’t want to waste precious resources offering them something they don’t want or already have.

The issue with many pop-ups is that they do not offer relevancy, and combining an irrelevant message with the blocking of their target content is a double reason to leave and look for answers elsewhere.

The question here becomes, Do I know my audience and what they’re really looking for? If not, it’s time to dig a little deeper into your gift-giving skills.

2. Give Readers Some Time

After analyzing over 110,000 emails, AppSumo found that waiting 5 seconds after someone visited before asking for an email resulted in a much higher response.

How long you should wait is not set in stone, and the research on this is sparse. It is clear, however, that waiting a bit longer and giving a reader time is much more effective than using the attack of the pop-up ad as soon as they land on your site.

Understanding the timing here must be strategic, which goes back to knowing your audience. How do they interact with the elements of your content? When are they most engaged?

To gain a better understanding of how your audience engages with various components, try using a tool like Google Analytics, which will provide you with a more complete picture of your site and its visitor performance.

3. Don’t Be a Nag

Have you ever heard this proverb:

A nagging wife is like a dripping faucet. – Proverb

Yikes. Well, once your reader has made a decision, which is pretty clear when they click “no” or “x” out of the content, your job as a content marketer is to respect that choice.

Rather than force them to look at something they have already decided to ignore, focus instead on offering multiple avenues for great content.

Offer an email signup, but don’t block the page view. Give out a coupon, but keep it as a banner that doesn’t act as an intrusive interstitial. Be consistent, not pushy.

Don’t be that nagging, dripping faucet.

4. Identify and Take Action

The risk for de-ranking is alive and active. When content is not easily accessible to site visitors who use mobile search, Google is going to take action, which may lead to less interaction and conversion.

Now is the time to recognize your own intrusive interstitials and do something about how those pop-ups impact your audience.

  1. Check to ensure all your site’s interstitials are necessary for legal and ethical purposes, like cookie notifications and age-verification questions.
  2. Make changes for those pop-ups that are relevant and necessary for effective interaction but are intrusive. If they do nothing for your content, take them down.
  3. Visit your own site from a Google search so you can identify which ones will act as annoyances and which should stay. 

The All-New Intrusive Interstitials Mobile Penalty: Concluding Thoughts

It’s the new internet – the brave, new world, where more and more of it’s users are smart and know exactly what they’re looking for.

Don’t try to con them into something with a pop-up that blocks everything they’re reading and tries to compel them to your action. It won’t work anymore. Google is backing that up with an effective intrusive interstitials mobile penalty. It’s a thing.

Arm yourself with these tips, and keep looking out for any future algorithm changes Google may unveil that may impact the user experience.

Are you looking for more relevant, audience-friendly, engaging content for your site? Connect with us at Express Writers and let’s chat!

seo content tactics

6 Top SEO Content Tactics to Use in 2017

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? We did, last week on the blog.

Check out the resolutions a lot of us made way back in early 2016:

According to Money, the top goal for Americans was to “enjoy life to the fullest”, and a close second was “live a healthier lifestyle”. Far down at the bottom was “pay off debt.” As a country, most of us are fairly realistic and stick to one goal.

It’s good to make goals, even if we don’t always achieve them.

Setting goals gives us a vision for the future and puts something in our sights that we can reach for. Personally, we aim for better health, more time with people we love, and a more financially stable lifestyle.

On the content development and marketing side of things, setting goals and looking to the most useful SEO content tactics for the next year also gives us something to look toward. Quality content comes from using SEO as an effective tool, drawn from your supply of strategies and experience. Ready to dive into our most useful SEO content tactics to share for the New Year? Grab a latte and join me!

2017 seo tactics for great content

SEO Roots: A Look Back at the Beginning Before We Look at the Future

I was born in 1991, when the launch of the world’s first website happened. (I like to say it was fate bringing the internet and I together – since eight, I’ve had a natural affinity and love for our world wide web.) As the ‘net grew to include Google (1997) and Yahoo (1994), marketers took advantage of keyword stuffing and spammy backlinks in order to rank high on search results.

The art of SEO, or search engine optimization, came along in the early 2000’s to help connect users with the information they needed to find local results. Since that time, user-focused SEO and changes to Google meant rankings had to be earned through relevant, quality content rather than an overuse of keywords.

Today, relevant content and mobile optimization are required to rank at all, and must be backed by authority and expert links.

Content no longer ranks high simply due to a large amount of spam or repetitive keywords throughout a piece of content: it ranks high based on a lot of factors, many of which are now human-based more than bot or algorithm based. (Check out my post all about how semantic search is the way of the future.)

6 SEO Content Tactics to Use in 2017

Search Engine Journal recently gathered the wisdom of 44 SEO experts to ask their views of what trends will define 2017. We gathered about 15-16 for our roundup in the last week of December 2016. While everyone has a different view of what the year will look like, there is one thing they all agree on: as we move forward, it becomes even more important to stay aware of the latest technology and how our strategies need to adapt, no matter what year it may be.

Here are the SEO tactics we need to watch as we go into a new year, one still unwritten, yet full of possibility and growth.

1. AMP

The Accelerated Mobile Pages Project (AMP) was integrated by Google early in 2016. The open initiative encourages publishers to create mobile-optimized content—pages load quickly on mobile devices for more efficient use.

The goal with AMP is to deliver the best mobile experience to the average user, lessening the wait time for things like videos and graphics. Experts across the board believe that this new year will be the deciding factor in whether AMP stays or gets shelved.

2. Mobile experience

Apps will continue to be a part of the user experience, which means indexing them will be important going forward. As the introduction of RankBrain has made its impact in the world of algorithms, so too has the continued focus on mobile.

Google has already talked about making their index mobile-first and restructuring algorithms to first use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages. This will continue to be important in 2017, especially as 3 out of 4 Americans own a smartphone, up from 2015.

Mobile activity will intersect with search engine optimization and ranking going into this next year. As Duane Forrester reminds us at SEJ, “the shift has already happened…if you’re still ‘thinking about mobile’, consumers won’t be thinking about you.”

3. Content optimization

As industry experts point out, our focus needs to be on content optimization rather than keyword optimization. And while it remains important to a content marketer’s SEO strategy, there is the temptation to get trapped in the “content is king” cycle.

With millions of articles published each month, there has to be something to make you stand out from all of the other voices who want the attention of your audience. Long-form content is a start in the right direction.

4. Machine learning

Innovative technology and its capabilities will reveal previously unseen patterns of searcher behavior. Advanced machines like Google’s RankBrain and the rise of artificial intelligence will make it even more important to put forth the effort in order to rank with the best.

The area of search engine optimization will move forward as a technical approach. The challenge may lie in not knowing why a piece of content ranks at a certain spot, as machine learning has an influence on the algorithm.

5. Voice search

Billions of searches are done each year via voice commands, and the number is only expected to grow. This trend will have an impact on our keyword optimization since we don’t speak in the same way we write—think asking a question versus typing a statement into a search box.

The move toward conversational search among a variety of devices will definitely have an impact on SEO, especially as we consider the “one correct answer” given by a device. This goes back to quality content and making sure you are providing the most thorough and most readable answer.

2016 internet trends

Kleiner Perkins Caufiled & Byers 2016 Internet Trends Report

6. Quality links

Well-organized resources filled with useful content can make quite a difference in the building of trust with your audience. Links still matter and contribute to rank, and as Google reminds us, creating “unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity” pays off.

Experts differ on the importance of link building. Adam Audette at SEJ believes that content developers would do well to focus on link building for amplification rather than for SEO purposes. Think of it like a circle: if you create great content, and promote it well, that content will be linked to and subsequently return value to your site.

We’ve seen it happen: a year after I published this podcast with Joanna Wiebe, CrazyEgg picked it up and linked back to our site, citing it in their post defining conversion copywriting. The link quality was almost 80 DA (domain authority) – a huge link boost!

So, remember: backlinks still matter. These links back to your webpage still need to be authoritative and relevant as it relates to SEO. Create amazing content, publish it, share it: you’ll get links from high quality sites if they think it’s good enough!

4 Key Tactics to Keep in Mind for Creating More Fantastic Content in 2017

While predictions from a host of experts can be helpful going into the new year, what exactly are we supposed to do with all of this information?

1. Optimize for mobile

Accessing the internet via the phone and tablet surpassed desktop usage in 2016. Those numbers alone should be motivation for all of us to better understand AMP and mobile-first indexing.

stat counter

It isn’t enough anymore to build a site for desktop usage and then scale it back for mobile users. Not only does this drive users away, but it may prevent them from visiting at all. As Search Engine Land notes, content and links on a mobile site are key drivers in search engine visibility while ranking is still based on the desktop version of a site.

2. Focus on long-form content

Every SEO strategy should focus on the building of high-quality content that is relevant and authoritative.

Joe Pulizzi talked about the rebirth of long form in an exclusive email that went out just last Friday to the CMI audience in an exclusive email, PDF export here:

Now how, in this world of “snackable” content, multiple smartphones, and no attention span, are we seeing these longer­form pillar collections of content cutting through the clutter?

The point I’m trying to make is that nearly every marketer we talk to has run to shorter posts, shorter social media updates, shorter videos, shorter podcasts … thinking that audiences don’t have the desire to invest themselves in content for a longer period of time. But they absolutely do … if the content is worthwhile. Those marketers who take a longer­form approach can immediately position themselves and their stories as differentiated simply because of the length.

So, when all your competition is going small, maybe it’s your time to go big – in­depth article series, hearty and detailed podcast interviews, a full­fledge custom print magazine, and possibly even a customer event. When everyone else zigs, you zag. – @JoePulizzi

When all your competition is going small, maybe it’s your time to go big – in­depth articles, hearty and detailed podcast interviews. - @JoePulizziClick To Tweet

Joe hits the nail on the head.

Long-form content also gives the writer an opportunity to share authoritative information with quality sources to back it up. Readers will return if they know they are going to receive solutions to their need.

3. Keep pace with technology

The chatter about artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and voice-search innovation. Over the course of just two years, Amazon sold nearly 5 million Echo devices, which allow users to control their home through smart technology and perform voice searches.

The rise in the use of digital personal assistants will change how the average user searches, increasing the number of conversational queries during the process. Whether we are asking Siri or Google Assistant, the way we search with our voices is different than how we type in a search query.

Adapting your SEO strategy according to how the audience is using your site and developing content with a conversational tone are just two ways to stay engaged with the newest digital inventions.

4. Progressive Web Apps (PWA)

Google tells us that PWAs are engaging, reliable, and fast, bringing a new level of quality to a home screen. These apps are live and installable, eliminating the need for an app store.

SEO efforts can be boosted by utilizing PWAs while you increase the level of engagement through an app-like experience for your audience.

Moving Forward in Your SEO Journey this Year

Every content developer should know that SEO copywriting is only as good as the skills and tactics behind it.

While 2017 lies open like a crisp book full of blank pages, content developers can continue to keep learning and keep connected with the latest updates on the most effective SEO tactics.

If your resolution is to create better content, connect with us over at Express Writers for some goal-worthy ideas!

guide to subheaders

Your Guide to Subheaders in Content: What to Do with H1s, H2s, and H3s

When it comes to writing and formatting a blog post, there’s a lot to think about. If you’re publishing it onsite, you’ll need to consider keywords, SEO, content organization, image inclusion, and more.

Up there high in priority to include in your content (and one that’s commonly tough to map out correctly), is the presence of great sub headers to optimize and visually format your content for the reader.

Known by their tags, H1s, H2s, and H3s, while it may seem like article subheaders could be small beans that can be disregarded. But in the world of content and online writing, this simply isn’t true.

In fact, how you choose to use header tags can have a major effect on how well your content performs. Use them wrong, and you may find your content suffering as a result.

Here’s a guide to subheaders: what you need to know about these pesky, yet critical, little elements that should be placed in your content with care. Read on!

your guide to using sub headers

First Things First in our Guide to Subheaders: Defining the Purpose of a Subheading

Subheaders, subheads, or header tags all refer to what’s written inside of a bit of code known as H1, H2, H3. The code, placed in the text editor, tells the HTML that this is a bold subheading, and to present it visually that way.

Like so:

example graphic

(Can you tell our First Things First in our Guide…, above, is an H2?)

Used correctly in content, these little headings act like a small table of contents in your online content. If people read web pages word-for-word, like a book, headers might not be as critical as they currently are. Given the fact that people skim web pages more than they read them, header tags help people determine what they can expect to find in a given chunk of web content.

They’re vital to a great web presence and content presentation.

According to, most visitors read only about 60% of content before bouncing off a page. 10% of people never even scroll at all! In light of the fact that peoples’ attention spans have gotten worse in recent years, it’s critical for content creators to toss their readers a bone by inserting relevant subheaders that provide a hint about what’s coming up next and why it matters.

In addition to helping people locate the points of interest in a piece of content, these small, in-text guide posts can also go a long way toward helping search engines determine what your content is about and rank it accordingly.

Your Guide to Subheaders: When to Use H1s, H2s, and H3s in Your Online Content

Learning to use H1s, H2s and H3s in your written online content is essential. Here are some key tips for each of these tags.

H1 Tags

Some people use H1s as their subheaders tags. Don’t be swayed: this is a terrible idea. While H1s can help your rankings when they’re used correctly, you need to know that you should never use an H1 title in your WordPress blogs. Never. H1s should only ever be used in the HTML that starts a page. If you plug in an H1 in your WordPress blogs, the SERP robots will be confused about the topic of the page and may not rank it correctly.

It’s a safe guideline to say that a H1 tag should virtually never be used by a writer. It may be used by the development team to input code into the page header, but it’s not commonly something a writer would touch.

rule of thumb

H2 Tags

Header 2 Tags are much more common and necessary than header 1 tags. H2 and H3 tags are critical for formatting content correctly, and can play a massive role in how well content performs online.

Here’s an example of how H2 tags should be featured in online content:

h2 example

Think of H2 tags as tiny table of contents pieces, showing your readers where to go and what they can expect to find in the given sections of your blog. What’s more, H2 tags must be optimized accordingly with your keyword phrases of choice, since they help SERP crawler bots interpret your pages and rank them accordingly.

H3 Tags

Header 3 tags, like H2 tags, are critical for organizing your content. Used in conjunction with H2 tags, but always after H2 tags, they are important for organizing your content and helping to guide your readers through it.

For an example of how H3s work, check out this mock paragraph:

intro and list example

H3 tags are like the little siblings to H2 content, and should be used throughout your content to organize it more efficiently.

7 Little Tips and Tricks to Help You Create Awesome Subheaders

Now that you know why headers are important, let’s talk about how to use them correctly in your content writing:

1. Think of subheaders as article titles, and write to impress your readers

You know how hard you work on a blog title? Optimize your subheaders with the same care and attention! Think of each one as a winning title that could make or break your content (because, really, people scroll down dependent on how good your content *cough* subheads *cough* is). With today’s typical attention span being less than a goldfish (<12 seconds), you want to knock your reader’s socks off.

Use tools like the Advanced Marketing Institute’s Headline Analyzer to help you analyze and create a winning header.

2. Keep them to five words or more

Unless you have a client who specifies that he or she would like their subheaders longer or shorter, keep them to five words at least. This helps improve the subheaders’ SEO value and enhance your visibility online. It will also enhance the value of your individual headers and make them easier for readers to engage with.

3. The first subheader you write should be optimized with your focus keyword

Give yourself an SEO boost by including your keyword phrase in the first subheader you write. It will help Google’s crawler bots determine what your site is about and rank it accordingly. It also helps your content feel cohesive and attractive for readers.

4. Include at least two subheaders in each 500 words of blog material

Subheaders help break up and organize your content, so don’t be afraid to use them accordingly. If you’re writing content with more than 500 words, consider including more than two subheaders.

For example: this piece is 1,400 words, and contains an astounding 14 subheaders! That’s pretty much 1 per every 100 words. But if you stand back, the piece is entirely readable. With readability being your goal, don’t be afraid of creating a lot of sub heads in your content.

5. The first subheader and the last subheader in your content should have an H2

Think of these as the bookends of your content. They help organize it and make it visually appealing for readers. What’s more, they can help your content look more readable and may boost its conversion rate.

6. Always use a concluding H2 header

The concluding header is more critical than many people give it credit for. That said, use it in your content to help boost readability and end the material on a good note for your readers. Don’t ever neglect the concluding H2 header in your content.

7. Use H3s to flesh out content under H2 headers

H3 headers play the primary role of being used to break down content under H2 subheaders. Use them for lists and bulleted information.

Use This Guide to Subheaders & Create Content Flow

While there’s a great deal of confusion about headers and how they’re supposed to be used in online writing, these tips will help you master the use of H2 and H3 tags in your online writing.

Just remember, as a writer, your domain is H2s and H3s. There’s no need to bother with H1 tags, unless you’re writing them into a page’s code. Instead, use H2 and H3 headers to clarify your page’s meaning, break it up more intuitively, and help your readers follow through more easily.

When you do this correctly, it can help readers connect with and enjoy your content, and may make it simpler for some people to read.

What’s more, it can help you rank more prominently in the SERPs, which benefits you and your content all at once.

While headers can be confusing, learning to use them in your online content is essential, and this guide is here to help you learn to use headers throughout your online writing, without making many of the preventable mistakes others have with headers in times past. When you learn to master headers, your entire online writing life will benefit from it and you will prosper.

 Need a professional writer to help you craft winning headers? We can help. Contact Express Writers today to learn more!

topical trust flow

How Topical Trust Flow & Alexa Ranking Has Replaced Page Rank

While PageRank was a huge thing in SEO for years, it’s recently been laid to rest.

This happened in March of 2016, when Google killed off its Toolbar PageRank feature.

While PageRank didn’t have a huge user base before it was axed, there were a small handful of marketers and SEOs still using it, and those people will now need to find something to fill its place. The good news is that the death of PageRank is just another indicator of Google’s ongoing commitment to a “quality over quantity” model, wherein amazing content is rewarded.

The other piece of great news is that the post-PageRank world is anything but a desolate wasteland. Quite the opposite, in fact!

While PageRank had its devotees, most experts agree that it was an outdated and inefficient tool that wasn’t keeping up with the trajectory of online content and user experience. As such, it’s actually a good thing that it’s fallen by the wayside and made room for newer, more intuitive tools to take its place.

Alexa Ranking and Topical Trust Flow are two modern quality gauges that are the perfect candidates to restore reliable trust metrics and help both marketers and consumers interact with more reliable content.

We’re here today to talk about both. Ready?

trust flow and alexa

The Slow Death of PageRank

If you’re sad to hear about PageRank heading out, you’re not the only one. Google had been slowly killing the tool for years, though.

Here’s a brief history:

PageRank was developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the Founders of Google, at Stanford University in 1996. Originally, the tool was part of a larger research product relating to search and how it could be improved. At the time of its development, PageRank was revolutionary and heralded a whole new era, when web pages would be judged by the quality of their content rather than the concentration of their keywords.

The service eventually launched, with Google as its only user. Over time, though, other search engines saw that PageRank was improving accuracy and authority, and they started adopting the system into their algorithms. The program was short-lived, though, and soon started to come under fire.

Search Engine Roundtable reports that, in 2007, Google asked its webmasters to provide some feedback about the idea of axing PageRank. In 2009, Google stopped showing data from PageRank in its Webmaster Tools section.

In 2013, Matt Cutts officially alluded to the death of PR:

matt cutts on pagerank

Credit MySiteAuditor

By 2016, PageRank was on its way out, and SEOs and marketers everywhere were turning to the next reliable quality metric. Although some were sad about the end of PageRank, most people realized that, as good as PageRank had been, it had its drawbacks.

Namely: quality could be faked, and even spammy web pages and websites could have PageRank if they knew how to game the system.

These shortcomings set the stage perfectly for the next big thing, lurking just over the horizon.

Topical Trust Flow: What You Need to Know

The thing that first stepped up to take PageRank’s place is known as Topical Trust Flow, a tool created by Majestic SEO.  Essentially, Topical Trust Flow determines how trustworthy and authoritative a URL or domain is within its niche while also determining what the topic of the content is all about. It does this by determining a site’s topical relevance based on the links it enjoys with other relevant sites.

Unlike PageRank, the quality metrics within Trust Flow are difficult to fake, since it’s actually the content that links to a page that determines its Topical Trust Flow.

Topical Trust Flow came at just the right time: with more than fifty million content shares every day, and 58% of consumers reporting they trust editorial content, (according to Nielsen), the web was in dire need of a more reliable trust metric than PageRank.

How Does Trust Flow Work?

Trust Flow is one of Majestic’s most useful tools for SEO practitioners. Flow is calculated using a set of authoritative seed websites as a base. The further away your domain lies from those seed sites, the lower the Trust Flow is.

The set of authority sites measured link out to other great sites, which link out to yet more sites. The whole system works like an underground root system, relying on a complex network of connections and inbound messages to determine stability and reliability.  Here’s a diagram from to demonstrate how it works:

If you’re still struggling to understand Trust Flow, think of it like this:

  • Topical Trust Flow measures the quality of inbound links based on the quality of the links pointing to the site your links come from.
  • If every one of your inbound links come from sites that already have high Trust Flow, your domain is also going to have a high Trust Flow.

This is because the sites your links come from are seen as reputable and reliable, thanks to the inbound links they’ve received.

Trust Flow can be a tough metric to manipulate, making it almost impossible to fake or inflate. As such, it’s a much more reliable trust metric than PageRank, which relied on data that could easily be faked.

3 Facts to Know About Topical Trust Flow

Here are three key truths about Trust Flow and how it operates in the complex online world:

1. Trust Flow Relies on Relevance

A topically-matched trust flow that is high means the sites your links are coming from also have links that are topically relevant.

2. Trust Flow Rewards Trustworthy Links

A high trust flow means your inbound links come from sites that have trustworthy links.

3. Trust Flow Looks for Topical Similarities

A domain’s ability to rank increases when it has topically matched links that come from websites that have topically matched links, too.

To help you further understand how these truths play out in the Trust Flow algorithm, here’s a diagram from Majestic SEO:

majestic trust flow

How Trust Flow Supports 5 Crucial Foundations of SEO

While it might be easy to write Trust Flow off as just another reliability metric, it’s actually a tool that takes into account the changing climate of the online world.

When Trust Flow was developed, Google’s evaluation process for websites was shifting away from simple variables, like keyword inclusion, and toward more complex metrics, like quality, relevance, and user-experience.

The Trust Flow metric understands this (since it was born alongside it) and allows site rankings based on value, which is, after all, the most important metric of the modern world.  What’s more, Trust Flow supports the five main SEO trends of today. These are:

1. Inbound Links

For years, search engines have been shifting toward prioritizing sites that earn lots of high-quality inbound links. Not only is this is a sign of relevance, but it’s also an indicator that a site is high-quality, especially if the sites linking to it are high-quality. Trust Flow is built on this, and it will continue to reward sites that earn inbound links in the coming years.

2. User Experience

While the old PageRank model didn’t think much about a user’s experience on a given page, Trust Flow takes user behavior and mobile optimization into account, rewarding sites that are easy to navigate and mobile-friendly.

3. Valuable Content

The very name “Trust Flow” indicates that valuable, relevant, trustworthy content is what search engines now want to rank. Create more of this, and the Trust Flow gods will smile on you.

4. Social Media

As social media becomes an ever-more influential ranking metric, companies are starting to see that the human signals produced on sites like Facebook are having large impacts on their content strategies.

5. Increased Importance of Earned Links

There will always be people who take the shortest route possible and buy links. It’s getting harder and harder to rank with that approach, though, especially since algorithms like Trust Flow reward links that are earned rather than purchased. This means things like guest blogging, referrals, and organic mentions are the most valuable forms of links out there.

5 Valuable Ways to Start Capitalizing on Trust Flow Today

While the introduction of Trust Flow shook up the SEO world, most professionals have found that the system actually provides many more benefits than PageRank. With that in mind, here are 5 smart ways SEOs can start capitalizing on the Trust Flow system today:

1. Use Trust Flow to Locate Top Influencers

Social signals from platforms like Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and Facebook are starting to play an increased role in search results, according to a Search Metrics Ranking Factor. This is making it easier to track down and connect with authority figures and top brands in your industry.

2. Use Trust Flow to Increase Conversions on Social Ads

If you’ve been having a tough time boosting the conversion rates on your social ads, you’ll love Trust Flow. Google’s display network handles more than 1 trillion impressions each month, and managed placements will now allow you to hand-select the sites where you want to display ads.

3. Optimize Your Content for Inbound Links

Remember that Trust Flow places priority on trustworthy, topically-related links. With this in mind, focus on optimizing your content. For what it’s worth, content with more than 3,000 words earns twice as many shares as shorter content!

4. Play on the Strength of Backlinks

Backlinks play a major role in Trust Flow, so make sure you’re making the most of your  networking and connections to earn as many backlinks as possible to your site.

5. Use Trust Flow as Inspiration to Become an Authority in Your Niche

Trust Flow places massive importance on topical relevance, so use expert writing to showcase your knowledge in your industry. The more authoritative and relevant your content is, the more likely your pages will be to earn a high Trust Flow ranking.

Diving Into Alexa Ranking: A 101

alexa ranking

At the risk of sounding a little overwhelming, Trust Flow isn’t the only player in this game. There’s also Alexa Rank – a relatively new trust metric, my team here at Express Writers started using Alexa in place of the MozBar to learn about a page’s authority.

Unfortunately, the MozBar, like PageRank, had a few issues. It almost never worked, froze up constantly, plus there were rumors about inaccuracy in the actual numbers – inflation by spammy sites.

While Moz has made a very public effort to address the issues with the MozBar, we’ve found Alexa Ranking to be a much more reliable and valuable trust metric.

Here’s some background:

  • Alexa is an Amazon subsidiary founded in 1996. Thought of as a pioneer in analytical insight, Alexa combines information from the browsing behavior of people in the Alexa global data panel to offer information about traffic estimates and PageRank. To put it simply, Alexa serves as a representation of all the people using the web. It’s basically a census for the online world!
  • Daily updates. Unlike some other trust metric tools, Alexa’s Traffic Ranks look back at data collected over the prior three-month period, and are updated daily.

This makes them highly comprehensive and, even better, incredibly accurate. Alexa does have a funny quirk, though: it’s the complete opposite of Google’s PageRank.

In Alexa, the lower a site’s score, the better it’s doing in terms of traffic and authority.

How Alexa Ranks Sites

Alexa uses a combination of pageviews and unique visitor numbers to rank a site.

“Unique Visitors” is the number of Alexa users who navigate to a site on any given day and “pageviews” indicates how many Alexa users put in URL requests for a given site. The ranking from there on out is pretty simple: the site with the most visitors and pageviews is ranked #1 on a worldwide and country-specific basis.

While Alexa provides intensely accurate rankings, it does only rank domains, which means you won’t find rankings for sub-domains or pages on a site.

How to Locate Your Alexa Rank

Know what else I love about Alexa?

It’s dead simple.

The easiest way to use it is to head to the ranking site, which you can find at  Once you get to the site’s homepage, you can enter the URL you’d like to evaluate.

For example, here’s what Express Writers looks like (not too shabby as of March, 2017):

alexa ranking express writers

As another example of a site climbing close to the 1 (best ever) ranking, here’s

alexa ranking inc

From there, Alexa will give you information on the site’s popularity in a given country and, if you pay for the premium version, insights about daily and monthly site visits and more.

Another Tool to Find Alexa: Use SEOquake


If you prefer not to visit the Alexa ranking site every time you need to evaluate a URL, download SEOquake.

SEOquake is a free tool that downloads right into your web browser and sets up in a matter of seconds.

When you Google URLs, SEOquake will give you their Alexa rank, as well as other valuable authority metrics. While SEOquake can look a bit intimidating at first, it’s a simple tool to use and can integrate with other tools, like SEMrush to provide even deeper trust metrics.

Establishing Site Authority: The Methods Have Changed but the Practice Remains Critical

While many people wonder why it’s so important to gauge a page’s quality before linking to it, content that draws on valuable, relevant content is deemed by both users and search engines as more valuable. While PageRank laid the foundation for this type of evaluation, it’s since fallen out of vogue.

Fortunately, newer and more advanced tools have stepped up to take its place.

Trust Flow has helped the web shift toward a “quality over quantity” model and made it more difficult for sites to fake quality.

Alexa Ranking, on the other hand, has provided a unique and up-to-date way for marketers, writers, and SEOs to immediately gauge a page’s relevance with the web as a whole.

These tools, along with the shifting attitude toward quality content, have made it easier than ever before to create reputable material that links into the wealth of helpful, relevant, trustworthy content on the web.

When writers and SEOs rely on quality content, the entire online atmosphere as a whole benefits from it.

Looking for help managing and improving your online content? Browse our Content Shop today to find the perfect package for your company!

semantic search

Semantic Search in 2017: Looking at the Future of Content

If you spent any time in marketing circles this year, you probably heard the phrase “semantic search” tossed around in conversation quite a bit.

But what in the world is semantic search, and how does it impact SEO?

If this is a question you’ve asked, you’re in the right place.

Semantic search was a big trend in 2016, but it isn’t new. It did, however, rise as a content marketing trend throughout this year. And guess what? In 2017, it’s going to continue to have a major impact on the way content marketers achieve success in the SERPs.

Today, I’m here to take it apart, tell you how to best use it in content creation, and how it will impact content development in the New Year.

Ready? Grab a latte and let’s dig in!

semantic search guide

What is Semantic Search?

In order to fully understand semantic search, let’s back up a bit to the basics of algorithms and how they work, and then explore semantics as it relates to Google searches.

First, Understanding the Different Shades (Algorithms) of Google

Since the inception of our search friend known as Google, the internet know-it-all has attempted to move search results into a more natural-sounding realm. Part of that strategy falls under the idea of semantic search and machine learning algorithms like RankBrain.

In machine learning, a computer basically teaches itself how to do something, and RankBrain is just one component of Google’s search algorithm program.

When we use Google to search for something, there are potentially millions of webpages that can provide a solution. Algorithms are the computer formulas that take our questions and turn them into the answers we are looking for.

Past algorithms that Google has used include:

  • Panda (Source): In 2011, Google updated search filters to stop sites with poor quality content from showing up in top search results.
  • Penguin (Source): Penguin was launched in 2012 to catch sites that appeared to be spamming its search results in order to boost Google rankings.
  • Hummingbird (Source): Launched in 2013, Hummingbird was designed to sort through information and deliver the best results–the name came from the speed of the algorithm.

After the launch of Hummingbird, users may have noticed that Google was offering more precise answers to search queries. The update was one of the biggest overhauls to its search engine and it allowed Google to provide faster answers to questions and rank them according to the index.

Semantics: Did You Really Say What You Meant to Say?

Now, let’s move onto semantics.

Merriam-Webster defines the word “semantics” as the study of meanings.

In the field of linguistics, semantics is all about the logic behind the meaning of natural and artificial words, signs, and sentence structure, whether it’s a spoken language or that of computer programming.

A famous author penned the following, and I feel that it quite adequately sums up semantics:

“Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not, or that you feel good this morning, or that it is a morning to be good on?” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

In other words, what are you really trying to say?

Check out how this works when you type a question in Google. I love how Google is smart enough to correct bad spelling (Semantics FTW!):

semantics improves grammar

Semantics: Going Behind the Search

For online content and its goals, semantic search involves the use of quality resources (and not just keywords) to perform a search and provide the best results.

Here’s just how (creepily?) knowledgable Semantics is in its inner workings.

  • It knows your history and uses it: semantic search takes the details of a user’s history and offers back the most relevant results.
  • It knows logic and deciphers meanings: Semantic search looks for the logic, or intent, behind what a searcher is looking for in their quest for information. It is about going beyond the traditional definition and moving towards the motivation behind a searcher’s request.

Rather than searching for what someone literally types in (as in, misspelled words), Google semantics uses a complex system of algorithms and prediction to make a guess as to what we actually mean, and then looks for the most relevant content.

Ever feel like the search box is reading your mind? Thank semantics.

Examples of Semantic Search

Whether we know it or not, semantics plays a part in every search we perform. In his post over at Crazy Egg, Neil Patel gives us some good examples of common semantic search, something we can all relate to in our everyday lives.

1. Conversational queries

We ask, Google answers. In this case, rather than provide us with every website that answers the question, “how do I bake?” or the words, “Christmas cookies,” semantic search works to first give us the directions, then relevant recipes.

conversational queries

2. Auto-corrected misspellings

As we showed in the example above, it corrects misspellings. (I think that’s pretty cool.)

Here’s another example.

auto corrected misspellings

It’s safe to assume we all have enough Christmas “cookys”. After correcting for the misspelling, we have ideas for a Christmas cookie swap and the Best Christmas Cookie Recipes for 2016.

3. Information shown as graphics

Relevant images are provided as part of the answer. Now, if only my Christmas cookies turned out like those. 

information in graphics

3 Key Ways to Create Content With Semantic Search Standards in Mind

The challenge in our field comes when we sit down to create the content our readers are looking for, and we forget the importance of staying relevant and natural. All in all, it’s simple (but in reality and the work/time/skill involved, not).

1. Stay away from subpar content that isn’t readable: invest in quality.

Here’s the thing…

Writing with Google Semantics in mind doesn’t really mean NEW advice for us content creators.

It’s simple: write more for your reader. Why? Google Semantics will now (very quickly) identify, and then disqualify, keyword-stuffed content and spammy articles. Poor keyword usage won’t rank well.

And, as we showed above, grammar is checked too by the new Nazi in town (Semantics). So, check grammar, link quality, and spelling for mistakes. Consider making sure you have both a copywriter AND a proofreader on your projects. Spend time to create attractive and engaging headlines that invite readers in and makes them want to stay.

Deliver quality content on a consistent basis and increase your chances of return visitors (Kissmetrics). Post more than once a day and up the potential for more unique views and inbound links.

Keep information scannable and concise, not in long paragraphs bogged down by too much information. While you’re at it, absolutely forget link-generating software and article spinners. Semantics will have none of it.

2. Be authoritative in your content.

As we look to the future with Semantics and Google, the talk is all about the use of artificial intelligence. Google has already unveiled its virtual assistant, which the CEO of Google describes as a “conversational assistant” so users can have an “ongoing two-way dialog.”

AI is the next step in our journey toward advanced technology, another reminder that our search queries need an expert on the other end to provide an answer. Those answers come from the quality content that is provided by authorities in the field.

That would be you, content creator.

You have to decide what you want to be known for, which keywords you want to rank, and how to become known as an expert in your own field. It helps to consider questions like:

  • How does my audience interact?
  • Who are they following?
  • What questions are my readers asking, and am I providing the expert advice they need?

Here at Express Writers, we know the future is headed in the direction of expert content more than ever, which is why I created authoritative content and trained a select group of expert team writers on creating it, this year. It’s the best content we’ve ever offered, and it matches every standard Semantics puts out. Check out Authority Content in the Content Shop.

3. Go au natural in your online language.

Focus on being conversational, not stiff. There is a pretty good chance no robot is going to be ingesting your content anytime soon, so use natural SEO writing as your main language.

Remember that it’s people first, so relevance is key. Readers will be drawn to the answers to their questions and interesting content that they can share, tweet, and repost.

Keywords are still important, but if it makes content sound less organic, it won’t work. Overusing keywords only makes content look unappealing and forced. And since it hurts more than helps, it’s a waste of time to begin with (read more about that over at Smart Blogger).

Will Semantic Search Be Important in 2017?

It’s clear to see that Google has more trust issues than a Real Housewife.

Keyword-stuffed content? Low-quality articles? Not happening.

The first real guiding principle of search engine optimization is trust. And if Google doesn’t trust you, there’s no way you will rank on SERPs (search engine results pages).

Now that it’s out in the open, Rule #1 for content development going into 2017 is that writers must be consistent in trying to gain the search engine’s trust. If you are a new business or new website, it might take a while to break into the front-page rankings, and that’s okay.

Give it time. Practice consistency.

Algorithms were built not to discourage us, but to weed out the bad guys and give us a chance. The semantic search is continuing to go through the fine-tuning process, and it will remain an important component of content development in 2017.

4 Things to Remember As We Progress in An Age of Semantic Search

As we are looking to update our game plans in this next year, there are some things that every writer would be wise to remember, especially as we work to develop content in an age of semantic search and SEO.

  • Be reader-centric.
  • Stay away from keyword stuffing.
  • Be patient and consistent.
  • Produce quality, not necessarily quantity.

The one question that a semantic search asks during the query process is, “what is the user’s intent?

In our desire to produce quality content, this is the question worth asking of ourselves as we create content in 2017.

New Year CTA express writers

mobile friendly content

The Content Creator’s Guide to Mobile-Friendly Content: AMP, Mobile-First Indexing & More

What is the first thing that pops into your head when you hear words like “apps”, “data”, “contacts”, or “social media”?

Now try imagining things for words like “difference engine”, “Turing machine”, “Z1”, and “point-contact transistors.”

Here’s a hint about the second set of words: they have to do with the history of computers.

Remember computers? With a big bulky box called a hard drive, and the screens (aka monitors), which took up more space than your mother-in-law at Christmastime. Back in ancient times, circa 1999 and prior, a thin, black square known as a floppy disk could be inserted into the big bulky box and hold teeny tiny bits of files to be accessed later.

I’m 25 years old–and I’m talking about these things like they’re hints of yesteryear. LOL.

Technology has advanced, fast.

Fast forward to 2016, when images of a room full of computer equipment and that little thing called a “mouse” seem unfathomable to those of us who carry our whole lives in our back pocket. Today, everything from our favorite shopping sites to our bank accounts and emergency contacts to our kids’ schedules can be accessed through one convenient, tiny, handheld device: a smartphone.

Guess that? That’s exactly where AMP, mobile-indexing, and being mobile friendly comes into play. Let’s discuss. (Oh, and keep scrolling for the screenshot where our site shows up as AMP verified in Google! It’s too cool to miss. ;-))

guide to mobile friendly content

Living in a Connected World: Here’s the Proof

It should come as no surprise that nearly 2/3 of Americans own a smartphone and about 10% of those have no high-speed internet service at home and no way to access the web other than a smartphone. Across every age group, income bracket, and education level, smartphones are where it’s at.

Think it’s just young people? Think again. According to Pew Research, 92% of adults over the age of 50 regularly used their devices in the past year to text, browse the web, and access email.

Srsly? 92% of adults OVER 50 text and email on their smartphones now? It’s time to get mobile with your content, folks.

Google Experiments with Mobile-First Index

In November, Google announced that it was beginning experiments on making their index mobile-first. To express it in simple terms, this change means that ranking signals will be based first on the mobile version of a website, then fall back to the desktop version if no mobile version is available.

Wow! So Google will check to see if your site works well on mobile, and then on desktop.

What is an index? When you perform a search in Google, their programs do a check of an index to find the search results that are most relevant before presenting them to you. This is similar to looking in the back of a very large book (remember those?) at the index section, which tells you where everything is located.

This change will eliminate the “mobile-friendly” adjustments that are performed for smartphone users; whether you are accessing the internet from a phone or a laptop will not make a difference in rank results.

What Google’s Move Could Mean for Site Owners

Although this news may feel like the end of an era, it is not the full end of desktop ranking as we know it. This discussion has actually been going on for over a year, but with Google’s official announcement, it feels more real. And that means site owners will need to think about their own webpages and how mobile-friendly they are to visitors.

If you do not currently have a mobile version of your website, Google will rank based on the desktop version instead. If your site is a dynamic serving site or a responsive site, meaning the primary content is equivalent across both mobile and desktop, you should not have to change anything.

However, if you have a site configuration, where the content is different across desktop and mobile devices, you may want to consider implementing some changes in order to rank more effectively. The good news is that there are modifications you can implement now to gain an edge. For instance, if you have a separate desktop and mobile version of your page, work to make them cohesive with correct structured data on the mobile site. Test your date here.

Think about the structure or your site and what that means for your visitors. Is your desktop page loaded with information, but your mobile page is bare bones? Evaluate why that is, and make some changes. Go to your own website often via a mobile device to feel what it’s like to be a visitor. Is your content engaging? Will people want to stay and hang out? Are the buttons and links easy to click through?

One important key to the whole thing is AMP. Google recently told us that rankings may depend on it – we heard it straight from the horse’s mouth at this year’s SEJ Summit!

What is AMP, and Why Should I Care?

AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, and open-source HTML framework allowing pages to load quickly but without all the extras that tend to slow sites down. After all, who has time to wait 20 seconds for content to load?

Slower page response time results in increased page abandonment, and statistics have shown that when site visitors are forced to spend 4 seconds waiting for a page to load, about 25 percent of them are going to bail. To put it in dollar figures, if an e-commerce website makes $100,000 per day, a 1-second page deal could cost $2.5 million in lost sales per year.

If the year was 1980, that would equal about 2,700 Commodore computers. Ouch.

There are some ways to increase the speed of a mobile page, including:

  • Keep tracking codes simple and limit the use of video embeds. This can drag page speed down.
  • Use smaller, lower-resolution images on your mobile site. Giant images will just get in the way and will not be as appealing.
  • Limit third-party content as much as possible. It may not be optimized for mobile viewing.

As you can probably guess, faster pages mean happier visitors. And the happier the visitors are, the more they are inclined to hang out on your site and engage with your content.

So how easy is it to implement AMP? If you are new to mobile webpage optimizations, you can learn how to get started on the AMP website.


Once you have AMP correctly installed, you’ll have this beautiful “AMP” “certified” bubble/text thingy next to your site URL, from Google. It will magically appear on users’ cell phone browsers (I’m screen-shotting from my iPhone 6 Plus):

express writers is AMP friendly

8 Tips on How to Create Mobile-Friendly Content

In light of Google’s announcement, there are steps that site owners can take to prepare for the future. Here are some tips that can help you create mobile-friendly content:

1. Submit your page to Google’s index directly

Use their new mobile-friendly testing tool at Simply type in your URL, and the results will tell you if your site is mobile-friendly, as well as provide you with a screenshot sample.

2. Never, never, ever use Flash

It’s not the ’90s, and it’s not cool anymore. You’d think we wouldn’t have to add this tip, but hey–there’s still some Flash sites out there (insert facepalm emoticon.)

3. Use a larger font

Don’t worry, you’re not insulting the young: sizes are scaled according to the device. Start with 16 pixels, and keep it simple by avoiding too many styles and sizes on your pages.

4. Check relative width

Then, position values for CSS elements. This eliminates the need for visitors to scroll horizontally to see images on your page. If you need help, Google has a tutorial here.

5. Consider the space between buttons and links in your setup

Too close together, and a mobile user can’t tap one without tapping the other.

6. Consistently monitor

Make sure your website’s navigation is easy and stress-free. You want to be sure the user experience is top-notch!

7. Keep the design simple

Remember that all those graphics and videos may interfere with your site’s ability to load quickly.

8. Get AMP-ed

Consider setting up AMP for your website. See above for more on that.

It’s Not You, It’s Me: Creating Mobile Friendly Content is In

We can look back on the days of the Commodore with both nostalgia–memories of your first job, first family computer, first school assignment typed up–and with a grateful heart. Some of us will never appreciate the days of old, which were burdened by multiple boxes of computer equipment that had to be wired to a dial-up connection (whatever that is) as we accessed the World Wide Web at home.

As society moves farther and farther away from its break-up with the traditional desktop, it remains key to stay up-to-date with shifts in technology and how smartphone users connect with the world. Website owners cannot afford to produce mediocre content while assuming it will be displayed similarly across all platforms, especially in light of Google’s latest announcement.

Google’s mobile-first index is still in an early stage, and there are many challenges yet to be overcome. But this turn down a new path signals a shift in website design that content developers and website managers would be wise to pay attention to as we continue to move forward with our lives tucked safely into our back pocket (no mouse required).

express writers cta

stop writing for seo

Stop Writing (Only) for SEO: 5 Best Practices to Appeal to Your Direct Reader

Life as a writer may often be marked by late nights, deadlines, word counts, and an endless amount of coffee (I like mine with a hint of cream and sugar).

As an online writer, we easily toss around terms like “search engine”, ‘keywords”, and “relevant content” in casual conversation, and, if we aren’t careful, our focus may turn toward SEO as if we have no audience.

Ah, audience. 

Key term of today’s post…

These are the people, the live humans, the readers who are searching for answers that you may have but may not often give in the way of quality content.

Neil Patel said: “One of the biggest challenges that bloggers and content marketers face is writing content that’s optimized for search engines, yet will also appeal to people.”

The challenge, even in late 2016, presents itself as writers seek to create content that is appealing to customers and clients, providing a solution to a problem, while optimizing it for keywords and Google.

While black hat SEO and keyword stuffing are things of the past, there is still the temptation to provide “cheap, backlink-stuffed online content,” if you’re not careful. If you’re ready to learn best practices that will appeal to your readers, put on a pot of coffee (half and half and sugar on standby, please) and get ready to dive in.

stop writing for seo

Writing for SEO: A 101 on SEO Writing & Why It’s Still Important, Within Reason

“Stop writing for SEO”…does that sound arbitrary, or what? Especially coming from a content writer? Keep reading. I promise, it’ll be good. 😉

First… let’s delve into the good of SEO writing.

If you were super tired, maybe you woke up this morning needing Google to help you figure out “how to make a perfect cup of coffee”. Like most of us, you would turn to your smartphone, pull up Google, and type in the phrase. Along with the featured snippet box, this is what you would see:

screenshot snippet

This is not a random list or a paid ad; it is brought to you courtesy of organic SEO, or the result of “search engine optimization.”

In other words, a marketer’s non-paid efforts to optimize content organically for Google.

This is the good of SEO writing: when you can organically rank, and then earn organic traffic from those rankings, because of the SEO writing you’ve successfully put together.

Nowadays, quality is a heavy factor in Google’s organic rankings: when people are looking for something on the web, the list that appears on Google is based on the relevance and authority of those particular pages.

Relevancy is determined by content analyzation—how often and where certain words are used in the content–and the use of authoritative links.

In the case of SEO, it’s about quality (of content) over quantity (of clicks and keywords).

This doesn’t mean that writers should be afraid of writing content inspired by keywords. On the contrary, it remains key to understand the words your potential customers and clients would use to describe your products and services. There are a few key useful tools that can help with background research and point you in the right direction of keywords. My two top favorites:

For more on how to use tools to find great keywords, check out my guide on optimizing your content for keywords.

Writing for SEO Vs. Using SEO to Connect


Here’s the absolute truth (…sit down and sip that coffee while I break it to y’all):

All the keywords and catchy titles that may get you to the top of the page results will do absolutely no good if no one wants to hang around and absorb your content.

Writing for SEO only will come out like content that is uninteresting, irrelevant, run-of-the-mill. You don’t want that: there’s no real ROI there today. People are smart.

In contrast, using SEO to connect with your audience will deliver a people-first, high-quality answer to the questions they have.

Mention the phrase “card catalog” to anyone under the age of 30 today and you might get a confused look in response. Those days of trying to find a library book by flipping through mini-index cards is synonymous with the Dewey Decimal system, which organizes books according to subject matter and makes it easier to find them on the shelf.

In the same way that the system organizes books on a shelf, search engines organize and deliver content.

You dont write content just to get onto a search engine any more than you would write a book to get into Dewey’s system, which is why it remains key to deliver quality content and see SEO as a medium to connect it to people. While it used to be that we wrote only for SEO purposes, that does not remain true today, not by a long shot. Helping people is the key to creating great content; optimizing comes next.

How to Focus on The Human Reading Your Crap: 5 Tips to Stop Writing for SEO

1. People First

Simple, but really. Behind each smartphone, laptop, and tablet is a real person with a real need. No one searches “how to make a perfect cup of coffee” unless they are seeking to find a solution beyond their average cup-o-joe. Putting people first also means you must understand your audience. Tools like BuzzSumo can help with that.

2. Relevant Writing

This ties into #1, people first. Engaging content that is well-written, attractive, and not created simply for the purpose of claiming links will lean more toward a successful reach than fluff that has no intended audience. This means that you, as the writer, must commit to thorough research so you can secure useful statistics that others will share and benefit from in their search for answers.

3. Interesting Content

It’s okay to be funny, stir emotion, and use quality illustrations in your content. We are a culture of posts, tweets, and pins, so go ahead and take a light tone if the setting allows—the visually stimulated members of your audience will thank you. (Want some inspiration here? Check out 6 brands that are doing an amazing job with audience-related copy, by our social media manager Rachel.)

4. High-Quality Links

As a search engine, Google takes into account the links pointing at your domain and the words others use in linking to you as a sign of legitimacy and relevance. People will not link to your content just because they’re nice or feel a sense of obligation; they link because something is in it for them and because they see your content as important for their need.

We use Alexa to discover high rankings. It’s easy: any site nearing the 100,000 mark is, quite literally, the 100,000th most popular in the world and thus, a very reputable domain. (Perspective: Forbes is 214, Twitter is 10, Facebook is 1.)

5. Engaging Headlines

Headlines that grab attention can take the form of questions, how-tos, and numbers.

People like to know exactly what they are getting into, and by providing readers with a numbered list, you are packaging all the information into a concise “3 easy steps” or “5 ways to.”

And have you heard the research that headlines with odd numbers have a 20% higher click-through rate than those with even numbers?

Stop Writing for SEO: The Top 4 Common SEO Mistakes

SEO methods are ever-evolving, and content developers are wise to stay on top of successful optimization techniques so that they know how to deliver the most relevant information for their audience.

There are some common mistakes that are easy to make if we are not careful. Putting time and resources into the strategy side of your content marketing is sometimes all it takes to fine tune this process.

1. Choosing the wrong keywords.

2. Publishing non-original content.

3. A lack of quality external links.

4. Using irrelevant internal links.

Read more about 10 common SEO mistakes here.

Alt Text: Build for Users, Not for Search Engines

Your “alt tag” (key) takeaway should be this, as Moz so succinctly puts it: build for users, not for search engines.

Remember that there are three types of searches that people typically make:

  • I want to do something (start a garden, listen to music, go skydiving)
  • I need to know information (find a song lyric, eat Chinese, find a babysitter)
  • I want to go somewhere (my bank’s website, social media, relevant blog)

Ask yourself: is your content delivering the answers to these searches?

How about an expert writer in your niche to help with that? At Express Writers, we provide expert copy services to help accomplish your reader-friendly content goals. Get in touch today for a free strategy call.

google's featured snippets

How to Create Content that Will Rank in Google’s Featured Snippet Box

By definition, a snippet is “a small piece” or “fragment”. Synonyms include “bit”, “scrap”, and “fragment.”

It’s a noun derived from the word “snippety.”

(Spelling the word will also earn you 11 points in the game of Scrabble.)

But when it comes to online searches, Google’s featured snippet box has changed the way the search engine displays results to users.

Anyone who has searched on Google lately will have noticed the box that comes up with a relevant answer to their search, especially if it’s a long-tail keyword phrase like “how to bake cookies” or “how many planets.”

To tantalize you a bit, here is some of our own content that ranks in the Snippets. First, our post in the key term “influential bloggers:”

featured snippet ranking bloggers

Next, we rank in a snippet for “curation tools:”

featured snippet content curation

Add a third is actually pulling my guest post on SocialMediaToday:

featured snippet rankingHad enough yet? 😉

I’ll disclose more on exactly how to optimize and prep your content to make it in the Snippets. Keep reading!

content for google's featured snippets

Google’s Featured Snippet Box: How Important Is It?

Snippets was released in 2014, after Google’s Knowledge Graph (2012) and Answer Box (2013) had already been designed. The two early models were sourced from Google’s database, while Snippets pulls results from third-party sources. Since 2014, Snippets has seen a fourfold rise in growth, with the biggest jump between 2015 and 2016.

The Featured Snippet box will contain a summary of the search results from a webpage, a link to the page, and the URL. According to Google, the purpose of the Featured Snippet is to draw a user’s attention to the answer. Web users may or may not have noticed that it’s been over two years since Google first launched Featured Snippets, and yet marketers are still passing them off as a novelty.

Some critics believe that Snippets only serve to provide a user with an answer, and are not effective in drawing them to a specific site. However, research from Search Engine Land found some results that may surprise the naysayers; after tracking a key page on a client’s site, which had been optimized to better match a searcher’s query, the found that:

  • Over 4 months, no significant changes came as a result of the optimizations
  • After 4 months, a Featured Snippet began showing for a particular keyword
  • The client saw a 516% increase in sessions and a 6% increase in click-through rate
  • Revenue from organic visitors landing on the page increased by 677%

What is Included in a Featured Snippet?

As Glenn Gabe highlights in his study (The Power of Google Featured Snippets 2016), Google’s Featured Snippets receive special SERP (search engine results pages) treatment and can serve to drive large amounts of traffic. In addition, they are designed to build credibility with users as they take the shape of:

  • Images
  • Charts
  • Text
  • Bullets

After asking a questions of Google, wouldn’t you be more drawn to click on the answer in the box with a colorful graphic, rather than the plain old text underneath?

How Does Google Pick Snippets?

Google is not manually picking which Snippet to feature; instead, the selection is based on an algorithm.

Any website is eligible to earn a Snippet, and there is no advantage for big companies versus lesser-known startups. Different experts will say that ranking position does play a role, while others have found that Google chooses Snippets from content all the way over on Page 2 of the search results.

This is GREAT news for us website owners!

As Larry Kim over at Moz found out when he pulled a report for his own website, Google pulled Snippets about 7 out of 10 times from as far back as Page 3, and at times, the source came from positions that went as low as 71. And to quote Kim, when it comes to Snippets, “You need them.”

Here’s How to Find Out if You Rank in the Snippets (Fast)

Step One: Get SEMrush! It’s my tool of choice for all things SEO analytics, as it is for many others.

Step Two: In SEMrush, once you have your domain added, navigate to Domain Analytics > Organic Research > Positions.

semrush projects

Step Three: In your organic search positions, sort by Include > SERP Feature > Featured Snippet.

find your featured snippet ranking

Now, hit Apply, and wait for results to show. Test the results by plugging in the phrases on Google and seeing if your Snippets come up.

semrush snippets screenshot

Not always are you still ranking for the snippet: a bigger site could be outranking you, as Content Marketing Institute did with us on “copywriter skills” (sniff, sniff).

How Do I Create “Snipp-able” Content? 3 Ways

As Glenn Gabe notes in his study, landing a Featured Snippet begins with covering your chosen topic as thoroughly and as clearly as possible. Include an eye-catching image near the answer, use bullets, and provide both the question and the answer on the page.

In addition, users may benefit from featuring content (such as a graph) in a format that is “snipp-able”. Besides displaying images, there are other ways to create content that will show in Google’s box:

1. Find out what users are asking, and then find the answer

General answers that can easily be found anywhere are not the best materials to include in a Snippet. For example, during a recent Google search of “How many presidents?”, the answers came up in standard list form.

When compared to a more specific search of “how to write a book,”, the first result in the Featured Snippet was from a website that instructs would-be authors on how to delve into writing.

2. Create a heading using search words

Notice in the above example that the author included the query “How to write a book” as the heading above the URL. Use a keyword or long-tail search query in the h1, h2, or h3 tag to increase relevancy and answer users’ questions.

3. Focus on longer, high quality keywords

SEMRush sampled 100,000 keywords and found that the average length of the keyword phrase with a Featured Snippet was 6. A keyword research tool (we love SEMrush and KWFinder) can help in this area.

4. Provide concise answers

Ideally, answers to questions should be between 54 and 58 words long. These can be in paragraph form, bulleted, or numbered, depending on what’s best. Hubspot also recommends running an audit of the keywords that are ranking within your current SEO campaign to see how many come up as question-based searches.

Everyone Wants to be a Zero

In the case of Featured Snippets, everyone wants to come in at “zero place” and have their content be front and center in Google search results. With a dedicated focus on relevant questions, an effective headline, high quality keywords, and concise answers, your content is more likely to show up at the top of the search. The box will draw them in, but the relevant answers to the questions will make them stay.

Whether you are currently in place zero or place 3, always remember that step one is to offer great content. At Express Writers, we provide the content you need to make an impact and leave an impression. Connect today to see how we can help you!