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. 😛

marketingprofs

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.

standalone

3. Standalone interstitials

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

intrusive

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 Slate.com, 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!

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.

Also.

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 google.com/search-console/mobile-friendly. 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!

local content

Why Local Content Matters & How to Write Geo-Targeted Pages Successfully

If you want to rank in local SERPs, you need to write long-form local content.

This is especially true if you run a local business.

In fact, it’s an absolute necessity if you run a local business.

When you write local content, you fulfill two key points:

First, you communicate to your readers that your business is aware of and involved in the community they’re searching for.

Secondly, you show Google and other search engines that you’re a relevant local company with your thumb on the pulse of local events. This, in turn, helps you rank in local SERPs and get noticed on the phones, mobile devices, and computers of your customers.

In this way, local content helps you stand out both in your community and around the web as a whole.

To learn more about why local content matters, and how you can create it to improve your local presence online and dominate the SERPs, read on.

how to write local content

Local Content by the Numbers

Yes, local content is essential to help your customers understand where you’re located, what your hours are, and what you specialize in, but it’s also critical for making sales, and for drawing customers to your company in the first place.

Check out these stats (created by our awesome lead designer):

Local content by the numbers

According to HubSpot: 72% of customers who conduct local searches visit a store within five miles of their location. What’s more, 50% of mobile users who make local searches visit a store within 24 hours, and 78% of local searches initiated on mobile phones result in an offline sale.

Finally, Google reports that, today, 30% of all mobile searches are geo-specific.

Massive numbers. It’s critical today for marketers with brick-and-mortar companies to dominate local content, and master the approach to geo-targeted pages.

USSelfStorage.com: Local Content Dominating the SERPs (Express Writers’ Client)

Local content is critical, but what exactly does successful geo-targeted copy look like?

With so many components, factors, and foundations, it can be tough to identify what works as local content and what doesn’t.

We’ve got a terrific example to help point you in the right direction.

USSelfStorage.com

USSelfStorage.com is a client of ours, here at Express Writers. When this client came to us, our team created more than 100 geo-specific landing pages for this company, and each features all of the components of a good piece of local content.

A strategy they used was to build multiple search results pages, and at the bottom of the page, plug in 500-1000 words of locally optimized content that we wrote up for them.

Using this strategy, they gained top positions in the SERPs for local keywords, and they dominate in the rankings with an organic search volume worth six positions per month. Check out the screenshot we pulled on their organic domination (circa November 2016):

usselfstorage semrush

Here’s a specific example of how they rank.

#3 for “nashville storage units:”

local content semrush

 

 

The page that earned this organic position has a search result listing at the top:

usselfstorage

Below the listing of results, the ranking site page has a long-form locally optimized content piece, if you keep scrolling.

More long-form content that we created for them includes this Montana landing page, for example.

local content landing page

In addition to being conversational, this piece of material also features local keywords and helpful links. It’s a great example of what a geo-targeted page should look like, and it’s a wonderful model to base your local content on when you begin writing it.

5 Key Rules for Writing Local Content

Now that you know why local content is so important, let’s talk about how to write it. Here are five rules to live by:

1. Write 1,000 words of content on each page

According to Search Engine Land, geo-targeted pages should include at least 1,000 words of quality content. This is long enough to provide relevance and context for users, and also long enough to provide a home for the local keywords you use in your content.

Any shorter than 1,000 words and you risk being too brief for search engines and for readers. Any longer and you risk sounding spammy by trying to make long-form content more geo-targeted than it wants to be.

While you don’t have to hit 1,000 words on the head, be sure to write at least that on every geo-targeted page you create. This will give your audience more to interact with and help ensure that you’re getting the largest possible level of SEO from each of your local posts.

2. Include city-specific keywords

City-specific keywords are critical for getting your local content to rank, and they can spell the difference between local content success and failure. With this in mind, use a tool like KWFinder to research local key words that you should be including in your content. By finding these and integrating them naturally throughout your copy, you can communicate to both humans and search engines that you’re relevant, local, and authoritative.

If you’re looking to rank in nearby cities, as well, you may consider researching varied city-specific keywords and including them in your material, as well. This will help expand your rankings beyond your immediate zone and may serve to draw in customers from neighboring areas.

3. Keep it conversational

Updates like Panda and Hummingbird have made it essential to feature conversational content on your site. This becomes all the more important as things like voice search rise to prominence. Today, conversational content is not only more attractive to your readers, but it’s also better positioned to help you rank in the world of semantic search.

With this in mind, keep your local content conversational by including mention of a current event, happenings, or promotions in your given area. Don’t be afraid to write blog posts that mention specials in your city or surrounding cities, or make announcements whenever you extend service into a given area.

By keeping your content conversational, friendly, and hyper-local, you can help search engines interpret your content as relevant and helpful. More importantly, however, conversational content appeals more deeply to readers, and can help brand your company as an approachable, focused, and positive one that puts its customers first.

4. Keep it fresh

Local search is dynamic, and local content needs to be accurate, relevant, and current enough to keep up with it. With this in mind, ensure that you’re updating all of the local details included in your local content on a regular basis. This could include your name, address, and phone number (NAP) information, your business name and specialties, and your hours of operation.

In addition to those things, however, your local content should also reflect your current promotions, sales, and campaigns. If a customer hears about something you’re offering on the radio, they should be able to visit your website and see the same promotion reflected there. This contributes to a sense of continuity and seamlessness within your content and helps it reflect well on your company.

By keeping these things current, you make it easier for customers to find the information they want while also ensuring that Google knows exactly how to rank you at all times.

5. Optimize your title tags, headings, URLs, and meta descriptions

Local content is as much a technical pursuit as it is a creative one. By optimizing everything from your title tags to your headings, URLs, meta descriptions, and alt text, you can give yourself an added SEO boost and ensure that none of your well-researched, long-tail keywords are going to waste.

For best results, input your local keywords into your title (preferably toward the beginning of the tag), and include it throughout your headings, URL, and meta descriptions, as well. Not only does this help ensure that your content will feature prominently in local SERPs that rely on that keyword phrase, and that people searching for products, goods, or services in your area will quickly be able to decide whether or not your content is relevant for them.

The Case for Local Content

For many marketers and SEOs, local content is just something companies have to do in order to be successful.

The reality, however, is that it’s much more than that. When local content is done right, it can reflect well on your entire company.

Here’s why: local content creates ease.

With the rising numbers of mobile and local searches happening today, good local content acts as a touchpoint for on-the-go customers who need help finding answers to questions, locating services, and connecting with relevant retailers. In this way, companies that create local content succeed not only at meeting their customers’ needs, but they also demonstrate that they’re aware and concerned enough to acknowledge those needs in the first place.

By creating local content that meets the needs of a customer base, companies can gain trust while also helping their company rank well in the local SERPs. Because good local content features geo-targeted keywords and is optimized to feature in local search, it’s a great way for companies to build visibility and recognition all at once.

While local content can be tough to create, it’s well worth the time to follow best practices and learn to create local content that helps your customers and reflects well on your local business.

Do you need quality writers to help you craft local, geo-targeted content? Look no further than Express Writers! Check out our content shop.

how to choose the right keywords

How to Choose the Right Keywords to Optimize Your Content With

You know that keyword research is important, but it can be so hard when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of how to choose the right keywords.

In addition to finding the right keyword research tool, you need to learn to integrate your keywords naturally, and locate your best, highest-opportunity keywords in the first place.

Targeting keywords are some of the most critical aspects of on-page SEO, and they can go a long way toward helping your content rank where it’s supposed to. Great content that also ranks well brings about serious ROI.

Fortunately, choosing the right keywords seems harder than it actually is. Let’s dive in.

choosing the right keywords

Knowing How to Choose the Right Keywords: Why the Right Keywords Matter So Much

Think of keywords as the bones of your content.

They structure your headline and meta title, give your content a direction, and help people connect with your material.

In many ways, keywords and keyword research set the stage for the rest of the content creation process. The research you put into finding the correct keywords can easily influence the level of research you’ll put into the rest of the article or blog.

Finally, learning which keyword phrases work and which don’t is an art form, and mastering it will help make you a better content creator. Without the right “bones” your content can’t stand on its own, so it’s critical to ensure you have the right keywords for all of your content.

Because of this, it’s critical to do as much as you can to locate the right keyword phrases and learn to integrate them into your content.

5 Guidelines on How to Choose the Right Keywords for Your Content

Whether you’re writing a blog post or a web page, these five steps will help you choose the right keywords for your written online content.

1. Focus on long-tail keywords first

Long-tail keywords are magic. This is your most important step in knowing how to choose the right keywords.

In addition to the fact that they’re much more targeted than short-tail keywords, long-tail keywords are a great way to locate highly qualified leads who are ready to purchase your product, good, or service.

While it’s true that long-tail keywords often lack the search volume of their short-tail competitors, they’re a great way to weed out disinterested or accidental searchers, and leave yourself and your company with a selection of highly qualified, genuinely interested customers.

As you narrow down your long-tail keywords, keep specificity in mind. Long-tails work best when they’re as targeted and specific as possible, and the more granular you can get with them, the better.

2. Don’t be romanced by massive search numbers

Marketers who are new to the world of keyword research often make the mistake of getting lured in by high monthly search volume. While it may seem smart to opt for the keywords with the highest search volume, this can actually backfire.

Here’s why: while an inexperienced marketer may get excited about the prospect of millions of monthly searches, it’s virtually impossible for a new, little-known company to rank on the first page of Google for the keyword “shoes,” which, according to KWFinder, has 1,220,000 monthly searches.

shoes screenshot

Because “shoes” is much too broad a keyword, the small company would be smarter to target a long-tail option with a lower monthly search volume. A better option might be “boat shoes for men.”

While this term only has 14,800 monthly searches, it will be much easier to rank for than the high-volume, short term. It will also be easier to make sales to these searchers, since they know exactly what they want to purchase as they begin their search.

boat shoes screenshot

3. Use a solid keyword research tool

A high quality keyword research tool (like KWFinder or SEMrush, our favorites) is critical when it comes to locating your best keywords. In addition to the fact that a tool like this will give you several metrics – ranging from keyword difficult to PPC and SEO competition – these powerful tools will also allow you to save keywords to lists and compare them later.

For the best results, consider using several tools and compiling the results in a spreadsheet. You can even make multiple tabs to group your keywords together.

This allows you to compare and contrast the results of different keyword databases, and understand the unique results of each platform. It also allows you to choose more effective keywords based on various approaches and information.

4. Fit your keyword phrase into your headline

Real talk: don’t fit your headline around your keyword phrase. Fit your keyword into your headline.

Readability comes first. But if you want to rank well for a given keyword, it needs to feature in your headline.

With this in mind, try writing a few sample headlines around your chosen target phrase. Write more than one till you come up with one that you really like.

Example: for this post, our keyword was “how to choose the right keywords.” Here’s what we could have done:

  • How to Choose the Right Keywords (a keyword as long-tail as this could stand alone, but that’s not good enough – albeit close)
  • Your Guide on How to Choose the Right Keywords (eh, heard it before)
  • How to Choose the Right Keywords to Optimize Your Content With

The last one is a winner. Double-checking it in the AMI headline scorer, we see it ranks above 50%, which is an excellent score:

ami emv headline

So, have a goal of creating a headline that utilizes your keyword, but is first and foremost optimized for the reader.

If you have a difficult time finding something that doesn’t sound awkward, you may need to reconsider your approach. Keep in mind that you can include stop words in awkward keyword phrases to make them flow more naturally. This is a much better approach than just forcing grammatically incorrect keyword phrases into content, and can help make your material more readable for your audiences.

5. Make sure the overall topic of your content is an actual match for your keyword

In some cases, you can get so desperate to use a really promising keyword that you forget that your content needs to read well and be relevant to your audience. Instead of trying to cram a keyword into your content, be sure that it fits naturally, and that the keyword and the topic are actually meant for one another.

If you can’t find a way to make this work, consider altering your keyword slightly, or looking for a different topic to accommodate the keyword you’ve chosen. To be readable and relevant, your content needs to flow together with your keyword. If both feel like they’re working in opposition, you’re in for a difficult writing experience.

Want more in-depth content on how to select the right keywords? One entire chapter in my new book, So You Think You Can Write? The Definitive Guide to Successful Online Writing, is dedicated to this subject! 

How to Find Keywords that Win: The Bones of Great Content

For your content to truly excel and stand out in Google, your keywords need to be on point. Unfortunately, this is very difficult for many marketers. Luckily, you can turn the trend around if you know how to find keywords that will work for your content.

By understanding what makes a good keyword phrase, and knowing how to research and approach great keywords, you can easily include quality keywords in your content and ensure that everything you write has the strong, sturdy bones it needs to succeed.

cta button general cta

seo copywriter

The Importance of Being Authentic in Your Online Copywriting (From an SEO Copywriter)

As an SEO copywriter, I see what goes on behind the scenes in the world of online content.

By that, I mean I see the assignment and request sheets. I even have the long phone conversations with clients who aren’t exactly sure what they want, but who know they want something.

I get the jumble of keywords and the word count and the instruction to make it into something useable.

It’s often creation ex nhilo, in its finest form. And the other copywriters out there know what I’m talking about.

Despite the fact that it’s often difficult, though, it’s entirely worthwhile.

And here’s why. Online copywriting challenges us to be one thing that we often aren’t in our daily lives: authentic.

Today, more people are turning to online content than have ever done so before, and their B.S. detectors are better than they’ve ever been.

Because of this, it’s critical to take all of the raw components of online copy and make them into something coherent, compelling, and, yes, authentic.

If this is something that you, like so many SEO copywriters struggle with, this piece contains some tips to help you be more authentic in all of your online content, starting now.

Enjoy!

seo copywriter

Authenticity: The Cornerstone of Great Online Content

The best creations from any good SEO copywriter are like a puzzle meticulously assembled.

It’s a little bit of SEO, a little bit of research, a little bit of skill, a lot of dedication, and some humor or insight, all rolled into one cohesive package.

If any of these components are lacking, the content just does not work. And don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of this out there, but it’s not what people want to interact with.

Today, brands in all industries and specialties are striving for authentic content, and readers around the globe are working harder than ever before to find it.

This represents something extraordinary.

While content has long since been the vehicle for various forms of marketing, it’s a recent thing that the demand for authentic content has reached such a fever pitch. Today, customers don’t want to interact with pushy, stiff content that reeks of used-car-salesman vibes.  Instead, they want legitimately valuable content that helps them solve problems and, get this, develop relationships.

According to an article published in the Harvard Business Review, the importance of a massive, powerful brand (think Wal-Mart) is falling, while the importance of company-customer relationships is rising.

In fact, the value of customer relationships has doubled over the last decade, leaping from 9% to 18%.

In addition to driving things like engagement and sales, stronger company-customer relationships also help promote brand recognition and loyalty.

And what’s the best way to create these relationships? You guessed it: authentic content.

3 Brands Currently Killing It with Authentic Content 

To get an idea of what authentic content looks like in the world of online copywriting, it’s smart to look around at a few brands that do it well. Here are three of my favorites:

1. Dollar Shave Club

I reference Dollar Shave Club often in what I write because I truly believe they’re one of the best brands out there regarding online content. I’ll confess that I became a member of their service based purely on the genius of their launch video, and the goodness just continues.

For an example, consider this email I received from them just today:

Dollar Shave Club Screenshot

While this headline might not immediately strike you as “authentic” (slapstick, maybe?), it does a few things well.

First of all, it’s funny.

I saw it in my inbox and knew that the email would contain a pitch for some hand cream. I also knew I wouldn’t buy any, but I opened it because I wanted to see what was inside.

And guess what? As a consumer, I’ll continue opening their emails until another one of their products does appeal to me, and then I’ll purchase it. Because they’re consistently funny, upfront, and authentic, I’m a devotee of the brand – even though there are similar ones out there.

2. Patagonia

Patagonia is one of my favorite clothing companies, and it’s also one of my favorite brands for content. Dedicated to sustainability, recycled materials, and super high-quality outdoor clothing backed by an “ironclad guarantee,” Patagonia takes its vision into its content, and practices what it preaches every step of the way.

The company’s blog, The Cleanest Line, features articles on everything from preserving the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear to profiles on great outdoorsmen (and women).

Patagonia Screenshot

While Patagonia isn’t funny like Dollar Shave Club (and, where it exists in Patagonia’s marketing, humor takes a different form), the company manages to speak directly and authentically to their clients, which is probably why they have one of the single strongest followings I know of.

3. Neil Patel

Neil Patel is the co-founder of Crazy EggKISSmetrics, and Hello Bar, and I believe he’s one of the best marketers out there. While he does many amazing things in the way of content, one of my favorite things about his approach is his willingness to admit that he hasn’t always been awesome at this.

Neil Patel Screenshot

While an influencer like Neil could feel completely inaccessible, he takes steps to break that perception down by openly sharing what he calls his “oh sh*t” moments. It’s vulnerable, honest, and authentic, and it makes people want to engage with his brand even more than they would if they knew he was one of the most successful marketers out there.

5 Steps to More Authentic Content (By Yours Truly, An SEO Copywriter)

Unless you know how to approach it, striving for authentic content can have the opposite effect: it can make your content feel stiffer.

Luckily, these five tips will help you get off on the right foot:

1. Write for your audience, whoever they are

Obviously, the audience Dollar Shave Club is targeting is somewhat different than the audience Patagonia is targeting, so it stands to reason that the voice is different. That said, though, both brands do an excellent job of speaking to their unique audiences.

To make your content more authentic, learning to speak to your target audience is key. It doesn’t matter who your audience is, only that you write to them and only them.

With that in mind, take the time to research your audience (or your client’s audience). Who are they? What are their concerns? What makes them laugh? Is there a niche-specific joke you can play on to earn their trust? By viewing the audience as actual people, rather than an anonymous body of “readers,” it’s easier to tease out authentic content.

2. Forget the sales pitch

This suggestion can strike fear in the heart of copywriters.

“But, doesn’t it need a sales pitch?” everyone wonders.

The answer is yes…and no.

Good content should sell without trying to. This means that it should be so informative, so valuable, and so compelling that the people who read it want to interact with the brand producing it.

Valuable copy is much more moving than a stuffy CTA, and it’s safe to say that content everywhere improves as soon as the writers behind it stop making sales their number one priority.

3. Be yourself – whoever that is!

Patagonia, Neil Patel, and Dollar Shave Club are all genuinely themselves in their content, and while the brands aren’t comparable in their voices or approaches, they all manage to feel welcoming and real.

In many ways, this is the gold standard of content. With so many pieces of information floating around on the web, and so many “experts” telling you how to transform your content marketing, it can be tough to hear your own voice through all the static.

At the end of the day, though, this is what sets the lasting brands apart from the flash-and-fade ones. An enduring brand knows what it is, and it knows how to express that in its copy, and this is more valuable than virtually anything else.

4. Write with a purpose

Depending on what you’re writing, your purpose may be to make your customers laugh or to move them to sign a petition. Whatever that purpose is, though, it’s important to keep it in mind throughout the writing process.

In addition to giving your content a direction, writing with a purpose also imbues online copywriting with emotion and relevance, all of which helps it feel more compelling and authentic.

5. Hone your niche and stick to it

One of the best ways to keep your content authentic is to find a niche you love and work there as much as possible. Whether you enjoy helping young brands tell their stories or writing copy for lifestyle and travel companies, writing about what you love is a good way to come off as excited and passionate in your online copywriting.

The Case for Authentic Content: It Benefits Both the Brand and the SEO Copywriter

Just like brands don’t want boring, stuffy content, SEO copywriters don’t want to struggle with writing content they can’t connect with.

Because of this, it’s essential for copywriters to learn the power and importance of authentic content.

Seek to create it every time you sit down to write. Demand it from your writer.

Let’s make the web an authentic place.

 

Need great copy that resonates with your readers authentically? Request your content today in our Content Shop and ask for Ashley (the author of the piece you just read) to write yours!