google fred

Google Fred: The Biggest SEO Update Affecting Content That Rolled Out in 2017 & How it Can Affect Your Content

Google has become increasingly cagey about its updates. If there is one, unless it’s gargantuan, you probably won’t hear about it from the search engine.

Take a look at some of their communications on Twitter via their spokespeople, John Mueller and Gary Illyes:

It’s like it’s physically impossible for them to come out and say it.

Because of this secrecy and caginess, marketers and webmasters have to play a game of detective whenever they notice changes to search. This “volatility,” as it’s commonly termed, shows up in their automated statistics, particularly those for SEO visibility. From there, they have to read the clues and compile data to come to any conclusions.

The most recent Google update waves that rolled through the internet happened in March 2017. It’s now simply known as “Fred.” (Gary Illyes jokingly said all the updates should be called Fred, and it stuck for this one in particular.)

There was no announcement, no forewarning. SEOs and webmasters noticed the “volatility” affecting their stats and their rankings. Then they compared notes, which all lined up.

Here’s a good example from Glen Gabe, the marketer in front of G-Squared Interactive. He shared how Fred affected a site that had heavy advertising:


Overnight, the site lost almost 60% of its organic traffic from Google.

That’s a huge amount. Lots of other sites reported traffic losses just as deep, but Google kept mum about it.

So, that begs these questions: What did Fred do? What kind of sites, exactly, did it affect? How do you stay on Google’s good side if they won’t offer guidance about their algorithm updates?

And, perhaps most importantly, what does the biggest Google update in 2017 mean for you and your site? Let’s delve into this topic together. Grab a tea or a coffee, and join me!

google fred content

Google’s “Fred” Algorithm Update: The Shot Heard ‘Round the World

This update sent shockwaves through the internet.

Some marketers discovered their traffic had been hit hard (down anywhere from 50% to 90%).

It was obvious that Google had done something big, but they wouldn’t cop to it outright.

This tight-lipped response was nothing new, but it understandably rankled the SEO community, and not just because it was/is frustrating. Not just because it was/is frustrating, but also because Google’s zipped lips are no help in the face of huge chunks of organic traffic gone overnight.

Kristine Schachinger for Search Engine Land summed up the frustration in her column:


Here’s What Fred Tweaked

So, we know that Fred was mainly a quality update – but what aspects of quality did it affect?

SEOs analyzed the stats from hundreds of affected sites to figure out what it did. They found that this update mainly affected content sites whose goal was revenue (as opposed to providing value to users). Specifically, Barry Schwartz termed these sites as “ad heavy, low value.”

These sites had features like:

1. Heavy Advertising

One of the defining features of all sites badly hit: ads. Each and every one had heavy servings of advertising. Or, they had generous helpings of affiliate links sprinkled into their content. These ads were liberally integrated, pushy, and deceptive. Lots looked like on-site links but actually took you elsewhere.

2. Redundant or Non-Expert Information

In most cases, sites that suffered an organic rankings dive also featured redundant, non-expert, or rehashed information. This was thin content – not well researched at all, stuff that merely skimmed the surface.

3. User Experience (UX) Interference

The user experience is how easily a visitor can navigate your site, click around, and find what they need. This is a big factor for site quality because a poor UX can totally impede that information-gathering process.

Here are some examples of roadblocks to a good UX. Glen Gabe calls these “low-quality user engagement problems”:

  • Disruptive pop-ups that take over the whole screen
  • Confusing navigation and site hierarchy
  • Too much advertising – so much so that it drowns out the content
  • Problems viewing the site on mobile

4. “Jacks-of-All-Trades, Masters of None” Content

Another common feature was that most of the sites with traffic hits had a content format, like a blog. However, topics covered a wide range of information without any rhyme or reason.

Some of these hit sites publicly shared their URLs. Here’s an example of a few posts from one of them:


The content was not published to inform users; rather, it only served as a vehicle for advertising. In particular, the above blog featured useless information that Wikipedia or the “help” section of a product website already covered better.

Here’s How to Keep Fred Happy

Now that you understand what the Fred update did and who was affected, you can keep your own site compliant and Fred-friendly.

This will be important for the future because Google is never going to stop throwing out updates. In fact, it’s pretty much a standard monthly thing these days.

Here’s how to stay on Fred’s (and Google’s) good side to keep your chances of getting blindsided by any future update slimmer.

1. Recommit Yourself to Quality Content and Good SEO Practices

If you’re already on top of your on-page SEO and content quality, good. Keep going. This commitment is one that builds on itself in terms of positive gains. The longer you stick with it, the better the results you’ll see.

If you’ve cut corners, tried some “shortcuts,” or are just plain unsure about where you stand, you need to recommit yourself to quality. That means you should start making improvements to your site and content right this second.

The sooner you start, the sooner you can get on your way to climbing the ranks, not falling into a black hole of Google penalties.

2. Pay Attention to UX

UX (user experience) is the first determiner of your site’s quality. If your UX is terrible, your visitors won’t be able to read your content at all. That’s a big no-no.

To keep things up to standard, first look at the basic structure of your site. Approach it like an average visitor would. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it easy to read?
  • Is it easy to navigate and/or find what you’re looking for?
  • Do your pages use SEO properly?
  • Is the page layout clear and logical?
  • Do all the links point to where they should?

You need to make the user experience as seamless and enjoyable as possible. Using disruptive or deceptive site design, on-page advertising, or links will do the opposite. Google will penalize you.

3. Rethink Your On-Page Advertising

Ads are fine to use on your site – within reason. For example, the Fred update targeted sites who used ads so aggressively, they messed with the UX. When ads get in the way of somebody gleaning the information they need, Google has a problem with it. You should, too.

If your focus has been on monetizing your site, think again. Cut back on ads, especially ones that break up or interfere with content. Make them less intrusive, and try to improve your advertising for the user. This often means getting rid of most of your ads and making the ones you have left more intentional.

4. Check Your Old Content

When your site-wide experience is optimized for your audience, then you can move on to your content and link quality.

First, critically analyze your blog posts and content pages. If they’re thin, badly organized, or full of errors, you’ll get penalized. Rewrite them, improve them, and add depth and value.

Going forward, it will help to have a set of quality guidelines in place for each and every piece of content you create. Rigorously adhering to these will help you keep publishing top-notch content and improve your rankings.


Via Google

5. Look at Your Backlinks

To stay on the right side of Google, check on who’s linking to you. Make sure your link profile is made up of relevant, quality sites.

If sites with zero value are linking to you, this can hurt your rankings. However, there are ways to rectify the situation.

  • Just say no to link schemes, including paid links and spam.
  • Check the quality of your backlinks with tools like Moz, Monitor Backlinks, or Google Webmasters.
  • Contact sites with low quality and ask them to take down your link.
  • When the above fails, disavow all links that negatively affect your site. This tells Google to ignore them when it assesses your site for quality.

6. Stay on Top of Google Announcements (and Non-Announcements)

Yes, Google is notorious for keeping quiet about updates, but they do still announce a few (sometimes). It’s important to keep your ear to the ground so you know about important changes as soon as possible.

As for unannounced important changes, keep yourself in the loop with the help of your social network. Many SEOs and marketers take to Twitter when they see something fishy going on. Other major sites like Search Engine Land will post updates and attempt to confirm the situation with Google.

Follow these blogs and fellow marketers so you’re always in the loop:

Check out my list of recommended SEO and content marketer bloggers here.

To get almost instantaneous SEO updates, one marketer who stays on top of updates like none other is Barry Schwartz (@rustybrick).

7. Avoid These Practices Like the Plague

Link schemes aren’t the only bad SEO practices to avoid (there’s a reason it’s called “black hat SEO”). There’s a host of others out there. They may sound like great shortcuts to ranking, but they’re actually ethically unsound in Google’s eyes.

  • Cloaking – This technique presents one page to human visitors and another to search engine crawlers in order to deceptively boost the site’s rank.
  • “Thin” content – Thin content has no meat to it. It’s shallow, short, vague, rehashed, or unhelpful information that provides no additional depth to a topic.
  • Content scraping – This is the web equivalent of plagiarizing. It involves taking content from another site and passing it off as your own. You can do it with old-fashioned copy-and-paste, but lots of people employ software or special programming language that does it for them.
  • Automatically generated content – Perhaps the laziest black hat technique on this list, automatically generated content is created through programming. It gathers paragraphs of random text interspersed with keywords.

Google has an even bigger list of deceptive, spammy, confusing, or manipulative tactics they have targeted. Sites who use them will get penalized – so not worth it.

Stay Ahead of Google’s Update Waves and Ride the Tide to Great SEO

Here’s the bottom line about unexpected yet gargantuan Google updates like Fred.

To avoid equally huge penalties that hurt your business, you have to attempt to stay ahead of the curve.

This means committing yourself to only producing and publishing high-quality content. It means never engaging in link schemes. It means focusing on your site users, first and foremost, rather than monetization, A.K.A. lining your pockets.

It can definitely be frustrating when Google pulls the rug out from under you with a big update they won’t confirm. You’ll be less worried, though, if you know you already have great policies and standards in place for your site and your content.

In fact, websites with this commitment to quality often see a boost in traffic after an unannounced update. This is the ideal scenario, no?

Many times, after an algorithm change, with the amount of organic content on our site we’ll see an increase in rankings. Our SEMrush rankings show steady growth with some decrease here and there. Here’s a typical month of position rankings for our site (screenshot taken of September 2017 rankings):

semrush september express writers

If all of this information seems overwhelming and leaves you wondering where to go from here, the answer is simple. Start with your content, make it better, then work outward from there.

If you need help, we can write quality content that will make a difference. Our authority content level is one of the best ways to stand out on the web! 

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related keyword terms

How Much Content Should You Create When You Have Closely Related Keyword Terms?

Two keywords.

Both alike in dignity, in fair content marketing, where we lay our scene.

Dramatic Romeo and Juliet references aside, this is a scenario that will come up – if it already hasn’t – when you’re targeting keywords in your content.

The question is, what do you do with closely related keyword terms? Do you keep them together? Or do you split them apart?

These are common questions for the SEO content marketer, and rightly so.

When you have two keyword terms that look very similar – either regarding wording or their underlying ideas – it can be hard to know what to do with them.

Here are some of the specific details you may be wondering:

  • “Should I create content for both keywords?”
  • “Can I target both keywords in the same piece?”
  • “How much content should I create for each keyword?”

Before we jump into the answers to these questions, we need to decide if the keywords in question are about the same topic or two different topics.

In other words, are they both Montagues? Or is one a Montague and one a Capulet?

This has everything to do with whether you’ll target them both in one shot, or separate them with your targeting.


Will you break up your two star-crossed keywords, or keep them together forever?

related keyword terms

For Closely Related Keyword Terms, Divide (or Add) by Topic

Look at your keywords closely.

You’re probably rolling your eyes, thinking “I’ve already done that – that’s the problem,” but bear with me.

You need to do some research to determine whether they fall under the same topic. You can’t know this offhand; you need to go to the source to figure it out.

Let us hence, as Shakespeare would say. Open up Google. We’re going to follow a great strategy from Orbit Media.

[clickToTweet tweet=”How much content should you create when you have closely related keyword terms? @ExpWriters breaks it down!” quote=”How much content should you create when you have closely related keyword terms? @ExpWriters breaks it down!”]

1. Search for Both Keywords in Google and Compare the Results

Since Google is the main search engine we’re writing for, we need to see what Google says about the keywords in question.

If the related keywords are about the same topic, they will show similar results in Google. If they’re different, there won’t be much overlap at all.

Orbit Media compares “deck addition value” with “how much value does a deck add.” For our purposes, we’ll look at the differences (or similarities) in Google for the terms “how to make spaghetti” and “spaghetti Bolognese recipe.”

2. Check for Similarities or Differences in Results and Key Terms

Here are the results for “spaghetti Bolognese recipe”:


And here are the results for “how to make spaghetti”:


As you can see, although both key phrases have the same word in each, “spaghetti,” they have zero overlap in Google search results. These are two different topics, and we can create different content that targets each.

Simple, right?

But, what if your key phrases have lots of overlap? Take a look at this tweaked example using “how to make spaghetti” and “cook spaghetti.”

The “how to make spaghetti” results don’t change. Here are the results from “cook spaghetti.” I’ve highlighted the overlap between each keyword’s results:


There’s enough overlap to determine that Google sees these two keywords/phrases as belonging to similar topics.

With this information, we can skip creating content for each phrase.

Instead, we can target both keywords in the same piece of content. Here’s how.

How to Target Two Different Keywords in the Same Content Piece

We can create a blog or article that’s optimized for both “cook spaghetti” and “how to make spaghetti.” It’s a good strategy for killing two birds with one stone when you have two very closely related overlapping phrases about the same topic.

Here are the steps to follow for targeting two different but related keywords:

1. Make Sure the Keywords Share a Few Words

If the keywords share some main words, they’re perfect to target in the same content piece.

In our example, “how to make spaghetti” and “cook spaghetti” share a word.

If we wanted to make it even better, we could tweak the second keyword. “Cook spaghetti” could become “make spaghetti.” This way, we have two similar phrases representing broad and narrow ends of a spectrum.

2. Target Topics, Not Keywords

You have your keywords, but you shouldn’t be worrying about keyword density.

Instead, you should be aiming for a good overview of your topic. The keywords should come naturally and fit effortlessly into the flow of the text.

If you’re doing it the other way around and counting keywords, you’re doing it wrong.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Wondering how to target two different keywords in the same content piece? @ExpWriters has some advice!” quote=”Wondering how to target two different keywords in the same content piece? @ExpWriters has some advice!”]

3. Write Up Your Post with Good SEO Practices

That’s not to say you shouldn’t use good SEO when you’re writing about your topic.

Absolutely go ahead and use the great tips and tricks you know for boosting your content with search engine optimization. This should include strategic keyword placement in headers, the meta description, title tags, and in the body of your copy.

Use a primary keyword in the main header, meta description, and H2s. Use your secondary keyword in H2s and H3s.

I repeat: This is not about counting keywords. This is about the future of SEO, which is the semantic web. It’s about meaning, not about exact keyword-matching.


How Much Content Should You Create for Related Keywords?

Another great question about closely related keywords has to do with how much content you should produce for each (or either).

The content creation question has been much-discussed in the industry, in general. A couple of basic rules to follow have emerged from the conversation. These definitely apply to your related keywords.

1. Quality Trumps Quantity Every. Single. Time.

It’s better to have one exceptional piece of content for a keyword rather than dozens of sub par to downright-bad pieces.

In fact, Content Marketing Institute says your content should be “epic.” If you’re putting that much effort into each piece, your production volume will naturally go down.

Guess what? That’s fine. (Breathe a sigh of relief.)

Always focus on quality over quantity when you’re deciding how much content to create. In fact…

2. Don’t Focus on an Amount to Hit at All

Getting as many pieces of content targeting a keyword out there as possible is not the way to rank. The amount doesn’t matter as much as consistency.

As long as you’re continually updating your site with fresh content that’s high quality, you’re fine. The total amount you put out – whether it’s twice a week, once a week, or once every few weeks – won’t make a difference.

Steadily build your content volume – don’t flood the internet and people’s feeds in a short amount of time. Lots of content will help you, but only if each piece has great value.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. You can’t do that with your clout, either.

The Key for Similar Keywords? Common Sense Combined with Strategy

Now that you understand how to approach similar keywords, you can take that knowledge and run with it.

A couple of basic principles apply in every scenario. First, do your research – rely on Google to tell you what’s what. You can target keywords that fall under the same topic can in one piece. Keywords that end up being about two different topics can each get their own limelight.

Second, remember, for your content creation to go anywhere, you have to set up a balance of quality and quantity.


This slide from a! presentation shows how important that balance is.

The amount of content you produce for closely related keywords doesn’t matter as much as what you produce. You need strong, epic posts that strive to be the best on the internet for that topic.

A few epic posts are worth more than tens of lazy, filler posts that have little or no value for the user. Epic posts additionally don’t lean on keyword density. Instead, they use keywords naturally and smoothly with some strategic placement as the cherry on top.

Finally, don’t expect magic overnight. Building your presence and rankings takes time, effort, patience, and determination.

It can be hard to create epic content that uses keywords the right way. That’s what Express Writers is here for. We take care of the work so you can cta express writers

keyword search volume

Why Keyword Search Volume Doesn’t Matter When You Choose Your Keywords (& What Does Matter)

If I asked for a show of hands to see who researches their keywords by highest search volume, I’d see a pretty unanimous answer.

If you’re a true nerd / geek / SEO’er, you might have even had dreams of climbing the search results to #1 by optimizing for those keywords.

(Kind of like a new pop artist who hopes to crack the Billboard Top 100 with their first single.)

When you pick a keyword, what do you go by?

Are you using the best metrics?

Every business wants to show up at the top of the SERPs (search engine result pages).

But knowing how… that’s a skill that involves, at the core fundamental, knowing how to pick out a great keyword. And not everyone has that skill.

Keep reading for an in-depth guide on what matters most when you’re choosing best opportunity, high-ROI keywords. (The answer, surprisingly, is decidedly not keyword search volume.)

what matters with keyword search volume

Keyword Search Volume: The Skinny

Everyone wants that coveted top organic #1, #2, or #3 hit in Google.

However, what you may not realize is top brands have already cornered those keywords. This includes multi-million-dollar corporations. These are brands you are not going to be able to compete with, especially if you’re a small business.

What do those top-ranking keywords look like?

Nine times out of 10, they’re broad keywords – short phrases that aren’t specific. For example: “cake,” “baking,” and “baking cakes.”

If you’re a small-town baker and you try to rank for these terms, you’ll be out of luck. Instead, you may find yourself competing with the likes of Cooking Light, Food Network, and Epicurious.


Let’s face it – you’re never going to win, here.

So, what can you do, instead? What’s the smarter strategy?

For good results for your particular business, you don’t need high traffic from high search volume keywords. Instead, you need the right traffic.

right keyword

Forget Search Volume – Get the Right Traffic with High-Converting Keywords

Throw search volume out the window for now. Yes, it was once the be-all, end-all of keywords, but nothing in this world is static, right?

I’m not saying search volume is completely irrelevant. But, I am urging you to look at other avenues for driving people to your site.

Let’s start by defining what we mean when we talk about the “right” traffic.

You’ll have an easier time converting customers if they’re in an ideal state of the buying process. This is the “right” traffic – the people who are looking for you, but don’t yet realize you exist. If they knew you existed, they would be ready to jump on board and fish for their wallets.

Broad keywords do not drive this kind of traffic to your site.

What will?

Long tail keywords!

Long tail Keywords: Specificity and Relevancy for Search

Long tail keywords are just that: longer, more specific, and relevant to the customer’s needs.

For instance, a person who needs a specific type of cake will not search for “cake.” Instead, they might search for “wedding cake chocolate swirl Rhode Island.” Or, “birthday cake yellow with sprinkles.” A search string that is becoming even more common might look like this: “Where can I get a yellow birthday cake with chocolate frosting in Rhode Island?”

All of these have a few things in common, though they vary in subject matter. The people searching know what type of cake they want and where they want to get it. If you’re a baker and you optimize your site for long tail keywords like this, you’ll strike gold.

Why? Because long tail keywords have less competition than their broad counterparts. You have a far better chance of ranking for “wedding cake chocolate swirl Rhode Island” than “cake.”

Plus, customers use long tail keywords like this when they have a higher buying intent. They know what they’re looking for, what they need, or what they want. If you have it, there’s a very good chance you’ll close the deal.

Basically, these keywords fall right into your sweet spot for driving traffic.

Sweet Spot - Keywords

Take a look at the brands who have successfully ranked for the above long tail keyword example. There’s only one multi-million-dollar corporation on this list (Ben & Jerry’s). The rest are small bakeries or boutique shops. That’s the power of the long tail keyword in action.


How Do You Choose the Right Long Tail Keywords?

According to Search Engine Journal (SEJ), one of the keys to driving conversions from search results is to engage people at the perfect time. It’s a two-way street. Their intent needs to match up with the keyword, and the keyword needs to be relative to their intent.

This is that sweet spot we mentioned earlier. Hit it, and you’ll see ROI.

Here are some other keys for choosing the best long tail keywords for you. They have to do with relevancy and uniqueness.

1. Relevancy, Relevancy, Relevancy

When a keyword is relevant to you, it ties back to your particular brand. This includes what you do, who you are, where you’re located, or what you sell.

The relevance of your keywords is the brunt of what makes long tail types work. If you’re not using relevant long tails, you won’t be taking advantage of their conversion power.

2. Use What Makes You Stand Out (Your Differentiation Factor)

A highly unique keyword could net you a buyer every time someone searches for it. Wow! That’s a BIG deal.

At the same time, that particular keyword could have next to no search volume because of its uniqueness.

Fact: this is common for keywords with good opportunities.

In other words, it’s not a problem because the conversion value is so high. The more unique your keyword, the more you’re targeting a specific buyer – the one looking to pull the trigger and make the purchase!

These types of keywords don’t work well for everyone – but they work great for you. The opportunity is personal, and that’s a big bonus.

Why Broad, Short Tail Keywords Are on the Way Out

Short tail keywords do have their uses. They haven’t gone the way of VCRs and rotary phones – they aren’t relics quite yet.

They’re good for optimizing basic pages on your site. Your “about us” page is a fine example. Over time, your long tail keyword content can help improve your rankings for those general terms. Your content will build authority, and that can give your general pages a boost.

Time, however, is the clincher here. For keywords with tough competition, it may take years for you to crack the top 100, let alone the top 50.

Ranking shouldn’t be your main concern, anyway.

Ranking for broad terms may drive traffic, but it won’t drive traffic that converts.

Instead, you’ll get a mix of people at all different stages of the buying cycle. Some, if not most, will not need what you’re offering. Neil Patel has an excellent chart that shows the difference:

neilpatel_visitor intention
As the chart shows, people who are looking to browse will use the broadest keywords of all: “Las Vegas,” “spyware,” and “television.”

Meanwhile, the people looking to buy tend to use the most specific terms possible: “Panasonic 43’ Plasma TV HVD3002 best price.” That’s one hefty long tail. You can tell this buyer is locked and loaded.

Draw the Locked and Loaded Buyer – Not the “Just Browsing” Variety

According to Forbes, a few years ago, most businesses online attempted to target small numbers of “sort-of” relevant keywords. These were traffic-drivers alone, and it worked well enough.

Now things have changed. There are millions more people online, and close to a billion websites. The competition to rank for broad keywords is more cut-throat than ever. In fact, it’s nearly impossible unless you’re a huge corporation or you pay.

You can rank well, and organically, for long tail keywords. These aren’t searched as often, but the people who do are far more likely to buy from you.

Who would you rather guide to your site – the casual browser, or that buyer who’s locked, loaded, and ready to whip out their credit card, because you’ve got what they need?

So, when it comes to keywords, redirect your focus.

Switch your tactics – shake things up.

The times, they are a-changin’, as Bob Dylan so eloquently put it. Pretty soon, short tail keywords may be thrown out with the bathwater.

The long tail is the future of keywords.

Are you ready?


To start building your path towards more high rankings with long tail keyword-optimized content, Express Writers can help. Take a peek at our custom blog plans or content planning to see what we can do.

art of writing cta

What Attracts Readers to Your Content? 7 Facts You Need to Know About the Intent Behind User Search

How do we rank at the top of search engines?

And then, when we do that, how do we get people to actually read our content and share it with the world?

And then, after we’ve achieved all that, how do we get the people that love our content to actually convert?


Loaded questions… to say the least.

Entire books have been written that attempt to answer these questions. Yet still, there are no universal answers about how to check all the boxes.

But, at the end of the day, every part of the process, from ranking in search engines to converting users, comes down to focusing on people first.

And fortunately for us, people are predictable.

Their intent when they search follows a familiar path that, when understood, can be used to inspire our future content. Let’s discuss!

user search intent guide

7 Facts You Need to Know Right Now About the Intent Behind People Searching for Your Content

Let’s dive in and take a look at a few facts about user intent when utilizing search engines.

1. Users Follow Similar Principles When They Interact With Search Engines

Understanding how the majority of people interact with search engines is absolutely vital to your success in content marketing.

Moz outlines this perfectly in their detailed beginner’s guide to SEO.

interacting with search engines

Creating great content that gets results can seem like an insurmountable challenge.

As Moz shows, most people follow similar principles when they use a search engine.

First and foremost, they’re there to find an answer, solution, or piece of information. They then formulate that need into a string of words (keywords) and type it into the search engine.

Knowing these principles alone should serve as a guideline for every piece of content that you create.

If your content isn’t answering a question, offering a solution, or providing useful information, it serves very little purpose to users.

But you can’t just provide bland and unsubstantiated answers, solutions, and information.

As you can see with the 7th principle, users will return to the search results if they’re unsatisfied with their initial results.

Knowing this, your focus should be on identifying why users are finding your content and ensuring that you satisfy their needs when they get there.

2. How Users Search is Based on Their Stage of Awareness

We’ve already identified that, when a user performs a search, they’re generally attempting to find an answer, solution, or piece of information.

The one they search for is almost always determined by their current stage of awareness.

For this reason, when you’re writing content, it’s always a good idea to think like a copywriter.

You want to focus your efforts on determining the user’s current stage of awareness and use your content to walk them through to the next stage.

Legendary copywriter Eugene Schwartz laid out the five levels of awareness like this:

Eugene Schwartz five levels of awareness

Let’s use the example of a 40-year-old man who lacks motivation.

He understands that this is affecting his life and is currently in the problem aware stage.

He decides to go to Google and find a solution, so he types in how to get motivated.

The results look like this:

getting motivated

He sees a few solid options, but the article about How to Get Motivated When You Don’t Feel Like It sticks out. He clicks on it and sees this:

James Clear

As he reads through the article, he begins to see that he isn’t alone in his lack of motivation and that there are solutions to his problem.

So he’s now in the solution aware stage.

The author understands this and, once the reader has finished the article, offers up an email opt-in that promises to help the unmotivated user even more.

motivation email capture

The man enters his email, receives the ebooks, and is now in the product aware stage as he knows that the author has also published books that he can purchase to help him even further.

Since the initial content, and the ebooks, provided the solution he was looking for, he doesn’t return to Google to check out other potential solutions.

The author begins sending content through emails that slowly works him into the most aware stage where he is ready to make a purchase.

This example shows the power of understanding how users interact with search engines based on their stage of awareness.

Use it to your advantage and optimize your content to work users to the most aware stage.

3. Your Users Want Landing Pages

We know that users search based on their stage of awareness.

But, if this is the case, why isn’t all of the content we create based on walking visitors through to the next stage of awareness?

This is a great question, and one that many content marketers can’t answer.

To solve this problem, Search Engine Land puts it in the most simple terms possible: businesses need to look at every page as a landing page.

They advise that you ask yourself three questions when creating content. These are:

3 questions seo

As you answer these questions, you arm yourself with the necessary information to create content that gets visitors to say, “This is exactly what I need right now!”

By doing this, your content doubles as a landing page and can directly contribute to conversions for your business.

And isn’t the goal of content marketing to serve as an avenue to generate revenue?

[clickToTweet tweet=”Wondering what attracts readers to your content? @ExpWriters is sharing seven facts on user intent you should know!” quote=”Wondering what attracts readers to your content? @ExpWriters is sharing seven facts on user intent you should know!”]

4. Long-Tail Keywords are Used in Searches More Often

The data shows that about 70% of search traffic is through long-tail keywords.

long tail keywords

And, if you’ve been following along so far, this makes sense.

After all, if a user is typically looking for an answer, solution, or information when they use a search engine, they’re generally not going to find what they’re looking for by using a single word.

Let’s go back to the example of the unmotivated 40-year-old man. His search was “how to get motivated.”

Had he just typed in “motivation,” he would have seen this:

motivation results


I’m guessing he already has a pretty firm grasp of the definition of motivation.

And, because this isn’t what he was looking for, the principles of user search interaction tell us that his next step would be to go back and reframe his search to something more specific.

But not only is the utilization of long-tail keywords important because of how users search, they also make a huge difference when it comes to search rankings and conversion.

long tail seo


As you can see, attempting to rank for a one-word phrase comes with a whole lot of competition and high costs. Not to mention the low probability of conversion.

Long-tail keywords, on the other hand, are low cost, have little competition, and have a much higher probability of conversion because the user is almost always in the problem aware stage when they’re searching for them.

If your goal is to satisfy the needs of your users (which it should be), then utilizing long-tail keywords is clearly the way to go.

5. User Search Queries Are Becoming More Conversational

Another important reason that long tail keywords work so well with user search intent is because searches are becoming more conversational.

In mid 2016, Google CEO Sundar Pichai mentioned that voice searches now account for about 20% of all mobile searches.

Think about what you say when you use voice search. If you own an iPhone and want to find out how to cook boiled eggs, you’d likely say, “Siri, how do I boil eggs?”

You see the digital assistant as someone you can have a conversation with, and therefore ask them the same way you would ask an expert on the topic.

And with the continued improvement of digital assistants like Siri, Cortana, Google Voice, Amazon Alexa, and others, the number of people using digital assistants is expected to continue to rise.

statista chart

The shift to conversational search queries is also causing a change in how people are creating content.

Content creators are beginning to avoid the journalistic approach and are instead using their content as a way to have a conversation with readers.

Think about mega influencers like Neil Patel and Seth Godin.

They emphasize the need to speak directly to their readers within their blogs. And, judging by their success, their readers appreciate and trust them for it.

6. Users Make the Decision to Click Based on the Headline

You know that headlines are important. You probably also know that 8 out of 10 people will read your headline, but only 2 out of 10 will move on from there.

But just how important are they when a user is performing a search?

According to UpWorthy co-founder Peter Koechley, “The difference between a good headline and a bad headline can be just massive…When we test headlines, we see a 20%, 50%, or even 500% difference.”

500% difference?!? That’s huge.

Let’s take a look at an example of the impact of intriguing headlines.

If you were to search for “how to make money blogging,” your search results would look like this:

Headline Example

As you look at these four results, How to Make Money Blogging: How This Blog Makes $100K per Month clearly sticks out.

Why? Well, for one, because it’s specific. The user is searching for how to make money blogging, so they obviously want to generate income.

Smart Blogger’s headline is telling the user that, if they click on the link, they’ll learn how to make $100K per month. The other three headlines, on the other hand, fail to be specific enough to intrigue users.

While this is a simple example, it shows that taking the time to create great headlines is absolutely crucial if you want to stand out.

7. Users Process Visuals Faster

By now, you’ve probably read and heard plenty about how important it is to include visuals in your content.

But as search engines are getting more sophisticated, images are providing a way for websites to stand out there as well.

The reason for this is simple; people process visuals 60,000x faster than text.


Because of this, having an image alongside your headline, URL, and meta description sets you up to be the first thing a user sees when they browse search results.

Take a look at this example when we search for “how to boil eggs”:

Visuals example

If you’re like most people, your eyes were immediately guided to the two pictures of the boiled eggs.

And, because of this, you’ve become more likely to click on one of those links.

Now unfortunately, Google doesn’t actually let you upload an image directly into search results.

Instead, you have to first put yourself in a position to have your image picked up by Google’s images index.

Here’s how you can do that:

adding an image to google

While it’s a bit annoying that this is a “wait and hope” scenario, the power of having an image featured makes the process well worth it.

Using These Facts to Inspire Better Content

Armed with these facts, you now have the ammunition you need to start creating content that is made for users.

Focus on your audience, understand what stage of awareness they are in, and hone in on long-tail keywords.

And, if you want to skyrocket your conversion rates from search results, optimize that headline.

Do these things and you’ll be well on your way to creating content that ranks at the top of search engines and generates clicks from intrigued users.

If you’d like some assistance creating user-focused content for your website, our team of experts would be more than happy to help. Get in touch with us today!

express writers

google rankbrain header

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

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

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

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

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

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

[clickToTweet tweet=”#Infographic: Google & the rise of machine-learning, AI and #RankBrain” quote=”#Infographic: Google & the rise of machine-learning, AI and #RankBrain”]

google rankbrain infographic

What is Google Rank Brain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Does It Matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Google Rank Brain Affects SEO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are Fishkin’s criteria for 10X content:

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

What All of This Means For You

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

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

So what can you do about it?

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

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

1. Get specific

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

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

2. Get visual

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

3. Be original

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

4. Go Social

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

5. Be Influential

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me know in the comments!

engagement cta

keyword research

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

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

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


Keyword research is online ROI. 

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

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

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

keyword research and discovery

Why Consistent Keyword Research Is Fundamental to a Strong Online Presence

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all about intent.

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

google general results

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

google search on gardeners

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

There is intent behind this specific search.

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

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

2. Consistent keyword research keeps it natural.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 of Our Favorite SEO Search Tools

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

1. SEMrush

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


 2. KWFinder

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

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

 kwfinder 2017

3. AnswerThePublic

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

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


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

answerthepublic 2

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

Are Keywords Still Relevant? The Big Ticket Question Discussed

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Intrusive Interstitials Mobile penalty

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

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

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

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

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

neil patel

Sucky, that last choice!

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

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

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

Turns out, it is NOT okay anymore.

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

ads mobile popup penalty

Intrusive Interstitials 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what does this mean for content creators?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

content shop non annoying popup ad

The Bad Pop-up Examples

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

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

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

neil patel bad popup

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

conversion popup

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


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

3 Types of Intrusive Interstitials that Will Be Penalized

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

1. Regular Popups

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

1 regular popups

2. Full-screen interstitials

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


3. Standalone interstitials

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


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

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

Are Pop-Up Ads Worth It?

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

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

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

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

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

How & Why Not All Pop-Ups Are Poopy

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

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

Pop-up best practices include elements like:

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

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

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

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

Should Content Marketers Use Pop-Ups?

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

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

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

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

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

1. Practice Relevancy

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

No one likes a bleh gift.

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

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

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

2. Give Readers Some Time

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

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

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

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

3. Don’t Be a Nag

Have you ever heard this proverb:

A nagging wife is like a dripping faucet. – Proverb

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

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

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

Don’t be that nagging, dripping faucet.

4. Identify and Take Action

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

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

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

The All-New Intrusive Interstitials Mobile Penalty: Concluding Thoughts

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

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

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

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

seo content tactics

6 Top SEO Content Tactics to Use in 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 seo tactics for great content

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

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

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

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

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

6 SEO Content Tactics to Use in 2017

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

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

1. AMP

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

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

2. Mobile experience

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

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

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

3. Content optimization

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

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

4. Machine learning

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

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

5. Voice search

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

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

2016 internet trends

Kleiner Perkins Caufiled & Byers 2016 Internet Trends Report

6. Quality links

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Optimize for mobile

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

stat counter

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

2. Focus on long-form content

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

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

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

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

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

[clickToTweet tweet=”When all your competition is going small, maybe it’s your time to go big in content. – @JoePulizzi” quote=”When all your competition is going small, maybe it’s your time to go big – in­depth articles, hearty and detailed podcast interviews. – @JoePulizzi”]

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!

See how we can help you by crafting expert blogs.

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your guide to using sub headers

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

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

Like so:

example graphic

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

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

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

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

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

so you think you can write book by julia mccoy

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.

Want more on SEO content training? Check out my intensive one-week course, The Expert SEO Content Writer Course.

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 online copy? See how our team can help you: visit the Content Shop!

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topical trust flow

How Topical Trust Flow & Alexa Ranking Has Replaced Page Rank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

trust flow and alexa

The Slow Death of PageRank

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

Here’s a brief history:

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

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

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

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

matt cutts on pagerank

Credit MySiteAuditor

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

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

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

Topical Trust Flow: What You Need to Know

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

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

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

How Does Trust Flow Work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Facts to Know About Topical Trust Flow

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

1. Trust Flow Relies on Relevance

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

2. Trust Flow Rewards Trustworthy Links

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

3. Trust Flow Looks for Topical Similarities

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

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

majestic trust flow

How Trust Flow Supports 5 Crucial Foundations of SEO

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

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

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

1. Inbound Links

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

2. User Experience

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

3. Valuable Content

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

4. Social Media

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

5. Increased Importance of Earned Links

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

5 Valuable Ways to Start Capitalizing on Trust Flow Today

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

1. Use Trust Flow to Locate Top Influencers

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

2. Use Trust Flow to Increase Conversions on Social Ads

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

3. Optimize Your Content for Inbound Links

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

4. Play on the Strength of Backlinks

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

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

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

Diving Into Alexa Ranking: A 101

alexa ranking

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

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

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

Here’s some background:

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

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

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

How Alexa Ranks Sites

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

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

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

How to Locate Your Alexa Rank

Know what else I love about Alexa?

It’s dead simple.

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

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

alexa ranking express writers

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

alexa ranking inc

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

Another Tool to Find Alexa: Use SEOquake


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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