January 2020 core update guide

January 2020 Core Update: All You Need to Know (Plus Tips on How to Survive It)

On January 13, Google announced a core algorithm update called the January 2020 Core Update.

Immediately, site owners took to social media to express their dismay on (yet another) major change that could affect the years of hard work they’d put into reaching a top spot on Google’s SERPs.

Some posted despairing memes. Others begged Google “not to be cruel.” Yet others worried how their keyword rankings would be affected as the new update rolled in.

So, what is the January 2020 Core Update?

Should you be worried about it? Most importantly, what changes should you make to your site so you don’t lose your Google rankings?

Let’s explore this massive update in today’s brand new blog. 👇

Should you be worried about @Google's January Core Update? 🤔 What should you do to maintain your rankings? 📈 Find out in this new guide by @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet

January 2020 Core Update: All You Need to Know (Plus Tips on How to Survive It) – Table of Contents

January 2020 Core Update, Explained

Experts and Content Creators Speak Up about the January 2020 Core Update

The Top Sites Impacted by the January 2020 Core Update

How to Optimize Your Site to Survive the January 2020 Core Update

5 Aspects of Content That Ranks Well on Google

1. Originality
2. Comprehensiveness
3. Expertise
4. User-Friendly and Trustworthy Presentation
5. User Value

5 Tips to Update Your Content and Continue Ranking Well Despite Major Google Updates

1. Write Content You Can’t Find Elsewhere
2. Improve Content Found on High-Ranking Sites for Your Keyword
3. Proofread to Perfection
4. Step into Your Audience’s Shoes
5. Forget Keywords

Moving Forward after the January 2020 Core Update

January 2020 core update

January 2020 Core Update, Explained

Google’s number one goal is to provide value to users. Because of this, it has made thousands of changes per year in recent years.

However, not all of these changes are noticeable. Most of them are tiny tweaks.

The January 2020 Core Update is different. According to Google, this update will have more noticeable and actionable effects for content producers and webmasters.

Google Webmaster Central blog

source: Google Webmaster Central Blog

The January 2020 Core Update is different. 🤯 According to Google, this update will have more noticeable and actionable effects for content producers and webmasters. Click To Tweet

What it boils down to is Google making a brand-new list of the top sites with the most value in 2020.

If your site takes a hit and falls in the SERPs, it’s not because it’s a bad site. It’s simply because users are changing. There are a ton of new sites online. And there are sites which have been online for some time, but whose value was never fully discovered.

SEJ - core update advice

Source: Search Engine Journal

Overall, the January 2020 Core Update is going to shake up the SEO world. Let’s look at what webmasters and content creators have to say about it.

Experts and Content Creators Speak Up about the January 2020 Core Update

Users reacted differently when the news of the January 2020 Core Update was released. Some were dismayed.

Others were confused.

Still others decided to laugh it off.

Of course, top marketers and SEO experts had their own opinions.

Rand Fishkin’s interest was on the bolded ads, favicons, and brand icons featured in the update.

SEMrush listed three prominent changes the update included.

A few days after the release of the update, Glenn Gabe tweeted his findings on the “volatile” splash it had made.

Will this update affect you? According to Danny Sullivan, it will, no matter where you live.

The Top Sites Impacted by the January 2020 Core Update

In the few days since the January 2020 Core Update rolled in, various sites in different sectors showed significant change in SERP rankings. Let’s look at the winners and losers (so far).

1. Sites with Improved Rankings Since the January 2020 Core Update

According to data from Sistrix, sites in the health sector enjoyed gains since the update rolled in. and saw a 37.7% and 34.72% change, respectively.

January 2020 Core Update winners


Other sites with improved ranking include a football site, a movie tickets site, and two news sites. Could this have to do with trending news (the British Royal Family and the Holocaust) and entertainment content?

2. Sites with Lower Rankings Since the January 2020 Core Update

The sites which took the biggest hits since the update are and

January 2020 Core Update losers


The data shows car buyer and finance sites also taking hits since the update rolled in. Could this be because of the pricing information within the sites? It’s interesting to note that (a movie site just like also shows information related to money.

How to Optimize Your Site to Survive the January 2020 Core Update

Like tons of content creators and webmasters, you’re likely scratching your head over all this information. Luckily, Google has some advice on how to optimize your site for the update.

Google 2020 update - focus on content


Clear as mud?

Let’s go deeper into what it takes to create the kind of content Google always ranks well, no matter what changes it makes to its algorithms.

5 Aspects of Content That Ranks Well on Google

When you add these killer components to your site, you don’t have to spend hours analyzing why one movie site enjoyed gains since the January 2020 Core Update, while another movie site took a serious hit.

5 aspects of content that ranks well on google

1. Originality

Take a look at this piece on cats purring by WebMD.

WebMD cats purring

The article is informative, plus it comes from a trusted domain. On the other hand, look at this one from WHISKAS.

Whiskas why cats purr

A piece like this isn’t counted as plagiarism, as nothing is copied word-for-word from WebMD. However, almost everything is the same. There’s no originality and nothing new added to it.

The result? Although WebMD ranks 422 on Google global engagements, Whiskas ranks 1,752, 296.

2. Comprehensiveness

Comprehensive content dives deep into a topic rather than merely scratching the surface. It provides statistics, charts and graphs, guidelines, and relevant images. After readers go through the article, they feel they’ve gained an insider view into the topic.

Length is an important factor to consider when it comes to content comprehensiveness. It’s almost impossible to dive deep into a topic with a 500-word blog. According to various sources of data, the best length is between 2,000 and 3,000 words.

Average engagement by content length

3. Expertise

When searching for medical advice online, what would you prefer to read? A blog written by a well-known doctor or one by an anonymous person who simply rewrites information they find online?

Expertise is important to Google rankings. Sites owned by people who’ve established authority in their industry do much better than random sites without clear credentials.

4. User-Friendly and Trustworthy Presentation

Imagine reading through a site teaching you how to use English grammar and noticing typos and the misuse of adverbs. Even if this site were owned by an authority in language, you’d still click the back button to look for something else. This shows how important it is for content to be free of sloppiness and errors.

Presentation also affects user experience. For instance, think of how annoying it is to read a blog and have a ton of distracting ads crop up. Or imagine opening a site on your mobile device just to find it’s not optimized for mobile users.

5. User Value

Google’s number one goal, as mentioned, is to give real value to real people. This is what all the updates boil down to.

So, ranking well on Google isn’t about keywords. It’s not even about meta data, rich snippets, and title tags (although they help). What ranking well on Google IS about is making people’s lives a little better each time they visit your site.

Content that continually ranks well on Google has these 5 killer components: 1) Originality 🦄 2) Comprehensiveness ☑ 3) Expertise 👩‍🏫 4) User-friendly, trustworthy presentation 👍 5) User value ❤ Click To Tweet

5 Tips to Update Your Content and Continue Ranking Well

So how do you take the five aspects of good content mentioned above and add them to everything you write? Use these smart tips.

5 tips for updating your content

1. Write Content You Can’t Find Elsewhere

Choose a blog on your topic that ranks highly on Google. Read it thoroughly. Then, ask yourself this question: “What can I add to my blog that isn’t dealt with here?”

For instance, look at this piece from Wired titled Why Do Cats Love Boxes So Much?

Wired - Why do cats love boxes so much

To add unique information to your blog on this topic, you could dive a little deeper and do some research on how cats in the wild “withdraw and hide.” Provide information and details beyond what everyone else has already written about.

2. Improve Content Found on High-Ranking Sites for Your Keyword

Type your keyword into Google. Then, go through the sites that rank highest on the SERPs. Are they good? In-depth? As a reader, what satisfies (and dissatisfies) you about each article or blog? Your next step is to find ways to make your content an improved version of the highest-ranking content on Google.

3. Proofread to Perfection

Follow this five-step guide to ensure your content sparkles every single time.

  • Go over your content quickly to get a first impression.
  • Scrutinize each paragraph to see if it supports your big idea.
  • Attack your blog’s organization – ruthlessly pull sentences and paragraphs apart until they flow well.
  • Read it out loud to nail your tone of voice.
  • Read it again, this time from bottom to top.

4. Step into Your Audience’s Shoes

Why did users look up your topic? What do they fear, dream, desire? When you know your audience, you’ll know what they’re looking for in your content.

5. Forget Keywords

Write naturally. Use keywords because you’re dealing with the topic they surround, not because you need to reach a 3% keyword density.

Want to survive @Google updates? 1) Write content you can't find elsewhere. 🔥 2) Improve on high-ranking content. 🥇 3) Proofread to perfection. 💯 4) Step into your audience's shoes. 👟 5) Forget keywords. 💃 ✅ Click To Tweet

Moving Forward after the January 2020 Core Update

The bad news is the January 2020 Core Update is huge.

The good news is it doesn’t matter.

Yes, your site can take hits and lose rankings. But in the long run, if you focus on becoming your users and knowing what they need, your site will always do well in Google search. You’ll rise above the January 2020 Core Update, or whatever updates rock the SEO world in the future.

Looking for expert blogs, articles, and more that are original, trustworthy, and comprehensive? We write content that ranks well in Google, no matter the updates. Check out our pricing.

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client story

Client Story: How Express Writers Helped nFusion Solutions Rank for Keywords That SEO Software Missed

This is a guest post by John G., a full-time Content Strategist and expert copywriter in our team. 

nFusion Solutions faced a very common challenge when they came to us: their site wasn’t showing up in search results for their relevant keywords.

However, their challenge was actually a lot more unique than that.

This meant I needed to think outside the box to deliver. Here’s the story.

Download the PDF case study of Client Story: How Express Writers Helped nFusion Solutions Rank for Keywords That SEO Software Missed

Client Story: How Express Writers Helped nFusion Solutions Rank for Keywords That SEO Software Missed

What Happens When SEO Software Can’t Help with Keywords?

Several of the company’s main competitors were showing up for practically every keyword they threw at Google.

Usually, the solution is fairly straightforward. At Express Writers, we use premium software like SEMRush to discover which keywords stand the best chance of bringing our clients lots of traffic. They can’t be too competitive, but they also can’t be too low on monthly searches.

However, nFusion Solutions’ predicament was a first for me.

Even though we knew which phrases would bring up their competitors in Google – and, thus, were relevant keywords – the industry is so niche that these keywords didn’t see enough monthly searches to show up in our premium platforms.

So, there was no simple way of knowing which phrases would be the most valuable to our client.

4 Steps for Using a Competitor to Do Keyword Research

Instead, what I needed was a solution that would tell me which keywords these competitors used most across their entire sites – every single page. It stood to reason that these were the ones having the biggest impact on their rankings.

Once I had that information, I could sift through the results to find the keywords that would put nFusion Solutions on the same page as these competitors.

This involved “pulling apart” the other companies’ websites page-by-page.

Step 1: Finding Every Indexed Page for the Competitors’ Site

The first thing I needed to do was to find every single page of the target competitors’ site.

Sometimes, you can just access the site’s sitemap.

Other times, you might need to use a tool like Rob Hammond’s SEO Crawler, which will scan an entire site and return URLs for each and every page.


If your competitor’s site has more than 300 pages, you’ll probably need a premium tool like Screaming Frog to accomplish this.

Fortunately, nFusion Solutions’ competitors only had around 100 pages apiece.

Once your crawler is done, take the results and put them into an Excel sheet. Here’s what the results look like when I did this for the Express Writers website:


(I used our site for this screenshot because, otherwise, it would show who the competitor is for this example.)

Then, I’d just copy-and-paste the results into an Excel like this:


Step 2: Pulling the Keyword Density for Each Page

Now comes the heavy lifting.

To figure out which keywords showed up the most across all of a single competitor’s site, I needed to conduct a keyword-density report for every one of their 100+ pages.

Again, there are free tools that can do this.

I prefer SEO Centro’s version.

You just enter each of the individual URLs into the tool and it will return the keyword breakdown for each one.


Here are two screenshots of the results from one of the competitor’s main pages:


And for three-word keywords:


As you can see, I was only concerned with keywords that included two or more words.

I left out single-word keywords like “gold” and “silver” because they aren’t nearly specific enough for nFusion Solutions’ purposes.

Step 3: Identifying the Best Keywords

After conducting a keyword-density analysis for each page of each competitor’s sites, I moved the most popular keywords for each page onto an Excel sheet, keeping an ongoing tally of the frequency with which each one was used.

When I was finished, I had an excel sheet that showed which keywords were used the most across all of these sites. It looked like this:


Step 4: Choosing the Right Keywords for My Client’s Pages

The final step was simply choosing which keywords from the list were most important to each of nFusion Solutions’ new pages.

I did this by looking at which keywords the competitors used most often throughout their sites. I also took the time to learn about nFusion Solutions’ market, so I knew which keywords made the most sense for each of their service pages.

Want to hire John to build great content for your brand online? Let us know! You can also request a free 15-minute strategy consultation with him here.

Going the Extra Mile to Find the Best Possible Keywords

While premium SEO software is necessary for online marketing, it might not always be enough.

In the case of nFusion Solutions, I had to get a little creative in order to find which keywords would be most valuable to them.

Fortunately, the above steps are easily replicable. So, if you’re struggling to keep up with your competitors and the software you’re using doesn’t seem to help, you now know how to find what keywords are proving most valuable.

Need great copy? Check out our pricing in the Content Shop.

Client Story: How Express Writers Helped nFusion Solutions Rank for Keywords That SEO Software Missed

SEO writing mistakes

10 SEO Writing Mistakes That Will Hurt Your Rankings

These days, webmasters have to invest a considerable amount of time, money and energy in the right optimization tactics to stay in Google’s good graces, including correct SEO writing. If this is your case, good news – we’ve got some useful information for you to share in this blog. The bad news is that you cannot count on a one-size-fits all search engine optimization (SEO) plan allowing you to improve their rankings. Don’t be discouraged though. The good news is that practice does make perfect in this case, without too much blood, sweat and tears.

What Can Hurt Your SEO Writing Rankings

Once you agree to play by the book and ditch black hat SEO tactics in SEO writing and all SEO you do, you can easily avoid some of the most common optimization pitfalls. Here are 10 major mistakes that could hurt your rankings and get your website in serious trouble, forcing you to crack open your piggybank to correct your wrongdoings.

1) Posting Duplicate Content on Your Website. Duplicate SEO writing will never do you any favors. As tempting as it may seem to save some time and money by stealing someone else’s intellectual property, don’t go down this road. Duplicate content is dangerous for a number of reasons:

  • It exposes you to major penalties from search engines. In case you didn’t know Penguin 2.0, Google’s much-feared algorithm change was rolled out to target duplicate content, identify unethical SEO tactics and remove offending websites.
  • It disappoints your readers, making them land on your competitors’ websites. Posting duplicate content is like telling your audience how awesome your main rivals are. Your competitors will most likely send you flowers for this. Just take a minute to think about it: what does duplicate content say about you, your company, or your aspirations, vision and purpose in business? Absolutely nothing! This is precisely why instead of copy pasting meaningless, unoriginal web content, webmasters should turn to personalized, compelling, relevant, user-oriented web writing that ensures a flawless user experience and also helps the website rank higher in search engine results.

2) Relying on Keyword Stuffing. Keyword stuffing is so yesterday. None of the competitive players in your niche are doing it anymore, so why would you? Long gone are the days when you could stuff your texts with dozens of keywords and get away with it. At this point, according to Search Engine Journal, first-class, Google-friendly web writing should display a perfect balance between everyday language and keyword usage. So this leads us to a very pressing question: how much is too much, when it comes to keywords? Unfortunately, there is no mathematical formula that you can apply to get a precise answer to this question. The experts at Moz have weighed in to say the keyword density would be a waste of time. Here’s a simple solution for you: read your text aloud: if it doesn’t sound right, then it probably isn’t. If what you are reading makes sense and flows naturally, chances are that Google will also appreciate your optimization efforts. When in doubt, you can always use one of the many keyword density analyzer tools available online to assess the quality of your writing.

3) Posting or Approving Spam Comments. Some business owners prefer to take the easy way out when it comes to implementing on-page and off-page optimization tactics. The road to SEO writing hell is often paved with good intentions and ignorance. Those who pay third-parties a certain amount of money to spam different websites by posting comments accompanied by a link to their webpage seldom attain their end goal. This technique is very annoying and less effective than you may be inclined to think.

It will inevitably affect your brand, making you seem desperate. We all have to start somewhere, but do you really think that multimillion dollar companies managed to reach their target by posting spam comments on other people’s websites? If the recipe for success would be so simple and so transparent, everybody would be following it to get rich and famous overnight. Unfortunately, this is not how it works. Also, according to Entrepreneur, you have to be very careful when it comes to approving comments posted on your website or blog. Keep only the ones that provide real value to your customers and ditch the rest. This is the safest method to protect your image, discourage spammy SEO writing practices employed by others and show the uttermost respect for your readers. If you want to safeguard your website from spam comments that may compromise your reputation, just follow Google’s set of guidelines.

4) Investing in Irrelevant, Low-Quality Content. Google strives to ensure a more than satisfactory navigation experience for all Internet users. This means that it values high-quality content and compels webmasters to improve web writing that doesn’t meet its standards. If you’re willing to cut corners when it comes to crafting new content, you may want to reconsider, since Google is not the biggest fan of quality compromises. Before writing a new blog post or on-site content, make sure you:

  • Have an in-depth knowledge of the topic that you plan to expand on
  • Conduct a keyword analysis to discover the most popular queries around which you will build your content
  • Are familiar with the particularities of your niche, business and audience and can actually respond to your visitors’ needs and demands.

5) Not Investing in Content (At All!). Sometimes,lack of drive can be much more dangerous than a misguided action. The history of your company is not going to write itself. If you can agree upon this fact, then you can also reach the conclusion that lack of content won’t say too much about who you really are and where you’re heading. Your visitors are craving for premium, informative, problem-solving content; so what exactly are you doing at this point to address their needs and demands? Well-focused, reader-oriented content gives your audience a good reason to listen to what you have to say and answer to your unique calls-to-action.

These days, it is not enough to have a killer website to attract potential buyers. You have to go the extra mile to spread the word about your fantastic new-arrivals, new giveaway or discount campaign. In this case, you will need a blog and a constant presence on some of the most important social media platforms. No matter what channels you plan to use to broadcast your message, you should always keep in mind that content is a powerful bridge between you and your segment of public. By refusing to post content or update the existing one regularly, you basically burn your bridges behind you, allowing your competitors to celebrate your early, self-inflicted failure.

6) Buying Links. This isanother wrong call that can easily put your rankings on the line. Naturally, some deep-pocketed company owners may tend to think that buying links is easier than earning them. The truth is that their plan to use paid links can and will make Google angry, since it represents an attempt to trick the ranking system set in place by search engines and manipulate it to their own advantage. Fiverr is only one of the websites that many people access to buy hundreds of links that point back to their website. Why? The answer is simple: it’s cheap (the whole deal will only cost you about 5 dollars) and easy. Naturally, the “side-effects” are not advertised. Google won’t hesitate to de-index your website once it realizes that you rely on this shady tactic to make a name for yourself and boost your rankings. This means that your website will no longer appear in search engine results and that your counterproductive optimization tactic will burn holes in your pockets in the long run. At this point, the $5 offer probably doesn’t seem as attractive as you considered it at first.

7) Thinking That You Can Never Have Too Many Anchor Text Links. Here’sa general rule that you should keep in mind: in terms of optimization, good things can become very bad overnight if you abuse them. Placing hundreds of anchor texts with specific keywords in your on-page and off-page content would be like using 10 spoons of sugar to sweeten your cup of coffee. Sometimes, less is more. Overloading on overly optimized anchor text links used to be one of the most common shady optimization tactics used by webmasters to improve rankings. At this point, your plot to deceive search engines, based on the usage of such anchor text links will definitely backfire on you, making you lose more than you were planning to win.

8) Using Sneaky Redirects, Hidden Links or Hidden Text. If you think that you’re a magician who can make links or text fragments disappear to attain your illegitimate optimization goals by violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, we’ve got news for you: the joke’s on you. Throughout time, many webmasters have tried to mask text and links by:

  • Posting white text on an all-white background
  • Posting a text fragment behind an image
  • Choosing to set their font size to 0
  • Linking only a very small character (a hyphen, a dot or a comma) to make the link seem less visible

Sneaky redirects simply deceive Google, Yahoo and Bing by letting the users check out content that is different from the one made available to web crawlers. As usual, Google is constantly one step ahead of those who plan to violate its guidelines. All these black hat tactics trigger penalties, so you should avoid them at all costs and focus your entire attention on 5-star content creation correlated with 100% legitimate optimization techniques.

9) Not Working Hard to Improve Your Social Media Presence. Do you know where yourprospects are spending their spare time? They may not be waiting for you just around the corner, dyeing to swipe their cards and get their hands on your products, but you can still reach them on some of the biggest social media platforms, with good SEO writing. You can start a conversation with someone during your lunch break, by simply asking him or her to pass you the salt. This mechanism can be adapted to online environments, as long as you learn how to recreate the feel of natural interactions.

This means that you have to maintain a solid online reputation and a constant presence on social media websites. According to Search Engine Journal, social media channels are becoming increasingly important in the eyes of search engine websites. This is another great reason why you should take your time to create and post fresh content on social networking websites. This simple action will open the doors to amazing, cost-effective marketing opportunities and help you bond with your prospects faster and easier than ever before.

According to Search Engine Watch, those who choose to ignore social signals make a huge mistake. Unfortunately, according to the same source, not many business owners understand and succeed in exploring the full potential of social sharing buttons, which bring their content and ultimately their brand in front of a larger audience.

10) Thinking and Acting like SEO Is a One-Time Thing. A personalized SEO plan is not your one-way ticket to fortune and fame. If you are accustomed to “do this” for a short period of time to “get that”, now would be a good time to revise your approach. The truth is that SEO encompasses many phases and involves the creation and implementation of a solid, comprehensive execution plan, endless tweaks, SEO writing, constant monitoring, result measurement and interpretation and potential corrections.

SEO experts never sleep on the job, and they’re always on duty. They are constantly working to optimize websites and correct misguided actions from the past. If you want to simplify your mission, keep in mind that outdated SEO tricks and tips that enable you to cut corners have nothing to do with good marketing decisions and will never help you improve your rankings. As long as you know and love your brand, creating and distributing first-class content shouldn’t be a challenge. On the contrary, content creation should represent the secret ace up your sleeve allowing you to tell the whole world who you are and who you plan to become.



rankings apocalypse

What Happens When Your Rankings Vanish? 7 Judgment Day Preparations

You know those houses that are all shelled in… with capsuled steel windows that can open to reveal the daylight or completely close shut to put the dwelling into twilight zone? Or those “zombie” shelters built feet and feet below ground, with beautiful living areas, advanced lighting and power technology included? Those people got it goin’ on.

Now, consider your livelihood. How would you like to know it’s bulletproof…just like that previously described house or bomb shelter is? If you’re an Internet marketer, this should be just as important to you as it is to the landowners on Doomsday Preppers (a reality TV show where all the people prepare for earth’s apocalypse with aforementioned and described dwellings, for the non-nerds out there).


Let’s Talk About Preparations… For The Rankings Apocalypse


Hey, it’s a serious thing to make yourself sure of. With all of the algorithmic updates and changes to PageRank that Google is using to try and minimize black-hat SEO it’s likely that, unless you’re one of the bigger companies out there, you’ll be hit. One day you might wake up and find out that your visibility and rankings have dropped drastically (like many sites did in 2011 after Google’s Panda algorithm update).

How do you prevent this from happening in the future? Or, if the worst should happen, what do you do if you lose visibility? Fortunately for you there are ways to defend against it happening and ways to reverse your rankings if it does. Most of these strategies you should be using right now to defend yourself because, as everyone knows, “the best offense is a good defense.”

As long as you’re implementing strategies early and continually cultivating hits and strategies in unambiguously legitimate ways then there will be nothing to worry about when it comes down to another Google PageRank update.


1. Links

How can you prepare for a “zombie apocalypse,” so to speak, that could (could not, could, your pick, hmm, or Google’s pick?) occur and fell your link strategy?

  • Private Link Networks Are Dying! It’s common knowledge that PageRank takes into account incoming links. In order to prevent your site rankings from getting hit with penalties it’s vital to let your links come as naturally as possible. This means that there should be no private link networks! Google is going full force and ripping these shady techniques out by the roots. Honestly, private link networks might not be a temptation for the big boys but for a startup it’s a tempting and temporary solution for rankings, that can get your site slapped with a penalty.
  • Incoming Hyperlinks. But even if you’re not intentionally attracting shady links, you may have some less-than-savory links coming to your page and affecting your rankings. The links themselves may not be the problem but it might be overused anchor text that is the dead weight that might get Google to drop the hammer on a keyword it sees too often, according to a Moz blog on how rankings can vanish. There’s also a problem if the quality of the hyperlinks isn’t good enough. Google adds any anchor text linking to your site to your keywords. If your incoming links are frequently using “click here” in anchor text then your visibility will skyrocket when someone searches “click here.” But who actually does that? If you find an important site linking to you with bad anchor text then contact them and ask them to change it.
  • Don’t Look Stupid. While you’re watching the sources that are linking to you, check to see the other places they’re linking to as well. Google sure is. If your site is linked on the same pages as then you’re going to be associated with that crowd rather than other, authoritative sites. This goes double for your outbound links. For one thing, you’ll lose credibility with your visitors if you’re linking to just as fast as you’ll drop in the Google rankings.


2. Design

Obviously this is almost as important as your linking strategy, and remember—this includes real people too, since it’s the forefront or cover to your strategies.

  • Forget Search Engines. The New York Times didn’t get readers through keyword mining and artificially inflating their readership by tricking them into picking up a paper. They gained rankings and popularity by being a quality newspaper with generally reliable information. Giving people what they came for will gain repeat visitors while making pages for search engines will cause visitors to bounce out faster than a boxer’s speed bag. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t use smart SEO strategies but deliver what you promised and you’ll have to worry a lot less about gaining rankings, traffic or conversion rates.
  • Watch Your Visitors. Another way to gain traffic, and conversion rates, is to simply pay close attention to your visitors. This means that you should always be thinking about optimization (even during website redesigns). Whether it’s making a responsive website that is viewable on PCs, tablets, and smartphones or making the behind-the-scenes aspects easy to crawl through and audit, providing an easy, pleasurable experience will keep people coming back and increase your rankings.
  • Remember Search Engines. Google’s PageRank algorithm isn’t just going through your website and links to pick up on exactly what you are and whether you’re worth it. They’re going through your background nuts and bolts. Use your meta descriptions even if you’re not using meta keywords (which are basically obsolete for the time being). But, really, this falls under forgetting search engines too because it’s your blurb on a search engine page. If you make your meta description more interesting than your competitors then you’ll see your click-throughs jump.


3. Content

This is considered today as a foundation of SEO. So let’s see just how you can be ready for the zombie world when content changes, too.

  • Be Useful. There was once bottled water… for pets. Notice that last sentence is in past tense. Everyone who guesses why the product failed gets a gold star. It’s because that product was absolutely useless. People buy water in bottles for various reasons: it’s easy to take on the go, the tap water in your area doesn’t taste good, or because you think it’s safer than tap water. Also, if you want to give your pets bottled water for whatever reason, you can just as easily buy a case of your favorite bottled water so that you and your pet have some. It was probably cheaper to do it that way too. The point is that you should always be useful.
    One of the best examples of a useless page is the flash intro. If you’re wondering why there has been a decline in flash intros on sites since the early 2000s it’s because flash intros are outdated and useless. They’re not recognized by Google, not compatible with some devices, and don’t add any content. They’re like a commercial for a site you’re already going to; they’re self indulgent. They’re also basically a barrier to getting into the site. If loading time will get your visitor time to drop faster than Felix Baumgartner then imagine what an additional page with no content (that also loads slowly) will do to your rankings.
  • Incentives and Offers. The usefulness goes well beyond just having information or the gizmo that your customers are looking for. You should offer something for free. Particularly you should learn how to use content marketing for a boring industry and offer a solution to your customers’ problems. If you sell shoes, have an article about how to keep your shoes looking like new. If you are a health insurance company then let your customers know how they can stay healthy. Does your business sell cameras? Write a tour guide to the most beautiful places to photograph. You know your audience and you know what they’re there for. Offer them ways to enhance their experience with your product.
  • Be Unique. Not only should your pages be useful, each page should be uniquely useful. That’s not to say that if your company sells culinary cutlery you should have a page about chef’s knives and then a page about how to check your house for bedbugs. They shouldn’t be incongruous but they should be interesting for different people and different reasons.
  • New Every Time. If your pages are full of content that is simply repeated over and over again your users will stop caring about what page they land on and likely won’t explore your site and your rankings will plummet. When you buy a pack of soda you don’t look at every can to figure out which one you need. You grab one, pop it open, and move on.
  • Don’t Repeat Content. We might be harping on this quite a bit, but it’s important. What’s more is that unique content is the only thing that search engines care about for rankings. It’s the only thing they’ll pay attention to at all because they’re (kind of) using the same thought process that we do. They don’t want to show you the same content repeatedly just as much as you don’t want to see it.
  • Be Relevant. When it comes to fast food or candy bars then having consistent and safe ways of distributing content (hamburgers and chocolate) is a plus because everyone is going to buy a certain product for that reason. News flash: information doesn’t work like that. For a lot of information, once a person has it, they have it. If you stop putting new content up then people will stop coming to you. Maybe they’re sporadically come to you for whatever widget you’re selling, but this doesn’t keep the visitors engaged and stops the visitors from wanting to return.
  • Keep Adding Content. One great way to do this and to improve your Google rankings is to keep blogging. If your customers see that you’re constantly putting up new information they will continue to return, your social media presence will rise, and your credibility will too, along with your rankings. This has been proven by all sorts of user-driven sites. Think Youtube. You may not go back to every user you look at on YouTube but you will certainly go back to the most useful ones that are frequently updating.


4. SEO Accuracy

Sometimes when you’re battling the zombie hoards (read: sites that are trying to scramble for another shady tactic after Google drops their other one) they might see gaps in your fortifications, especially during a redesign. You know what to do in these situations: Board up the windows! Push the bookshelf in front of the door!

  • Avoid 404s With 301s. There are a lot of ways that you can drop the SEO ball and a lot of them are amazingly easy to find and fix when trying to restore your rankings. Click through your site from time to time. Have developers audit the site and check out some of the work (especially if the work was done by multiple developers, has recently been updated, or was outsourced). If you’re seeing 404 pages then it’s your job to find the page, not the customer’s. If it’s turned into a 404 then use a 301 redirect, not a 302. Search engines don’t follow 302 redirects.
  • A Site By Any Other Name. Speaking of 301 redirects, use them so that search engines will count your http:// sites in the same bucket as www. sites. For example, if your site is and someone just types in, search engines will see that differently. Basically everything you’ve done could have been improved by 100% just by adding a simple 301 redirect.


5. Collaboration

You’ll never get through the apocalypse alone. You’ve got to scavenge for food and search for water but it’s all done in groups. Your food and water? That’s traffic and conversion rates.

  • Authors Make You Credible. Google+ has an interesting tool that you can use called “Author Rank.” If you don’t know what it is it essentially ranks authors as if they were websites. Unlike before, when you had to find an author’s credibility through experience, a specific author can automatically add a significant amount of credibility to a site and improve its rankings. This also makes the author more memorable. This is infinitely useful if you have frequent blogs or articles from guests because users can subscribe to that person, rather than that site, and discover you through them and their credibility.
  • Pay For Content. Along the same lines, if you’re paying for something (not private link networks!) then make sure you invest in quality copywriting. As long as you’re keeping your site up to date and checking it, that content will always be there and will always be useful. You never know how, or when, someone will come across a guest article from three years ago.


6. Impact

When it’s all said and done and humanity starts to rebuild they’ll be sure to send out helicopters to bring survivors to a safe zone. Without your flag held high and a big sign to see, you’re not getting rescued any time soon. You have to let people know you’re there so that they can tell others.

  • One of the best ways to measure your impact on the online community is through social media. Although engagement and shares on social media do build credibility, traffic, and conversion rates, it may only be temporary, according to Frankly, that “temporary” spread out steadily over time will pay you back significantly.
  • There is a way to make your content sharable and interesting by default. First of all, engage your users with a picture. Why a picture and not a link? Well, what’s the first thing that pops out at you when you’re reading through your own newsfeed? It’s a safe bet that your newsfeed is full of cute animals, pictures of celebrity, and images that make you do a double take.
  • The next step is to make sure that your content is quickly sharable. When you’re on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest and you’re interested in a piece of content you might be likely to read it. But if you think of someone else then you’ve turned a piece of social media into sharable content. What makes sharable content sharable? According to science the most sharable things are good news, funny things, and articles that inspire some kind of wonderment. It makes sense if you consider the fact that you don’t really want to make your friends sad or angry.
  • Sometimes having just a catchy title is enough to drive shares and invite traffic. Consider The Onion or TMZ. Whatever your opinion on those two places are, the articles that they put out have eye catching titles juxtaposed with interesting pictures (in the case of TMZ it’s usually a celebrity mugshot).


7. Vigilance

You’re never going to get through the rankings apocalypse without a lot of hard work and continuous improvement. Whatever your product or service is, you have a market. Whatever that market is has competitors. If your competitors are using shady, automated tactics then search engines are trying their hardest to drop them.

Finding your real audience who comes to you for real content will keep your rankings rising. It’s possible that fake links and automated traffic will drive a site up in the rankings but if they don’t have the content to back it up then their real traffic will be bounces and their conversion rate will be zero.



optimizing your content

4 Best Practices for Optimizing Your Content

Optimizing your content is like having a cake with all of the right toppings, a pie with scrumptious filling, and a gift with all of the adoring wrappings. Look at your content as the foundation of your (virtual) pie — the crust and filling — but proper optimization are those pieces that make your cake really pop to Google, and are what make your website rank. Your content shouldn’t just be written; it needs to be optimized, too.


Optimize Your Content The Google Friendly Way

So, how do you optimize content to make it ooze with delicious goodness and still look perfect to Google? Here are a few of our best practices, to get you started.

We take the holistic approach when it comes to content optimization. That means good SEO practices should be engrained throughout all aspects of your content, PR and online marketing. Therefore, it’s in your website’s best interest if you apply these tactics across the board.


The Elements of Optimization

There’s a lot of theories about what is right/wrong regarding content optimization. We certainly don’t claim our opinion to be the gospel of SEO, but there are some key elements to proper optimization:

  1. Uniqueness
  2. User Experience
  3. Keyword-Targeted Content
  4. Meta and Title Tag Optimization


Notice “keywords” is just one of many elements? We’ll touch on that in just a second.


Be Unique: No One Likes to Read What’s Been Done Before

We’ve driven this point through your head a few times, but we’re going to do it again as part of our best practices round-up. According to Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.

  • Your content should offer obvious value and not just be an “about me” promotional page
  • Your text, images and audio should be eye-catching and unique
  • Your content should set you apart from the crowd — offering real insight and showing off your obvious expertise
  • Your pages should be described by at least 80 percent of your visitors as “helpful” or “useful”


User Experience Matters

You’re not writing for just the search engines; you’re also writing for the reader. If readers are greeted with a wall of text and stuffed keywords, they aren’t going to do anything but click on the back button. You can’t just force your keywords onto the page. It’s much like filling a pie. If you cram every ingredient and make it overflow, it’s going to bubble and burn on the bottom of your oven — and that stinks.


For example:

Not even five years ago you could cram keywords into your headers and be the man (or woman) at content optimization. You’d rank high just for combining a mixture of keywords and calling it a header.

Say your keywords were “Los Angeles SEO Firm” you could title your pages as “Los Angeles SEO Firm | SEO Firm Los Angeles” but when Google caught on to the stuffing and unnatural usage, they changed the game. Today your headers have to read like a sentence, which means this unnatural, awkward way of using keywords is a thing of the past.


Using Keyword-Targeted Content

All of that keyword research you’ve done means nothing if your content doesn’t target keywords properly. Just as we mentioned above, optimizing your content means using keywords naturally within the content. Your content should make sense, read naturally and readers should enjoy what they’re looking at — all while search engines are indexing your content based on the keywords you’ve targeted.

Your primary keyword or targeted phrase should be sprinkled in your content, but don’t overdo it. We say three percent is a good density — anything more and your content might look stuffed.

Your content should be relative to your keywords, according to Search Engine Watch. So if your keyword is “Los Angeles SEO Firm” you should be writing something relevant to SEO practices or local Los Angeles businesses/individuals needing SEO services. There’s nothing worse than stumbling across a page using high-ranking keywords that don’t match the content — and trust us, Google will take care of your site soon enough if you don’t play by the rules.

You can check your content optimization by using plug-ins (available for free or a small fee). These plug-ins analyze your content based on your targeted keywords and can enhance the rankings of your posts.


Meta and Title Tag Optimization

Content optimization includes your meta descriptions and title tags. When you write content tags, you first need to write them for the reader. Write something that catches their attention; after all, it’s the readers who you need to click through and keep reading. Then, incorporate keywords, naturally, into those title tags.

Optimizing your content’s headlines can get you more clicks, get your content shared, and also rank your website higher, according to a recent blog by HubSpot.

Your meta descriptions are important — don’t leave these blank. However, also don’t stuff these with every keyword you have. Instead, stick to one keyword in your description. Since search engines cut your description off at 25 to 30 words, it’s best to keep it at maximum 25 to 30 words.  Consider it a short little teaser — similar to a Facebook or Twitter post — that gets people to click. No need to spill it all out for them.

Content optimization isn’t rocket science. In fact, when you follow all of these best practices you can optimize your content and rank faster than just picking and following a select few.

launch 2014 seo content plan

How to Blast Off Your SEO Content and Rankings for 2014

Let’s face it; the New Year is less than a month away and that means it’s time for New Year Resolutions. While most people are talking about the usual — being a nicer person, losing weight, etc. — you should be focusing on how to boost your SEO content and rankings for 2014. If one of your personal resolutions is to make more money through your website, business and better conversions, having serious growth in your rankings is a great start.


3…2…1… Lift Off! Launch Your 2014 SEO Content Plan

You’re not the only one creating content. In fact, about 27,000,000 pieces of content are shared on the Internet every day, according to a blog by KISSMetrics. Yes, you read that right. This fact pretty much spells out this next one—if your content isn’t standing out among the millions, you’re probably not going to get very far with your website in 2014.


The Future (Or As We Call It 2014)

Content marketing is expected to overtake social media. Content will start to deliver in terms of brand awareness, value, links, discussions, etc. Also, 2014 is likely to bring along some better SEO measurement tools, which means you can see how well your content is doing and not keep hoping it’s doing well.


In 2013 it was already pointed out that most businesses and website owners don’t invest in their content. If you’re one of them there’s no need to be ashamed, but it is time to start moving. Content is crucial to the development of your website and brand. Google wants content — if you hadn’t already noticed from their headlines lately.


It means that if you want to get more traffic from Google, you first need to satisfy their thirst for content.


Your #1 on your New Year’s Resolution list should be to improve your website rankings. So where do you start? Well you won’t have to sift through the Webmaster Tools guides or even read multiple articles, because we’ve assembled the best of the best when it comes to boosting your rank for 2014.

editorial content calendar

Create a Content Calendar, Seriously

It’s time to fill out a calendar for 2014 and we’re not referring to anyone’s birthdates or appointments. A content calendar spells out what you’ll post and when during each month. All you need to get started is a blank calendar — yes, it really is that simple.


You’ll spend some time pre-planning — so don’t write anything down in permanent marker or pen just yet.


If a calendar and your handwriting aren’t appealing, there are more comprehensive planning tools available online (some are free), according to Forbes.

A few popular calendar tools to consider are:


Plan Themes Monthly — Not By the Seat of Your Pants

There is always a time of the year or month that has something theme-worthy. This month, for example, you will have Christmas, New Year’s, etc. January, the first month of the New Year is the start of something new and fresh – a perfect theme for January blogs.

Month-inspired themes make writing more fun and are likely to attract more organic searches than you think. This is because around these times of the year people are searching about that holiday — and if you’re writing about it you might be seen.

Also, themed articles give you an opportunity to link to other articles in that same theme or keep readers coming back to see the newest post by letting them know to “stay tuned”, according to an article from


Not sure where to get started for themes? Here are just a few ideas:

  • January – Time for New Year’s Day, starting something new, resolutions for the New Year, winter, etc.
  • February – It’s the month of love, do we really need to give you more?
  • March – Everyone loves St. Patty’s Day -or just theme it on the color green.
  • April – Spring is in full bloom and so are the flowers. Use that for inspiration.
  • May – Summer is almost here and there are plenty of holidays to celebrate.

identifying content goals

Identify Your Content Goals

What do you want from your content? If you don’t have an obtainable goal, you won’t really have much purpose to your content. For example, if your goal is to get viewers to visit your ecommerce store, do you include links or calls-to-action to encourage them to click over?

Or, for example, if you use your blog to get people to follow you on social media, do you tell them to follow you or include links to your social media account(s)?

Whatever your purpose might be, you need to define it before you write your content. 2014 is all about attracting more attention, but if you don’t know the type of attention you want, you cannot convince the Internet users to give it to you.

Develop your pieces with one of four of the common goals in mind. Don’t try to combine all four goals together. Instead, work all of your pieces toward a single goal each month.


The four most common goals for content include:

  1. Getting Shared
  2. Earning Links To Your Content
  3. Encouraging Comments
  4. Attracting New Leads
  5. Making Sales


Pick one out of these four and use that as your purpose in your content. Your call-to-action should tell the reader your purpose too.

picking your content strategy

Pick Your Content Strategy

There are pieces of content that work for all strategies and some that should be left out — depending on the goal you choose. Once you’ve selected from the four goals above (remember you should only pick one) it’s time to decide which content types work for your objective.


Think about it: what types of content are shared the most within your goal? What type of content will get the most response?


Some common web content types to choose from include:


  • Blog posts
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Info graphics
  • Slideshows
  • Articles
  • Tutorials
  • Press Releases
  • EBooks
  • Landing pages


If you’re not writing in the content category that appeals to your goal, you’re wasting time and money.

What you’ve just read is a quick rundown of what makes a good content strategy. At Express, we’ve discussed
content strategies in detail quite a few times, but hopefully this refresher jogs your memory for 2014.


Go Long!

No, we aren’t talking about football. We’re talking about the length of your content. These days’ content matters and the days of writing 200 to 500 words are over. Search engines like to see length, because to them length is more in-depth and quality than a short 200 word blog.

So how long should your blogs and articles be? There’s no magic number really. However, Google is favoring longer blogs and guides by labeling them as “important” and ranking them at higher authority than those posting 200 to 500 words.

This doesn’t mean you have to write 10,000 or even 15,000 word blogs daily. But you should have a mixture of long and short posts on your website. Consider writing one or two posts a bit longer (somewhere over 1500 words) posts per week and leave the rest of the week to your short, sweet posts.


Quality Above All Else

Even if you post a 2,000 word blog, if it doesn’t have quality information you won’t get very far with the search engines.

Quality is #1 when it comes to Google. If your 2,000 word blog is nothing but you jabbering on and on about squat you won’t get a high rank for 2014.

Google’s Hummingbird sent a clear and direct message to all content marketers: Focus on the content — don’t worry about the keywords.

Even Google’s quality guidelines state they’re looking for pages that are written for users, not search engines. They want readers to learn and not be deceived. Also, web pages that use tricks to encourage higher rankings will be blacklisted.


So what is good content?

Write content with a purpose. Your content should have a purpose to it and the reader should be introduced to that purpose. You can be as complex or as simple as you’d like — but you need to deliver a message.

Create content with real value — not fluff. Your content should be engaging and useful to your target reader. This mean you will need to have entertaining and positive content that sparks a response of some sort from the reader.

Back up what you say with high-quality links. Links aren’t dead — regardless of what you’ve heard. Your content should be well-researched and attributed. If you use statistics, quote your source and link to a high-quality website. This will not only build your credibility with your readers, but those links to high-ranking sites can help boost your rank too.


If these don’t spell it out enough. Consider these attributes of fine, quality work:

  • Quality content is something Google feels is worth sharing.
  • Quality content has real answers to real questions.
  • Quality content is something people want to read and keep reading.
  • Quality content is something people are looking for and would talk with friends about.
  • Quality content gets shared after its read.


Unfortunately quality can be highly subjective. What you consider quality might not be what others consider quality. So where do you start? Your content should be quality as it is defined by your brand. What would your target or current customers expect from your brand’s content and products? The answer to this question is the answer to your level of quality.

preparing for 2014 content strategy

8 Things You Can Do Now to Prepare for 2014

You have gotten the basics above about what 2014 has to offer. Now it’s time to give you 12 tasks that you should complete before December 31st comes around. By preparing for 2014 now you’ll be a step ahead of the competition (the people likely to wait until January 1st to start optimizing properly).

  1. Invest Now – Higher quality means you need to invest more. Bottom line. It’s time to hire the best writers and best graphic artists to create your content for 2014. If that means boosting the budget for content creation for 2014, find a way to wiggle a few extra bucks over to the content creation column.
  2. Create a Calendar – Decide when and how often you’ll post and write those dates on your calendar. Stick with them — Google expects it from you.
  3. Change Up Your Strategy – If you haven’t seen a budget in your rank for 2013, don’t expect much difference in 2014. Instead, change up your strategy and create a new one for 2014.
  4. Get to Know Your Readers – Do some research and decide who your readers are. What do they want to read? What content talks best to them? Then, implement it.
  5. Check for Duplicate Content – Run all of your content through a plagiarism checker and make sure it’s 100 percent unique.
  6. Use SEO-Friendly Content – Still use keywords, but don’t stuff your content with them or write for the keywords only. Instead write for the reader first, search engine second.
  7. Use Long Form and Short Form Together – Have a mixture of long and short posts in your content strategy. Try to integrate at least one long post per week to help boost your authority.
  8. Quit Using Poor Quality Backlinks – Axe the backlinks and start focusing on how you can link to other high-ranking sites naturally.


By implementing these tips and preparing before 2014 comes around, you’ll be ready for whatever changes Google plans on making for the New Year. Also, by starting on a plan for 2014 now you can strategize and budget more efficiently, which means you won’t be scrambling like everyone else when a new change does come. Remember how Panda and Penguin hit websites hard (in some cases wiped them out)? Don’t let your website go down — boost it up for 2014.