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Google's Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines SEO guide

Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines: Here’s What They Say About SEO & Content (Updated for 2018)

Originally published December, 2015 and completely updated October, 2018.

Google is anything but transparent. As such, its algorithm inner workings have never been easy to interpret.

In fact, SEOs dedicate themselves to a sort of “algorithm watch.” They spend eons of time poring over search metrics. They write novel-length blog posts analyzing the changes they can only guess happened, and how these changes may or may not affect search rankings.

So, when Google threw everyone a bone, the SEO community latched on. Back in October of 2015, The SEM Post got a leaked copy of Google’s Search Quality Guidelines, and their interpreted version went viral.

In response, Google broke the internet by releasing the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines in their entirety.

Since then, Google has released multiple updates of these guidelines. The most recent hit the internet on July 20, 2018, and we’ve updated this post to reflect all the major changes

While Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines don’t lay out exactly what we need to know to rocket to the top of the rankings, they do provide some valuable information:

  • What kind of pages are viewed as high quality
  • Which factors influence high- and low-quality ratings (SUPER important, as these factors may be similar to how Google measures page quality for SERP rankings)

We’ve taken an inside look and studied the document as they relate to your SEO and on-page site content, including those fresh updates. 🔍

Still not clear on how Google ranks pages? Here's everything you need to know, dissected by @JuliaEMcCoy from Google's 200+ page Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. #EAT #YMYL #Google #SEO Click To Tweet

Without further ado, here’s a rundown of key points in this major SEO document for your online content writing and publishing.

Google's Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines guide

What Are Google’s Search Guidelines All About?

google's search thinks like a human

Screenshot from page 4 of the Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

Google’s search guidelines document is over 160 pages long and broken into an overview, three separate parts, and an appendix.

The major parts are as follows:

  • General Guidelines Overview
  • Part 1: Page Quality Rating Guideline
  • Part 2: Understanding Mobile User Needs
  • Part 3: Needs Met Rating Guideline
  • Appendix: Using the Evaluation Platform

In addition to focusing heavily on mobile search, Google’s search guidelines also focus on the importance of building trust and a good reputation for websites and/or content creators.

This isn’t hugely surprising – it’s simply a variation on what Google has been saying for years: The best websites are ones that deliver relevant, trustworthy, quality information to users.

We all know Google focuses heavily on experimentation and adjusting their algorithms to improve web quality. These guidelines provide specific instructions on what the Google engineers want people to do to improve individual site quality.

Needless to say, the Google search guidelines are dense. They cover everything from important definitions to duplicate landing pages and all the places in between.

For those of you who want to read through the guidelines on your own, you can find the link here. For everyone else, here’s the breakdown of key points we’ve found within them.

12 Key SEO Content Factors in the Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

For SEOs who have dedicated themselves to keeping up with Google’s ever-changing algorithms, this document will serve mainly to reaffirm what you already know, with a few goodies thrown in here and there.

For SEO newbies, though, this document offers an expansive guide to Google’s preferences and the future of SEO. The guidelines lay out specifics about Google’s algorithms and how, exactly, SEOs can better predict changes to it in the future.

1. Beneficial Purpose

One of the newer additions to the guidelines is the concept of “beneficial purpose.” This term defines websites with pages created, first and foremost, for the user’s benefit.

On the other hand, many pages are created solely for the purpose of ranking on Google or are created with no intention of helping users. In Google’s eyes, these pages have zero beneficial purpose.

According to the guidelines (part one, section 3), raters are supposed to give these pages the lowest rating:

content must have beneficial purpose to rank well

“Websites or pages without any beneficial purpose, including pages that are created with no attempt to help users, or pages that potentially spread hate, cause harm, or misinform or deceive users, should receive the Lowest rating.”

In stark contrast, pages with beneficial purpose are the very definition of high-quality:

“High-quality pages exist for almost any beneficial purpose, from giving information to making people laugh to expressing oneself artistically to purchasing products or services online.” – Part one, section 4.1

According to Google, high-quality pages not only have a beneficial purpose; they also achieve that purpose.

In other words, if you’re not writing to help your audience in some way, your page will have little overall value to the search engine. Thus, “beneficial purpose” is the ground-floor factor that affects your page quality.

High-quality pages not only have a beneficial purpose; they also achieve that purpose. This and more takeaways on @JuliaEMcCoy's post on Google's Search Quality Guidelines #googlerankings #serpsranking #googlesearch Click To Tweet

2. Page Quality (E-A-T)

Page quality has always been a bit of a mystery. Google uses hundreds of ranking factors and it’s often unclear how they all relate to one another.

We’ve always known unique, relevant, well-written content helps produce a high-quality page, but the guidelines have some additional insights to offer on this topic.

According to the guidelines, it’s not just high-quality main content (MC) that matters. In fact, Google has created a name for what every high-quality page needs: E-A-T.

EAT YMYL Google's Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

E-A-T stands for “Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness,” and it may be one of the major factors Google is using to rank pages.

screenshot showing google's guidelines on eat content

Screenshot via Google’s Guidelines, section 3.2

Pages that are expert, authoritative, and trustworthy will be viewed as higher-quality than those that aren’t.

But what does that mean, exactly?

A. High-Quality Pages

Google’s guidelines state that the search algorithm ranks websites on a scale of lowest, low, medium, high, and highest.

screenshot of quality ratings scale google uses

Via section 3.0

According to Section 4.1 of Part 1, high-quality pages possess the following characteristics:

  • A “satisfying amount” of high-quality MC, including a title that’s appropriately descriptive/helpful
  • “Satisfying website information” or information about the website’s owner/creator (shopping or transactional pages need satisfying customer service information, conversely)
  • The page and its associated website have a high amount of E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness)
  • The website (or the MC creator) has a good reputation

It’s worth noting that Google doesn’t specify how much content a page needs to be considered “satisfying,” only that it depends on “the purpose of the page.”

Google provides this page as an example of high-quality content (partial screenshot):

google describes what quality content looks like

According to Google, this page has high-quality, humorous MC. Plus, the website has a positive reputation and displays expertise in farcical humor.

B. Low-Quality Pages

According to the Google search guidelines (part one, section 6.0), low-quality pages feature the following:

  • Poor, low-quality MC
  • An inadequate amount of E-A-T
  • Unsatisfying amounts of MC for the purpose of the page (a dense topic with little information, for example)
  • A page title that is essentially clickbait (“exaggerated or shocking”)
  • An author that doesn’t have the level of expertise needed to write about the topic
  • A website or content creator with a “mildly negative” or mixed reputation
  • Unsatisfying information about who created the content/who’s behind the website
  • Page content that distracts from the MC, like intrusive ads/interstitials

Google goes on to say that you can land yourself in low-quality content land by making things up, not editing material enough, buying papers, using obvious facts (“A German Shepherd is a dog”) or over-complicating simple facts.

Here’s an example Google provides of a low-quality page (partial screenshot):

website example of google's definition of low-quality content

According to Google, this page has low-quality MC, is lacking in E-A-T, and has a misleading page title.

Google also says that pages will be considered low-quality if they’re created “without adequate time, effort, expertise, or talent/skill.” This is a broad statement, but it’s safe to say that it encompasses everything from poorly designed and scraped content to content that’s written by unskilled or unknowledgeable writers.

The Google search guidelines close by saying that low-quality content is reason enough for a quality rater to grant you a low page rating.

The takeaway: Make sure you’re always creating content with a high level of E-A-T. If your site doesn’t have the E-A-T that raters are looking for, you need to dedicate some time and effort to increase it.

C. How Can You Increase E-A-T on Your Pages?

One of the main ways E-A-T standards have been tweaked with the recent update to the guidelines: A bigger emphasis is on the author/creator.

According to Larry Alton for ProBlogger, you can make sure your content meets current E-A-T standards in a few ways:

  • Enlist high-authority content contributors
  • Include author credentials alongside content (A.K.A. author bylines)
  • Update author bios and “About me” pages
  • Create publicly visible profile pages

All of these actions help establish your expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (and your contributors’, if you have them).

No matter what you choose to do, ensuring your E-A-T level is high is one of the best ways to earn high page rankings.

3. YMYL Content

YMYL Google's Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

Leaked copies of the guidelines have been making the rounds on the web since as early as 2007. The concept of YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) pages was first introduced during one of these leaks.

According to the full guidelines, these pages are the ones that Google pays the most attention to because they’re the ones that can most profoundly impact a person’s life.

how google defines your money or your life (ymyl) pagefs

Screenshot via Google’s 2018 Guidelines, section 2.3

Google says YMYL pages are the ones that can “impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users.” These pages include:

  • Shopping or financial transaction pages
  • Medical information pages
  • Legal information pages
  • Financial information pages
  • News articles and/or public/official pages important for informing citizens
  • Any other topics that can deeply affect users’ lives, i.e. child adoption or car safety information

Because of their importance, these pages have high, high page quality standards.

They must be authoritative, factual, and written by experts.

4. Expert Reputation, Credentials and/or Experience

The guidelines make it clear that any content needs to be created in an authoritative and expert manner. While there are “expert” websites in all niches, including food, industry, fashion, law, and medicine, Google makes no bones about it: When “expert” content is needed, true experts need to write it.

This means the following:

  • Any high-quality medical advice that gets published needs to be written by individuals and communities with appropriate levels of medical accreditation.
  • Complex financial advice, tax advice, or legal advice needs to come from highly qualified, expert sources and must be updated and maintained on a regular basis to accommodate changing information, laws, and statutes.
  • Medical advice must be written in a professional fashion and, once published, must be edited, reviewed, maintained, and updated regularly in order to keep up with changing medical consensus and beliefs.
  • Pages that address topics that can cost consumers thousands of dollars (investment platforms, for example) or that can affect the health of a family or individual (parenting sites, mental health sites, etc.) must be written by expert/experienced sources that readers can trust.
  • Pages with scientific information must be written by people/organizations with relevant scientific expertise. For topics where scientific consensus exists, producers should represent that consensus accurately.
  • News articles need to be written with journalistic professionalism and contain factually accurate information.
  • Pages on specific hobbies, like horseback riding or hockey, must also be written by people who are knowledgeable about the topic and can provide sound advice.
  • Recent updates to the guidelines also stipulate that the content creator must have a positive reputation and adequate experience in relation to the topic about which they’re writing. In short, page authors/creators must also have a high level of E-A-T. (According to Stone Temple, two pages with basically the same information might be ranked differently based on the reputation and authority level of their authors.)
Google pays special attention to the fact that YMYL pages are authoritative, factual, and written by experts. This and more on @JuliaEMcCoy's blog post discussing Google's Search Quality Guidelines #googlesearch #searchmarketing #seo Click To Tweet

A. What Does It Take to Be an Expert Content Creator?

Now, upon reading all that, it’s likely you’ll wonder what constitutes an “expert.”

No, an expert doesn’t always have to be a credentialed, highly trained person (the exceptions: when they’re writing about medicine, law, finances, taxes, or other YMYL topics).

First-Person Experience

Google makes it clear that, in some cases, first-person experience can be a form of expertise, especially in settings where you don’t necessarily need formal training to have an extensive knowledge base, such as on hobby pages.

In fact, Google states that “for some unusual hobbies, the most expert advice may exist on blogs, forums, and other user-generated content websites.”

In these instances, what Google is looking for is a display of expertise.

  • Example 1: Say you have lived with diabetes for 22 years. You may be qualified to offer tips about coping with the disease (YMYL content) because you have extensive first-hand experience. However, at the same time, you would not be qualified to write a high-quality medical blog about the symptoms and onset of diabetes.
  • Example 2: On the hobby site The Spruce Crafts, expert crafters teach all kinds of techniques in informative blog posts. These are highly ranked because each writer has plenty of personal experience that qualifies them as experts. Take this post on “How to Knit the Garter Stitch”:

how to knit the garter stitch blog post

The author is an expert because of her years of personal experience. Her bio reflects this perfectly:

screenshot of expert author's biography

The Reputation of the Website/Creator

Finally, reputation plays a role in expertise, too.

There’s a whole section dedicated to this facet of expertise in the guidelines (under part one, section 2.6):

screenshot of google's guidelines on the reputation of a content creator

This information is not about how creators or websites describe their own credentials and expertise. It’s how the wider web (“reputable external sources”) views these things.

According to Google, these external sources that provide independent reputation information about a website or MC creator may include:

  • News articles
  • Wikipedia articles
  • Magazine articles
  • Blog posts
  • Ratings from independent organizations
  • Forum discussions
  • Customer reviews (for these, content matters as much as the number of reviews available – one negative review or one positive review are not good sources unless you have a number of other reviews to compare it to)

B. Why Is Google So Stringent About Expertise?

The search engine wants to ensure deep, broad, important topics get the necessary treatment so searchers can find accurate, useful information about them.

If the search results served up low-quality, untrustworthy content constantly, we would quickly begin to distrust and stop using Google to fulfill our information needs.

  • Example 3: Most kids in the U.S. learn about World War II in school. However, it would be absurd to believe this type of broad knowledge qualifies anyone to write an informative page about what it was like to live through it.

In the end, it’s important to think about what constitutes an expert for different topics:

How much expertise do you need to possess to write about a subject in a way that’s useful and valuable to others?

How much expertise do you need about a topic so you don’t lead readers astray or negatively impact their lives?

5. Supplementary Content

The importance of supplementary content (such as sidebar tips) is one of the most interesting features of the Google search guidelines. This content is supportive because it provides additional information to users alongside the MC.

Supplementary content can also include links to similar articles or anything else that can help the reader understand your page’s information. Pages with high-quality, useful supplementary content may be generally ranked higher than those without.

Allrecipes has good examples of pages with supplementary content (SC). On their recipe pages, you get the ingredients and instructions (the MC) as well as photos, recommended recipes, user comments, reviews, and serving information (the SC).

screenshot detailing where supplement content can be found on a website

6. Lowest-Quality Pages

Some pages receive the “lowest” rating from search quality evaluators on principle. These types of pages are created with the intent to misinform or deceive users or may potentially harm them or spread hate.

Here’s the full list of types of pages that automatically get rated as the lowest quality possible:

  • Pages that promote hate or violence towards other people (like a specific group)
  • Pages that encourage harming oneself or others
  • Malicious pages (scams, phishing, malware, etc.), or pages with a malicious/extremely negative reputation attached to the creator/website
  • Pages that could spread misinformation, including content that’s obviously inaccurate, YMYL content that contradicts the consensus of experts, and content that propagates debunked/unsubstantiated conspiracy theories
  • Pages meant to deceive users, including deceptive page design (ads that look like MC)
  • “Lack of purpose pages” that have no MC, MC that is “gibberish,” or content with no apparent purpose
  • “Pages that fail to achieve their purpose”
    • These have the lowest possible E-A-T
    • May include copied or auto-generated content
    • May have content that’s inaccessible or obstructed
    • May have unsatisfying information about the website/MC creator
    • May have unmaintained pages, hacked pages, defaced pages, or spam

Google’s example of a page with lowest-quality is this deceptive site designed to imitate the ABC News homepage:

example of a page google ranks as lowest-quality

A. Copied Content

Google also specifies what they mean by “copied content” in this subsection (part one, section 7.2.4). Naturally, any content that is not original will get the lowest quality rating from a search evaluator.

What many people don’t know, however, is that Google doesn’t consider rewritten content original if it relies too heavily on its source. Google puts it like this in the guidelines:

screenshot of rating awarded to copied content

“The Lowest rating is appropriate if all or almost all of the MC on the page is copied with little or no time, effort, expertise, manual curation, or added value for users. Such pages should be rated Lowest, even if the page assigns credit for the content to another source.”

Content creators who like to “spin” content should thus tread carefully here.

7. Mobile Optimization

One of the first things SEOs who consult the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines notice is no less than ¼ of this huge document is dedicated to mobile search.

Check out this chart from “Part 2: Understanding Mobile User Needs”:

image showing the needs of a mobile user

The chart underscores just how much people turn to their mobile phones for different tasks.

These tasks vary from simple to complex. As such, the Google guidelines are careful to lay out information about how algorithms understand and interpret mobile queries.

This focus on clarifying search queries is indicative of Google’s leaning toward voice search, which is becoming a search optimization priority. (According to Gartner, by 2020, 30% of all searches will be voice searches.)

Mobile search is one of the most important trends in digital marketing right now. Every page on a website needs to be optimized for mobile platforms to do well in search (but you already knew that, right?).

8. User Experience: “Needs Met” Ratings

In the user experience portion of the Google search guidelines (Part 3: Needs Met Rating Guideline), we circle back to mobile platforms. In this section, Google asks raters to evaluate the results of various search queries.

For example, the guidelines ask raters to consider mobile user needs and how helpful the result is for those mobile users. This chart in the guidelines illustrates the rating scale, from “Fully Meets” all the way down to “Fails to Meet”:

google's needs-met ratings explained in a chart

These ratings help Google understand how search queries are related to user intent, and how their search results are measuring up. For example, if a lot of low-quality pages that “fail to meet” user needs are showing up for a certain query, Google obviously needs to work on delivering better, more relevant and useful results for that query.

9. E-A-T Versus Needs Met

The guidelines make a clear distinction between “needs met” ratings and page quality ratings. The difference is important to understand.

“Needs met” ratings are based on both the search query and the result, while page quality (E-A-T) ratings are only based upon the result and whether it achieves its purpose. This means that useless results for a particular query are always rated “fails to meet” – even if they have outstanding page quality ratings.

Think of it this way: A high-quality page with fantastic information about sea lions is useless to you if you actually want information about otters. If you searched for “otters” but got search results featuring pages about sea lions, your search needs would be unfulfilled.

What are Google's E-A-T and needs-met ratings? @JuliaEMcCoy discusses Google's Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines in this blog post #searchmarketing #searchrankingfactors #googlesearch Click To Tweet

Conversely, when considering page ratings, the search query is unimportant. This means that high E-A-T pages can still have low “meet” scores if they are deemed unhelpful for a query or do not fulfill a user’s search needs.

quality content that fails to meet your specific search needs fails the needs-met rating

According to Google’s guidelines, this page about sea lions would receive a high page quality rating, but may not necessarily receive a high “needs met” rating – that depends on the page’s relevance to the search query.

The guidelines also state that when a user is searching for very recent information (like breaking news, for instance) a site can earn a “fails to meet” rating if the content is stale or useless for the user’s particular query. This means pages appearing in search results for time-sensitive queries featuring content about past events, old products, or outdated information will be marked useless and given a “fails to meet” rating.

While fresh content is important, older content can have a high E-A-T rating without sacrificing usefulness. This is true for evergreen content and “timeless” information.

For example, users who search for information about Ronald Regan will find biographical information useful, even if it was written many years ago. This is not true, however, for unmaintained or abandoned websites that feature infrequently updated or inaccurate content.

10. “Fails to Meet” Pages

“Fails to meet” content is a boat you don’t want to be in.

According to the guidelines, “fails to meet” content is helpful and satisfying to virtually nobody. The content results are unrelated to the query, filled with incorrect facts, or in dire need of additional supporting information. Because of these things, this content doesn’t meet a user’s search intent or need.

The guidelines go on to state that content may also be marked “fails to meet” when it is low-quality, stale, outdated, or impossible to use on a mobile device. The guidelines also specify that it is possible for sites to earn in-between ratings.

Here are a few examples of “fails to meet” content results for different queries:

examples of content that fails to meet user expectations

As you can see, in the second example (for the query “American beauty”), the result is actually directly related/relevant to the topic of the search. However, because the result has unsatisfying content, it gets the lowest possible “needs met” rating.

11. Clickbait

In the updated guidelines, Google makes plenty of references to clickbait. Specifically, they don’t want to see it. Ever.

That’s because clickbait builds up a user’s expectations and then fails them spectacularly. This leaves the user dissatisfied, confused, and frustrated/annoyed, all things Google does not want to be associated with its search results.

In the section on “Low-Quality Main Content” (part one, section 6.3), the guidelines specifically mention that raters should pay attention to a page’s title, as it “should describe the content.” If the title doesn’t properly do that or creates unrealistic expectations of the MC, Google says the page should be rated “Low.”

Here is Google’s example of a clickbait title that helps the page in question earn a low “needs met” rating:

example of content with clickbait headline

“Planet Nibiru has appeared in the sky and DOOMSDAY is on the way” – clickbait much?

12. Medium-Quality Pages

In the guidelines, we have seen that raters may rank page quality anywhere from highest to lowest.

Google defines each rating and which characteristics exemplify that rating. One of the most interesting is the definition of “medium” quality pages (part one, section 8).

Google states that there are two types of medium pages:

  • Nothing is wrong with the page, but then again, there’s nothing special about it, either.
  • The page has high-quality characteristics mixed with some low-quality characteristics.

The first type of medium-quality page goes straight to the heart of what it takes to stand out in content. You can do everything right SEO-wise, but if there is nothing unique or special about your page/your content, you can’t expect to rank well.

From Google, here is an example of a medium-quality page. The website is a trusted source, but the content is merely “okay”:

example of content that gets a medium-quality rating from google

3 Major Takeaways from the Updated Google Search Guidelines

Two of the biggest takeaways from the guidelines is the importance of mobile optimization and producing and publishing content written by an expert.

1. The Need for Expert Content Is HUGE

As Google made clear with their discussions on both E-A-T and YMYL, the need for expert content is huge.

Google values pages with high levels of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. Websites and content creators that champion these things by hiring and staffing expert writers will be rewarded for their efforts. This is especially true for YMYL pages.

Because YMYL pages are so important and have big potential to positively or negatively affect a reader’s life, Google puts them under heavy scrutiny. That means websites that specialize in these pages absolutely need to hire expert writers and content creators. The price of not doing this is too high for both websites and readers alike.

Fortunately, when websites hire expert writers to improve their page’s E-A-T and to write important YMYL pages, more than likely, they will enjoy both higher rankings in Google’s index and a position as an industry leader.

2. Reputation Matters

The recent updates to Google’s Search Evaluator Guidelines underline the importance of website/MC creator reputation when determining page quality.

Google exhaustively goes over the different ways reputation can affect a page’s quality and stipulates the best ways to research this vital factor. For example, the guidelines recommended using third-party websites and sources to do research about websites and content creators/authors.

A few they particularly mention include Wikipedia, the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, Amazon reviews, and Google Shopping.

Here’s the section mentioning the power of Wikipedia. Google calls it a “good source,” and throughout the doc, mentions the linking of Wikipedia to other sites as a quality factor:

screenshot of google's guideline on website reputation

Google respects these sites’ opinions of other sites and will consider content low or high-quality based on BBB ratings, Wikipedia links and claims, and outside reviews/evaluations.

3. You Must Be Mobile-Friendly

Sites that aren’t mobile-friendly have a 0% chance of ranking well. Obviously, Google cares more now than ever about mobile-friendly pages – after all, nearly a quarter of their search evaluator guidelines are dedicated to mobile user needs.

How are pages rated? How much value does Google put on the mobile-friendliness of a website? @JuliaEMcCoy discusses Google's Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines in this post #googlesearchguidelines #searchmarketing #contentmarketing Click To Tweet

image showing website content on a smartphone's screen

Image via Google Search Guides

Great content isn’t enough, so be sure that your entire website is optimized for mobile users.

4. You Must Create Content That Benefits Users

Imagine the new inclusion of the concept of “beneficial purpose” in these guidelines as a huge flag waving in your SEO landscape.

It’s clear that Google is looking at it as the main determiner of a page’s quality. If a page has no apparent beneficial purpose for users, it automatically gets a low rating from search evaluators. That tells us a lot about Google’s user-first mentality, and also how we should be treating each and every piece of content we create.

Plus, the concept is reflected across Google’s other guidelines, including the brief but pointed Quality Guidelines in Search Console Help:

screenshot of basic principles to follow when creating content

Take this as a sign that you should be asking yourself, “What’s the beneficial purpose of this page?” for each content piece you create.

To Be SEO-Savvy, Don’t Stop at Reading This Blog Post

My favorite SEO and content marketing resources include Backlinko (Brian Dean), BuzzSumo, Moz, and Content Marketing Institute. You can also subscribe to our Write Blog for the latest in content marketing, SEO and content writing.

Look up industry content marketing and SEO authors, too, for some must-read books. For a few solid marketing reads, I recommend anything by Ryan Holiday, Jonah Berger, Ann Handley, Joe Pulizzi, Mark Schaefer.

I’ve also written two books on content marketing and copywriting, and a course on content strategy as well as SEO writing that you might find useful.

Dr. Seuss said it best:

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss

SEO audit

#ContentWritingChat Recap: How to Conduct an SEO Audit with Lexie Kimball of Netvantage Marketing

Have you ever conducted an SEO audit for your website? If not, you should! However, if you’ve never done one before, you might be wondering how to get started… If you’re in that boat, there’s no need to worry! That’s exactly what we talked about in this week’s #ContentWritingChat.

And as always, our participants had some amazing advice to share. If you’re ready to turn your website into one that Google loves, keep reading for the valuable tips!

#ContentWritingChat Recap: How to Conduct an SEO Audit for Your Website with Lexie Kimball of Netvantage Marketing

Our guest host this week was Lexie Kimball of Netvantage Marketing. Lexie is their account manager and she really knows her stuff when it comes to SEO! As a frequent #ContentWritingChat participant, it was great having her step into a guest hosting role.

Q1: Share the basic process you go through for an on-site SEO audit.

If you’ve never conducted an SEO audit before, you’ll need to know where to begin. To help you out, our chat participants shared some essential steps the process includes. Here’s what you need to know:

Lexie’s first step in conducting an SEO audit is keyword research. As she mentioned, the chosen keyword for a piece of content goes in page titles, meta descriptions, and body copy. The team at Netvantage also does a technical audit of the website to locate any red flags.

Michael, also from the Netvantage team, knows that chatting with your client first is a must. It’s important to understand their business and needs. He then suggestions moving on to keyword research, on-site recommendations, and implementation of changes.

Mallie starts by Googling the site, using analytics to identify keywords, and then she looks at specific pages.

Sarah and the team at ThinkSEM start by running the site through Screaming Frog before moving forward with other key steps.

SEMrush is a go-to tool for Sarah! She takes the tool’s suggestions into consideration.

It’s also important to have an understanding of your goals/your client’s goals and who the target audience is. From there, you can create an effective plan.

For Julia, she feels talking to the client is the first step. This allows you to outline solid KPIs you’re judging content by when auditing. From there, she also likes to use Screaming Frog to grab all site links.

Q2: Where do you start with keyword research?

When it comes time to conduct keyword research, where do you begin? Check out this great advice from Tuesday’s chat:

To get started with keyword research, Lexie knows it’s important to talk to the client before beginning. Because the client has plenty of knowledge on their business, they’re able to provide some great suggestions for keywords. She also suggests looking at competitors to see which keywords they’re using and ranking for.

A consultation with the client is a must for Sarah! Sarah and her teammates use that opportunity to question the client on their ideal audience, products, and services.

Michael knows it’s helpful to ask the client to provide a list of keywords that are high priority. After all, they likely have a good idea of which ones are best for their business.

For Ray, it all starts with interviewing the client. Then, he moves onto tools like Google Trends and Google Keyword Planner.

Dennis knows it’s important to define which keywords you want your site to rank for. You can then record your current ranking for each one and watch it grow.

Mallie relies on Google AdWords and Google Analytics to get started.

Abbey, another Netvantage team member, also agrees that asking your clients for keyword suggestions is a great way to begin. From there, she likes to look at queries in Google Search Console.

Adam’s advice is to review popular forms and sites where customers are spending their time online. It’s a great way to see what they’re talking about and to determine the right keywords and topics to use.

Cheval recommends checking out Twitter chats for content topics. This can help a lot when it comes to your keyword research.

Q3: What tools do you use for keyword research?

Fortunately, there are a plethora of tools at our disposal that can help with keyword research. If you’re looking for some great ones to use, check out these suggestions:

Lexie said the Netvantage team turns to Google’s Keyword Planner first. They also rely on SEMrush and Grep Words.

Michael said the multiplier function in Google’s Keyword Planner is a huge help for finding the right keyword for your content.

Even the Flying Cork team says Google’s Keyword Planner is a great place to get started.

Sarah provided a list of amazing tools that are worth checking out! As she said, there’s no shortage of tools so you have plenty of options to find the ones that work best for you.

Google’s tools and the Moz Keyword Explorer are great options!

The team at Base Creative also love Google’s Keyword Planner and the Moz Keyword Explorer.

SEO PowerSuit and Google’s Keyword Planner are go-to tools for Kyle.

Julia’s favorite tools for conducting an SEO audit include SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Mangools.

Don’t forget you’ll need a place to keep all of your data organized! An Excel spreadsheet is a great way to do that.

Q4: Once you have your keywords, how do you decide where they go and where they’re used?

You’ve got your keywords… Now what? You need to figure out how they’ll be used. Here’s some helpful advice to get you started:

Lexie said they typically select two or three keywords per page. As she also pointed out, they need to go on the most relevant page.

Those keywords are then used in a few essential places. Keywords should be used in the page title, meta description, and throughout the body copy.

Sarah said the client conversation is an opportunity to lay out a sitemap of pages and sections. You can then get chosen keywords to fit into that structure.

Julia’s advice is to focus on one long-tail, high-opportunity keyword per long-form post. She suggests using synonymous keywords.

Kyle knows that long-tail keywords are where it’s at! He makes sure they’re integrated into titles and content of blog posts.

Dennis suggests finding long-tail variants of your keyword and then writing authoritative and comprehensive blog posts on the topic.

As Abbey said, make sure keywords are placed on the most relevant pages. And of course, no keyword stuffing! Keywords should always be used in a natural way.

Q5: Do you create the content the keywords go in on the website?

Are you the one who creates the content that includes your chosen keywords? Or does someone else have this task? Check out what some of our chat participants said:

Lexie said the team at Netvantage will work off existing content if possible.

On the flip side, sometimes they add a paragraph or two to what’s already on the site. This helps increase content length. In some cases, they’ll recommend new pages for the website when doing the SEO audit. The Netvantage team will then create the content for those pages.

Here are Express Writers, Julia writes a lot of the keyword-focused content on our site. We also have a team of 40 writers that help out!

For Sarah, she isn’t the one doing the content writing. There are other team members at ThinkSEM that step into that role.

As for this Sarah, she’s definitely creating the content!

The Sandbox team creates new content, but they also rework the existing content for maximum results.

Jade also writes the keyword-focused content, as working directly with the clients is very important.

When doing an SEO audit, sometimes you’re lucky to create the content and other times you have to optimize what’s already been published. It just depends on the client!

Q6: What technical aspects do you look at for a website when doing an audit?

Don’t forget that it’s not just about the website’s content. There’s a technical side of things to check on as well. Here’s what else you need to look for:

As Lexie said, Google definitely puts an emphasis on speed these days. The Netvantage team uses Google’s PageSpeed Insights and Pingdom for this.

She also said they use Google Analytics as another tool. This allows you to check Average Page Load Time and Average Page Download Time.

You can’t forget to also check for canonical errors when conducting an SEO audit.

Abbey seconds that by encouraged you to check for canonical errors on a website, as well as site speed. Make sure you’re also looking at whether or not it’s mobile-friendly and if there’s duplicate content.

As Michael said, you’ll want to check for sitemap errors and others. They’ll need to be fixed!

Dennis knows that page speed and mobile-friendliness are two important factors to consider these days.

Jade relies on Google’s Speed Page Insights to test page speed. Google also has a test to check and see if your site is mobile-friendly.

Debi knows there’s no shortage of technical aspects to look at. She provided a great list of things to review.

Q7: What metrics do you look at to evaluate a website?

Which metrics are important to keep an eye on when evaluating a website? These are some of the top ones to watch:

The Netvantage tame uses Majestic to with a few key metrics during an SEO audit. They look at the number of linking domains to the root domain, as well as citation flow and trust flow of the homepage of the website.

Moz Open Site Explorer allows you to check domain authority and homepage authority.

As Lexie said, looking at domain authority helps determine if the site has bad links that need to be disavowed.

Michael suggests looking at URLs submitted vs URLs indexed.

Dennis recommends tracking metrics from organic search.

Julia shared the seven KPIs she always focuses on. Check it out!

Q8: How do you stay up-to-date on the latest SEO changes?

When changes occur, how do you stay updated? These are great resources to check out:

Lexie’s go-to sources are worth checking out.

These are some more great suggestions from the Netvantage team.

Ray follows some SEO blogs, but he also watches expert YouTube channels to stay updated.

Cheval turns to SEMrush for their blog content, but he also learns a lot from Twitter chats.

As Jade said, you just might learn a think or two from joining #ContentWritingChat!

Natasha suggests a wide array of ideas such as blogs, forums, social media, seminars, and more.

Ready to join the fun? #ContentWritingChat takes place every Tuesday at 10 AM Central! Follow @ExpWriters and @writingchat to join in!

julias free facebook group cta

SEO experts

20 SEO Experts & Resources You Should Be Following Today

If you want to learn to do something well, one of the best ways is to follow the leaders. This is as true in SEO as it is in any other industry. Luckily, the modern digital marketing world is filled with a huge assortment of SEO experts who are ripe with valuable information.

Here’s a breakdown of the top influencers you should be following.

SEO experts, SEO resources

20 SEO Experts Every Content Marketer Should Follow

Whether you’re a new marketer or an experienced professional just looking for some ways to improve your approach, these 20 SEO experts have lots to teach you:

1. Rand Fishkin: @randfish

The self-proclaimed “Wizard of Moz,” Fishkin is the founder of Moz and one of the foremost SEO experts on the web. Fishkin and his team conduct regular “Whiteboard Friday” sessions about the ins and outs of SEO and content marketing, and are some of the web’s biggest leaders in quality content.

2. Neil Patel: @neilpatel

Neil Patel is the founder of CrazyEgg, Hello Bar, Quick Sprout, and KISSmetrics. If you need advice on how to grow your online business, he’s the top person to follow. Considered one of the best analytics experts in the world of digital marketing, Neil Patel is also a columnist for Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur, and the Huffington Post.

3. Danny Sullivan: @dannysullivan

The Founding Editor of Search Engine Land and Marketing Land, Danny Sullivan is the go-to expert when it comes to solving SEO problems. He is also the Chief Content Officer of Third Door Media and has been an active member of the search marketing and search engine world since 1996, way before SEO was a as big as it is today.

For more Danny Sullivan, visit his personal blog, where he shares interesting information on a variety of topics related to Google and SEO.

4. Barry Schwartz: @rustybrick

Barry Schwartz is a reputable SEO expert, editor of Search Engine Roundtable, and the President and CEO of New York-based web service firm RustyBrick, Inc. A self-defined “Search Geek,” Schwartz knows a thing or two about search engine marketing, and stands out as a leader in his field.

5. Joe Pulizzi: @JoePulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is a Content Marketing Evangelist and the founder of Content Marketing Institute, which puts on the largest in-person content marketing event on the globe – Content Marketing World. He has written four books, including Epic Content Marketing.

6. Eric Enge: @stonetemple

If you’re inspired by active people who are natural multitaskers, you will love Eric Enge, the “Digital Marketing Excellence Practitioner,” from Stone Temple Consulting. For more than three decades, he has reinvented himself as a passionate speaker, talk show host, author and entrepreneur. Declared the 24th most influential individual in the content marketing sector, Eric firmly believes that passion is the key factor in success.

7. Ann Handley: @MarketingProfs

Ann Handley is the Head of Content at Marketing Profs. She’s also the author of the bestseller Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content. Known as a first-class speaker, author and content creator, she does a great job of “Waging a war on mediocrity” in online content.

8. Henneke Duistermaat: @HennekeD

The UK-based business writing coach and “irreverent marketer” is a regular contributor at Copyblogger, and a trusted source for anyone who wants to learn to streamline and enhance their content marketing.

9. John Doherty: @dohertyjf

A professional marketer, entrepreneur, and startup advisor, John Doherty is the Founder GetCredo, an organization that helps companies find the right agencies to work with.

10. Ann Smarty: @seosmarty

Ann Smarty is the founder of MyBlogU and the Brand Manager at NinjasMarketing. She’s a fantastic source for all things modern SEO, and offers great, minute-to-minute insight into the industry.

10 Top Resources to Follow (Guest Blogs, Search Engine News, & More)

Now that you’re familiar with the top ten SEO influencers, it’s time to consider the best SEO resources out there. These organizations, firms, and companies are sources of quality content and insider information:

1. Social Media Today: @socialmedia2day

In case you are looking for a way to develop your own content strategy and explore social networks, look toward Social Media Today. Showcasing a cutting-edge mix of technology and data, and social business news, tips, and marketing advice, Social Media Today is one of the primary leaders in the world of social media marketing.

2. Marketing Land: @Marketingland

If you want to become a part of dynamic search marketing landscape, you’ll want to check out the weekly recaps from Marketing Land. One of the most respectable sources of fresh information, stats, and how-to guides. Marketing Land offers information on everything from mobile marketing to retail marketing, and covers all the aspects an SEO-savvy marketer should consider when developing a first campaign.

3. Search Engine Journal: @sejournal

If you’re interested in a trustworthy source focused on things like paid search, social media, content marketing, SEO, and search engines, then Search Engine Journal is a great pick for you. Featuring daily doses of well-written, informative, and engaging content, Search Engine Journal is your one-stop shop for search news.

4. Search Engine Land: @sengineland

Still can’t tell the difference between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM)? If that’s the case, Search Engine Land is your go-to source. Designed to share the most comprehensive reports, webcasts, and white papers, Search Engine Journal is your source for breaking news and PPC and SEO analysis.

5. SEMRush Blog

For people who want to learn more about online marketing, keyword research, social media, SEO and PPC without having to read hundreds of pages, there’s the SEMRush Blog. SEMrush represents an amazingly complete source of inspiration. This blog delivers a full picture of modern SEO and marketing in a way even beginners can understand.

5. Hubspot Blog

The Hubspot Blog focuses on delivering quality marketing, sales, and agency content in a convenient package. With more than 2 million monthly visitors, this source is widely regarded as one of the most trustworthy on the web, and consistently ranks as a top resource among even the most discerning influencers.

6. SearchEngineWatch

If you want a popular channel that delivers fresh information that makes it easy to get acquainted with the written and unwritten rules of content marketing, SEO and PPC, start by reading the articles published by SearchEngineWatch. This source helps you discover the latest industry news, while also providing online marketing guides and all the details that you could ever require on PPC and SEO tools, tactics, and trends.

7. Social Media Examiner

When you want to check out the most recent social media events, get the latest social media marketing industry reports, receive free updates via email and make the most of informative podcasts, make sure you visit Social Media Examiner. An accessible and authoritative source with almost half a million likes on Facebook, Social Media Examiner shares useful and engaging articles that will enable you to take your social media marketing strategy to the next level.

8. Moz Blog

The Moz blog is the brainchild of Rand Fishkin, so you know it’s trustworthy. A go-to resource that features the wisdom of today’s foremost content wizards and experts, the Moz blog is especially well-known for its use of original statistics and research.

9. QuickSprout

QuickSprout helps people do one thing – create better content. The brainchild of Neil Patel, QuickSprout offers a resource called QuickSprout University, which helps marketers learn things like how to generate traffic on social ads and how to get more traffic across the web.

10. Express Writers

Express Writers is the content marketer’s content marketer. Specializing in delivering cutting-edge industry content with a focus on driving organic traffic and helping you create better content, we offer many weekly blog posts, lots of long-form guides, and plenty of custom visuals. Follow The Write Blog to keep up on it all.

Learn from the Experts

One of the easiest ways to master SEO is to follow the experts. When it comes to optimizing your website, forget about learning from your own mishaps and stay in the safe zone by following in the footsteps of respectable SEO experts. Abreast of the latest news and events, these experts can help you learn the ins and outs of SEO and grow your online traffic as a result.

Looking for a team of content experts to help you improve your content marketing strategy? Contact Express Writers today to hire our team of skilled copy experts.

anniversary of the web

The 25th Anniversary of the Web: Key Highlights

It’s hard to imagine what a web-less world would look like. Just like most of us probably find it quite difficult to picture life without electricity, cars, and of course (smart) phones. Looking back, you could say that history has a way of allowing  us to take a leap by coming up with something big every century. It’s the light bulb in the 19th, and everything else that we’ve accomplished through electricity. The automobile, and then air travel in the 20th. As for the 21st century- its first two decades , at least- it’s the web and the digital world it made possible.

Yes, the web has come of age. On March 12th, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the web. Okay, we have this great and powerful tool. Do we make the most of it? Can more people benefit from it? How can the web become truly global? How can it be more useful and more secure? In this USNews.com piece, its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee talked about the significance of this anniversary.

The 25th Anniversary of the Web: Looking Back

No one can argue that the 25th anniversary of the web is a milestone. It’s a time when you look back to see what happened during this quarter of a century, and ahead, toward what might come next. Here are some key highlights.

The Birth of the World Wide Web

1989 is not only the year when the Berlin wall fell, putting an end to the Cold War, and opening the gateway to democracy throughout Eastern Europe, but also the year when the idea that would make the democracy of information possible was born. That’s right, we’re speaking about the web.

In the first spring month of that year, Tim Berners-Lee submitted his proposal with what was to become the blueprint of the web to his boss at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Although this physics lab in Geneva, Switzerland, could not support software projects, Tim Berners-Lee was allowed to work on his idea, which he did, creating what today we know as the world wide web.

The Advent of Commercial Internet

Web Landmarks in the 1990s. A Basic Timeline

  • 1990: The Web Goes Public.
  • 1991: WorldWideWeb

After his proposal in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee got down to work and came up with the world’s first browser. Originally dubbed WorldWideWeb, it was later renamed Nexus.

  • 1992: Internet Surfing

The terms “surfing the Internet” and “net surfing” are first used.

  • 1993: Mosaic

This was the first cross platform browser, and the first browser with a graphic interface. Easy to install and use, it fueled the exponential development of the Internet in the early 1990s.

  • 1994: Netscape Navigator

Mosaic turned into Netscape Navigator which was the first commercial browser. It dominated the browser scene in the early 1990s, until it was displaced by Internet Explorer.

  • 1995: E-Commerce

The mid nineties witnessed beginnings of  e-shopping  which was to change the way we buy and sell things. From amazon.com selling its first book online in 1995 to sales totaling over 1 trillion dollars in 2012, e-commerce has become instrumental for business success.

  • 1997: Google

Google.com becomes a registered domain. From then on, search engines and browsing change for good.

SEO

According to Wikipedia, the term “search engine optimization” was first used in 1997. Search engine optimization, that aimed to increase website ranking in search engines, came a long way since its inception days. Along the way, in the battle for visibility, webmasters and website owners used black hat strategies, such as link farming and spammy content to increase ranking. Now, recent Google updates such as Penguin and Panda, made it clear that this is not the game to play if you want to thrive online. Instead, organic search engine optimization and white hat SEO practices are not only encouraged, but a must.

According to moz.com, Google refreshes its search algorithm about five to six hundred times every year. In SEO terms, 2011- 2013 are perhaps the most important years in web history so far. Google released several updates that marked a radical shift in search engine optimization practices during the past two years. Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird and several other updates are reshaping the way we relate to the web and the meaning of online presence, for both businesses and users. To get a more accurate idea about the impact of Google updates, check the above mentioned article on moz.com where you’ll find a detailed timeline.

It’s enough to mention here only three of the most relevant updates released by Google starting with 2011.

Google Panda

Fist released in February 2011, Panda targeted ‘low quality’ websites, penalizing counterfeit links and duplicate, spammy content.

Google Penguin

Released in April 2012, it declared a war against black hat SEO tactics, making it clear that link schemes were no longer tolerated to promote search engine ranking.

Hummingbird Update

For its 15th anniversary, in September 2013, Google launched a new algorithm update. It was called Hummingbird and it aimed to make search more conversational.

What’s the effect of  the updates released by Google in recent years? What’s their impact on SEO strategy? What does it mean for your web presence? Where is the web headed?

Read on for some answers.

Google’s Algorithm Changes and SEO

Having a solid SEO strategy is no longer optional. It is mandatory for for business success.  A well crafted SEO strategy makes the difference between being visible and being swamped in the online clutter.

From No Man’s Land to Integrated Architecture

Today, the cornerstones of an effective SEO strategy and successful web presence are original content, white hat link building and social media. What does this mean?

Creating Value and Building Authority Through Organic SEO and Original Content

Onsite content is paramount to build credibility online and ultimately convert. Content and SEO work in tandem because the role of good SEO is to structure, organize, and optimize the content on your pages. The key components of effective content are keyword choice, website design, content optimization, of both web pages and blog, and focus on user experience.

Keyword Choice

SEO strategies should be grounded on keyword choice. This means researching the keywords you’re going to optimize your content for. The Keyword Tool made available by Google helps you find out what keywords are used by people to get to your website. Make sure you leverage long tail keywords because they will allow you to rank higher. Differentiate yourself from competition by paying attention to their keywords and refine your keyword choice by introducing keywords they have overlooked.

Optimize Content

Content optimization is no longer about stuffing keywords, but about integrating them naturally in your copy. Including primary keywords in the title of the article and meta tags is essential, but content value is what makes you stand out.

Improved User Experience

Besides keywords and content, another key component of SEO strategy is user experience, in other words how people feel about your website. The bounce rate measures user satisfaction or lack of it. Again, Google gives you the necessary tools: Google Analytics measures your bounce rate, telling you if users get what they need or not. Website design and navigation are decisive in creating superior user experience and, in turn, high conversion rates.

Linking: From Tactics to Creating Value

In the early days of the web, links were a mere tactic to drive website traffic. Now, inbound links are meant to build trust, consolidate authority, and create value for readers. All these are translated into high ranking and implicitly conversion. How is it done? The keyword here is, again, content because as you already know, content is king. Blogging, press releases, social media they are all integrated in content focused SEO strategies. Besides content, solid SEO strategies identify and leverage directory listing. But not any directory works. Focus on local directories, professional and established directories that are relevant for a particular niche.

Social Media and Connectivity

The advent of social media changed the way we relate to SEO. No one can ignore the key role played by social media in boosting website ranking. Together with content, connectivity is the heart of the matter when it comes to online success. Sharing valuable content, engaging with your audience, encouraging and stimulating conversation are no longer optional, but vital in establishing and maintaining online presence.

Social media and Brand Recognition

Social media and strengthening brand recognition go hand in hand. Brand your social presence by sharing valuable content and a unified consistent voice and brand identity. Google encourages social signals, because they have come to be an important part of its algorithm. So, besides Facebook and Twitter, make sure you have a Google+ account. After all, it’s only natural that Google should favor its offspring. Of all the major social network platforms, Google+ is the most suitable for sharing content that is specific to your niche. People who tend to favor Google+ get connected based on interests which they want to share with like-minded users.

What It All Boils Down to…

The key highlights above make an obviously partial and selective list of the major transformations the web has undergone in its first 25 years. Now at the 25th anniversary of the web, they give you an angle on what has happened so far and what’s going on at the moment, hopefully enticing you to try looking at your online presence if not with new eyes, at least more vigilantly, and keep up with the swift changes in the field. Because the future of the web is catching up with you, and you most certainly want to be prepared.