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10 Important SEO Trends You Need To Know [Podcast]

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10 Important SEO Trends You Need To Know [Podcast]

Page Experience, Core Web Vitals, and link spam, oh my!

Those looking for a bit of respite from the chaos of 2020 found more of the same in 2021 as the ongoing pandemic and a series of substantial Google updates and announcements kept the SEO industry on our collective toes.

Now that we’ve turned the page and 2022 is well underway, where should you focus your SEO resources, talent, and time?

What SEO trends do you need to keep on your radar to future-proof your strategy?

Miranda Miller, our Managing Editor, joined our founder and host of The Search Engine Journal Show, Loren Baker, to chat about the SEO trends our expert contributors are calling out as most impactful for the year ahead.

In the SEO Trends 2022 ebook, you’ll discover what 44 industry experts are thinking and planning around content quality, searcher intent, evolving SERP features, smart automation, and more.

Catch Baker and Miller’s commentary on their favorite SEO trends, news about specific Google features and updates, and more in this episode of The Search Engine Journal show.

Read on to learn the top 10 trends you need to know for 2022 planning from our panel of experts in search marketing and get the full ebook (free to download) for more from each expert.

1. User Intent

One of the most talked-about topics for 2022? User intent. It’s a trend that’s here to stay.

Kristina Azarenko, SEO Consultant & Founder of MarketingSyrup Digital Inc., believes it’s time for people to finally “stop thinking in terms of ‘SEO content’ and create content for users with the intent and keywords in mind.”

Himani Kankaria, Founder at Missive Digital, said, “Considering the updates like Google rewriting meta title tags and coming up with indented results on SERPs in 2021, it seems Google is working hard to identify the right intent behind a user’s search, irrespective of the type of queries.”

That’s where SEO professionals need to focus on bringing a holistic approach to your content strategy in 2022, she said.

“Be it video, blog, or web content, it must be planned for the keywords, users’ intent behind searching and consuming them, your intent behind creating them, and the stage at which your consumers are in the buyer’s journey,” Kankaria added.

Suganthan Mohanadasan, Co-founder & Technical SEO Lead at Snippet Digital, agrees.

“Search intent will become ever more important in 2022,” he said. “Understanding search intent continues to become more important than ever, particularly with the introduction of Google’s Multitask Unified Model (MUM) update.

“I think we will see more search marketers rethink their approach to content creation by focussing on understanding search intent more intelligently,” Mohanadasan added, noting that keyword research will always remain an important bedrock to organic search strategy.

Even so, we need to be able to look beyond keywords in their raw form and draw meaningful insight from them.

“Understanding the relationship between your keywords and knowing how to target them to meet the search intent is already the key difference between an effective and ineffective search strategy, but in 2022 it will become even more vital,” Mohanadasan said.

Mordy Oberstein, Head of Communications at Semrush, thinks that 2022 will be the year it finally pays off to take user intent seriously.

“In 2022, we’ll take it to a new level. I don’t mean merely breaking things down by informational or transactional intents, etc. I mean, considering everything intent encapsulates for the multiple user profiles who might find the same piece of content useful,” Oberstein said.

“It’s the ability to adequately empathize with your audience so as to provide a comprehensive experience that addresses their implicit concerns,” he added.

[40:55] – SEJ Show EP 257

2. Content Quality

Brodie Clark, SEO Consultant at Brodie Clark Consulting, said marketers need to watch for what he calls “The Site-wide Content Quality Effect.”

“One aspect I regularly see for large sites while completing audits is many pages being categorized as ‘Discovered, currently not indexed’ in Google Search Console. Get familiar with this exclusion type within the Coverage report in GSC and pay attention to the patterns Google is trying to highlight,” Clark said.

“Google has said in the past that you should be making sure published pages (that are indexable) should be fantastic,” he said. “Stick to this as your SEO mantra, and you’ll have a future-proof SEO strategy ready for 2022.”

But why is this happening?

“Many are doing short-term SEO efforts mainly to gain links and awareness from digital PR, adding hundreds of content, or only tackling specific technical SEO fixes,” said Motoko Hunt, President of International Search Marketing Consulting | AJPR.

Hunt explains that while these work well for quick wins, they are not long-term solutions.

“This trend also created so much similar content on the web. Considering the MUM update, it is important to publish unique content covering specific topics that are not covered by other websites,” Hunt said.

“Rather than adding hundreds of generic content to the site, research the overall interests of the target audience, organize those entities by the topic, and prioritize them by the relevance to the business goals,” Hunt added. She recommends that marketers focus on the information that is uniquely different from others and highlight your specialty in the topic area.

Jesse McDonald, Global SEO Strategist at IBM, shares a similar outlook.

“With recent enhancements to Google’s algorithm in the way of BERT and MUM, I think more and more SEO professionals are going to focus on the quality of their content and site structure,” McDonald said.

While content has always been a focus of SEO professionals, with these updates, it’s going to be easier to speak to the quality of content being something that deserves focus, McDonald added.

Jamie Indigo, Senior Technical SEO Lead at DeepCrawl, said, “To succeed post-paradigm, you need to focus on creating content that is factual and useful. The big winners will be those sites known for their contributions to their targeted subject matter.”

And Kelsey Jones, Senior Director of Content for Awesome Motive, suggests that marketers quit siloing content and SEO.

“I thought this wasn’t an issue in today’s workforce, but I’ve found that it’s rare to find a writer with SEO expertise and vice versa. This signals a big knowledge gap between content and SEO that goes both ways,” Jones said.

“Of course, it’s great to specialize, but being a writer without SEO experience or being an SEO pro who doesn’t understand the nuances of content writing can be really detrimental to your content’s performance,” she added.

Jones advises that if you can’t better integrate the roles (e.g., pay more for a writer with SEO experience), it’s important to work hard on better integrating the teams, so they are both more involved in the creation process and cross-trained in all steps.

“It’s also always worth paying for training, books, or resources for teams who want to learn SEO or how to write better,” she said.

It's never going to hurt you to take an extra step and make sure your content is more trustworthy.[23:15] – SEJ Show EP 247

3. Localization Of SERPs & SERP Changes

Indigo reminds us that “Misinformation is pushing Google to create a fact-oriented SERP. Search results are powerful. Simply seeing an idea repeated across page titles in a SERP can reinforce a belief.”

“Google is often experimenting with changes to the mobile layout for local intent specifically,” said Amanda Jordan, Director of Local Search at LOCOMOTIVE Agency, adding that she foresees continued testing and changes in this area, especially for growth in online shopping, reviews, trust signals, and brand awareness.

“My recommendation is to focus on reputation on third-party and industry sites as well as wikis, GMB completion, site markup, and knowledge panels,” Jordan said.

Helen Pollitt, SEO Manager at iTech Media, also discusses the localization of SERPs and how it relates to content.

“​​Google will be focusing a lot more on the localization of content over the next year. In 2021 we already saw more websites with country-specific content outranking those that used to be top of the SERPs but are more globally focused,” Pollitt said. “This will only get more obvious in 2022 even for purely online businesses with no brick and mortar offering.”

For sites that are not just targeting one country, it will be increasingly necessary to create local-focused content, she said.

“Look at your key search terms that show some local intent. For instance, ‘[x online service] Canada’ – if you are seeing search results being served that have obvious keyword targeting for ‘Canada,’ you may be in an industry where Google is showing more localized SERPs,” Pollitt said.

“In that case, you will need to look at creating Canada-specific pages where you perhaps had globally-focused ones previously. You will need to show local relevance in your content, as well,” she added.

4. Images & Visual Content

Baker believes that marketers’ dependence on stock imagery is set to decline.

“Sites with unique images will see a large boost in Image, Product, and normal search,” Baker said. “This is also a user behavior/intent reaction as younger users identify or resonate with unique lifestyle images and can instantly tell if something is real or staged.”

“By rewarding sites that use original imagery, more will be created. Google Lens then learns more,” he added, noting that this incentivizes the growth of original content from creators while learning more about areas, people, products, etc.

Indigo reminds us that at Search On 2021, Google announced a push to make SERPs more visually browsable and intuitive.

“This means bigger image blocks are displayed in the results for some queries. The boon of good image assets isn’t limited to SERP,” she said. “Google Lens will enable shoppers to look for a product using a photo on their device or found on a website – essentially a reverse image search with a solid use case for image optimization.”

Google Discover is also leveraging images, Indigo noted. She added that a recently Google-published case study showed that sites using the max-image-preview:large meta tag could see an increase in click-thru rate by 79% and an increase in total clicks by up to 333%.

“While Discover has been largely overlooked as an SEO opportunity, the inclusion of Discover data into the Search API shows that unified data sources and best practices are going to continue,” Indigo said.

She adds that we can reasonably hypothesize that with the new 4-page scroll of the SERPs on mobile and the increase of images, normal search will start looking a lot more like Discover.

Eli Schwartz, Growth Advisor at Eli Schwartz, believes AI is set to make search much richer.

“Google Images are not going to just be a secondary search engine,” Schwartz said. “AI is going to allow Google to recognize when an image or video might be the best result for a user.”

Google has already revealed some of the capabilities they have in this area.

“And with Google Lens now a primary search action on Android devices, expect direct image search to grow even more,” Schwartz advises.

He also believes there’s going to be another search option by the end of the year.

“It could be growing market penetration from DuckDuckGo or Bing or something totally new, but all SEO pros should be wise to the potential of the growth of another search engine and not just focus on Google,” Schwartz said.

As search engines improve their understanding of visual content, that's another way we can differentiate ourselves.[29:43] – SEJ Show EP 257

5. Automation

Andreas Voniatis, the Founder of Artios, observes that automation of SEO practices – whether technical audits, competitor analysis, or search intent analysis – has already started this year and in 2022 will become even more widespread.

“As more SEO professionals worldwide become increasingly Python-savvy, we’ll see more automation, especially in agencies where more will automate as much of the technical audits, tools for analysis, and other areas of research, as much as possible,” Voniatis said.

He added for those who started this year or earlier: “We’ll see the automation of technical audits to make use of machine learning to segment technical issues by content type making the automation of technical audits more ‘intelligent.’”

Aleyda Solis, International SEO Consultant & the Founder of Orainti, believes that marketers should leverage SEO automation for quality assurance.

“The implementation of real-time SEO validation and alerts systems within our platforms, to avoid the generation of issues in the first place or monitor them in real-time to be warned as soon as they happen will become more important to avoid very common SEO horror stories” Solis said.

Mark Traphagen, VP of Product Marketing and Training at seoClarity, agrees we’ll see automation.

“The pace of change in SEO has continued to increase exponentially, while at the same time enterprise SEO professionals are dealing with ever larger and more complex sites,” he said. “The need for better automation to overcome gaps in technology, skills, and resources to be able to scale execution is rapidly passing from a ‘nice to have’ to a necessity.

Traphagen added that data is abundantly available now and has become a commodity.

“The challenge is reducing the time from data acquisition to insights to action. SEO pros (and the tools they use) will need to invest significantly more in developing automation in the year to come,” he said.

Traphagen advises that particular areas to investigate include the use of Edge technology to implement changes faster, AI-driven analysis to cull signals from the noise of data, and highly-customizable intelligent alerts.

And Miranda Miller, Managing Editor at Search Engine Journal, believes SEO pros and content creators should be investigating their options for automating content creation.

“We can get an assist in competitive research, analyzing existing SERPs, and understanding related entities and concepts from technology,” Miller said. “But I don’t foresee any point in the next decade where automated content creation will satisfy user and search engine requirements without the assistance of editorial process and human creativity.”

“The possibility that I might one day soon be able to train my own language model(s) and scale my efforts in that way is exciting. For SEO pros who focus on content and on-page, this will be a growing area of opportunity in 2022 and beyond,” she added.

6. Natural Language Processing & Machine Learning

Michael King, Founder & Managing Director at iPullRank, doesn’t believe there will be major changes in 2022. But he said, “…there are a lot of more subtle shifts that we’re seeing that point to the same two things: natural language generation and data pipelining.”

“Google’s evolution of multi-modal search suggests that there’s a bigger focus on search journeys rather than individual queries,” he said.

“This has interesting implications with respect to how we need to judge things such as co-occurrence and named entity recognition when we’re doing our own optimization,” King said.

“Google’s shift towards being able to tease out subtopics from broader pages is an indication that more robust content has a better chance to perform in the long tail than it has previously,” he added, noting that Apple and Google will continue to march us towards their data monopolies with the eventual death of cookies.

According to King, this further indicates a need for the collection of first-party data and pushing that data into a data store like BigQuery so you can capitalize on it for a variety of optimizations.

“People who capitalize on this data collection and find ways to combine it with advancements in Natural Language Generation and the understanding of the entity and keyword relationships will be able to scale the creation of robust content that’s positioned to rank,” King said.

Alexis Sanders, Director at Merkle, reminds us that iterations on machine learning natural language models have continually improved multiple times every year.

“Best-in-class models used on the SQuAD dataset exceeded human performance in terms of precision in early 2020. The commoditization of machine learning solutions for generating content (as a means of supporting writers) and categorization is something that inspires our team,” Sanders said.

Bill Slawski, Director of Search Marketing for Go Fish Digital and the Editor of SEO by the Sea, expects to see federated machine learning, “…where information from your mobile device is uploaded to the cloud once a day, and then data is returned to your device after it has been processed along with search selection and browsing information from many other mobile device users to power a machine-learned model,” he said.

“Google has blogged about this and has released a patent on it, and Apple Search has also patented federated learning, and how local and network computer information can be combined under that approach,” Slawski noted.

7. Mobile & User Experience

Jori Ford, Chief Marketing Officer at FoodBoss, expects changes related to mobile page experience. “Last year, Google introduced new tools to support the optimization of mobile as well as page experience,” she noted.

Ford added, “With those pieces maturing, I think mobile page experience as it relates to core web vitals as content will lead the charge.”

As SEO pros, we tend to look at pieces, she said, adding, “But based on recent tooling, resources, and updates to analytics it’s clear that the entirety of the mobile experience from the discovery aspect all the way through to how easily users can interact, engage, and utilize will come together just as content experience has over the past few years.”

“This will impact not only mobile UX but Core Web Vitals on mobile, mobile usability, mobile-first indexing, and mobile security, as well,” she said.

8. Sustainability

Jackie Chu, Global SEO Lead & Intelligence at Uber, said that “in 2022 SEO professionals should stop trying to chase algorithms and instead lean into long-term, sustainable SEO strategies.”

“The noise is so endless that to focus on the work, you’ll have no choice but to only think of the merits of your site and brand – not the latest industry news or Google update,” Chu said. “And that’s probably a good thing.”

“Enterprise ecommerce brands should increase focus for sustainability SEO targeting (as approved by their legal team) to support corporate social responsibility,” said Renee Girard, Associate Director for SEO at Crate & Barrel.

“Google has already added result enhancements to incentivize sustainable choices in Shopping, Maps, and Nest. Although search demand has not yet peaked, consumer appetite should continue to build throughout 2022 and beyond,” Girard said.

Isobel Smith, Technical SEO Team Lead at Ryte, offers another perspective on sustainability and search.

“Reducing the carbon footprint of our websites and digital infrastructures is not only a right step forward towards achieving net-zero, but it could even become a defining factor in search user’s behaviors,” she said.

Smith added that as Google is starting to display carbon emissions of flights and labeling eco-friendly hotels, “It’s not absurd to believe that Google could even begin showing the eco-impact of webpages.”

This could encourage greener attitudes online, especially considering the fact websites and their supporting systems have a similar carbon footprint to the airline industry, she said.

“Although creating more sustainable websites involves similar tactics to improving performance (e.g., improving availability, optimizing performance), carbon emission reductions could soon become an important metric worth reporting on,” Smith advises.

9. IndexNow

According to Jenn Mathews, SEO Manager at GitHub, Microsoft, and Yandex are leading the way with IndexNow.

“This allows websites to easily notify search engines whenever their website content is created, updated, or deleted. With this API, search engines are notified of updates so they can quickly crawl and reflect website changes in their index and search results,” she explains.

“IndexNow is changing the relationship between SEO professionals and search engines forever,” Mathews said.

“It’s eliminating the frustration from IT teams at how search bots hit websites. No longer will their crawlers put a heavy load on systems,” she noted, adding that “this is especially impactful to startups that grow quickly – not to mention the many times companies have launched new pages and had to wait for search bots to find them, crawl them and rank them.”

“This is particularly useful when changes are made to a database that updates millions (sometimes hundreds of millions) of URLs, and we’re having to explain to colleagues that we need to wait for the search engine to crawl the URLs and figure out that there is an update, and where there are changes,” Mathews said.

“With IndexNow, SEO pros can submit a list of only URLs with changes and/or updates through the API. Bing and Yandex immediately know about these updates and changes instantly,” Mathews noted.

On the other side of this relationship, the search engines themselves can greatly benefit from IndexNow.

“Microsoft’s Fabrice Canal, Principal Program Manager at BING, is leading the IndexNow charge, and I have been fortunate to work with him when I was at Groupon and now with GitHub as one of the early adopters of the Bing API tool (the precursor to IndexNow),” she said.

I think we're on the verge of going from predominantly one search engine to many search engines...we're in a time of change...digital natives are looking for change.[08:53] – SEJ Show E257

10. E-A-T

Kevin Rowe, Founder & VP of Strategy at PureLinq, believes that the growing importance of E-A-T will be a trend to consider in 2022.

“No matter your approach to SEO, understand how to demonstrate an appropriate level of E-A-T in your on-site content, link building, online PR, and even technical SEO,” he advises.

“This doesn’t mean you need a doctorate to be the expert on shoe repair blogs,” he added. “But being or hiring a subject matter expert that produces, edits, or consults on content is no longer optional.”

Rowe recommends that, at the very least, marketers hire writers with a passion for the subject matter.

Andrew Shotland, the Founder and CEO of Local SEO Guide, refers to E-A-T as “Content Usefulness.”

“The challenge we have always had with E-A-T is that it’s not really measurable. So we came up with our own metric, Content Usefulness (a.k.a., “CUssing”), which we can measure,” he said.

Shotland explains, “For example, once we see the types of pages/content ranking for a large set of related queries, we can analyze those pages at scale and compare them to our site’s pages.”

The difference between the ranking pages and those that don’t rank – often a specific type of content (e.g., reviews, phone numbers, videos, topics, etc.) – can illustrate what content searchers, and therefore Google, deem useful, he said.

“Figuring this kind of stuff out and how to apply it to your site will likely not only be an SEO trend for 2022, but for the foreseeable future,” Shotland noted.

Catch more episodes and highlights from The Search Engine Journal Show:


Quote images: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal




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SEO

What Is A Sitemap? Do I Need One?

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What Is A Sitemap? Do I Need One?

Sitemap. While this is a term you may be familiar with, what does it mean?

Do you need one? Where do you find one? How do you make one?

These are valid questions; for some, there might be more than one answer.

Today, we will take a deep dive into the sitemap world, so that you can walk away with the necessary answers and confidence around the topic!

What Is A Sitemap?

Let’s start here.

Defining a sitemap is essential for several reasons, and we are going to go through the two main types that apply to technical SEO: XML and HTML sitemaps.

XML Sitemap

An XML sitemap is a file that provides a website’s essential pages, videos, and other important files for Google to discover when crawling the site.

Not only are these listed in the file, but the sitemap can also provide details for Google to know – for instance, when the page was last updated, and if the content is available in other languages.

As I mentioned, you can also provide details about content types like videos, photos, and news-related content, specifically in your XML sitemap.

According to the Google Developers Sitemaps section, the following can be included for specific types of content in your sitemap:

  • A sitemap video entry can specify the video running time, rating, and age-appropriateness rating.
  • A sitemap image entry can include the location of the images included on a page.
  • A sitemap news entry can include the article title and publication date.

Next, we will talk about what an HTML sitemap is and the differences between the two.

HTML Sitemap

An HTML sitemap is more targeted for users on your site than for Google.

This is a page that exists on your site and has links to the pages on your website – and in some cases, includes a little context into what those pages are.

Google mentions that you should try to establish a consistent and clear hierarchy on the HTML sitemap as, although not its purpose, it can help with indexation.

You can think of an HTML sitemap as a directory that users can leverage to navigate your site and find what they need.

An HTML sitemap should not be an attempt to replace the important pages in your site’s navigation.

XML Sitemaps Vs. HTML Sitemaps

So, what are the key differences between these two types of sitemaps? Let’s review.

XML

  • The intent is for Google and other bots.
  • There is no hierarchy.
  • Used primarily for indexing.
  • You can submit via Google Webmaster Tools.

HTML

  • The intent is for users.
  • A hierarchy should be used.
  • No place to submit in Google Webmaster Tools.

Do You Need A Sitemap?

If you are wondering if you need a sitemap, that depends!

First, let’s discuss the XML sitemap. There are a few questions you can ask to determine if you need an XML sitemap:

  • How big is your site? Is it large enough that Google may miss newly updated content when it is crawling?
  • Is your site relatively new? If so, it may not have a ton of external links on the Internet that point to it to help Google discover it. Even if your site isn’t new, and you don’t have external links, your answer to this question should be yes.
  • Is your site content heavy? Do you have many photos, videos, news content, etc.?
  • Does your site need a better architecture that results in pages not being well linked to each other? This can also be the case with archived and orphan pages you want to be indexed.

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, then yes, it is best practice to have an XML sitemap.

Even if you answered no to all of the above, I would recommend an XML sitemap for a few reasons; If your site grows, expands its scope, and other situations may arise, having a sitemap will be beneficial!

Next, let’s review whether it makes sense for you to have an HTML sitemap.  Depending on where you look, you will find that answer to be yes or no.

HTML sitemaps are known to be an older concept, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one.

The XML sitemap has the information needed for Google to crawl, index, and learn other important information about these pages. However, an XML sitemap does not show hierarchy like an HTML sitemap.

Google will crawl the links on your site, and including an HTML sitemap could allow Google to understand your site’s architecture and relationships better.

This is even more useful for sites that have an incredibly large number of pages.

So, is having an HTML sitemap critical? No, it is not.

It is also not a cure-all for a poorly architected and nested website. While it isn’t a critical element of success, it has shown benefits that make having one a best practice.

To close this topic out, I recommend you have an XML and HTML sitemap because let’s be honest, why not, when the pros outweigh the cons very clearly?

Now you may be wondering how to create these two assets and what to do with them – so, let’s jump into some ways you can create these files and where to put them on the site.

How To Create An XML Sitemap

First, we will go over how you can generate sitemaps from scratch, and then we will get into some great tools that can do it for you.

XML sitemaps have specific criteria in order to be rendered valid.

Screenshot from lowes.com, January 2023

Below are a few specific requirements for XML sitemaps:

  • Begin with a <urlset> tag and end with that tag closing </urlset>.
  • Include the protocol you are using within the <urlset> tag.
  • Each URL entry must have a <url> tag as a parent XML tag.
  • Include a <loc> child entry for each <url> parent tag.
  • Each sitemap can only contain up to 50,000 URLs and 50MB.
  • Must be UTF-encoded.

XML Sitemap Best Practices

Now, let’s look at some key best practices when it comes to creating XML sitemaps:

  • Only URLs you want to be indexed should appear in your sitemap. This means no redirected URLs, non-canonical URLs, or pages marked as no-index.
  • Do not use session Ids.
  • Only include the primary if you have two versions (mobile and desktop) of your site.
  • Include media assets like videos, photos, and news items.
  • Use hreflang to show Google that there are alternative language versions of your website.
  • Google documentation notes it leverages <lastmod>, but only if it’s consistent and verifiable. If you can’t keep this accurate, don’t use it.
  • Google ignores the <priority> and <changefreq> tags at this time, according to John Mueller on this Search Off the Record podcast.
  • Google will not crawl your URLs in the order they are listed, nor does it guarantee indexation.
  • Your sitemap should be updated regularly – automatically, or manually – or Google may not trust it.

Now, if you felt lost reading those beginning requirements, that is okay, because there are tools to help you achieve your desired outcomes! We will go over some later in this article.

Check out the refined version below:

refined sitemap of lowes.comScreenshot from lowes.com, January 2023

How To Create An HTML Sitemap

When putting together an HTML sitemap, remember its purpose is to serve a user on the site and help Google understand the hierarchy of your website.

You do not want to no index this page from Google; keep it crawlable!

You will want to ensure you don’t just throw thousands of links on an HTML sitemap page with no sense of organization, as this won’t help anyone – bots included.

Home Depot sitemapScreenshot from Home Depot, January 2023

HTML Sitemap Best Practices

Let’s go over a few quick best practices when it comes to HTML sitemaps:

  • Arrange the page’s structure to align with your website’s structure. You will want to make sure that the hierarchy is easily understood.
  • The HTML sitemap should be located somewhere the user can easily find it. You will often see it in the footer links of a website.
  • Use anchor text that is valuable to the user.

Need a little help getting started? No worries – there are plenty of tools to help you.

Sitemap Generator Tools

There are a number of tools to help you generate different types of sitemaps. Let’s go over a few now.

XML Sitemap Generator Tools

  • Screaming Frog – This tool is a great option for generating a sitemap, especially if you want to generate one after crawling your URLs. Screaming Frog is free if you have under 1,000 URLs, but you would have to buy a license if you have more.
  • XML-Sitemaps.com – This web-based application allows you to enter your website URL and it generates an XML file for you. This is a free tool for up to 500 URLs.

Depending on which CMS you are leveraging, there are also thousands of XML sitemap generator plug-ins, but be cautious as even the best generator tools have their limitations, so make sure to double-check the output.

Here are a few popular XML sitemap plugins for WordPress:

HTML Sitemap Generator Tools

  • com: this is a free online tool where you can scan your website URL or upload a document to generate an HTML sitemap. As we discussed earlier, there may be better approaches than a generator if your site is poorly architected.
  • Crawler: Like Eli mentions, if you have a large site and are already using a crawler like OnCrawl, DeepCrawl, Screaming Frog, or SiteBulb, you can leverage the output from a crawl to help generate your HTML sitemap.

Like XML sitemaps, there are also a variety of CMS plugins for creating HTML sitemaps. Here are a few for WordPress:

In Conclusion

Sitemaps have existed in the SEO world for some time as a method for helping search engines discover and crawl websites.

And, while having a sitemap isn’t always necessary for every site, it certainly doesn’t hurt – and can be especially useful for both new and large sites.

When you are determining your next steps for creating a sitemap for your website – whether XML or HTML – I hope you can leverage this guide to decide which path makes the most sense for your site’s needs.

More resources: 


Featured Image: Sammby/Shutterstock



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Keyword Mapping. A Practical Guide for the Curious

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Keyword Mapping. A Practical Guide for the Curious

Deciding whether a keyword should be targeted by a separate page or clustered with other keywords is a common problem in SEO. Keyword mapping is a process aimed at solving this.

Keyword mapping is popularly defined as assigning keywords to pages. But what you really need to solve the problem is assigning topics to content types

In this article, I’ll explain the benefits of this approach and, more importantly, I’ll show you the process. No templates required.

Benefits of keyword mapping (the alternative way) 

Fact 1. Google may see seemingly different keywords as the same topic.

For example, we rank for these keywords in the top 10 with a single page: 

  • seo basics”
  • how to use seo” 
  • beginner’s guide to seo”
  • getting started with seo”
  • seo knowledge”

Fact 2. Conversely, Google may see seemingly similar keywords as different topics. 

For example, let’s compare “digital marketing” with “online marketing.” I’d say those two keywords are pretty close to each other. Google disagrees. 

Low SERP similarity score signals potentially different topics
Everywhere you look, the same story. Top-ranking pages and our SERP similarity score (100-point scale; the more, the higher similarity) say that these are completely different topics SEO-wise.

The above two facts are also reasons why keyword mapping by just relying on keywords is not the optimal way. You won’t know whether you’re wasting your time targeting the same topic with different keywords or just “confusing” Google. 

But why content types instead of pages or even URLs? Because before you decide what page will be used to target the keyword, you’ll need to identify the search intent of the keyword. And a good starting point for that is identifying the dominating type of content on the first page of Google. 

To sum up, the benefits of keyword mapping using topics and content types are: 

  • Seeing keywords the same way Google sees them: as topics and subtopics. 
  • Incorporating search intent into the process. 
  • Keeping an organized list of topics, which also helps to prevent duplicating content.

Note

Keyword mapping can’t substitute keyword research. While keyword mapping is basically a form of organizing keywords, keyword research provides you the keywords and the confidence that: 

  • Your keywords have traffic potential.
  • You can match the search intent behind your keywords.
  • Your keywords will bring valuable traffic. 
  • You can rank for those keywords. 

Learn how to choose the right keywords with our full guide.

Going further, we’ll look at two levels of using this method: the fast lane and the more thorough one. 

Learn more: What Is Semantic Search? How It Impacts SEO 

Level 1 – Fast, reasonable job

You’ll need a keyword research tool that can do keyword grouping based on what’s on the SERP, such as Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer. In the case of this tool: 

  1. Enter your keywords
  2. Open Matching terms report
  3. Go to the Parent topics tab 
Three steps to find Parent Topics via Keywords Explorer

If you click on a Parent Topic, you will find separate topics “distilled” from your keywords. So for example, you will see keywords like “can babies get covid” and “babies and covid” grouped under the same topic. 

Keywords grouped under the same Parent Topic

Sidenote.

To identify the Parent Topic, we take the #1 ranking page for your keyword and find the keyword responsible for sending the most traffic to that page.

At this level of keyword mapping, your target keyword is the Parent Topic (not the keywords inside that Parent Topic). 

The next step is to identify the content type. The easiest way to do this is to see what kind of content dominates the first three to five results in Google. 

Typical content types are:

  • Articles
  • Videos
  • Product pages
  • Product category pages
  • Landing pages 
Top-ranking pages with a dominating content type
For example, the dominating content type for “teething symptoms” is the article.

As a result, assigning topics to content types will give you a super simple yet highly actionable database.

Topic Content type
Teething symptoms Article
When do babies roll over Article
Baby formula Mixed (product pages on top)
When can babies have water Article

Sidenote.

What about secondary keywords or supporting keywords? We recommend picking them in the content creation phase as subtopics needed to cover a topic in full. Learn a few ways you can find them here.

So this is the fast method. The great thing about it is that it automates keyword grouping by using real SERP data (and not just semantics). 

However, it has its downsides too. Sometimes, it “hides” less popular topics that could potentially be targeted with a separate page. Here’s why. 

The parent keyword is derived from the top-ranking page on the SERP. If Google thinks that the best answer to the query is found on a page that is targeting a broader topic, it will still use it. This may result in a confusing SERP like this one: 

Confusing SERP example
The top result is a featured snippet taken from a page with a broader topic. Hence, the Parent Topic (here seen as “Top keyword”) in Ahrefs. But pretty much every other page on the SERP targets the keywords directly.

This kind of situation probably won’t happen too often. But if you want to squeeze everything out of your keyword mapping process, you need to go to level 2. 

Level 2 – Thorough but time consuming

In level 2, we’re going to take a closer look at the Parent Topics to see what’s in them. 

  1. First, you should pick a Parent Topic.
  2. Sort keywords inside the topic by KD (Keyword Difficulty). Big differences in KD will be an indication of a different set of pages on the SERP.
  3. If you see a keyword with a significantly different KD than the Parent Topic, click on the SERP button.
  4. See if the top-ranking pages, excluding the first result, talk about the keyword instead of the Parent Topic. You can use the Compare with feature for a quick overview of the situation. The lower the SERP similarity score, the higher the probability you’re looking at two different topics. 
How to investigate Parent Topics

Let’s look at a couple of examples. 

In the first example, we’ve got a keyword with a KD score that’s 20 higher than the Parent Topic. Upon investigating, we see that we may be dealing with two separate topics: The SERP similarity is quite low. Also, there is only one common result, while other pages target the keyword directly. 

Keywords grouped under the same topic but have dissimilar SERPs

Next example. Here we have “teething symptoms” (KD 65) and “when do babies get molars” (KD 28). Looking at SERP similarity, we see that this, again, may be a case of two topics. 

Low SERP similarity between two keywords

But there’s more. Only the bottom results target the keyword directly. Others talk about teething timelines, stages, charts, etc. This is a hint for yet another way to rank for the keyword. 

Only bottom results target the keyword directly

Generally speaking, when you see that you’re dealing with a separate topic “in disguise,” the decision comes down to:

  1. Targeting the Parent Topic anyway. For example, if the top result is a featured snippet, you may be able to win it with a page on a relevant broader topic. 
  2. Marking the keyword as a separate topic and targeting it directly with a separate page. In this case, add that keyword as a topic to target and note down the content type. 
  3. Turning to SERP analysis in tougher cases (like our example above). 

Final thoughts 

Feel free to customize the process and add your own data points. If you feel like going a step further and assigning URLs, your website folders, or introducing some kind of prioritization (e.g., business potential), this won’t hurt. 

However, keep in mind that keyword mapping is not a good way to design your entire website structure. Most often than not, not all pages on your site should be search-based. 

What are the next steps after keyword mapping? 

Got comments or questions? Ping me on Twitter or Mastodon



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Of all the many, many functions available in Google Ads, I have a few that are my favorites. And sitelink assets – previously known as sitelink extensions – are at the top of my list.

Why? Because they’re so versatile. You can do almost anything with them if you think through your strategy carefully.

For example, you can use the mighty sitelink in your advertising to:

  • Promote low search volume themes.
  • Push lagging products out the door.
  • Maximize hot sellers.
  • Highlight certain product categories.
  • Answer common questions.
  • Handle PR problems.

And that’s just a start! Sitelink assets can almost do it all.

Best Practices For Using Sitelink Assets Extensions

If you truly want to get the most out of your sitelinks, you need to think about your intention.

To help you with that, I’m going to lay out a few sitelink guidelines.

1. Get clear on your objectives. Before you start, you need to think about your goals. What are you trying to achieve with these assets? Are you advertising products or services? Will the asset work well with both branded and non-branded keywords? Your answers to these questions will help determine if your sitelinks are versatile and useful to the searcher.

2. Use sitelinks as part of your larger strategy. Don’t think of your sitelinks in isolation. You should also consider the accompanying ad, landing page, and other assets. Make sure they all work together in service to your overarching strategy.

3. Use a mix of sitelinks. Sitelinks can serve multiple purposes, so make sure you’re using a variety. For example, you don’t want to use every sitelink on an ad to promote on-sale products. Instead, use a mix. One could promote an on-sale product, one could generate leads, one could highlight a new product category, and one could direct prospective clients to useful information.

4. Create landing pages for your sitelinks. Ideally, you want to send users to landing pages that tightly correlate with your sitelink instead of just a regular page on your website.

5. Track sitelink performance and adjust. It’s not enough to set up sitelinks. You should also track them to see which links are getting traction and which ones are not. This doesn’t mean that all sitelinks should perform equally (more on this below), but it does mean they should perform well given their type and objectives.

Why it’s Better To Use A Mix Of Sitelink Assets

Let’s dive deeper into this idea of using a mix of sitelinks by looking at an example.

In a new client account, we created four different types of sitelinks:

  • Two sitelinks are product-focused (as requested by the client).
  • One sitelink connects users with an engineer to learn more about the product (“Speak to an Engineer”). It has more of a sales focus.
  • One sitelink allows users to learn more about the products without speaking to an engineer (“What is?”).

The “What is?” sitelink is outperforming the “Speak to an Engineer” sitelink when we measure by CTR. While we need more data before making any changes, I predict we’ll eventually swap out the sales-y “Speak to an Engineer” sitelink for something else.

The fact that the educational link (“What is?”) is performing better than the sales-y link (“Speak to an Engineer”) isn’t too surprising in this case. The product is a new, cutting-edge robot that not many people are aware of, yet. They want more info before talking to someone.

Screenshot by author, January 2023

By using a mix of sitelinks, and assessing the performance of each, we gained a lot of valuable information that is helping to guide our strategy for this account. So going with a mix of sitelinks is always a good idea. You never know what you’ll discover!

Sitelink Assets Examples

Now, let’s look at some specific examples of sitelink assets in Google Ads.

Example 1: Chromatography

Sitelinks extension - Chromatography exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

Application Search: This ad is for a highly technical product that can be used in a wide variety of applications. (Chromatography is a laboratory technique for separating mixtures.) So putting “application search” in a sitelink here might make sense. It helps prospective clients find what they’re looking for.

Sign up and Save Big: A good sitelink for lead generation and potential revenue.

Technical Support: I’m not a big fan of putting technical support in sitelinks. Tech support seems more targeted to current users rather than prospective users. But who knows, maybe they really do want to help current users get tech support via their advertising.

Guides and Posters: Again, this sitelink is a bit unusual, but it might be appropriate for this product. Perhaps people are downloading branded posters and posting them in their workplaces. If so, it’s a great way to build brand awareness.

Example 2: Neuroscience Courses

Sitelink Extensions - Nueroscience courses exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

I love everything about these sitelinks! The advertising is using them to reach people in all phases of the buyer journey.

For people not ready to commit:

  • Study Neuroscience: This sitelink is broad and informational. It’s helpful to people who have just started to explore their options for studying neuroscience.
  • Get Course Brochure: This sitelink is also great for people in the research phase. And while we mostly live in an online world, some people still prefer to consume hard-copy books, brochures, etc. With this sitelink, the school is covering its bases.

For people getting close to committing:

  • Online Short Course: This is the course the school offers. It’s a great sitelink for those almost ready to sign up.

For people ready to sign up:

  • Register Online Now: This is the strongest call to action for those ready to commit. It takes people directly to the signup page.

Example 3: Neuroscience Degrees

Let’s look at another example from the world of neuroscience education: this time for a neuroscience degree program.

Sitelink extensions - neuroscience degree exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

In contrast to the previous two examples, the sitelinks in this ad aren’t as strong.

Academics Overview: This sitelink seems more appropriate for a broad term search, such as a search on the school’s name. If the searcher is looking for a specific degree program (which seems like the intention based on the term and the ad), the sitelinks should be something specific to that particular degree program.

Scholarships: Just as with the above sitelink, “Scholarships” doesn’t seem very helpful either. The topic of scholarships is important—but probably doesn’t need to be addressed until the person determines that this school is a good fit.

Example 4: Code Security

Next, let’s look at two Google search ads for code security products.

Sitelink extensions - code security exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

 

The sitelinks in these two ads look like typical assets you’d find for SaaS, cloud-based, or tech companies. They click through to a lot of helpful information, such as product plans and success stories.

I particularly like the Most Common Risks sitelink in the second ad. It leads to a helpful article that would be great for engaging top-of-funnel leads.

On the flip side, I’m not a big fan of the Blog sitelink in the first ad. “Blog” simply isn’t very descriptive or helpful.

Still, there are no right or wrong sitelinks here. And it would be interesting to test my theory that blog content is not a top-performing asset!

Sitelink Assets Are More Than An Afterthought

I hope I’ve convinced you of the usefulness and versatility of sitelinks when created with specific objectives that align with your broader strategy.

So don’t create your sitelink assets as an afterthought.

Because if you give them the careful consideration they deserve, they’ll serve you well.

Note: Google sitelink assets were previously known as sitelink extensions and renamed in September 2022.

More resources:


Featured Image: Thaspol Sangsee/Shutterstock



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