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12 Essential On-Page SEO Factors You Need To Know

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12 Essential On-Page SEO Factors You Need To Know

Did you ever play Tetris? If so, you probably remember how there was no real way to “beat” the game. It basically just got faster and faster with every level.

In some ways, search engine optimization (SEO) is the same.

Not in that it has a catchy 8-bit soundtrack or that it rewrites your dreams, but in that, it never ends.

There’s no point at which you can sit back and relax, content that your site is at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) once and for all.

Sure, you might have reached the pinnacle today, but an SEO pro’s work is never done.

Every change to Google’s algorithm or competitor content could knock you off that top spot, which means you have to keep up with changes.

And that means your on-page SEO needs to be on point. But before we dive into that, it’s important to have a high-level overview of how Google and other search engines work.

Search Engine Basics

Search engines send out crawlers, or spiders, to explore the internet. They follow links from one site to another, building a map of the content called a search index.

In the process of exploring sites, these crawlers are also evaluating their content, determining what kind of information it contains.

This data is then used by the search engine’s algorithm to determine how well the content of that specific site answers queries from users.

The better it answers the query, the more highly it will be ranked on the SERP.

In Google’s never-ending quest to provide better results to users, its algorithm is updated frequently. This inevitably leads to changes in rankings, which then requires someone to optimize the website to improve or ensure rankings.

What Is On-Page SEO & Why Is It Important?

On-page SEO, which is sometimes called on-site SEO, is the process of tweaking a page’s content, tags, and internal links to improve search visibility and increase traffic.

In other words, it’s a means of optimizing your website to help search engines better understand your website.

And this, of course, comes with a whole host of benefits.

The first is in the amount of traffic.

The first five organic results on a search page get 67.60% of all clicks. The next five account for only 3.73%. And it drops from there. So, if you want to get traffic, you need to be near the top.

Secondly, high-ranking sites have much better click-through rates (CTR). The first Google mobile search result has an average organic CTR of 26.9%.

Now consider that 92.4% of internet users who search on their mobile phones for something nearby visit that business the same day and you can start to see the impact organic SEO can have on your bottom line. And on-page optimization is an important factor in your organic ranking.

Hopefully, by this point, you’ve grasped the importance of on-page SEO. Now it’s time to get started. Let’s dive right in…

12 Essential On-Page SEO Factors

On-page SEO can be broadly divided into three categories: content, HTML, and website architecture. We’ll look at each individually.

Content

You’ve heard it before: Content is king.

SEO without it is like a beautiful new sports car without an engine – it might look nice, but it’s going nowhere. But, not all content is not created equal.

Here are the content factors you need to consider to maximize your on-site SEO:

1. E-A-T

One way Google weights your site is based on E-A-T, or expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.

In 175 pages of Google Search Quality Guidelines, it’s mentioned 135 times, which should be an indication of the role it plays in the search engine’s algorithms.

While Google has only confirmed a few elements of E-A-T (PageRank and links), it’s generally accepted in the SEO field that on-page signals play a big part in its evaluations.

For a deeper dive on E-A-T, read this piece.

2. Keywords

The most basic way to tell them your website’s content answers a user’s question is in the language you use.

Pages that feature the keywords used in a query, whether in the body, headings, or both, are more likely to be relevant to the search.

Sometimes this is easy to determine. If you’re optimizing the website of a furniture store, you’re probably going to want to include keywords like [sofa], [dining room set], and [end table].

If it’s a specialized furniture store, you’ll want to make sure you’re including long-tail keywords like [contemporary art-deco sideboards].

In short, you need to know what your target customers are searching for and create content that includes these terms. It’s always a good idea to do research, so you’re not missing any opportunities.

Get started by downloading our ebook on keyword research.

3. SEO Writing

Creating the type of content that both prioritizes search engines and converts human visitors to your site is something of an art.

Unless you’ve done it before, it can be quite challenging to write copy that reads well and still adheres to SEO best practices.

We have an entire piece dedicated to helping you master the art, but some of the key takeaways include:

  • Emphasize readability: Your content should be easily scannable, so users can quickly find the information they’re looking for.
  • Don’t overuse keywords: Also known as keyword stuffing, this technique was used in the past by unscrupulous SEO professionals to game the system, Google takes a dim view of sites that overuse keywords. If you’re caught doing this, your page could be demoted in SERPs or even removed altogether.
  • Keep sentences and paragraphs brief: If you’ve ever clicked on a webpage only to be assaulted by an unbroken wall of text, you know how hard it is to read lengthy pieces of copy. Avoid driving users away by keeping your sentences and paragraphs short.
  • Use subheadings: Subheads stand out because of their size, attracting attention from people who are scanning your page. Use an ample amount in your content to guide readers down the page.
  • Use bulleted lists: This may feel very meta, but bulleted lists are a good way to break information down into easily digestible chunks. Use them whenever they make sense.

4. Visual Assets

Using images, videos, and infographics do more than making your page visually interesting to visitors. It also gives you opportunities to boost your SEO.

More than 36% of consumers use visual search when they’re doing online shopping, which means if you’re not using images, you’re missing out on traffic.

Make sure you’re optimizing your accompanying text whenever possible.

Be aware of your image file sizes to prevent slow loading. Make your images shareable to identify opportunities for backlinking, which can help boost your E-A-T.

HTML

HyperText Markup Language or HTML is the code used to structure your webpages and their content.

They tell the user’s browser what to show and where to show it. And it tells search engines what your page is all about and where they should rank you.

Here are the on-page SEO HTML factors you need to consider:

5. Title Tags

This is one of those areas where it’s important to focus on the details.

On its own, this snippet of code that allows you to give a webpage a title probably isn’t going to have you shooting up SERP rankings.

But in context with other on-page elements (like the ones discussed here), it can help you build context and demonstrate your site’s relevancy.

For a more thorough look at how to optimize your title tags, read this.

6. Meta Description

Right now, a veteran SEO professional is throwing up her hands at the screen. “Oh, come on,” she’s saying, “Everyone knows meta descriptions aren’t an SEO ranking factor.”

She’s only partly right. While it’s true there is a lot of evidence against meta descriptions as a ranking factor, she’s wrong about everyone knowing that.

And don’t let negative Nancy here dissuade you from adding them to your site.

Despite their relative lack of use in SEO, they do offer two key benefits: They can help Google understand what your web page is all about, and more importantly, they have an outsized influence on your CTRs.

Better meta descriptions give searchers a better understanding of what your page is all about, which in turn leads to more clickthroughs. So, don’t neglect them.

7. Image Optimization

We already briefly touched on the importance of visual assets on your page, but now it’s time to look more closely at their technical aspects.

Here are some tips to help optimize yours:

  • Include SEO-friendly alt tags.
  • Choose the right format and file size for fast loading.
  • Customize file names instead of using something like IMG_08759.
  • Ensure your images are mobile-friendly.

Once again, we have an excellent resource for more in-depth information on HTML image optimization. Read it here.

8. Geotagging (For Local Search)

It may be a global economy, but most business is still done at a local level. Connect with the people in your neighborhood by optimizing your on-page local SEO.

While this is less important for mega-corporations like GMC or Pepsi, for small- and medium-sized businesses, this is their bread and butter.

There are three main SEO tactics to consider when focusing on local traffic:

  • Optimizing local listings and citations including name, address, and phone number (NAP), website URL, and business descriptions, using third-party apps, and getting reviews.
  • Optimizing your local content, including accommodating for “near me” searches, providing location-based content, or buying a local website or blog.
  • Optimizing and building links with other local businesses and organizations.

Be sure to include the name of your target location in your keywords and put them in your content wherever they fit.

For more information on building your own geotagging SEO strategy, read this.

Website Architecture

Having a well-structured website is important for two reasons: First, a website laid out in a logical manner will be crawled more effectively by search engines, and secondly, it will create richer user experiences.

Here are the factors to consider when optimizing your site’s architecture:

9. Site Speed

A clunky, slow-loading site does more than frustrate and drive away visitors – it actually hurts your search ranking too.

Search Engine Journal took a deep dive into the effect a page’s loading time has on SEO and confirmed page speed is a ranking factor in search results.

However, what minimum speed your site needs to meet is constantly changing.

It can currently be met by meeting Google’s Core Web Vitals minimum threshold. If your site isn’t currently meeting these standards, there are several steps you can take, including:

  • Enabling compression.
  • Reducing redirects.
  • Optimizing images.
  • Leveraging browser caches.

10. Responsive Design

In 2016, mobile search volume surpassed desktop for the very first time. And in the years following, that number has only grown.

Mobile now accounts for more than 56% of all internet usage, with tablets contributing another 2.4%.

Because more users are on mobile devices, Google followed the logical path and began to prioritize sites with responsive designs in mobile search rankings.

This mobile-friendly update only impacts search results performed on mobile devices, and while it’s still possible to rank in these results without responsive design, Google strongly recommends sites have a mobile version.

You can read more about the affect site responsiveness has on search results here.

11. URL Structure

There was a time when URLs played a large role in SEO. Professionals would make sure their keywords were included in web addresses to help them rank higher.

But Google, doing what Google does, changed the algorithm. And what was once so important to rankings, now plays a much smaller role.

That’s not to say it doesn’t matter. Search engines are still including your URLs in your overall score – they just don’t hold the same prominence they once did.

However, there is evidence they play a role in a site’s initial ranking, and some professionals believe they’re used to group pages. What this means is, that while they shouldn’t be your top SEO priority, you don’t want to ignore them either.

Read more about how URLs factor into Google rankings here.

12. Links

Remember E-A-T from way back at the beginning of this article?

One of the best ways your website can establish expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness is through links from other reputable websites.

Think of it this way: Who would you rather trust your 401(k) to – a financial advisor who manages Warren Buffet’s portfolio or your cousin Jimmy, who lives in your aunt’s basement? Jimmy might do a fine job; he could potentially even outperform Buffet’s guy. But he just doesn’t have the credibility that comes with a strong co-sign.

Links work in the same way.

There are three main types you need to know about for SEO:

  • Internal links – or ones that direct to another page on your website like this one.
  • Outbound links – also known as external links, these are the links that point to a site on a different domain, like this one pointing to Google’s SEO page.
  • Inbound links – sometimes called backlinks, these are links from other websites pointing to your page.

Of the three, inbound links are by far the most important. They provide the biggest SEO benefit, but they’re also the hardest to obtain.

There are a variety of methods SEO professionals use to generate quality incoming links, including using social media, creating sharable infographics, and even just asking for backlinks.

But beware: Not all inbound links are helpful. Some, especially those coming from link farms, forum posts, and guestbooks, can be fake links intended to cheat the rankings system. If you don’t disavow these, it can hurt your ranking.

Here’s information on how and when you should disavow links.

On-Page SEO vs. Off-Page SEO

We’ve talked a lot about on-page SEO, but there’s also something known as off-page SEO. The difference, as you could probably tell by the names, is where it happens.

On-page SEO is everything you can do internally to boost your rankings, including keyword optimization, meta descriptions, title tags, alt text, and website structure.

Off-page SEO is all the things that happen externally that impact your site’s rankings. This includes backlinks, E-A-T, local SEO, social media mentions, and pay-per-click.

Obviously, you have a lot more control over your on-page SEO, but it’s important to keep off-page SEO in mind as well – you need both to get where you want to go.

But, you should first focus on building a good, relevant webpage that’s fully optimized for search engines before you begin sinking a lot of resources into building links and promoting your site.

On-Page SEO Is An Ongoing Process

At the end of the day, search engine optimization boils down to one thing: Finding the best way to provide valuable information to searchers, and ensuring your website is at the top of SERPs.

Your goal is to provide richer experiences to users, while simultaneously demonstrating your value to search engines. Luckily, these two go hand-in-hand. And they start with on-page optimization.

Start with what you can control, carefully evaluating your current site for weaknesses and opportunities for growth.

Get all your on-site ducks in a row and you’ll start to see results – including an organic improvement in off-site factors.

Just remember, SEO, like Tetris, is never done. But keep reading and keep working, and you’ll get the results you deserve.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal



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Google’s Indifference To Site Publishers Explained

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Google inadvertently reveals reasons that explain their seeming indifference to publishers hurt by algorithm updates

A publisher named Brandon Saltalamacchia interviewed Google’s SearchLiaison in which he offered hope that quality sites hit by Google’s algorithms may soon see their traffic levels bounce back. But that interview and a recent Google podcast reveal deeper issues that may explain why Google seems indifferent to publishers with every update.

Google Search Relations

Google has a team whose job is to communicate how site owners can do well on Google. So it’s not that Googlers themselves are indifferent to site publishers and creatives. Google provides a lot of feedback to publishers, especially through Google Search Console. The area in which Google is indifferent to publishers is directly in search at its most fundamental level.

Google’s algorithms are built on the premise that it has to provide a good user experience and is internally evaluated to that standard. This creates the situation where from Google’s perspective the algorithm is working the way it should. But from the perspective of website publishers Google’s ranking algorithms are failing. Putting a finger on why that’s happening is what this article is about.

Publishers Are Not Even An Afterthought To Google

The interview by Brandon Saltalamacchia comes against the background of many websites having lost traffic due to Google’s recent algorithm updates. From Google’s point of view their algorithms are working fine for users. But the steady feedback from website publishers is no, it’s not working. Google’s response for the past month is that they’re investigating how to improve.

What all of this reveals is that there is a real disconnect between how Google measures how their algorithms are working and how website publishers experience it in the real world. It may surprise most people to learn that that this disconnect begins with Google’s mission statement to make information “universally accessible and useful”  and ends with the rollout of an algorithm that is tested for metrics that take into account how users experience it but is 100% blind to how publishers experience it.

Some of the complaints about Google’s algorithms:

  • Ranking algorithms for reviews, travel and other topics are favoring big brands over smaller publishers.
  • Google’s decision to firehose traffic at Reddit contributes to the dismantling of the website publishing ecosystem.
  • AI Overviews summarizes web pages and deprives websites of search traffic.

The stated goal for Google’s algorithm decisions is to increase user satisfaction but the problem with that approach is that website publishers are left out of that equation.  Consider this: Google’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines says nothing about checking if big brands are dominating the search results. Zero.

Website publishers aren’t even an afterthought for Google. Publishers are not not considered at any stage of the creation, testing and rollout of ranking algorithms.

Google Historically Doesn’t Focus On Publishers

A remark by Gary Illyes in a recent Search Off The Record indicated that in Gary’s opinion Google is all about the user experience because if search is good for the user then that’ll trickle down to the publishers and will be good for them too.

In the context of Gary explaining whether Google will announce that something is broken in search, Gary emphasized that search relations is focused on the search users and not the publishers who may be suffering from whatever is broken.

John Mueller asked:

“So, is the focus more on what users would see or what site owners would see? Because, as a Search Relations team, we would focus more on site owners. But it sounds like you’re saying, for these issues, we would look at what users would experience.”

Gary Illyes answered:

“So it’s Search Relations, not Site Owners Relations, from Search perspective.”

Google’s Indifference To Publishers

Google’s focus on satisfying search users can in practice turn into indifference toward publishers.  If you read all the Google patents and research papers related to information retrieval (search technology) the one thing that becomes apparent is that the measure of success is always about the users. The impact to site publishers are consistently ignored. That’s why Google Search is perceived as indifferent to site publishers, because publishers have never been a part of the search satisfaction equation.

This is something that publishers and Google may not have wrapped their minds around just yet.

Later on, in the Search Off The Record  podcast, the Googlers specifically discuss how an update is deemed to be working well regardless if a (relatively) small amount of publishers are complaining that Google Search is broken, because what matters is if Google perceives that they are doing the right thing from Google’s perspective.

John said:

“…Sometimes we get feedback after big ranking updates, like core updates, where people are like, “Oh, everything is broken.”

At the 12:06 minute mark of the podcast Gary made light of that kind of feedback:

“Do we? We get feedback like that?”

Mueller responded:

“Well, yeah.”

Then Mueller completed his thought:

“I feel bad for them. I kind of understand that. I think those are the kind of situations where we would look at the examples and be like, “Oh, I see some sites are unhappy with this, but overall we’re doing the right thing from our perspective.”

And Gary responded:

“Right.”

And John asks:

“And then we wouldn’t see it as an issue, right?”

Gary affirmed that Google wouldn’t see it as an issue if a legit publisher loses traffic when overall the algorithm is working as they feel it should.

“Yeah.”

It is precisely that shrugging indifference that a website publisher, Brandon Saltalamacchia, is concerned about and discussed with SearchLiaison in a recent blog post.

Lots of Questions

SearchLiaison asked many questions about how Google could better support content creators, which is notable because Google has a long history of focusing on their user experience but seemingly not also considering what the impact on businesses with an online presence.

That’s a good sign from SearchLiaison but not entirely a surprise because unlike most Googlers, SearchLiaison (aka Danny Sullivan) has decades of experience as a publisher so he knows what it’s like on our side of the search box.

It will be interesting if SearchLiaison’s concern for publishers makes it back to Google in a more profound way so that there’s a better understanding that the Search Ecosystem is greater than Google’s users and encompasses website publishers, too. Algorithm updates should be about more than how they impact users, the updates should also be about how they impact publishers.

Hope For Sites That Lost Traffic

Perhaps the most important news from the interview is that SearchLiaison expressed that there may be changes coming over the next few months that will benefit the publishers who have lost rankings over the past few months of updates.

Brandon wrote:

“One main take away from my conversation with Danny is that he did say to hang on, to keep doing what we are doing and that he’s hopeful that those of us building great websites will see some signs of recovery over the coming months.”

Yet despite those promises from Danny, Brandon didn’t come away with hope.

Brandon wrote:

“I got the sense things won’t change fast, nor anytime soon. “

Read the entire interview:

A Brief Meeting With Google After The Apocalypse

Listen to the Search Off The Record Podcast

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Roman Samborskyi

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20 Confirmed Facts About YouTube’s Algorithm

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20 Confirmed Facts About YouTube's Algorithm

Instead of counting the number of clicks or views a video gets, YouTube’s algorithms focus on ensuring viewers are happy with what they watch.

This article examines how YouTube’s algorithms work to help users find videos they like and keep them watching for longer.

We’ll explain how YouTube selects videos for different parts of its site, such as the home page and the “up next” suggestions.

We’ll also discuss what makes some videos appear more than others and how YouTube matches videos to each person’s interests.

By breaking this down, we hope to help marketers and YouTubers understand how to work better with YouTube’s system.

A summary of all facts is listed at the end.

Prioritizing Viewer Satisfaction

Early on, YouTube ranked videos based on watch time data, assuming longer view durations correlated with audience satisfaction.

However, they realized that total watch time alone was an incomplete measure, as viewers could still be left unsatisfied.

So, beginning in the early 2010s, YouTube prioritized viewer satisfaction metrics for ranking content across the site.

The algorithms consider signals like:

  • Survey responses directly asking viewers about their satisfaction with recommended videos.
  • Clicks on the “like,” “dislike,” or “not interested” buttons which indicate satisfaction.
  • Overall audience retention metrics like the percentage of videos viewed.
  • User behavior metrics, including what users have watched before (watch history) and what they watch after a video (watch next).

The recommendation algorithms continuously learn from user behavior patterns and explicit satisfaction inputs to identify the best videos to recommend.

How Videos Rank On The Homepage

The YouTube homepage curates and ranks a selection of videos a viewer will most likely watch.

The ranking factors include:

Performance Data

This covers metrics like click-through rates from impressions and average view duration. When shown on its homepages, YouTube uses these traditional viewer behavioral signals to gauge how compelling a video is for other viewers.

Personalized Relevance

Besides performance data, YouTube relies heavily on personalized relevance to customize the homepage feed for each viewer’s unique interests. This personalization is based on insights from their viewing history, subscriptions, and engagement patterns with specific topics or creators.

How YouTube Ranks Suggested Video Recommendations

The suggested videos column is designed to keep viewers engaged by identifying other videos relevant to what they’re currently watching and aligned with their interests.

The ranking factors include:

Video Co-Viewing

YouTube analyzes viewing patterns to understand which videos are frequently watched together or sequentially by the same audience segments. This allows them to recommend related content the viewer will likely watch next.

Topic/Category Matching

The algorithm looks for videos covering topics or categories similar to the video being watched currently to provide tightly relevant suggestions.

Personal Watch History

A viewer’s viewing patterns and history are a strong signal for suggesting videos they’ll likely want to watch again.

Channel Subscriptions

Videos from channels that viewers frequently watch and engage with are prioritized as suggestions to keep them connected to favored creators.

External Ranking Variables

YouTube has acknowledged the following external variables can impact video performance:

  • The overall popularity and competition level for different topics and content categories.
  • Shifting viewer behavior patterns and interest trends in what content they consume.
  • Seasonal effects can influence what types of videos people watch during different times of the year.

Being a small or emerging creator can also be a positive factor, as YouTube tries to get them discovered through recommendations.

The company says it closely monitors success rates for new creators and is working on further advancements like:

  • Leveraging advanced AI language models to better understand content topics and viewer interests.
  • Optimizing the discovery experience with improved layouts and content pathways to reduce “choice paralysis.”

Strategies For Creators

With viewer satisfaction as the overarching goal, this is how creators can maximize the potential of having their videos recommended:

  • Focus on creating content that drives high viewer satisfaction through strong audience retention, positive survey responses, likes/engagement, and low abandon rates.
  • Develop consistent series or sequel videos to increase chances of being suggested for related/sequence views.
  • Utilize playlists, end screens, and linked video prompts to connect your content for extended viewing sessions.
  • Explore creating content in newer formats, such as Shorts, live streams, or podcasts, that may align with changing viewer interests.
  • Monitor performance overall, specifically from your existing subscriber base as a baseline.
  • Don’t get discouraged by initial metrics. YouTube allows videos to continuously find relevant audience segments over time.
  • Pay attention to seasonality trends, competition, and evolving viewer interests, which can all impact recommendations.

In Summary – 20 Key Facts About YouTube’s Algorithm

  1. YouTube has multiple algorithms for different sections (homepage, suggested videos, search, etc.).
  2. The recommendation system powers the homepage and suggested video sections.
  3. The system pulls in videos that are relevant for each viewer.
  4. Maximizing viewer satisfaction is the top priority for rankings.
  5. YouTube uses survey responses, likes, dislikes, and “not interested” clicks to measure satisfaction.
  6. High audience retention percentages signal positive satisfaction.
  7. Homepage rankings combine performance data and personalized relevance.
  8. Performance is based on click-through rates and average view duration.
  9. Personalized relevance factors include watch history, interests, and subscriptions.
  10. Suggested videos prioritize content that is co-viewed by the same audiences.
  11. Videos from subscribed channels are prioritized for suggestions.
  12. Consistent series and sequential videos increase suggestions for related viewing.
  13. Playlists, end screens, and linked videos can extend viewing sessions.
  14. Creating engaging, satisfying content is the core strategy for recommendations.
  15. External factors like competition, trends, and seasonality impact recommendations.
  16. YouTube aims to help new/smaller creators get discovered through recommendations.
  17. AI language models are improving content understanding and personalization.
  18. YouTube optimizes the discovery experience to reduce “choice paralysis.”
  19. Videos can find audiences over time, even if initial metrics are discouraging.
  20. The algorithm focuses on delivering long-term, satisfying experiences for viewer retention.

Insight From Industry Experts

While putting together this article, I reached out to industry experts to ask about their take on YouTube’s algorithms and what’s currently working for them.

Greg Jarboe, the president and co-founder of SEO-PR and author of YouTube and Video Marketing, says:

“The goals of YouTube’s search and discovery system are twofold: to help viewers find the videos they want to watch, and to maximize long-term viewer engagement and satisfaction. So, to optimize your videos for discovery, you should write optimized titles, tags, and descriptions. This has been true since July 2011, when the YouTube Creator Playbook became available to the public for the first time.

However, YouTube changed its algorithm in October 2012 – replacing ‘view count’ with ‘watch time.’ That’s why you need to go beyond optimizing your video’s metadata. You also need to keep viewers watching with a variety of techniques. For starters, you need to create a compelling opening to your videos and then use effective editing techniques to maintain and build interest through the video.

There are other ranking factors, of course, but these are the two most important ones. I’ve used these video SEO best practices to help the Travel Magazine channel increase from just 1,510 to 8.7 million views. And these video SEO techniques help the SonoSite channel grow from 99,529 views to 22.7 million views.

The biggest recent trend is the advent of YouTube Shorts, which is discoverable on the YouTube homepage (in the new Shorts shelf), as well as across other parts of the app. For more details, read “Can YouTube Shorts Be Monetized? Spoiler Alert: Some Already Are!

Brie E. Anderson, an SEO and digital marketing consultant, says:

“In my experience, there are a few things that are really critical when it comes to optimizing for YouTube, most of which won’t be much of a surprise. The first is obviously the keyword you choose to target. It’s really hard to beat out really large and high authority channels, much like it is on Google. That being said, using tools like TubeBuddy can help you get a sense of the keywords you can compete for.

Another big thing is focusing on the SERP for YouTube Search. Your thumbnail has to be attention-grabbing – this is honestly what we test the most and one of the most impactful tests we run. More times than not, you’re looking at a large face, and max four words. But the amount of contrast happening in the thumbnail and how well it explains the topic of the video is the main concern.

Also, adding the ‘chapters’ timestamps can be really helpful. YouTube actually shows these in the SERP, as mentioned in this article.

Lastly, providing your own .srt file with captions can really help YouTube understand what your video is about.

Aside from actual on-video optimizations, I usually encourage people to write blog posts and embed their videos or, at the very least, link to them. This just helps with indexing and building some authority. It also increases the chance that the video will help YOUR SITE rank (as opposed to YouTube).”

Sources: YouTube’s Creator Insider Channel (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), How YouTube Works

More resources: 


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7 Strategies From Medical SEO Pros

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7 Strategies From Medical SEO Pros

Healthcare SEO is the secret to helping your organization reach more patients and clients.

SEO can help you rank for useful keywords, connect with patients in your local area, and share helpful information and advice with thousands of people.

To write this guide to medical SEO, we interviewed five experienced healthcare SEOs and content creators. We asked them to share their best advice for helping healthcare businesses grow through effective, ethical SEO:

The core principles of SEO are the same for every type of company. You need to create high-quality content, earn backlinks, and make sure your site is free of technical problems.

But healthcare SEO has some unique challenges:

  • Popular keywords are dominated by huge international brands.
  • Many healthcare companies only serve a particular local area.
  • Google expects medical content to be reviewed by healthcare experts.
  • There can be strict rules and regulations governing how medical information is shared.
  • Healthcare companies often need to market simultaneously to patients, businesses, and clinicians.

In this article, we’ll show you how to solve these problems: from building .gov backlinks to medically reviewing your content.

Content creation is a core part of healthcare marketing, but most medical topics are what Google calls YMYL topics—Your Money or Your Life.

For any topic that “could significantly impact the health, financial stability, or safety of people”, Google tries to prioritize content that demonstrates obvious expertise, experience, authority, and trust (also known as EEAT).

In practice, that means that most top-ranking medical content is reviewed by medical experts. Here are some of the top results from the SERP (search engine results page) for osteoarthritis treatments.

Healthline lists the author bios and medical reviewers for each article:

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Cleveland Clinic includes a “medically reviewed” badge, and links to a list of editorial standards:

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WebMD highlights each post’s medical reviewer:

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And The Mayo Clinic links to their huge list of medical editors:

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Medical review is so common across health-related SERPs that Caitlin adopted a simple rule for her content creation process: get every article medically reviewed—even a topic like drinking water to lose weight.

If creating hundreds of articles and subjecting them to rigorous medical review sounds complicated, well… it can be. Here’s how the experts handle it:

Create content with non-experts

You might think that all medical content needs to be written by medical experts, but after talking to our experts, most articles were created by writers with no medical qualifications—or even generated with AI.

For many medical topics, it’s easy to find objective, accurate information. Add in a few interviews with healthcare professionals—as Sarah asks her team of freelance writers to do—and properly cite medical references, and non-experts can write decent SEO content.

For more research-heavy or cutting-edge topics, it’s necessary to do deeper research and work with specialized medical writers. Here’s how Caitlin tackled this process, dividing her content into two “buckets”:

  • Common knowledge topics (~70% of all articles): for topics with lots of existing information, Caitlin worked with the content marketing agency Verblio. In a similar vein, Geoff uses AI to write straightforward first drafts.
  • Cutting-edge topics (~30% of all articles): for topics that required heavy research (like the impact of CBD oil on anxiety), Caitlin worked with a specialized medical writer from the agency Writing Studio. When writing about ozempic, Sarah sought feedback from four separate professionals.

Source expert medical reviewers

The SEOs I interviewed sourced their medical reviewers in two different ways:

  • In-house experts: Sarah at Hinge Health had content reviewed by “in-house, member-facing employees”, a mixture of physical therapists, medical reviewers and clinical reviewers depending on the topic.
  • Freelancers: Without the luxury of in-house experts, Caitlin built a network of freelance doctors on Upwork. These were generally fully licensed doctors and medical professionals, half from within the United States and half from other countries.

In all cases, Caitlin notes, it’s important to ask your medical reviewers to check their indemnity insurance. In most countries, clinicians are accountable to medical regulators. Once they put their byline on an article, they are responsible for the advice it offers.

Review for medical accuracy

Medical reviewers should vet your content for accuracy and suggest edits where needed. That often means:

  • Flagging errors and misinformation (like incorrect medical terminology).
  • Adding extra context and information (like extra details about symptoms or treatments).
  • Softening language (avoiding phrases like “best treatment” or “guaranteed to work”).

Caitlin’s workflow looks like this:

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Learn more about Caitlin’s process in our article, 7 Content Automations used by Real Content Pros.

Publish with clear author and reviewer attribution

It’s crucial to make the medical review as obvious to readers and search engines as possible. Here’s a great example from Caitlin’s previous company, HealthMatch:

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And another from Sarah’s company, Hinge Health:

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These examples highlight three best practices:

  • Include a clear, obvious reviewer bio on every article, including their photograph, name, qualifications, and even their area of medical speciality.
  • Link to a dedicated reviewer page, showing the author’s credentials and past experience, and linking to other relevant bylines on the web.
  • Use relevant schema data for the authors and reviewers (but more on that later).

Everyone I interviewed shared the same core challenge: medical SEO is dominated by a handful of internationally recognized brands, like Cleveland Clinic, Healthline, WebMD, NHS, and Mayo Clinic.

With strong link profiles and brand recognition, these companies generally dominate most healthcare SERPs.

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A 92 DR score means these companies can be very difficult to compete against in the search results.

To work around this constraint, everyone I interviewed chose to focus on low-competition long-tail keywords, before gradually targeting more competitive terms as they started to see results.

You can find these terms easily with Ahrefs. To start, here’s a short-tail keyword, headache, with 121,000 monthly searches and a “Super hard” keyword difficulty:

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A top-three ranking would be out of reach for most companies, but we can use the Related terms report in Keywords Explorer to find less competitive variations that might be worth targeting.

Here, we’ve set the keyword difficulty to a maximum of 40, and surfaced 976 keywords:

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To stand an even better chance of ranking, we can also filter our results with the Lowest DR filter. In the screenshot below, we’ve limited our search solely to keywords that already have low DR websites (in this case,

In other words, these are all keywords a fledgling website would have an excellent chance of ranking for:

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The topic cluster framework is a way to organize and link between related articles on a website. It makes it easy for both visitors and search engines to easily navigate between related content—other relevant articles are only a single click away.

Caitlin explained that healthcare is “natively suited” to the topic clustering technique. Every medical condition generally has a similar set of patient questions associated with it, making it easy to use similar content templates for many different medical conditions.

Geoff shared a framework he commonly uses with his healthcare clients. For most medical conditions, you can usually group your content into three topic clusters: pre-intervention, intra-intervention, and post-intervention:

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Pre-intervention

These are questions people ask before treatment or surgery:

  • Diagnosis: do I need a hip replacement
  • Treatment options: which method of hip replacement is the best?
  • Cost: how much does a hip replacement cost
  • Images: hip replacement surgery pictures
  • Outcomes: how long does a hip replacement last

Intra-intervention

These are questions people ask about the treatment or surgery itself:

  • Anesthesia: are you awake during hip replacement surgery
  • Duration: how long does hip replacement surgery take

Post-intervention

These are questions people ask after having treatment:

  • Recovery period: how long to recover from hip replacement
  • Anxieties: what are the symptoms of nerve damage after hip replacement
  • “Can I do X”: how long after hip replacement can you drive

You can use Ahrefs to research these topic clusters.

Start by entering a medical condition or topic into Keywords Explorer. Click the Matching terms report to see similar keywords, and then Questions to find related keywords in the form of, you guessed it, questions:

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Here, we’re looking at hip replacement.

With this process, we’ve already found 5,163 keywords relating to hip replacements, like how long does a hip replacement last and how long after hip replacement can i tie my shoes:

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You can click Clusters by Parent Topic to group these keywords together into clusters, groups of keywords that can likely be targeted by the same article. Now we’ve refined our list of potential articles from 5,000 down to 270:

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Backlinks are a core component of effective SEO—and that remains true in healthcare SEO.

If the idea of doing “shady” outreach for a healthcare company gives you shivers, don’t worry: healthcare companies have unique strengths that make it relatively easy to build great backlinks.

Many healthcare companies have strong relationships with government bodies, charitable organizations, and educational institutions, making it possible to earn links from high-DR .gov and .edu domains.

Despina shared the example of HammondCare, an Australian aged care provider. A quick look at their backlink profile reveals 33 referring .gov domains:

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They’ve also snagged 24 referring .edu domains:

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Looking at their backlink profile as a whole, we can identify several easy-to-replicate strategies suitable for all types of healthcare companies:

As Despina pointed out, most healthcare providers are already sitting on a small goldmine of interesting research and accomplishments. Link building can be as simple as asking: what have we already done that we can use to get links?

Many healthcare organizations are local businesses with bricks-and-mortar premises. The process of attracting interest in a specific area is known as local SEO (and we have a full guide here: Local SEO: The Complete Guide).

There are three local SEO strategies that are particularly crucial for healthcare companies: optimizing your Google My Business profile, building NAP citations in healthcare directories, and building local landing pages.

Optimize your Google My Business profile

Most local searches include a “map pack”, a collection of top local business listings in your area. To stand a chance of appearing in these results, you’ll need to claim and optimize your Google My Business (GMB) profile.

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Once you’ve claimed your profile (head to https://www.google.com/business/ and click “Manage now”), you’ll need to fill out as much relevant information as possible:

  • Business or practice name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Website
  • Business type (the more specific, the better: orthopedic surgeon is better than surgeon or doctor)
  • Hours of operation
  • Medical services offered
  • Photos of your practice and team

Depending on the nature of your healthcare organization, there may be other types of information you can share. Here’s the GMB profile for The Royal London Hospital, complete with hospital-specific profile information, like number of beds and parent organization:

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For a detailed walkthrough of setting up your GMB profile, read our guide: How to Optimize Your Google My Business Listing in 30 Minutes.

Be careful when asking for reviews

Earning and responding to reviews is a key part of managing your Google My Business Profile… but there’s a catch for healthcare companies.

In many countries, there are strict rules and regulations dictating how healthcare providers can (or cannot) solicit reviews from patients.

So before you hand out a hundred feedback leaflets to your patients, read up on laws and regulations (like HIPPA) in your location.

Build NAP citations and submit your company to healthcare directories

NAP citations refer to mentions of your organization on relevant third-party websites (including your organization’s name, address, and phone number—hence NAP).

These citations create more ways for potential customers to find you, and they can help improve your site’s overall search performance.

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As a starting point, get your healthcare company listed with the main data aggregators (sites that provide business listings to popular directories), like Data Axle, Localeze, and Foursquare.

It’s also worth getting listed on other popular websites like Apple Maps, Yelp, Yellow Pages, Bing Places, and Facebook.

Geoff shared some of the UK-specific medical directories he sees most often in local healthcare search results (in many cases, these directories have international versions too):

You can learn more about building NAP citations in our guide: How to Build Local Citations (Complete Guide).

Tip

You can use the Link Intersect report in Ahrefs to quickly find relevant medical directories. Enter the homepages for similar healthcare organizations and hit “Show link opportunities.” You’ll see a list of websites that link to some—or all—of these competitors.

Here I’ve run the report using three private hospitals from my local area:

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Based on this result, I’d immediately try to secure a link from the CQC (the UK’s independent healthcare regulator) and Doctify (a review and feedback platform specifically for the healthcare industry).

Create locations and services pages

Despina recommends that most healthcare organizations create location landing pages: web pages that tell visitors (and Google) where your business operates.

Here’s an example from my local sports physiotherapy clinic. For each of the major locations they serve, they’ve created a dedicated website page.

Here’s one focused on the town of Aylesbury, helping them to rank for keywords like “physiotherapy aylesbury”:

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To create great location pages, Despina shares her advice:

  • Use a localized URL structure, like website.com/service/location.
  • Localize your page’s title tags and page header, like Aylesbury Sport Physiotherapy | Elite Sports Expertise.
  • Include sign-up buttons and contact forms near the start of the page (“above the fold”).
  • Showcase social proof, reviews and images.
  • Link between your location pages to help visitors find the best location for their needs (and improve your chances of ranking for location-specific keywords).
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Read Despina’s deep-dive into location landing pages: Location Landing Pages: 6 Crucial Elements Of Local Visibility.

Schema markup is a type of code that allows search engines to better understand the contents of your page. Schema markup can sometimes make your page eligible for rich results, which can help you earn more clicks from search.

Schema markup is particularly important for local businesses. After searching for family practice physician near me, the top spot in the search results is taken up by a local pack SERP feature:

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One of the top results is using Physician schema markup—a specific schema type designed to tell Google that the author is a doctor:

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Here’s the top result for private hospital near me using another type of medical schema markup, Hospital:

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Schema.org also lists a few other medical-specific schema types, like MedicalCondition (for information about specific medical conditions), Drug (for information about a medical drug), and MedicalWebPage (for webpages about specific medical topics).

Here’s the NHS using the MedicalWebPage schema on their #2 ranking article about hip replacement:

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(Although the #1 ranking article from Johns Hopkins doesn’t use any schema—so although it’s useful, using relevant medical schema is obviously not essential for good search performance.)

The healthcare industry has largely relied on self-regulation to prevent the spread of inaccurate content and misinformation, but this is changing.

We’ve already covered Google’s increasing emphasis on EEAT in search content. In a similar vein, Virginia shared that YouTube (also owned by Google) has started to verify content from medical professionals:

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Medical video content with a “From a licensed doctor in the UK” banner.

They promote this content more heavily through their “Health shelf” feature. Here’s the YouTube results page for asthma, prominently highlighting videos “From health sources”:

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As YouTube explains, to be eligible for these enriched search features (and likely earn more clicks and views), content needs to be from “credible health sources”. These sources are vetted in different ways:

“Vetting mechanisms include accreditation, academic journal indexing and government accountability rules.”

Virginia recommends healthcare companies apply for PIF TICK certification. Created by the Patient Information Forum, the PIF TICK is the only independently assessed standard for both print and digital healthcare content creators.

While it won’t guarantee improved rankings through either Google Search or YouTube search, it seems like a smart proactive move given Google’s increased emphasis on EEAT content in healthcare.

Final thoughts

Healthcare SEO is competitive and involves solving unique challenges, like medical review of content, competing with industry giants, and staying compliant with tons of regulations.

This guide should arm you with everything you need to connect with patients and clients and grow your healthcare business—while making the world a little smarter (and healthier) in the process.

Want to ask a question? Connect with me on LinkedIn or X.



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