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12 SEO KPIs You Should (And Shouldn’t) Track

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12 SEO KPIs You Should (And Shouldn't) Track

SEO KPIs (key performance indicators) are the most important SEO metrics that are closely tied to business growth. They determine the actions you take, so you should choose the KPIs wisely.

In this article, we’ll go through 12 common SEO KPIs and discuss if and how you should track them.

Search visibility measures how visible your brand is in the market. Sometimes also referred to as SERP visibility, it’s the SEO version of one of the most important marketing KPIs: share of voice (SOV).

Should you track it as an SEO KPI?

Yes. Search visibility is one of the most useful and universally applicable SEO KPIs. In fact, it’s arguably the only non-conversion metric that can be closely tied to your business growth.

That’s because there’s a strong relationship between SOV and market share. Generally speaking, the higher your SOV, the bigger your share of the pie.

Relationship between share of voice and market share

How to track it

Paste the keywords that matter to you into Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker. Note that these should be the main keywords that encompass what your target audience is searching for (don’t bother with long-tails). Add a tag to easily filter them later on:

Adding keywords to track search visibility

From there, head to the Competitors Overview tab and check the Visibility column:

Search visibility SEO KPI in Ahrefs' Rank Tracker

2. Conversions from organic traffic

Conversions are important actions your visitors take on the website, such as checking out, signing up, or subscribing to a service. Tracking these for all your traffic sources, including organic, is something most businesses already do.

Should you track it as an SEO KPI?

Yes. This is arguably the only indisputable SEO KPI. Conversion tracking is the most straightforward way to tie your marketing efforts to your revenue.

How to track it

Setting up conversion tracking in Google Analytics 4 isn’t rocket science, even though it may seem daunting at first. You don’t need any coding knowledge to do it. The most important thing here is making sure that you track the right conversions.

If you’re running an e-commerce store, the number of conversions, their value, and your average order value make the most sense for you. You’ll have to set up specific e-commerce tracking to do that.

If you offer subscription-based software like us, your best bet is to track leads, trial sign-ups, paid subscriptions and, eventually, even each tier of new subscriptions.

Got the data collection right? In Google Analytics 4, go to Reports > Engagement > Conversions and filter organic traffic sessions using the “Edit comparisons” button:

Analyzing organic traffic conversions in Google Analytics 4

There’s a lot to be said about the accuracy of conversion reporting and all the nuances regarding the attribution behind it. Generally speaking, you’ll get the most accurate data if:

  1. You’re using GA4 (you should by now).
  2. You use the data-driven attribution model as the default (check Admin > Attribution settings > Reporting attribution model).
  3. You have at least a few hundred conversions a month (to make sure that Google’s black box model has enough data to do its magic).

If you don’t have that many conversions on your website yet, it’s a good idea to also check your assisted conversions using different attribution models. Go to Advertising > Attribution > Conversion paths, select the conversion event you want to analyze, and check the impact of organic search throughout customer journeys:

Analyzing conversion paths in Google Analytics 4

I recommend checking this resource about attribution modeling if you want to better understand this complex topic.

SEO ROI (return on investment) estimates the business value of all SEO activities in contrast to their cost. The formula is:

SEO ROI = (value of organic conversions – cost of SEO investments)/cost of SEO investments *100

In other words, you need to divide the SEO profit by the associated SEO costs and then multiply that by 100 to get the ROI percentage.

Should you track it as an SEO KPI?

Only if you’re required to present the ROI by your client, manager, or stakeholders. It’s a great SEO KPI in essence but incredibly difficult to measure properly.

Arguably, the biggest challenge comes to the discrepancy between “investment” and “return” periods. SEO can take a lot of time before the desired results kick in, and you can almost never say with 100% confidence that activity X brought results Y.

However, we can drop the concept of looking at SEO ROI from the whole website perspective. To get as accurate as we can with this metric, we need to get more granular.

How to track it

If possible, measure the ROI on the category, page, or even keyword level. That’s because you can measure well the “return” of ranking with particular pages and tell the “investments” that went into it.

Let’s say you spent $1,000 on paying a content writer who created a nice piece of content meaning to rank and drive conversions. You spent another $1,000 on a link building agency that built a few nice links. You count in $500 by default as your time and the time of your team (e.g., designers, editors) to do the rest of the work. And we’re at $2,500.

After a year, you check Google Analytics and see that this organic landing page drove $5,000 in conversions already. You can already claim 200% ROI on that, and it will likely keep on increasing.

This is a simplified example, of course. If you’re intrigued, head over to my guide to SEO ROI.

Backlinks are one of the most important SEO ranking factors.

The number and quality of new backlinks pointing to your website generally reflect your SEO, content marketing, and PR efforts, so this is something most businesses pay close attention to.

Should you track it as an SEO KPI?

Yes, but it’s only suitable as an SEO KPI if you actively build links and keep track of your outreach success. That’s the only way to take into account only links that are worth pursuing.

How to track it

Tracking your outreach success can’t get easier once you’re done with link prospecting, the process of figuring out what backlinks you want to get. Just add a column, note, or comment into your link prospecting sheet that indicates you either got the link or not.

Here’s an example of what newly built link tracking looked like back when I was doing the outreach myself:

New backlinks built tracking in Google Sheets

You’ll either learn that your outreach was successful by receiving a positive reply or discovering a desired backlink in the Backlinks report in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer:

Backlinks report in Ahrefs' Site Explorer showing newly added links in the last seven days
You can see new backlinks pointing to the Ahrefs blog discovered in the last seven days on pages that added the link any time after publishing.

Keyword rankings refer to a website’s organic ranking positions in the search results for particular keywords.

Should you track it as an SEO KPI?

No. Use search visibility as a KPI instead, as it’s a superior metric. But since you need proper keyword research to track it properly, ad hoc keyword rankings could serve as a provisional substitute until you get there.

How to track it

Simply paste a bunch of keywords important to you into Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker.

Adding keywords to Ahrefs' Rank Tracker

You can get regular email alerts about the progress of your tracked keywords or just check the Rank Tracker reports once in a while:

List of keywords with corresponding position changes

Organic traffic represents all non-paid clicks that come from search engines.

Should you track it as an SEO KPI?

Not unless you’re monetizing your website with display ads. It doesn’t make much sense for other businesses because more traffic won’t necessarily mean more revenue. 

For example, HubSpot’s page about typing the “shrug” emoji gets an estimated 65.4K monthly organic visits. But I doubt any of those visits will translate into higher brand awareness, let alone higher sales.

Organic traffic stats overview for HubSpot's page

How to track it

The Performance tab in Google Search Console (GSC) is going to give you the most accurate view of your organic traffic over time:

Organic traffic overview in Google Search Console

7. Number of indexed pages

This tells you how many of your pages a search engine has in its index.

Should you track it as an SEO KPI?

It depends. Seeing the number of indexed pages steadily increasing as you publish new content is a solid indicator that Google doesn’t have problems crawling and indexing your website. But most websites don’t have this problem in the first place.

So consider tracking this number as a technical SEO KPI only if you’re likely to have trouble getting your content indexed in a timely manner. That’s usually the case for large and complex websites only.

How to track it

The best way to keep track of the number of your indexed pages is to check the Pages report in your GSC account. In there, select “All submitted pages” filter to only show pages from your sitemaps:

Page indexing filter in Google Search Console

We’re doing this because your sitemaps should only include URLs that you want to have indexed. Analyzing the number of indexed pages in this segment and relating it to “Not indexed” is, therefore, the best choice for this technical SEO KPI:

Page indexing report for "All submitted pages" in Google Search Console

Health Score shows the proportion of internal URLs on your website that don’t have technical SEO errors.

Should you track it as an SEO KPI?

No. It’s a great proxy metric for your overall state of technical SEO, and that’s it. You always need to get more context for any valuable insights. Here’s an example why:

404 HTTP status code is one of those technical SEO issues that will trigger an error in any crawler. Showing that a resource wasn’t found is usually bad for both visitors and search engines. But there’s a huge difference between having a 404 on a well-converting page with high organic traffic and one that’s not very important.

In essence, some technical SEO errors are much more serious than others, but Health Score doesn’t make a difference there.

How to track it

Most SEO crawlers provide Health Score or some alternative metric with different names.

In the case of Ahrefs’ Site Audit, you need to set up a project, start the first crawl, and then check the Health Score in the crawl overview:

Website Health Score in Ahrefs' Site Audit

Domain Rating (DR) is an Ahrefs metric that shows the relative strength of a website’s backlink profile.

Should you track it as an SEO KPI?

No. You can use it to gauge a website’s backlink profile strength, but a deeper analysis is always needed to assess it properly. DR is just another useful proxy metric SEOs like to work with.

If you’re looking for a backlinks KPI, scroll back to “new backlinks.” That’s a much better choice where we can take into account all the important backlink variables.

How to track it

Look up any domain in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, and you’ll see DR as the first metric in the overview box:

Domain Rating as a part of the Overview report in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Click-through rate (CTR) shows the proportion of SERP impressions that translated into clicks. CTR represents how effective your search engine listing is in attracting people to visit your webpage.

Should you track it as an SEO KPI?

No. Driving more search traffic by having more engaging SERP listings doesn’t necessarily translate into more sales. Clickbait could do quite the opposite. And yes, Google is far from perfect and still ranks clickbait pages for certain keywords.

Another reason why you shouldn’t obsess over CTR is that many things outside your control can affect that. SERPs are an ever-changing environment.

And last but not least, CTR is useless on an aggregate level of your whole website. It only makes sense to track and optimize CTR as a page-level metric because that’s the scope you optimize for.

How to track it

Open up your Performance report in GSC, switch to the Pages tab, and check the CTRs of your specific pages:

Tracking CTR on a page level in Google Search Console

Core Web Vitals (CWV) are a set of three technical SEO metrics related to your website speed and user experience.

Should you track it as an SEO KPI?

No. Google has been using CWV as a minor ranking factor since June 2021. As the word “minor” implies, you can’t expect any significant ranking boost even if you have perfect CWV scores across your whole website.

Focus on CWV has its place in SEO, but it’s been a bit overhyped. If any or all of those three CWV metrics are very bad, it’s likely a good idea to try and fix them. But they don’t even remotely qualify as an SEO KPI.

How to track it

There are many ways to track CWV, but the most straightforward is to check your GSC account under the Core web vitals report:

Core web vitals report in Google Search Console

Engagement metrics give you an idea of how engaged visitors are with your website. Most people know them from Google Analytics, and they include metrics such as Bounce Rate, Engagement Rate, Time on Page, or Avg. Session Duration.

Should you track it as an SEO KPI?

No. These metrics usually don’t even reflect on your SEO growth, let alone business growth. But many marketers are obsessed with them for some reason.

In short, here are three reasons why these should only be used as secondary SEO metrics at best:

  1. They’re easily skewed by inherently flawed tracking in analytics software and mistakes in tracking setups.
  2. The methodology of calculating some of those metrics is rather bad.
  3. They become somewhat useful only after you segment them on a page level for a specific traffic source.

If you’re interested in learning more, I dive deeper into all these reasons in our guide to interpreting and improving Bounce Rate, one of the most commonly used and known engagement metrics.

How to track it

Most of your reports in Google Analytics will show these engagement metrics by default. As I mentioned earlier, if you plan to analyze them, it’s best to filter your report to show specific pages for one traffic source:

Engagement metrics in Google Analytics 4 report

Final thoughts

It may have surprised you that only the first two SEO KPIs in this list got an absolute yes from me. Well, choosing the right objectives and respective KPIs is the main part of creating a great marketing strategy. And with all things strategy, it’s more about choosing what not to do. In this case, which SEO metrics not to pay too much attention to.

There are uses for all the listed metrics, though. It’s generally a good idea to keep track of them all. Some of them nicely correlate with your chosen KPIs and can even be a better choice for assessing your day-to-day SEO work. Just think twice before giving a certain metric too much importance.

Last but not least, tracking the right KPIs isn’t a panacea for your SEO. You need to learn how to analyze and interpret them to make the most informed decision. Critical thinking, knowledge of your data, and tracking platforms and basic statistics belong to the desired skill set here.

Got any questions? Ping me on Twitter.



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Navigating The SEO Career Landscape: Degrees, Myths, And Realities

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Navigating The SEO Career Landscape: Degrees, Myths, And Realities

In the dynamic realm of search engine optimization (SEO), my career spans nearly two decades, starting in 2004 when I started working for an agency and just two years later moved to in-house SEO for a large company.

Since then, I’ve held various in-house SEO roles at esteemed organizations, including Classmates.com, Concur, Smartsheet, ADP (usedcars.com), Nordstrom, Groupon, GitHub, and my most recent role at RingCentral – experiences which have deepened my understanding of the field and allowed me to shape SEO within different business contexts.

I began my career as an SEO specialist at the agency; my role involved understanding website optimization, keyword research, and refining on-page and off-page strategies.

When I moved to management, I had to understand how to lead a team properly.

As my journey progressed, transitioning to roles like SEO manager involved overseeing SEO strategies, developing comprehensive plans, educating and leading teams, and ensuring alignment with overarching business goals.

These roles collectively form the backbone of SEO, showcasing its dynamism and emphasizing each position’s indispensable role in driving effective digital marketing strategies.

My journey isn’t that much different from that of many SEO professionals, aside from the fact that some SEO pros may decide to stay with an agency or focus on consulting rather than working for another company.

There are so many avenues one could go down when choosing their career path for SEO, so let me help break it down.

SEO Roles

As someone immersed in the SEO field for many years, I fully understand today’s many diverse SEO roles.

Let’s explore these roles, the average salaries in the US, and advice I have for anyone looking to move into these roles, considering both their nuances and the path ahead for aspiring SEO professionals:

SEO Specialist

Embarking on the SEO journey often starts as a specialist. In this entry-level role, one will dig into the complexities of optimizing websites to boost rankings.

As a specialist, my early days involved conducting keyword research, analyzing website performance, and implementing strategies that enhanced organic visibility for clients.

This foundational role serves as a stepping stone to grasp the fundamentals of digital marketing in both the agency and in-house environments.

  • Salary*: $63,699 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Focus on entry-level content optimization, conducting keyword research, and honing on-page and off-page strategies.
  • Advice: This is a great role to grasp the fundamentals, immerse yourself in various facets of digital marketing, and adapt to evolving trends.

SEO Content Strategist

Transitioning to a content strategist role within SEO reveals the creative side of drafting engaging, search-engine-friendly content.

Most SEO pros in this position are expected to sharpen their writing skills and plan and optimize content calendars based on comprehensive keyword research.

As an SEO content strategist, creating informative and captivating content is paramount to retaining readers and adhering to evolving SEO best practices.

Technical SEO Manager

My background in engineering has allowed me to focus heavily on the technical aspects of SEO. The position as a technical SEO manager requires a solid knowledge of coding, engineering processes, and database management.

The role of a technical SEO professional involves handling site structure, indexing, and resolving intricate technical issues that impact search performance.

Responsibilities extend to collaborating with engineering teams, ensuring effective communication, and mitigating risks associated with technical SEO.

This role requires a unique blend of technical acumen and collaborative skills.

  • Salary*: $99,548 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Tackle technical aspects impacting search performance, focusing on site structure, indexing, and technical troubleshooting.
  • Advice: Understand what goes into the development of a website, including the various coding languages (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Java, Python, React, Angular, etc.), database connectivity, and server administration, followed by the specifics of what Google expects and recommends for the benefits of SEO. In addition, SEO pros are expected to cultivate collaboration skills and have a solid understanding of using tools like Botify to aid in effective communication with engineers, which is pivotal for project success and seamless cooperation.

Link Building Specialist

As a link building specialist, the focus shifts to acquiring high-quality backlinks to enhance website authority and rankings.

This role demands persistence in building relationships, performing strategic outreach, and executing link-building strategies.

SEO pros interested in pursuing a career focused on off-site SEO must demonstrate the meticulous effort and specialization required in acquiring valuable links, making this role a dynamic and rewarding part of the SEO landscape.

  • Salary*: $63,699 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Acquire high-quality backlinks from relevant sites to enhance website authority, involving relationship-building and strategic outreach.
  • Advice: Develop persistence and relationship-building skills; the role demands time and specialization in acquiring valuable links while avoiding what could be considered spammy links. It would be very detrimental to a link building specialist’s career if they were to get a website banned by Google for using bad practices.

Local SEO Specialist

Optimizing websites for local searches can be a specialized avenue in any SEO journey.

Local SEO specialists manage local citations and Google My Business profiles and ensure consistent NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) data for region-specific platforms.

This role highlights the importance of attention to detail and local nuances for businesses aiming to attract nearby customers.

  • Salary*: $62,852 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Optimize websites for local searches, manage local citations and Google My Business profiles, and ensure NAP data consistency.
  • Advice: Understand the nuances of local SEO; attention to detail and consistency are key for localized online visibility. Learn the various tools available to help manage these listings, such as RenderSEO and Yext.

Ecommerce SEO Product Manager

Working at ecommerce companies brings a unique challenge of its own.

SEO product manager roles require an SEO pro to specialize in optimizing online stores; the focus shifts to product optimization, category pages, site structure, and enhancing user experience.

Balancing SEO knowledge with product management skills becomes essential in navigating this niche, offering both challenges and lucrative opportunities.

  • Salary*: $117,277 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Specialize in optimizing online stores, focusing on product optimization, category pages, and user experience.
  • Advice: Combine SEO knowledge with product management skills; leveling up enhances prospects in this unique and lucrative niche.

SEO Consultant

My role as an SEO consultant involved advising businesses on enhancing online visibility. Analyzing websites, developing customized strategies, and offering guidance on effective SEO became integral.

The SEO consultant role offers relief when I find myself out of work in my in-house roles due to a layoff or if the company culture isn’t a good fit.

While my consulting is a second and infrequent role, many SEO pros decide that consulting is what they prefer to do full-time.

Either way, providing optimization services to companies neglecting SEO is a great way to make a substantial income.

  • Salary*: $63,298 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Advise businesses on improving online visibility, analyzing websites, developing strategies, and offering SEO guidance.
  • Advice: Gain diverse optimization experience; providing services to companies neglecting SEO can yield rapid improvement.

SEO Account Manager

Anyone interested in an SEO account manager role will experience the dynamic facet of serving as a bridge between clients and staff.

Meeting clients to understand their needs and relaying information for improved optimization efforts is the cornerstone of this position.

Performance-driven account managers could earn additional commissions, adding an incentive-driven layer to the role.

  • Salary*: $68,314 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Serve as a company’s point of contact, meeting clients and relaying information for improved optimization efforts.
  • Advice: Understand industry standards; performance-driven account managers can earn additional commissions, boosting income.

SEO Data Analyst

An SEO data analyst role involves collecting and interpreting website performance and search rankings data.

Using tools like Google Analytics, Semrush, and Botify while obtaining knowledge of running SQL queries provides insights to inform strategic decisions.

This role underlines the significance of data analysis, specifically focusing on SEO-related metrics and their implications.

  • Salary*: $76,575 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Collect and interpret website performance and search rankings data, offering insights for strategic decisions.
  • Advice: Know how to run SQL queries and manipulate data in Excel. Focus on SEO-related data analysis and understanding traffic from various search engines to improve decision-making.

SEO Manager

The majority of my roles in my career have been under the SEO manager title.

Those roles involved overseeing entire SEO strategies, developing comprehensive plans, managing teams, and ensuring alignment with overarching business goals. This mid-to-senior-level management position requires a diverse skill set.

  • Salary*: $74,494 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Oversee entire SEO strategy, develop comprehensive plans, manage teams, and ensure alignment with business goals.
  • Advice: Understand what it takes to be a team leader. Nurture your team, build relationships in the organization, and articulate the benefits of what you’re asking to accomplish SEO growth. Management books like StrengthsFinder 2.0: Gallup by Don Clifton and Radical Candor by Kim Scott are great resources for becoming a good leader. If an SEO manager can tap into effective communication and leadership, the senior positions can lead to higher earnings of up to $210,000.

Notes:

The salary for the link building and local specialist roles are the same as that of an SEO specialist, since they tend to be at the same level.

In addition, the SEO product manager’s salary is taken from what a standard product manager makes since the roles are very similar.

Also, note that consultants can make upwards of $200,000 per year or more as they decide what to charge clients and how many clients they choose to take on.

*US National average salary reported by Indeed.com as of January 2024

Is SEO A Good Career Choice? Debunking Myths And Realities

Having navigated the dynamic landscape of SEO for over two decades, I have found that, while choosing a career in SEO has been rewarding, there are many things I would have done differently if I had the chance to do it all over again.

The good part about the SEO career path is that it unfolds across various roles, each offering unique challenges and opportunities for growth.

Starting from entry-level positions to assuming leadership roles like SEO manager, professionals gain a diverse skill set and invaluable experience.

However, it’s crucial to understand that the journey rarely leads to executive positions like director of SEO in larger companies and even more rarely to vice president positions.

The salaries of roles that SEO pros work with (i.e., product managers, engineers, growth managers, etc.) are much higher than what SEO pros usually make. So if it’s money you’re after in an SEO career, then you may be on the wrong path.

Agencies often embrace SEO professionals in executive roles, highlighting the need for a blended approach to SEO strategy involving in-house and agency collaboration. Still, the salaries tend to be less than for in-house roles.

Most SEO professionals should begin their journey as specialists and envision their desired position in 5 to 10 years.

If aspirations lean towards engineering, take the initiative to learn to code and acquire the necessary skills expected of an engineer. Collaborate closely with engineering teams, expressing a keen interest in contributing to their projects to transition to an engineering role.

For those eyeing executive roles in large corporations, strategically plan a career trajectory that navigates beyond SEO and aligns with roles leading to executive positions.

Typically, chief marketing officers (CMOs) have backgrounds in product marketing or growth marketing, progressing from directors to VPs in those domains before making the leap to CMO.

While SEO expertise enhances marketability, transitioning from SEO to these roles can be challenging. Therefore, be prepared to undertake the necessary steps to facilitate a smooth transition when the time comes.

For those contemplating an SEO career, embrace the diverse roles within SEO, each contributing to a robust skill set.

Junior roles provide foundational knowledge, strategists refine creativity and analytical abilities, and managers oversee comprehensive SEO plans.

It’s essential to evaluate personal preferences – whether one aspires to be a specialist excelling in a specific area or climb the ladder to managerial roles.

Be aware that large companies might not offer executive SEO positions, leading to the importance of understanding the industry’s dynamics and considering agency opportunities.

Education In SEO: Unveiling The Reality of Degrees

After spending over two decades submerged in SEO, a formal degree is not a prerequisite for a successful career in SEO.

My journey began with college, where I majored in English and Art History. However, realizing the potential in web design and development, I dropped out to focus on freelance work.

The SEO industry thrives on practical skills and hands-on experience, making degrees less significant.

Numerous online resources and guides offer a wealth of information to aid in mastering SEO techniques. It’s a field where continuous learning is integral, and personal initiative often surpasses the value of formal education.

The insights shared by others resonate with my own experiences. SEO is a realm where proven expertise often outshines academic credentials.

The industry includes individuals with diverse educational backgrounds, from MBAs to those without formal education. What matters most is the ability to adapt, learn, and implement effective strategies.

For aspiring SEO professionals, the key lies in taking the initiative, exploring online resources, and gaining practical experience.

Whether starting a business or pursuing a career, hands-on learning and staying updated with industry trends are the real benchmarks of success. While a degree might be a plus, it’s not mandatory for carving a rewarding path in SEO.

The Diverse Paths Of SEO

The potential routes within the SEO career landscape are numerous, starting with opportunities at agencies that provide an excellent learning ground, exposing individuals to various aspects of digital marketing.

Alternatively, one could enter an in-house position at a company where guidance from an experienced SEO professional is crucial.

Freelancing or working as an independent consultant presents another viable option, offering flexibility in the work environment and schedule.

The SEO career path encompasses a spectrum of roles, from entry-level to junior roles, strategists, managers, and senior managers, each with distinctive responsibilities and salary ranges.

Agency

One significant route involves commencing the journey at agencies, which serve as excellent learning grounds.

Working at an agency exposes individuals to various facets of digital marketing, offering a dynamic environment where skills are honed through hands-on experience.

This path allows for a comprehensive understanding of SEO within the broader context of marketing strategies.

In-House

On the other hand, individuals may choose to embark on an in-house position within a company.

The crucial guidance characterizes this path experienced SEO professionals provide in the corporate setting.

The in-house route often entails a deeper integration with the company’s goals and strategies, requiring a specialized skill set tailored to the organization’s needs.

Freelancing

For those inclined towards independence and flexibility, freelancing or working as an independent consultant represents a viable option within the SEO career landscape.

This path allows individuals to shape their work environment and schedules according to personal preferences.

Freelancers have the opportunity to work with a variety of clients, gaining diverse experiences that contribute to their professional growth.

Conclusion

In this exploration of the SEO career landscape, I am reminded of the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of SEO.

From my humble beginnings as a freelance developer optimizing websites to my most recent work as a consultant, each step has presented unique challenges and learning opportunities, adding to my comprehensive grasp of SEO.

These experiences have enriched my understanding of various business environments.

I hope this article helps readers interested in a career in SEO carve out a path for themselves.

More resources: 


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Technical SEO Checklist for 2024: A Comprehensive Guide

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Technical SEO Checklist 2024 Comprehensive Strategies

Technical SEO Checklist 2024 Comprehensive Strategies

With Google getting a whopping total of six algorithmic updates and four core updates in 2023, you can bet the search landscape is more complicated (and competitive) to navigate nowadays.

To succeed in SEO this year, you will need to figure out what items to check and optimize to ensure your website stays visible. And if your goal is to not just make your website searchable, but have it rank at the top of search engine results, this technical SEO checklist for 2024 is essential.

Webmaster’s Note: This is part one of our three-part SEO checklist for 2024. I also have a longer guide on advanced technical SEO, which covers best practices and how to troubleshoot and solve common technical issues with your websites.

Technical SEO Essentials for 2024

Technical SEO refers to optimizations that are primarily focused on helping search engines access, crawl, interpret, and index your website without any issues. It lays the foundation for your site to be properly understood and served up by search engines to users.

1. Website Speed Optimization

A site’s loading speed is a significant ranking factor for search engines like Google, which prioritize user experience. Faster websites generally provide a more pleasant user experience, leading to increased engagement and improved conversion rates.

Server Optimization

Often, the reason why your website is loading slowly is because of the server it’s hosted on. It’s important to choose a high-quality server that ensures quick loading times from the get-go so you skip the headache that is server optimization.

Google recommends keeping your server response time under 200ms. To check your server’s response time, you need to know your website’s IP address. Once you have that, use your command prompt.

In the window that appears, type ping, followed by your website’s IP address. Press enter and the window should show how long it took your server to respond. 

If you find that your server goes above the recommended 200ms loading time, here’s what you need to check:

  1. Collect the data from your server and identify what is causing your response time to increase. 
  2. Based on what is causing the problem, you will need to implement server-side optimizations. This guide on how to reduce initial server response times can help you here.
  3. Measure your server response times after optimization to use as a benchmark. 
  4. Monitor any regressions after optimization.

If you work with a hosting service, then you should contact them when you need to improve server response times. A good hosting provider should have the right infrastructure, network connections, server hardware, and support services to accommodate these optimizations. They may also offer hosting options if your website needs more server resources to run smoothly.

Website Optimization

Aside from your server, there are a few other reasons that your website might be loading slowly. 

Here are some practices you can do:

  1. Compressing images to decrease file sizes without sacrificing quality
  2. Minimizing the code, eliminating unnecessary spaces, comments, and indentation.
  3. Using caching to store some data locally in a user’s browser to allow for quicker loading on subsequent visits.
  4. Implementing Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) to distribute the load, speeding up access for users situated far from the server.
  5. Lazy load your web pages to prioritize loading the objects or resources only your users need.

A common tool to evaluate your website speed is Google’s PageSpeed Insights or Google Lighthouse. Both tools can analyze the content of your website and then generate suggestions to improve its overall loading speed, all for free. There are also some third-party tools, like GTMetrix, that you could use as well.

Here’s an example of one of our website’s speeds before optimization. It’s one of the worst I’ve seen, and it was affecting our SEO.

slow site speed score from GTMetrixslow site speed score from GTMetrix

So we followed our technical SEO checklist. After working on the images, removing render-blocking page elements, and minifying code, the score greatly improved — and we saw near-immediate improvements in our page rankings. 

site speed optimization results from GTMetrixsite speed optimization results from GTMetrix

That said, playing around with your server settings, coding, and other parts of your website’s backend can mess it up if you don’t know what you’re doing. I suggest backing up all your files and your database before you start working on your website speed for that reason. 

2. Mobile-First Indexing

Mobile-first Indexing is a method used by Google that primarily uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. 

It’s no secret that Google places a priority on the mobile users’ experience, what with mobile-first indexing being used. Beyond that, optimizing your website for mobile just makes sense, given that a majority of people now use their phones to search online.

This change signifies that a fundamental shift in your approach to your website development and design is needed, and it should also be part of your technical SEO checklist.

  1. Ensuring the mobile version of your site contains the same high-quality, rich content as the desktop version.
  2. Make sure metadata is present on both versions of your site.
  3. Verify that structured data is present on both versions of your site.

Tools like Google’s mobile-friendly test can help you measure how effectively your mobile site is performing compared to your desktop versions, and to other websites as well.

3. Crawlability & Indexing Check

Always remember that crawlability and Indexing are the cornerstones of SEO. Crawlability refers to a search engine’s ability to access and crawl through a website’s content. Indexing is how search engines organize information after a crawl and before presenting results.

  1. Utilizing a well-structured robots.txt file to communicate with web crawlers about which of your pages should not be processed or scanned.
  2. Using XML sitemaps to guide search engines through your site’s content and ensure that all valuable content is found and indexed. There are several CMS plugins you can use to generate your sitemap.
  3. Ensuring that your website has a logical structure with a clear hierarchy, helps both users and bots navigate to your most important pages easily. 

Google Search Console is the tool you need to use to ensure your pages are crawled and indexed by Google. It also provides reports that identify any problems that prevent crawlers from indexing your pages. 

4. Structured Data Markup

Structured Data Markup is a coding language that communicates website information in a more organized and richer format to search engines. This plays a strategic role in the way search engines interpret and display your content, enabling enhanced search results through “rich snippets” such as stars for reviews, prices for products, or images for recipes.

Doing this allows search engines to understand and display extra information directly in the search results from it.

Key Takeaway

With all the algorithm changes made in 2023, websites need to stay adaptable and strategic to stay at the top of the search results page. Luckily for you, this technical SEO checklist for 2024 can help you do just that. Use this as a guide to site speed optimization, indexing, and ensuring the best experience for mobile and desktop users.

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Why Google Seems To Favor Big Brands & Low-Quality Content

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Why Google Seems To Favor Big Brands & Low-Quality Content

Many people are convinced that Google shows a preference for big brands and ranking low quality content, something that many feel has become progressively worse. This may not be a matter of perception, something is going on, nearly everyone has an anecdote of poor quality search results. The possible reasons for it are actually quite surprising.

Google Has Shown Favoritism In The Past

This isn’t the first time that Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) have shown a bias that favored big brand websites. During the early years of Google’s algorithm it was obvious that sites with a lot of PageRank ranked for virtually anything they wanted.

For example, I remember a web design company that built a lot of websites, creating a network of backlinks, raising their PageRank to a remarkable level normally seen only in big corporate sites like IBM. As a consequence they ranked for the two-word keyword phrase, Web Design and virtually every other variant like Web Design + [any state in the USA].

Everyone knew that websites with a PageRank of 10, the highest level shown on Google’s toolbar, practically had a free pass in the SERPs, resulting in big brand sites outranking more relevant webpages. It didn’t go unnoticed when Google eventually adjusted their algorithm to fix this issue.

The point of this anecdote is to point out an instance of where Google’s algorithm unintentionally created a bias that favored big brands.

Here are are other  algorithm biases that publishers exploited:

  • Top 10 posts
  • Longtail “how-to” articles
  • Misspellings
  • Free Widgets in footer that contained links (always free to universities!)

Big Brands And Low Quality Content

There are two things that have been a constant for all of Google’s history:

  • Low quality content
  • Big brands crowding out small independent publishers

Anyone that’s ever searched for a recipe knows that the more general the recipe the lower the quality of recipe that gets ranked. Search for something like cream of chicken soup and the main ingredient for nearly every recipe is two cans of chicken soup.

A search for Authentic Mexican Tacos results in recipes with these ingredients:

  • Soy sauce
  • Ground beef
  • “Cooked chicken”
  • Taco shells (from the store!)
  • Beer

Not all recipe SERPs are bad. But some of the more general recipes Google ranks are so basic that a hobo can cook them on a hotplate.

Robin Donovan (Instagram), a cookbook author and online recipe blogger observed:

“I think the problem with google search rankings for recipes these days (post HCU) are much bigger than them being too simple.

The biggest problem is that you get a bunch of Reddit threads or sites with untested user-generated recipes, or scraper sites that are stealing recipes from hardworking bloggers.

In other words, content that is anything but “helpful” if what you want is a tested and well written recipe that you can use to make something delicious.”

Explanations For Why Google’s SERPs Are Broken

It’s hard not to get away from the perception that Google’s rankings for a variety of topics always seem to default to big brand websites and low quality webpages.

Small sites grow to become big brands that dominate the SERPs, it happens. But that’s the thing, even when a small site gets big, it’s now another big brand dominating the SERPs.

Typical explanations for poor SERPs:

  • It’s a conspiracy to increase ad clicks
  • Content itself these days are low quality across the board
  • Google doesn’t have anything else to rank
  • It’s the fault of SEOs
  • Affiliates
  • Poor SERPs is Google’s scheme to drive more ad clicks
  • Google promotes big brands because [insert your conspiracy]

So what’s going on?

People Love Big Brands & Garbage Content

The recent Google anti-trust lawsuit exposed the importance of the Navboost algorithm signals as a major ranking factor. Navboost is an algorithm that interprets user engagement signals to understand what topics a webpage is relevant for, among other things.

The idea of using engagement signals as an indicator of what users expect to see makes sense. After all, Google is user-centric and who better to decide what’s best for users than the users themselves, right?

Well, consider that arguably the the biggest and most important song of 1991, Smells Like Teen Spirt by Nirvana, didn’t make the Billboard top 100 for that year. Michael Bolton and Rod Stewart made the list twice, with Rod Stewart top ranked for a song called “The Motown Song” (anyone remember that one?)

Nirvana didn’t make the charts until the next year…

My opinion, given that we know that user interactions are a strong ranking signal, is that Google’s search rankings follow a similar pattern related to users’ biases.

People tend to choose what they know. It’s called a Familiarity Bias.

Consumers have a habit of choosing things that are familiar over those that are unfamiliar. This preference shows up in product choices that prefer brands, for example.

Behavioral scientist, Jason Hreha, defines Familiarity Bias like this:

“The familiarity bias is a phenomenon in which people tend to prefer familiar options over unfamiliar ones, even when the unfamiliar options may be better. This bias is often explained in terms of cognitive ease, which is the feeling of fluency or ease that people experience when they are processing familiar information. When people encounter familiar options, they are more likely to experience cognitive ease, which can make those options seem more appealing.”

Except for certain queries (like those related to health), I don’t think Google makes an editorial decision to certain kinds of websites, like brands.

Google uses many signals for ranking. But Google is strongly user focused.

I believe it’s possible that strong user preferences can carry a more substantial weight than Reviews System signals. How else to explain why Google seemingly has a bias for big brand websites with fake reviews rank better than honest independent review sites?

It’s not like Google’s algorithms haven’t created poor search results in the past.

  • Google’s Panda algorithm was designed to get rid of a bias for cookie cutter content.
  • The Reviews System is a patch to fix Google’s bias for content that’s about reviews but aren’t necessarily reviews.

If Google has systems for catching low quality sites that their core algorithm would otherwise rank, why do big brands and poor quality content still rank?

I believe the answer is that is what users prefer to see those sites, as indicated by user interaction signals.

The big question to ask is whether Google will continue to rank what users biases and inexperience trigger user satisfaction signals.  Or will Google continue serving the sugar-frosted bon-bons that users crave?

Should Google make the choice to rank quality content at the risk that users find it too hard to understand?

Or should publishers give up and focus on creating for the lowest common denominator like the biggest popstars do?



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