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13 Content Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses

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13 Content Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses

Content marketing is hot today.

Look at the meteoric rise in interest over the past 20 years, according to Google Trends:

1-google-trends

Many small businesses have successfully grown using content marketing. Beardbrand, Luxy Hair, Lodge Cast Iron—the examples are endless. 

If you’re a small-business owner, you’re probably wondering if you should be using content marketing for your business too. 

In this post, I’ll run through some reasons why you should do content marketing, plus 13 ideas you can apply to your small business. 

Why should you do content marketing for your small business?

Here are three reasons why you should consider content marketing for your business.

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1. Get more traffic

No matter what you sell, there are only so many people who are willing and able to buy at any given moment. 

So if you’re only targeting people who are directly searching for your product, your traffic will be limited. 

Take, for example, our own toolset. We have five main tools:

2-ahrefs-tools

Altogether, these pages account for ~10,000 monthly visits, which is only around 1% of our total search traffic.

3-ahrefs-tools-traffic

If we had simply relied on those five pages, our business wouldn’t have grown. 

Instead, we’ve created hundreds of pieces of content that now rank on Google for more than 140,000 keywords and generate more than 930,000 search visits per month. 

4-ahrefs-organic-traffic

This is how we’ve grown our company to eight figures in annual recurring revenue (ARR).

2. Improve brand awareness

As we’ve established, most people don’t look for products and services directly. Instead, they look for solutions to problems or answers to questions. 

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So, when you create content around these problems or questions, you can use this opportunity to introduce your brand to your potential customers. A prospect knowing your brand means you’re at least one step closer to turning them into customers.

Here’s an example. Billy Blogger started a blog and is frustrated at how his blog traffic isn’t increasing. So he searches for “how to increase my blog traffic” on Google and discovers our article.

From there, he learns that one method to get more traffic is to write about topics with search traffic potential. He also discovers that he can use our free tools to do that. 

With just one article, we’ve turned Billy Blogger from someone who didn’t know we existed to someone who now knows our brand. Repeat that at scale, and you can see how content marketing works to improve brand awareness. 

3. Reduce your marketing costs

Content marketing can be cheaper over the long term. 

Take again, for example, the Ahrefs blog, which receives around 260,000 search visits per month. If we had to acquire all of that traffic from Google Ads, we would have to pay an estimated $355,000 per month or $4.2 million per year. 

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Considering that our content marketing team isn’t paid $4 million in annual salaries, we can say that content marketing is cheaper over the long term. 

Recommended reading:Why Is Content Marketing Important? 5 Reasons

13 content marketing ideas for small businesses

Convinced that you should be doing content marketing? Here are some ideas you can consider implementing.

1. Answer questions people are searching for

We’ve established this earlier: Potential customers don’t search for your products directly, but for questions they want answered. 

So your goal is to figure out what these questions are and create content that matches them. 

How do you find these questions?

The easiest way is to enter a relevant keyword into our free keyword generator tool and switch the tab to Questions.

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If you’d like to see more questions, then you can use a professional keyword tool like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

  1. Enter a relevant keyword into Keywords Explorer
  2. Go to the Matching terms report
  3. Switch the tab to Questions
7-questions

As you can see, there are over 260,000 potential questions you can create content for. If you want to narrow the list further, set the Keyword Difficulty (KD) filter to a maximum of 10. 

8-low-kd-questions

Eyeball the report and pick out those most relevant to your business. 

2. Create a statistics page

Journalists and bloggers are always looking for data to back up their claims. This is why businesses and websites publish data studies and original research—their goal is to get mentions and links from these authoritative websites. 

But as a small business, it can be difficult for you to publish original research. There is one way around it, and that is to curate data. 

That’s what we did when we published our post on SEO statistics. To date, it has accumulated a total of 2,700 backlinks from 1,300 unique websites:

9-seo-statistics-stats

It also ranks #1 for the keyword “SEO statistics”:

10-seo-statistics-serps

Learn how we created this page and built links to it in this video series:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTF6OBwidhc&list=PLvJ_dXFSpd2u_ABxIRO6RVK3ucKyzn96Y&ab_channel=Ahrefs

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3. Write for other sites in your industry

There are important topics or questions you want to rank high on Google for. But some of these can be very competitive. As a small business, it can be difficult for you to compete, especially when it seems like other sites have endless budgets. 

But there’s one way around it: take advantage of these sites’ authority to rank. 

How? Most big sites are constantly looking for great content to publish. So use that opportunity to create a guest post for them and rank that page for the keyword you’re targeting. 

Here’s an example. A few years back, I wrote a guest post for SmartBlogger. Even though it’s been some time, that post still ranks #5 for the keyword “niche website” and generates around 250 monthly search visits:

11-niche-website-traffic

Since that post promotes our tools, we’re basically introducing our brand to more new people. 

12-smart-blogger-guest-post

Here’s how to find sites that you can potentially “guest post” for:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Content Explorer
  2. Search for your topic

For example, if we search for “keto diet,” you’ll see around 3 million pages you can target. 

13-keto-diet-content-explorer

But that’s too many pages to look through, so let’s set a few more filters to narrow down the results:

  • Website traffic: 500+
  • Words: 500+
  • Language: English
  • One page per domain – Checked
  • Exclude homepages – Checked
  • Exclude subdomains – Checked
  • Live & Broken – Only live
  • Filter explicit results – On
14-content-explorer

This reduces the number of pages to ~21,000. Since you’re looking for authoritative sites to “piggyback” on, you can also set a Domain Rating (DR) filter for sites with a DR of >60.

15-content-exploerr-results

Evidently, 4,000 pages is a much more manageable list. Go through the list and pick out those sites that are likely to accept your guest post pitch.

Then find the website owner’s or editor’s email, reach out, and pitch your topics to them. (Remember, it should be those you want to rank for!)

Recommended reading: Guest Blogging for SEO: How to Build High-Quality Links at Scale

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4. Rewrite or update outdated content on other websites

Riffing on the same idea: What if, instead of pitching an entirely new guest post, you pitch to rewrite or update an older piece of content on other websites? 

Not only can you rewrite the article to naturally include your product (with permission from the editors, of course), you can “piggyback” on these sites to rank for the keywords you want. 

Our chief marketing officer, Tim Soulo, suggested this some time back:

Here’s how you can find authoritative sites that have outdated content you can offer to update:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Content Explorer
  2. Search for a relevant topic
  3. Check Exclude homepages
  4. Check Exclude subdomains
  5. Toggle Filter explicit results
  6. Set the Language filter to English (or the language you write in)
  7. Set the Published filter to an outdated period (e.g., 2010 — 2015)
  8. Set the DR filter to something high, like 50
16-content-explorer

Look through the list and see if there are any articles you can offer to rewrite. Find the website owner’s or editor’s email, reach out, and pitch to them.

5. Update your content

As you’re updating or rewriting content for other websites, don’t forget to do that for your own too. 

Some of your content may not rank the first time, and that’s perfectly fine. Simply rewrite and try again. 

The easiest way to figure out which of your content needs rewriting is to use our free WordPress SEO plugin.

Then follow the guide below to learn the best way to republish your content.

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Recommended reading: Republishing Content: How to Update Old Blog Posts for SEO

6. Partner with influencers to create content around your brand

Check out this video: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSaZRXaLxBE&ab_channel=Wah%21Banana

It may look like a comedy sketch, but it’s actually a clever skit designed to promote a video projector. 

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Content marketing doesn’t always mean creating your own content. You can also partner with others, such as influencers, to create content for your brand too. 

From YouTube to Instagram, TikTok to Twitter, there are many ways you can partner up with influencers to create content. For example, a restaurant that invites influencers for a tasting session can get itself featured in a review.

17-sponsored-post

If mega influencers are out of your reach, don’t worry. You can always work with nano or micro influencers to reach more people at lower costs. 

Recommended reading: Influencer Marketing: Definition, Examples, and Tactics

7. Promote your content

You can’t create content and expect people to magically find them. It doesn’t work that way. Instead, you have to put it in front of your target audience. You have to promote it. 

Here’s what we do every time we publish a new piece of content: 

  1. Share it on all our social channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
  2. Include it in our weekly Ahrefs’ Digest newsletter
  3. Get each individual author to share and/or create a Twitter thread about it 
  4. Run ads (Facebook, Quora, etc)

You’ll have to do at least this much to get your content out there—or if you’re a small site, even more. I recommend following this checklist, which includes content promotion tactics to help you get the word out:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoVYweKH4ck&feature=emb_title&ab_channel=Ahrefs

8. Create a comparison page

Like it or not, your customers will compare. After all, they’ll always want the biggest bang for their buck. 

So what you can do is to create a “versus” page where you compare the pros and cons between your business and a competitor’s.

How do you know who your customers are comparing you with? Here’s how to find out:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter your brand name
  3. Go to the Matching terms report
  4. Under the Terms menu, choose “vs” (or some other term that signifies comparison)
18-vs-keywords

For example, if we’re ConvertKit, we can see that people are comparing us with other email marketing services like MailChimp, Flodesk, ActiveCampaign, and more. 

From here, you can choose to create one page each for every comparison. That means you’ll have a page for “convertkit vs mailchimp,” another for “flodesk vs convertkit,” and so on. 

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While that’s the most common way to do it, it’s not the only way. At Ahrefs, we decided to go counter-intuitive and create one page for all our comparisons.

19-ahrefs-vs-page

So far, it’s been working for us, and we’re ranking for most of the comparison-related queries:

20-vs-page-keywords

One page or many—the choice is up to you. 

9. Interview industry experts

No matter how familiar you are with your industry, it’s almost impossible to know and understand every inch of your niche. 

Here’s an example: We wanted to tackle the topic “Google penalties” on our blog. But we are fortunate enough to have never encountered a Google manual action. So even though we have SEO experts on our team, that makes us “unqualified” to talk about the topic. 

So we reached out and interviewed experts: 

21-google-penalties-experts

We have done this a number of times—for our posts on SEO consultants, SEO job descriptions, and more. You should do the same too.

Not only does this help you cover topics that you may not know much about, but you’ll also be in a better position to improve your website’s expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E‑A-T)—which are important for ranking higher on Google. 

Recommended reading: What Is EAT? Why It’s Important for SEO

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10. Target seasonal events

Events like Valentine’s Day, Black Friday, Singles’ Day, and Christmas are when people are more than happy to splurge. Creating content around these events can generate awareness for your business—and potentially capture these trigger-happy customers who will spend on your products. 

Here’s how to find seasonal topics to create content around:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter a few relevant keywords
  3. Go to the Matching terms report
  4. In the Include box, enter a few holiday keywords (e.g., Black Friday, Father’s Day) and choose Any word.
22-seasonal-keywords

From here, eyeball the list for relevant topics you can target, then create content that ranks for them.

Recommended viewing: Holiday SEO Tips to Maximize Organic Traffic

11. See what people are discussing on Reddit

Known as the “front page of the internet,” Reddit is a huge community with 430 million users. The beauty of Reddit is that it is neatly split into multiple sub-communities—known as subreddits—that span a variety of interests. 

That means that a community about your niche is likely on Reddit. If you can find out what people in your community are discussing, you can create content around those topics too. 

For example, let’s assume you run a site about the keto diet. If you browse through the subreddit r/keto, you’ll find a couple of cool topics you can write about. 

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Here’s something even better: take these topics and enter them into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer to see if they have search traffic potential. 

25-vegetarian-keto-recipes-traffic-potential

Then create content that ranks for them. 

12. Create a glossary

If your industry has a lot of specific and difficult terminologies, you can consider creating a glossary that defines and demystifies them. 

For example, the SEO industry has a lot of terms that people outside the industry may not fully grasp. That’s why we recently published a glossary of SEO terms that people should know. 

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Since we published that post, its traffic has been gradually increasing:

27-seo-glossary-traffic

Ideally, your glossary should internally link to your own posts about those topics—just like what Wikipedia does. So if you don’t have those posts, it’s time to start creating. 

As you can see, the best part about creating a glossary is that it basically lists out all the topics you need to cover. With a glossary, your content calendar is practically set for the next year and beyond. 

13. Use Google Trends to find “out of the box” keyword ideas

Google Trends is a great way to discover topics that are trending in your industry. You can cover these topics before other sites do. To do that, simply search for a relevant keyword and scroll to the Related queries section.

For example, if we own a gym, we can search for “weight loss”:

28-google-trends

Scrolling through the list gives us a couple of good ideas we can target, such as “mike pompeo weight loss” and “alec baldwin weight loss.” 

We can take the idea further. If you notice, most of the trending terms are related to X celebrity/famous person. 

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Extrapolating this further, we can assume that beyond the current group of famous people seen on Google Trends, searchers are also looking for other famous people’s weight loss regimes. 

So here’s what we’ll do:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Search for the same term (e.g., “weight loss”)
  3. Set a Word count filter to four words (the length of a person’s name in the Western world + weight loss. If you’re targeting other countries, such as South Korea, you may want to extend it to five words).
29-keywords-explorer

Lo and behold. You’ll see around 150,000 keywords, most of them about a particular celebrity’s weight loss regime. They’re not of crazy difficulty either. These are all great topics to target. 

Final thoughts

The ideas above are a great way to kickstart your content marketing. But if you want to execute content marketing successfully as a marketing channel, you’ll need to have a strategy. 

So before you execute any of the above tactics, I recommend following the guide here to create your own content strategy. 

Any questions or comments? Let me know on Twitter.

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2024 WordPress Vulnerability Report Shows Errors Sites Keep Making

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2024 Annual WordPress security report by WPScan

WordPress security scanner WPScan’s 2024 WordPress vulnerability report calls attention to WordPress vulnerability trends and suggests the kinds of things website publishers (and SEOs) should be looking out for.

Some of the key findings from the report were that just over 20% of vulnerabilities were rated as high or critical level threats, with medium severity threats, at 67% of reported vulnerabilities, making up the majority. Many regard medium level vulnerabilities as if they are low-level threats and that’s a mistake because they’re not low level and should be regarded as deserving attention.

The WPScan report advised:

“While severity doesn’t translate directly to the risk of exploitation, it’s an important guideline for website owners to make an educated decision about when to disable or update the extension.”

WordPress Vulnerability Severity Distribution

Critical level vulnerabilities, the highest level of threat, represented only 2.38% of vulnerabilities, which is essentially good news for WordPress publishers. Yet as mentioned earlier, when combined with the percentages of high level threats (17.68%) the number or concerning vulnerabilities rises to almost 20%.

Here are the percentages by severity ratings:

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  • Critical 2.38%
  • Low 12.83%
  • High 17.68%
  • Medium 67.12%

Authenticated Versus Unauthenticated

Authenticated vulnerabilities are those that require an attacker to first attain user credentials and their accompanying permission levels in order to exploit a particular vulnerability. Exploits that require subscriber-level authentication are the most exploitable of the authenticated exploits and those that require administrator level access present the least risk (although not always a low risk for a variety of reasons).

Unauthenticated attacks are generally the easiest to exploit because anyone can launch an attack without having to first acquire a user credential.

The WPScan vulnerability report found that about 22% of reported vulnerabilities required subscriber level or no authentication at all, representing the most exploitable vulnerabilities. On the other end of the scale of the exploitability are vulnerabilities requiring admin permission levels representing a total of 30.71% of reported vulnerabilities.

Permission Levels Required For Exploits

Vulnerabilities requiring administrator level credentials represented the highest percentage of exploits, followed by Cross Site Request Forgery (CSRF) with 24.74% of vulnerabilities. This is interesting because CSRF is an attack that uses social engineering to get a victim to click a link from which the user’s permission levels are acquired. This is a mistake that WordPress publishers should be aware of because all it takes is for an admin level user to follow a link which then enables the hacker to assume admin level privileges to the WordPress website.

The following is the percentages of exploits ordered by roles necessary to launch an attack.

Ascending Order Of User Roles For Vulnerabilities

  • Author 2.19%
  • Subscriber 10.4%
  • Unauthenticated 12.35%
  • Contributor 19.62%
  • CSRF 24.74%
  • Admin 30.71%

Most Common Vulnerability Types Requiring Minimal Authentication

Broken Access Control in the context of WordPress refers to a security failure that can allow an attacker without necessary permission credentials to gain access to higher credential permissions.

In the section of the report that looks at the occurrences and vulnerabilities underlying unauthenticated or subscriber level vulnerabilities reported (Occurrence vs Vulnerability on Unauthenticated or Subscriber+ reports), WPScan breaks down the percentages for each vulnerability type that is most common for exploits that are the easiest to launch (because they require minimal to no user credential authentication).

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The WPScan threat report noted that Broken Access Control represents a whopping 84.99% followed by SQL injection (20.64%).

The Open Worldwide Application Security Project (OWASP) defines Broken Access Control as:

“Access control, sometimes called authorization, is how a web application grants access to content and functions to some users and not others. These checks are performed after authentication, and govern what ‘authorized’ users are allowed to do.

Access control sounds like a simple problem but is insidiously difficult to implement correctly. A web application’s access control model is closely tied to the content and functions that the site provides. In addition, the users may fall into a number of groups or roles with different abilities or privileges.”

SQL injection, at 20.64% represents the second most prevalent type of vulnerability, which WPScan referred to as both “high severity and risk” in the context of vulnerabilities requiring minimal authentication levels because attackers can access and/or tamper with the database which is the heart of every WordPress website.

These are the percentages:

  • Broken Access Control 84.99%
  • SQL Injection 20.64%
  • Cross-Site Scripting 9.4%
  • Unauthenticated Arbitrary File Upload 5.28%
  • Sensitive Data Disclosure 4.59%
  • Insecure Direct Object Reference (IDOR) 3.67%
  • Remote Code Execution 2.52%
  • Other 14.45%

Vulnerabilities In The WordPress Core Itself

The overwhelming majority of vulnerability issues were reported in third-party plugins and themes. However, there were in 2023 a total of 13 vulnerabilities reported in the WordPress core itself. Out of the thirteen vulnerabilities only one of them was rated as a high severity threat, which is the second highest level, with Critical being the highest level vulnerability threat, a rating scoring system maintained by the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS).

The WordPress core platform itself is held to the highest standards and benefits from a worldwide community that is vigilant in discovering and patching vulnerabilities.

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Website Security Should Be Considered As Technical SEO

Site audits don’t normally cover website security but in my opinion every responsible audit should at least talk about security headers. As I’ve been saying for years, website security quickly becomes an SEO issue once a website’s ranking start disappearing from the search engine results pages (SERPs) due to being compromised by a vulnerability. That’s why it’s critical to be proactive about website security.

According to the WPScan report, the main point of entry for hacked websites were leaked credentials and weak passwords. Ensuring strong password standards plus two-factor authentication is an important part of every website’s security stance.

Using security headers is another way to help protect against Cross-Site Scripting and other kinds of vulnerabilities.

Lastly, a WordPress firewall and website hardening are also useful proactive approaches to website security. I once added a forum to a brand new website I created and it was immediately under attack within minutes. Believe it or not, virtually every website worldwide is under attack 24 hours a day by bots scanning for vulnerabilities.

Read the WPScan Report:

WPScan 2024 Website Threat Report

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An In-Depth Guide And Best Practices For Mobile SEO

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Mobile SEO: An In-Depth Guide And Best Practices

Over the years, search engines have encouraged businesses to improve mobile experience on their websites. More than 60% of web traffic comes from mobile, and in some cases based on the industry, mobile traffic can reach up to 90%.

Since Google has completed its switch to mobile-first indexing, the question is no longer “if” your website should be optimized for mobile, but how well it is adapted to meet these criteria. A new challenge has emerged for SEO professionals with the introduction of Interaction to Next Paint (INP), which replaced First Input Delay (FID) starting March, 12 2024.

Thus, understanding mobile SEO’s latest advancements, especially with the shift to INP, is crucial. This guide offers practical steps to optimize your site effectively for today’s mobile-focused SEO requirements.

What Is Mobile SEO And Why Is It Important?

The goal of mobile SEO is to optimize your website to attain better visibility in search engine results specifically tailored for mobile devices.

This form of SEO not only aims to boost search engine rankings, but also prioritizes enhancing mobile user experience through both content and technology.

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While, in many ways, mobile SEO and traditional SEO share similar practices, additional steps related to site rendering and content are required to meet the needs of mobile users and the speed requirements of mobile devices.

Does this need to be a priority for your website? How urgent is it?

Consider this: 58% of the world’s web traffic comes from mobile devices.

If you aren’t focused on mobile users, there is a good chance you’re missing out on a tremendous amount of traffic.

Mobile-First Indexing

Additionally, as of 2023, Google has switched its crawlers to a mobile-first indexing priority.

This means that the mobile experience of your site is critical to maintaining efficient indexing, which is the step before ranking algorithms come into play.

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Read more: Where We Are Today With Google’s Mobile-First Index

How Much Of Your Traffic Is From Mobile?

How much traffic potential you have with mobile users can depend on various factors, including your industry (B2B sites might attract primarily desktop users, for example) and the search intent your content addresses (users might prefer desktop for larger purchases, for example).

Regardless of where your industry and the search intent of your users might be, the future will demand that you optimize your site experience for mobile devices.

How can you assess your current mix of mobile vs. desktop users?

An easy way to see what percentage of your users is on mobile is to go into Google Analytics 4.

  • Click Reports in the left column.
  • Click on the Insights icon on the right side of the screen.
  • Scroll down to Suggested Questions and click on it.
  • Click on Technology.
  • Click on Top Device model by Users.
  • Then click on Top Device category by Users under Related Results.
  • The breakdown of Top Device category will match the date range selected at the top of GA4.
Screenshot from GA4, March 2024

You can also set up a report in Looker Studio.

  • Add your site to the Data source.
  • Add Device category to the Dimension field.
  • Add 30-day active users to the Metric field.
  • Click on Chart to select the view that works best for you.
A screen capture from Looker Studio showing a pie chart with a breakdown of mobile, desktop, tablet, and Smart TV users for a siteScreenshot from Looker Studio, March 2024

You can add more Dimensions to really dig into the data to see which pages attract which type of users, what the mobile-to-desktop mix is by country, which search engines send the most mobile users, and so much more.

Read more: Why Mobile And Desktop Rankings Are Different

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How To Check If Your Site Is Mobile-Friendly

Now that you know how to build a report on mobile and desktop usage, you need to figure out if your site is optimized for mobile traffic.

While Google removed the mobile-friendly testing tool from Google Search Console in December 2023, there are still a number of useful tools for evaluating your site for mobile users.

Bing still has a mobile-friendly testing tool that will tell you the following:

  • Viewport is configured correctly.
  • Page content fits device width.
  • Text on the page is readable.
  • Links and tap targets are sufficiently large and touch-friendly.
  • Any other issues detected.

Google’s Lighthouse Chrome extension provides you with an evaluation of your site’s performance across several factors, including load times, accessibility, and SEO.

To use, install the Lighthouse Chrome extension.

  • Go to your website in your browser.
  • Click on the orange lighthouse icon in your browser’s address bar.
  • Click Generate Report.
  • A new tab will open and display your scores once the evaluation is complete.
An image showing the Lighthouse Scores for a website.Screenshot from Lighthouse, March 2024

You can also use the Lighthouse report in Developer Tools in Chrome.

  • Simply click on the three dots next to the address bar.
  • Select “More Tools.”
  • Select Developer Tools.
  • Click on the Lighthouse tab.
  • Choose “Mobile” and click the “Analyze page load” button.
An image showing how to get to Lighthouse within Google Chrome Developer Tools.Screenshot from Lighthouse, March 2024

Another option that Google offers is the PageSpeed Insights (PSI) tool. Simply add your URL into the field and click Analyze.

PSI will integrate any Core Web Vitals scores into the resulting view so you can see what your users are experiencing when they come to your site.

An image showing the PageSpeed Insights scores for a website.Screenshot from PageSpeed Insights, March 2024

Other tools, like WebPageTest.org, will graphically display the processes and load times for everything it takes to display your webpages.

With this information, you can see which processes block the loading of your pages, which ones take the longest to load, and how this affects your overall page load times.

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You can also emulate the mobile experience by using Developer Tools in Chrome, which allows you to switch back and forth between a desktop and mobile experience.

An image showing how to change the device emulation for a site within Google Chrome Developer ToolsScreenshot from Google Chrome Developer Tools, March 2024

Lastly, use your own mobile device to load and navigate your website:

  • Does it take forever to load?
  • Are you able to navigate your site to find the most important information?
  • Is it easy to add something to cart?
  • Can you read the text?

Read more: Google PageSpeed Insights Reports: A Technical Guide

How To Optimize Your Site Mobile-First

With all these tools, keep an eye on the Performance and Accessibility scores, as these directly affect mobile users.

Expand each section within the PageSpeed Insights report to see what elements are affecting your score.

These sections can give your developers their marching orders for optimizing the mobile experience.

While mobile speeds for cellular networks have steadily improved around the world (the average speed in the U.S. has jumped to 27.06 Mbps from 11.14 Mbps in just eight years), speed and usability for mobile users are at a premium.

Read more: Top 7 SEO Benefits Of Responsive Web Design

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Best Practices For Mobile Optimization

Unlike traditional SEO, which can focus heavily on ensuring that you are using the language of your users as it relates to the intersection of your products/services and their needs, optimizing for mobile SEO can seem very technical SEO-heavy.

While you still need to be focused on matching your content with the needs of the user, mobile search optimization will require the aid of your developers and designers to be fully effective.

Below are several key factors in mobile SEO to keep in mind as you’re optimizing your site.

Site Rendering

How your site responds to different devices is one of the most important elements in mobile SEO.

The two most common approaches to this are responsive design and dynamic serving.

Responsive design is the most common of the two options.

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Using your site’s cascading style sheets (CSS) and flexible layouts, as well as responsive content delivery networks (CDN) and modern image file types, responsive design allows your site to adjust to a variety of screen sizes, orientations, and resolutions.

With the responsive design, elements on the page adjust in size and location based on the size of the screen.

You can simply resize the window of your desktop browser and see how this works.

An image showing the difference between Web.dev in a full desktop display vs. a mobile display using responsive design.Screenshot from web.dev, March 2024

This is the approach that Google recommends.

Adaptive design, also known as dynamic serving, consists of multiple fixed layouts that are dynamically served to the user based on their device.

Sites can have a separate layout for desktop, smartphone, and tablet users. Each design can be modified to remove functionality that may not make sense for certain device types.

This is a less efficient approach, but it does give sites more control over what each device sees.

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While these will not be covered here, two other options:

  • Progressive Web Apps (PWA), which can seamlessly integrate into a mobile app.
  • Separate mobile site/URL (which is no longer recommended).

Read more: An Introduction To Rendering For SEO

Interaction to Next Paint (INP)

Google has introduced Interaction to Next Paint (INP) as a more comprehensive measure of user experience, succeeding First Input Delay. While FID measures the time from when a user first interacts with your page (e.g., clicking a link, tapping a button) to the time when the browser is actually able to begin processing event handlers in response to that interaction. INP, on the other hand, broadens the scope by measuring the responsiveness of a website throughout the entire lifespan of a page, not just first interaction.

Note that actions such as hovering and scrolling do not influence INP, however, keyboard-driven scrolling or navigational actions are considered keystrokes that may activate events measured by INP but not scrolling which is happeing due to interaction.

Scrolling may indirectly affect INP, for example in scenarios where users scroll through content, and additional content is lazy-loaded from the API. While the act of scrolling itself isn’t included in the INP calculation, the processing, necessary for loading additional content, can create contention on the main thread, thereby increasing interaction latency and adversely affecting the INP score.

What qualifies as an optimal INP score?

  • An INP under 200ms indicates good responsiveness.
  • Between 200ms and 500ms needs improvement.
  • Over 500ms means page has poor responsiveness.

and these are common issues causing poor INP scores:

  1. Long JavaScript Tasks: Heavy JavaScript execution can block the main thread, delaying the browser’s ability to respond to user interactions. Thus break long JS tasks into smaller chunks by using scheduler API.
  2. Large DOM (HTML) Size: A large DOM ( starting from 1500 elements) can severely impact a website’s interactive performance. Every additional DOM element increases the work required to render pages and respond to user interactions.
  3. Inefficient Event Callbacks: Event handlers that execute lengthy or complex operations can significantly affect INP scores. Poorly optimized callbacks attached to user interactions, like clicks, keypress or taps, can block the main thread, delaying the browser’s ability to render visual feedback promptly. For example when handlers perform heavy computations or initiate synchronous network requests such on clicks.

and you can troubleshoot INP issues using free and paid tools.

As a good starting point I would recommend to check your INP scores by geos via treo.sh which will give you a great high level insights where you struggle with most.

INP scores by GeosINP scores by Geos

Read more: How To Improve Interaction To Next Paint (INP)

Image Optimization

Images add a lot of value to the content on your site and can greatly affect the user experience.

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From page speeds to image quality, you could adversely affect the user experience if you haven’t optimized your images.

This is especially true for the mobile experience. Images need to adjust to smaller screens, varying resolutions, and screen orientation.

  • Use responsive images
  • Implement lazy loading
  • Compress your images (use WebP)
  • Add your images into sitemap

Optimizing images is an entire science, and I advise you to read our comprehensive guide on image SEO how to implement the mentioned recommendations.

Avoid Intrusive Interstitials

Google rarely uses concrete language to state that something is a ranking factor or will result in a penalty, so you know it means business about intrusive interstitials in the mobile experience.

Intrusive interstitials are basically pop-ups on a page that prevent the user from seeing content on the page.

John Mueller, Google’s Senior Search Analyst, stated that they are specifically interested in the first interaction a user has after clicking on a search result.

Examples of intrusive interstitial pop-ups on a mobile site according to Google.

Not all pop-ups are considered bad. Interstitial types that are considered “intrusive” by Google include:

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  • Pop-ups that cover most or all of the page content.
  • Non-responsive interstitials or pop-ups that are impossible for mobile users to close.
  • Pop-ups that are not triggered by a user action, such as a scroll or a click.

Read more: 7 Tips To Keep Pop-Ups From Harming Your SEO

Structured Data

Most of the tips provided in this guide so far are focused on usability and speed and have an additive effect, but there are changes that can directly influence how your site appears in mobile search results.

Search engine results pages (SERPs) haven’t been the “10 blue links” in a very long time.

They now reflect the diversity of search intent, showing a variety of different sections to meet the needs of users. Local Pack, shopping listing ads, video content, and more dominate the mobile search experience.

As a result, it’s more important than ever to provide structured data markup to the search engines, so they can display rich results for users.

In this example, you can see that both Zojirushi and Amazon have included structured data for their rice cookers, and Google is displaying rich results for both.

An image of a search result for Japanese rice cookers that shows rich results for Zojirushi and Amazon.Screenshot from search for [Japanese rice cookers], Google, March 2024

Adding structured data markup to your site can influence how well your site shows up for local searches and product-related searches.

Using JSON-LD, you can mark up the business, product, and services data on your pages in Schema markup.

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If you use WordPress as the content management system for your site, there are several plugins available that will automatically mark up your content with structured data.

Read more: What Structured Data To Use And Where To Use It?

Content Style

When you think about your mobile users and the screens on their devices, this can greatly influence how you write your content.

Rather than long, detailed paragraphs, mobile users prefer concise writing styles for mobile reading.

Each key point in your content should be a single line of text that easily fits on a mobile screen.

Your font sizes should adjust to the screen’s resolution to avoid eye strain for your users.

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If possible, allow for a dark or dim mode for your site to further reduce eye strain.

Headers should be concise and address the searcher’s intent. Rather than lengthy section headers, keep it simple.

Finally, make sure that your text renders in a font size that’s readable.

Read more: 10 Tips For Creating Mobile-Friendly Content

Tap Targets

As important as text size, the tap targets on your pages should be sized and laid out appropriately.

Tap targets include navigation elements, links, form fields, and buttons like “Add to Cart” buttons.

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Targets smaller than 48 pixels by 48 pixels and targets that overlap or are overlapped by other page elements will be called out in the Lighthouse report.

Tap targets are essential to the mobile user experience, especially for ecommerce websites, so optimizing them is vital to the health of your online business.

Read more: Google’s Lighthouse SEO Audit Tool Now Measures Tap Target Spacing

Prioritizing These Tips

If you have delayed making your site mobile-friendly until now, this guide may feel overwhelming. As a result, you may not know what to prioritize first.

As with so many other optimizations in SEO, it’s important to understand which changes will have the greatest impact, and this is just as true for mobile SEO.

Think of SEO as a framework in which your site’s technical aspects are the foundation of your content. Without a solid foundation, even the best content may struggle to rank.

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  • Responsive or Dynamic Rendering: If your site requires the user to zoom and scroll right or left to read the content on your pages, no number of other optimizations can help you. This should be first on your list.
  • Content Style: Rethink how your users will consume your content online. Avoid very long paragraphs. “Brevity is the soul of wit,” to quote Shakespeare.
  • Image Optimization: Begin migrating your images to next-gen image formats and optimize your content display network for speed and responsiveness.
  • Tap Targets: A site that prevents users from navigating or converting into sales won’t be in business long. Make navigation, links, and buttons usable for them.
  • Structured Data: While this element ranks last in priority on this list, rich results can improve your chances of receiving traffic from a search engine, so add this to your to-do list once you’ve completed the other optimizations.

Summary

From How Search Works, “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

If Google’s primary mission is focused on making all the world’s information accessible and useful, then you know they will prefer surfacing sites that align with that vision.

Since a growing percentage of users are on mobile devices, you may want to infer the word “everywhere” added to the end of the mission statement.

Are you missing out on traffic from mobile devices because of a poor mobile experience?

If you hope to remain relevant, make mobile SEO a priority now.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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SEO

HARO Has Been Dead for a While

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HARO Has Been Dead for a While

Every SEO’s favorite link-building collaboration tool, HARO, was officially killed off for good last week by Cision. It’s now been wrapped into a new product: Connectively.

I know nothing about the new tool. I haven’t tried it. But after trying to use HARO recently, I can’t say I’m surprised or saddened by its death. It’s been a walking corpse for a while. 

I used HARO way back in the day to build links. It worked. But a couple of months ago, I experienced the platform from the other side when I decided to try to source some “expert” insights for our posts. 

After just a few minutes of work, I got hundreds of pitches: 

So, I grabbed a cup of coffee and began to work through them. It didn’t take long before I lost the will to live. Every other pitch seemed like nothing more than lazy AI-generated nonsense from someone who definitely wasn’t an expert. 

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Here’s one of them: 

Example of an AI-generated pitch in HAROExample of an AI-generated pitch in HARO

Seriously. Who writes like that? I’m a self-confessed dullard (any fellow Dull Men’s Club members here?), and even I’m not that dull… 

I don’t think I looked through more than 30-40 of the responses. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It felt like having a conversation with ChatGPT… and not a very good one! 

Despite only reviewing a few dozen of the many pitches I received, one stood out to me: 

Example HARO pitch that caught my attentionExample HARO pitch that caught my attention

Believe it or not, this response came from a past client of mine who runs an SEO agency in the UK. Given how knowledgeable and experienced he is (he actually taught me a lot about SEO back in the day when I used to hassle him with questions on Skype), this pitch rang alarm bells for two reasons: 

  1. I truly doubt he spends his time replying to HARO queries
  2. I know for a fact he’s no fan of Neil Patel (sorry, Neil, but I’m sure you’re aware of your reputation at this point!)

So… I decided to confront him 😉 

Here’s what he said: 

Hunch, confirmed ;)Hunch, confirmed ;)

Shocker. 

I pressed him for more details: 

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I’m getting a really good deal and paying per link rather than the typical £xxxx per month for X number of pitches. […] The responses as you’ve seen are not ideal but that’s a risk I’m prepared to take as realistically I dont have the time to do it myself. He’s not native english, but I have had to have a word with him a few times about clearly using AI. On the low cost ones I don’t care but on authority sites it needs to be more refined.

I think this pretty much sums up the state of HARO before its death. Most “pitches” were just AI answers from SEOs trying to build links for their clients. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not throwing shade here. I know that good links are hard to come by, so you have to do what works. And the reality is that HARO did work. Just look at the example below. You can tell from the anchor and surrounding text in Ahrefs that these links were almost certainly built with HARO: 

Example of links build with HARO, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerExample of links build with HARO, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

But this was the problem. HARO worked so well back in the day that it was only a matter of time before spammers and the #scale crew ruined it for everyone. That’s what happened, and now HARO is no more. So… 

If you’re a link builder, I think it’s time to admit that HARO link building is dead and move on. 

No tactic works well forever. It’s the law of sh**ty clickthroughs. This is why you don’t see SEOs having huge success with tactics like broken link building anymore. They’ve moved on to more innovative tactics or, dare I say it, are just buying links.

Sidenote.

Talking of buying links, here’s something to ponder: if Connectively charges for pitches, are links built through those pitches technically paid? If so, do they violate Google’s spam policies? It’s a murky old world this SEO lark, eh?

If you’re a journalist, Connectively might be worth a shot. But with experts being charged for pitches, you probably won’t get as many responses. That might be a good thing. You might get less spam. Or you might just get spammed by SEOs with deep pockets. The jury’s out for now. 

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My advice? Look for alternative methods like finding and reaching out to experts directly. You can easily use tools like Content Explorer to find folks who’ve written lots of content about the topic and are likely to be experts. 

For example, if you look for content with “backlinks” in the title and go to the Authors tab, you might see a familiar name. 😉 

Finding people to request insights from in Ahrefs' Content ExplorerFinding people to request insights from in Ahrefs' Content Explorer

I don’t know if I’d call myself an expert, but I’d be happy to give you a quote if you reached out on social media or emailed me (here’s how to find my email address).

Alternatively, you can bait your audience into giving you their insights on social media. I did this recently with a poll on X and included many of the responses in my guide to toxic backlinks.

Me, indirectly sourcing insights on social mediaMe, indirectly sourcing insights on social media

Either of these options is quicker than using HARO because you don’t have to sift through hundreds of responses looking for a needle in a haystack. If you disagree with me and still love HARO, feel free to tell me why on X 😉



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