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14 Cheap & Effective Small-Business Marketing Strategies

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14 Cheap & Effective Small-Business Marketing Strategies

Looking for a good marketing strategy that won’t break the bank?

Call them strategies or tactics, but here are 14 ways you can promote your business that a) work, b) don’t require a large budget, and c) won’t hurt your brand in the long run.

1. Work with your customers to improve your product/service

Before pouring resources into any promotion strategies, make sure your clients are happy with your product or service. Otherwise, you may end up with the leaky bucket effect.

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Leaky funnel effect in marketing

The leaky bucket effect is when you spend resources to bring people to your website, but they don’t perform any action on it and don’t come back.

Usually, it happens when businesses focus only on promotion and forget about the value their offer brings the customer. 

Of course, you’ll never be able to turn 100% of website visitors into customers. However, when you’re starting to notice none of your marketing tactics bring results, you need to introduce changes to either how you drive traffic to the website, your pricing, or even what you offer. 

This is your chance to ask your customers what they like and what can be improved. You can use that data to improve your marketing communications or even your product because, chances are, other people will like/dislike the same things. 

Also, as you start talking with your customers, you may even come across candidates for brand ambassadors. 

How to get started 

Reach for some basic market research tools: 

  • Surveys – Can be performed 100% online for free with tools like Google Forms or Survicate. You can use them for measuring customer satisfaction. 
  • Interviews – Allow for face-to-face discussions. Can be performed even without a predefined structure. Often used for exploratory purposes. 
  • Internal data – Draw conclusions from reported issues and online reviews. If possible, interview your customer-facing employees. 

Recommended reading: How to Achieve Product-Market Fit (5 Steps)  

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2. Get a Google Business Profile (and optimize it)

In case you haven’t created/claimed your Google Business Profile yet, make sure you do. It’s one of the most important marketing tools for small businesses operating locally. 

Google Business Profile makes your business visible to potential customers in your vicinity in three ways: 

1. Google Map Pack:

Google Map Pack

2. Google Maps:

Google Business Profiles in Google Maps

3. Local knowledge panel (when the search query includes your brand’s name):

Local knowledge panel

How to get started 

Create or claim (option for already created GBPs) your Google Business Profile for free here.

And to make sure your profile is optimized, you can read our guide on the topic.  

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3. List your business in relevant directories 

We’re talking about websites that offer listings of businesses like yours, providing basic information like address, operating hours, contact information, website, etc. 

Some directories are free; others are paid. But you may want to consider even the paid ones because directories give you three significant benefits:

  1. It’s the quickest way to get your business to the first page of Google for competitive keywords. 
  2. Your business will show up in search results of those directories.
  3. Citations (mentions of your business) in local directories can increase your chances of showing up in the Google Map Pack. 
SERP dominated by business directories
SERPs for keywords with local intent are often dominated by local directories.

How to get started 

List your business, starting from:

  • Big data aggregators like Express Update and Neustar Localeze.
  • Core platforms like Facebook, Bing Places, Apple Maps, and Better Business Bureau. 
  • Industry and local sites relevant to your business (e.g., FindLaw for lawyers, Tripadvisor for hotels).

You can list your business manually or use a submission service to manage your citations from one place. You can also see where your competitors got their citations and go after the same ones. 

Two resources that will help you in this process:

4. Manage your online reputation

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According to a study by BrightLocal, 91% of people regularly or occasionally read online reviews, and 84% trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.

And it makes sense when you think about it. When dozens of people have tried a product before you, it’s hard to completely ignore their opinions. 

Moreover, positive reviews can impact rankings in the Google Map Pack. 

How many SEOs think reviews are most important ranking factor

How to get started 

Ask your customers to leave online reviews and try to answer all of them (good or bad). This will show existing and potential customers that you really care.

You can ask for reviews whenever you get a chance to contact your customers (personally, via email, via text message, in a thank-you note after purchase, etc.). But you can also use tools for generating reviews like this one from Google.

"Request reviews" tool by Google

You can easily find online tools for managing your reviews. Some examples are Grade.us, ReviewPush, etc.

5. Tap into search demand with SEO content 

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SEO content is any kind of content designed to rank in search engines. 

When your content ranks, it can drive consistent, organic search traffic without any additional costs. That’s when you tap into search demand. 

Organic traffic to one of our articles
One of our blog posts gets an estimated 6.9K traffic from search engines a month. We’d have to spend about $4.7K to get similar traffic through ads.

The basis of this strategy is finding relevant keywords with traffic potential. The more relevant the keywords, the higher the chance that the traffic you get will convert into sales or other forms of engagement you need. 

Organic keywords report
Ahrefs shows us that this article ranks for 104 keywords in the U.S. But we only had to target one keyword when creating that article.

It’s good to keep in mind that even when you rank #1, it’s not forever. You may need to revisit your content and update it when your rankings drop. 

How to get started 

First, determine if SEO content is right for your business. This is the case if the answer to at least one of the below questions is yes:

  • Are people looking online for what you sell or do?
  • Are people looking online for solutions to problems your business helps to solve? 

You can answer that using a keyword tool. You can use our free keyword generator to look up keywords that pop into your mind. You can even check their search demand in different countries and four different search engines. 

Keyword ideas for handmade soap via Ahrefs' free keyword generator

Once you determine that SEO is worth it for you, use our detailed step-by-step guide on creating SEO content

6. Encourage user-generated content

Selling something that looks good in a photo or video? 

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Ask your customers to share a picture or a short video featuring your product. Happy customers create more happy customers. 

Review with pictures answered by the business owner

How to get started 

Saying something as plain as “share your photo with us” may not be enough. 

You can encourage more user-generated content (UGC) when you make your request more exciting or offer something in return.

For example, brands like Vans or Apple launched an official hashtag for users and fans. Sharing photos under those hashtags creates a feeling of being part of something bigger and gives people a chance to pay attention to them. 

#shotoniphone social media campaign

Brands, such as clothing company Pakker Trousers, launch contests where people can win stuff for sharing a photo of themselves using the product. 

One of the entries for a contest run by Pakker Trousers
One of the entries for a contest run by Pakker Trousers.

7. Create a free resource

Sharing a free resource can attract visitors and give them a taste of your offer. Think ebooks, product samples, online calculators, free courses, free consultations, and so on. 

Fragrance Calculator from Nurture Soap
Fragrance Calculator from Nurture Soap, a small company selling soap-making supplies. One of three free resources on its site (all three bring organic traffic).

If your business relies on direct contact or has a long sales cycle, you can ask for contact information in return for your free resource. This type of marketing tool is called a lead magnet

Free consultation lead magnet

How to get started 

Start with choosing a proven topic for your free resource. 

One of the methods is doing keyword research. Not only will you know what actually interests people, but you’ll also have a chance to rank for relevant keywords and drive organic traffic to your resource for free. 

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Here’s how you can do it in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer

  1. Plug in a topic or thing relevant to your business 
  2. Go to the Matching terms report
  3. Limit the results to some popular resource types, e.g., a calculator 
  4. Sort and filter results based on provided SEO metrics, such as search volume, Keyword Difficulty (KD), or Traffic Potential (TP)
Matching terms report with applied filter

You can also find proven topics by analyzing your competitors and studying your niche. See this guide for details

8. Start a video blog (with SEO in mind) 

Video marketing is especially good for two things: 

  • It helps to attract customers – 70% of viewers bought from a brand after seeing it on YouTube (Google). 
  • It helps to educate your audience – 96% of people have watched an explainer video to learn more about a product or service (Wyzowl). 

And if you combine video blogging with SEO, you get a highly engaging content format with free distribution. 

SERP showing YouTube videos
These videos with matcha cookie recipes show up on the first page for “matcha cookies”—that’s free traffic.

How to get started 

Find video topic ideas with search demand: 

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and paste “youtube.com” as the URL 
  2. Go to the Organic keywords report 
  3. In the keyword filter, insert relevant keyword(s) for your business and hit “Apply”
YouTube videos about matcha that get organic traffic from Google

From that point, you can adjust the filters and sort the results to fine-tune your research. 

Let’s move one step back because video blogging is not something everybody “feels” like doing. 

Equipment cost, talent, and a language barrier. These are some common objections to doing video marketing. But based on our experience, they are not deal breakers. Here’s what our video marketing master has to say about that:

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Recommended viewing: YouTube SEO: How to Rank YouTube Videos #1 

9. Do SEO for your existing content

Sometimes, you don’t need to create new content to get more traffic. 

Your old content may just need an SEO “do-over.” 

Line graph showing updated content experiences spike in organic traffic

How to get started 

You need to find a good candidate for the do-over. Not every page will be a good fit.

To do this, you will need two things:

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  • This guide – Go ahead and try everything from this guide, from improving the click-through rate of your top-performing content to going after featured snippets.
  • SEO tools – Data on keywords and backlinks from your and your competitors’ sites can come from a tool like Ahrefs’ Site Audit. And data on your click-through rates from search engines will need to come from a tool specific to the search engine. For Google, this will be Google Search Console. For Bing, it’s Bing Webmaster Tools

10. Repurpose your existing content 

Repurposing content is about taking existing content and “repacking” it for other marketing channels. 

This simple technique allows you to reach a wider audience without the need to create new content from scratch. 

So for example, a blog post can become a video, or a course, or a series of social media posts, and so on and vice versa. 

Article repurposed into a video
On the right is the original article. On the left is the article repurposed into a video. 

How to get started 

You can take your best-performing content and repurpose it for other marketing channels. If it worked in one place, it probably would in other places too. 

Sometimes, you can repurpose content that didn’t perform well in the past (but you have reasons to think it will work elsewhere). For example, you can take your unique, quality articles that just didn’t get enough backlinks to challenge fierce competition on the SERPs and share them in a different format on social media platforms. 

Influencer marketing article's SEO metrics
Example: Our guide to influencer marketing gets only 26 organic visits a month due to low rankings on the SERPs (high keyword difficulty).
Influencer marketing video's video metrics
On the other hand, the video repurposed from that article seems to do a lot better on YouTube.

For the above techniques, follow our full guide on content repurposing

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11. Get in front of other people’s audience 

Chances are, your target audience is similar to other websites’ existing target audience. And that’s a good thing. 

You may reach somebody else’s audience with your message through: 

  • Getting featured in podcasts and newsletters.
  • Guest blogging. 
  • Getting featured in relevant rankings and reviews. 
Home organization businesses ranking

Except for newsletters (without a web format), all of the above are also opportunities for getting a direct link to your website—which may help boost your SEO. And even being featured in a newsletter may indirectly lead to links from newsletter subscribers. 

How to get started 

Method 1. Use Google with search operators to find opportunities 

Helpful operators here are: “AND”, “OR”. You can use them to find websites that meet complex queries instead of just one keyword.

Looking for guest posts using Google
This query with operators means “show me websites that accept a ‘guest post’ or ‘guest article’ and contain the word ‘blockchain.’ ”

Then, click through the results, find websites that look like a good fit for your business, and pitch to them.

Method 2. Use Ahrefs to find opportunities and get instant performance data 

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Ahrefs’ SEO Toolbar allows you to see performance data of websites as you Google them. So the Google screenshot from above turns into this: 

Looking for guest posts using Ahrefs' SEO Toolbar
Highlighted parts show SEO data coming from Ahrefs. You can look at site traffic, page traffic, DR, and others as you search on Google.

This way, you can easily filter out websites that don’t get traffic or whose links have the lowest chance of impacting your SEO. 

Another method is to see where other websites, such as your competitors, got their links from. This works for any kind of mentions that leaves a trace of a backlink: reviews, rankings, guest blogging, and PR (more on that in the next chapter). 

  1. Go to Site Explorer and paste a URL you want to screen 
  2. Go to the Backlinks report
  3. Search for the kind of backlinks you want to go after; to illustrate, for guest articles, use “Anchor with surrounding text” filter and type the word “author” 
Looking for guest posts via backlink analysis in Ahrefs

Then you can pitch the same website with a personalized and relevant message.

12. Get free press with digital PR

Public relations is not reserved for big brands with entire PR departments on the payroll. Small businesses can get press too. And they can get it for free. 

One of many quotes from this "love and relationship" coach
One of many quotes from this “love and relationship” coach.

There are basically two ways to get free press. 

One is to do something extraordinary (maybe your business is already doing it?) and issue a press release about it. 

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The other is to offer your expert commentary, per the journalist’s request. 

It can take some effort, but it’s usually worth it: 

  • PR increases brand awareness. 
  • News websites and magazines can drive traffic to your website. 
  • Being featured by the press is a great chance to earn a link from a high-authority website (and boost SEO).
Links from magazines with a strong backlink profile (data via Ahrefs)
Links from magazines with a strong backlink profile (DR stands for Domain Rating).

How to get started 

If you feel your business is doing something that can make the headlines, tell the press about it. 

Use this guide to write a press release and send it to the magazines where the story is most relevant. 

An effective tactic may be to start with reputable local media. If your story gets featured, you may use it in your pitch to more prominent media outlets. Additionally, other media may pick up the story organically.

As for monitoring journalist requests, use:

  • A service like HARO, Terkel, or SourceBottle. 
  • #journorequest on Twitter. 

These two free tools from Ahrefs can come in handy too:

  • Our free website authority checker will show you the Domain Rating (DR) for any given website. DR is a good proxy for checking the authority of the website and the possible SEO impact of links from it. 
  • Ahrefs Webmaster Tools will show all backlinks you got from PR efforts, among other features. 

Recommended reading: Digital PR: The Beginner’s Guide to Making Your Brand Unmissable 

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13. Let others promote you through affiliate programs 

Affiliate marketing programs allow influencers, bloggers, and other kinds of online content creators to promote your products for a commission from sales.

You can find affiliate marketing examples all over the web. Usually, affiliate marketers include links to products inside reviews or some kind of educational content (recipes, tutorials, etc.). Sometimes, they even run their own shops. 

Shop made mostly out of affiliate links
At loveandlemons.com, of the biggest food blogs, you can shop for kitchen essentials and photography equipment. Makes sense because, at one point, the reader will surely wonder what gear its team uses for such great photos.

Affiliate marketing is designed to be mutually beneficial. The better affiliates promote, the more you sell, and the more they earn in return. 

How to get started 

Depends on the affiliate marketing program.

For example, on ClickBank, you list your product on a public marketplace and wait for affiliates to find you. 

But on platforms like Impact, you can choose affiliates from the platform’s contact list. 

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But if you want to spend the least possible time on managing your affiliate program, you can consider a program like GiddyUp. It will even take care of creating banners for you and your affiliates. 

As for the costs, there are usually some small up-front costs paid to the affiliate platform. But other than that, everything is performance-based. 

14. See what works for your competitors 

The oldest advice on the planet, right? Well, it still works. 

While following your competitor’s steps may be harder in the “offline” world, it’s much easier (and cheaper) online. 

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By using competitor analysis tools, you can learn things like:

  • What type of content works for your competition. 
  • What do competitors see as a good advertising investment and how they advertise it. 
  • Where they get their backlinks. 
  • Gaps in your content strategy.

How to get started 

Get a competitor analysis tool designed for the type of marketing you want to analyze. Some examples are:

  • Ahrefs – SEO, PPC, and content marketing
  • Moat – Digital ads
  • MailCharts – Email marketing 
  • Brand24 – Brand monitoring in web and social media
  • SparkToro – Audience insight
  • Visualping – Webpage monitoring

So say you want to see which topics you haven’t blogged about yet compared to your competitors. You can check that quickly by pasting your and your competitors’ URLs in Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool.

Content gap analysis
A quick check comparison of three dog behaviorist and training blogs. Our target blog could consider keywords like “what are shock collars” or “second dog syndrome.”

You’ll get keywords your competitors rank for, but you don’t. This way, you’ll save a ton of time on manually going through websites. 

Recommended reading: How to Conduct a Competitive Analysis (Template Included) 

What is the best marketing strategy for a small business? 

The best marketing strategy is the one that brings you results. It’s common to see some strategies working for some and not for others. 

Although it may sound cliche, it’s crucial to take any advice with a grain of salt and simply test things yourself. The best marketing strategy may be the one you haven’t tried yet. 

And when you find a marketing strategy that works for you, double down on it. 

Final thoughts 

As you can see, marketing strategies can be very different from one another. It’s actually kind of mind-boggling to see so many ways of growing a business. 

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So a good idea is to prioritize. 

Try the classic “prioritization matrix.” Take a moment to think about marketing strategies you found in this and other guides and put them in one of the categories based on a) the effort they need and b) the value they give. 

Prioritization matrix

So for example, if getting free press may be low effort and high value for you, that will be something to put into action as soon as possible. 

Got questions? Ping me 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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Featured Image by Shutterstock/Ljupco Smokovski

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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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