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17 SEO Best Practices For Better Ranking

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17 SEO Best Practices For Better Ranking

There are many best practices for SEO, including those provided by Google.

Here are 17 tips that can help one develop a better search presence.

What Do Best Practices For SEO Even Mean?

Best practices for SEO are generally regarded as those that abide within Google’s evolving guidelines and are not explicitly listed by Google as manipulative.

But best practices are more than just what Google considers manipulative and what is not.

For example, Google’s guidelines don’t tell you how to choose hosting, how to optimize a WordPress site, or whether a website builder makes the most sense for a specific situation.

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Those are the kinds of best practices this guide will cover.

1. Choose The Best Platform For Your Situation

A good place to begin is at the point before any code is uploaded to the web.

Understanding the technology that underlies a web presence is important to making the best choice for SEO.

Get this part right, and the site will be well positioned for sprinting toward first place.

Why Choose Self-Hosted

Today’s choices are between a CMS (content management system) hosted on a publisher’s server, and site builder platforms where the technology is hosted and managed by the provider.

Many people choose self-hosted open source solutions (like WordPress) because of the extensive support and development network, which provides complete freedom to build custom sites that users can optimize without limits other than their own skill level.

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The downside of self-hosted solutions is the need for technical skills for optimizing templates, dealing with constant updates, and acquiring the necessary knowledge to create a strong security posture against hacking.

Examples of a self-hosted CMS:

Why SaaS Platforms Make Sense

Many businesses prefer to focus on doing business, not maintaining website technology.

An attorney’s skill is litigating, not learning how to switch to a System Font Stack on their self-hosted CMS.

For businesses that prefer a high-performance website without having to deal with technology, the SaaS (software as a service) website builder platform is increasingly considered the best choice for many small to medium-sized businesses.

Examples of Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms:

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The best practice, then, is to audit what the company needs for transacting business online and then see which technology works best – a self-hosted CMS or a SaaS website builder platform.

2. WordPress SEO

There are many CMSs to choose from.

WordPress is arguably the most popular open-source, free system with a huge global community of developers supporting it, including for SEO.

It’s possible for anyone with a moderate understanding of how to use WordPress to create an entire website and pay almost nothing.

That includes free templates and free SEO plugins, plus any other plugins to extend the functionality, like the WooCommerce plugin for creating ecommerce stores on a $0 budget.

Web Development and SEO expert Adam J. Humphreys of digital agency Making 8 Inc. shared his thoughts on WordPress SEO best practices.

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Adam explained:

“With WordPress, something as simple as the default theme will attain site-speed goals without much of any work.

Add in a good host with a Content Delivery Network (CDN), compression plugin like WP Rocket & ShortPixel, and the result is a screaming fast website. We’re talking 0.5-second load times, and that’s not going to happen on some paid solutions.

My favorite SEO plugin is RankMath Pro because it allows me to generate schema, generate local SEO page content, create video site maps, and do things that other plugins just don’t do at all.

A plugin like this allows me to highlight content for search engines in ways I have never seen any paid solutions outside of WordPress do.

A builder for WordPress like Bricks Builder is a templating system that allows you to create SEO-optimized bespoke themes that load webpages in a fraction of a second out of the box before even compression.

These days I think dentists using WordPress have better websites than a lot of the Fortune 500 companies, and I know this because I’ve done technical SEO audits for them.

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WordPress can be best for SEO and security, assuming you have a simple maintenance plan and you have someone to click update a couple times a month (yes, it’s really that simple).

A completed site using WordPress is basically set. There’s no need to have a full time developer to keep up with the basic security updates anymore.”

I asked Matt Cromwell, a WordPress expert and Co-Founder of @GiveWP, to share some WordPress SEO best practices.

Matt offered the following insights:

“Folks who build websites with WordPress and want to focus on Web Core Vitals often start with caching plugins and whatnot. That’s a mistake.

The two biggest needle movers that will make your site faster are: (1) excellent hosting, and (2) clean markup.

Throwing a lot of caching at your WordPress website might help some on really slow hosts, but it’s never going to give you the performance you really want. So start at the foundation with fast hosting.

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The biggest factor that impacts your markup is the combination of your theme and, most often, a page builder.

Most sites that perform really well use a minimal theme that works well with WordPress’[‘s] built-in content editor (aka Gutenberg). Page Builders very often are the biggest factor in slowing down a website. You either have to do a lot of custom code to minimize their impact.

So my biggest recommendation for small businesses that don’t want to fuss over their site too much and keep it lean and functional is to invest in highly performant hosting, keep your theme very minimal, and use the WordPress editor instead of a page builder.

Once you scale your business enough to hire talent, hire a great web developer and digital marketing specialist to make your site gorgeous and fast.”

Andrew Wilder of WordPress support company NerdPress offered an out-of-the-box best practice idea for WordPress SEO, one that’s related to fonts.

Andrew stated:

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“We see a lot of sites using tons of web fonts – these can really slow things down if they’re not implemented well.

They’re especially challenging because they need to load early in the process (so the page can render properly), and when they load, they may cause layout shifts as the text that was first display[ed] changes the typeface.

Switching to a System Font Stack (which uses the default/system font of whatever device the user is on) can make an enormous difference in performance.”

3. Website Builder Platforms For Easy SEO

Understanding how to choose the best way to create an online presence is a best practice for SEO.

One of the ways to create an online presence is with a SaaS website builder platform.

Not too long ago, SaaS website builder platforms were great for building attractive websites but not so great at site speed and SEO.

But that’s no longer the case.

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Today, the major website builders match or surpass the traditional CMS in terms of site speed and SEO.

Over 14 million websites have been built using Duda’s technology, and Wix has over 200 million users worldwide.

Focusing on SEO, the main advantage of website builder platforms is that they take care of the technology, integrate directly with Google Business Profile, produce valid structured data, output on-page SEO that conforms to Google’s guidelines, and excel in site speed and performance.

A platform like Wix makes it easy for businesses to get online and start competing with excellent SEO.

A platform like Duda is easy to use for business owners. Still, it is designed to meet the needs of digital agencies and service providers who can leverage Duda’s platform to quickly roll out attractive and fast-performing websites that are flexible for customizations and SEO.

Duda’s platform handles the underlying technology, for example, optimizing the site for speed, integrating with a CDN (content delivery network), and semantic tagging such as in-section elements.

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That allows agencies and developers to focus on what matters: content, promotion, and SEO.

Anton Shulke, Duda’s Head of Influencer Marketing, explained:

“The SEO settings Duda offers website builders are very user friendly and really help to differentiate their website from others.

Outside of providing users with Site SEO settings in our builder, we provide users with educational materials not only about our platform but about what SEO is and why it’s important.

Duda has created technology that optimizes our users’ websites for SEO in the background so that our clients can focus on their site design.

Duda takes care of complex optimization like code optimization for Core Web Vitals, generating robots.txt files, sitemaps, and even submitting websites to be immediately crawled upon publish.

Duda’s platform not only focuses on providing excellent out-of-the-box site optimization, it also provides clients with the opportunity to optimize their business listings with options like Local Business Schema and app integrations with Uberall and Localeze, making Duda an excellent choice for both web designers and business owners.”

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4. Fast Web Hosting

Using a fast web hosting environment is a top SEO best practice – as is choosing the most appropriate web hosting platform.

Examples of different kinds of web hosting:

  • Shared Hosting.
  • Premium Shared Hosting.
  • Virtual Private Server.
  • Managed WordPress Hosting.
  • Cloud Hosting.
  • Dedicated Server.

The SEO best practice for hosting is to choose the fastest web hosting possible that also makes sense economically.

Optimizing for site speed depends on at least four factors:

  • Fast hosting.
  • Fast website.
  • Fast user Internet access.
  • Fast user mobile device.

Of those four, the first two (hosting and a fast website) are under a business’ control.

And of those two, fast hosting is arguably the most important — because a slow web host can make even a fast website perform slowly.

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting is the easiest way to deploy a website (or multiple websites).

The downside to shared hosting is that the least expensive plans place thousands of websites on a single server, so all of the sites have to share the limited resources of that one server.

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That can result in slower websites, especially if any of the other sites on the server experience a heavy load.

Sites that are popular and use “too many resources” may have their traffic slowed down (a.k.a, “throttled”).

Some might say it’s a good way to begin, then scale up once the site becomes more popular.

I disagree.

Once a site becomes popular, the traffic will be throttled, which may slow a website’s popularity – because slow websites drive away site visitors who would have otherwise become customers or frequent visitors.

Many SEO pros may agree that a shared hosting environment is fine for a hobby site, but not for a site with monetary goals.

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Premium Shared Hosting

Some premium shared hosting environments aren’t necessarily cheap, but are generally less expensive than renting an entire server.

The value of premium shared hosting is that it’s easy to deploy websites and access more server RAM and CPU resources.

Prices can range from $40 to over $100 per month.

Managed WordPress Hosting

Managed WordPress hosting is a specialized server environment specifically tunedfor WordPress websites.

These hosting environments only run WordPress sites and offer features that offload tasks from the website, enabling the WordPress sites to perform at a higher level.

The benefits of managed WordPress hosting are faster performance, better security, and less effort managing the technology side of WordPress.

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David Vogelpohl, VP of Growth at WPEngine, shared:

“Unlike generalist hosts, which also have to try to optimize their platform & caching for any kind of site, managed WordPress hosts focus on one type of site, WordPress.

By focusing on one kind of site, managed WordPress hosts can optimize their networks, caching, and infrastructure to a much greater degree than what is possible in generalist hosting environments.

The result of this focus is often a much faster site for you when hosting on a managed hosting provider.

Managed hosting providers like WP Engine will often deliver faster speeds for your website by offering proprietary and advanced caching for your site, a global content distribution network (CDN), a low ratio of sites-to-servers on shared hosting, and highly-optimized infrastructure that is specific to the kind of websites they host.

In WP Engine’s case, we offer a free & global CDN through Cloudflare to all customers and include a proprietary caching layer called EverCache, which includes WordPress and WooCommerce specific optimizations which help make sites faster than off-the-shelf caching solutions built for any kind of site.”

Website security is an SEO issue because website rankings begin to drop once a site is hacked.

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I asked David about WordPress security on a managed WordPress hosting service.

He answered:

“Managed hosting providers like WP Engine can be a powerful part of your security toolkit, offering support for managing malware and virus threats by helping you prevent malware before it becomes a problem, detect & remediate malware when it is present, and recover from malware infections that have affected your site.

Managed hosting providers often help with preventing malware threats by offering Web Application Firewalls (WAF), forcing strong passwords, supporting enterprise-grade SSO, and forcing security updates to key software used on your website (WordPress, PHP, MySQL, etc.).

For example, 37% of WordPress sites are on versions of PHP 7.3 or under, which are not supported with security updates, whereas 100% of WP Engine’s customers are on patched versions of WordPress and PHP.

Providers will also include network and server level threat detection and blocking capabilities which can help prevent some attacks before they even start, stop active attacks, or alert you to malware present on your site.

It’s also helpful to augment security benefits from your host by using solutions like WordFence or Sucuri to fully scan your site’s code for malware on a regular basis.

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If your site has already been compromised by malware, managed hosts may offer support for remediation (fixing the vulnerability/removing the malware) depending on the nature of the malware and vulnerability that may have led to the malware being present.

Once malware has been removed from your site, you can use daily backups often provided for free by managed platforms like WP Engine to recover your site.

Coupled with a healthy security culture and practice in your own organization, choosing a managed host is a great foundation for keeping your site safe and secure.”

Virtual Private Server (VPS)

A VPS is the next step up that offers fast performance, but at significantly higher prices than shared servers.

The value of a VPS is more control over the server environment.

The downside is that many VPS hosting environments require more technical ability to manage successfully. However, some VPS offerings have a managed option where the host provider will manage the server at an extra cost.

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Cloud Hosting

Cloud hosting is a specialized form of hosting.

In general, a cloud hosting environment is one in which the hosted data and processes are spread across multiple servers and feature redundancy, so losing data is nearly impossible.

The benefit of cloud hosting is that it’s scalable and is priced according to the resources used.

A site that experiences a sudden surge of traffic can quickly scale through the cloud hosting environment at a higher cost.

One of the downsides of cloud hosting is that it can require more technical skills to manage.

Dedicated Server

Managing a dedicated server isn’t as difficult as it used to be, but there is still a learning curve.

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Even with a relatively easy-to-use control panel like Plesk Onyx, while it’s intuitive to use, it helps to know about PHP settings, firewall settings, NGINX, and Apache.

In general, there are no guardrails to protect you from errors on a shared server, so one needs to know their way around.

5. Title Element (AKA Title Tags)

The title tag is widely regarded as an important ranking factor.

What’s in the title element is important because that’s what is (usually) shown as a Title Link in the search results.

As a result of that knowledge, SEO pros have often used the title tag as a place to write the targeted keyword. That’s a 20+ year SEO tradition.

But times have changed, and Google rewrites the title link if it’s not descriptive or contains repetitive boilerplate.

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That means the best practice for Title Tags has changed.

Today, the best practice for the title element is to be descriptive, concise, and non-boilerplate.

Adding a keyword phrase in there is still useful, but it’s important to be descriptive.

That means when someone reads the title tag, they should be able to know what the web page is about.

If the title tag doesn’t pass that test, it’s probably not good enough.

The best practice today is to target the user intent of the keyword phrase in the content and then target that user intent in the title tag.

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For example, since 2000, the standard practice was that if you’re trying to rank for the keyword phrase “fishing flies,” you must use the phrase “fishing flies” in the title tag.

That’s no longer the case because that keyword phrase is vague, so Google will first identify the user intents behind that keyword phrase, and then rank sites that match the user intent – not the keyword in the title tag.

The best way to write a title tag is to understand the user intent of the keyword phrase and try to match the intent in your title tag.

Here are the search results for the keyword phrase “fishing flies”:

Screenshot from search for [fishing flies], Google, July 2022

What’s notable about the title links in the above search results is that none of the top four search results have the keyword phrase “fishing flies” by itself.

The phrase or partial phrase is always in the context of a phrase that signals the user’s intent.

The number one search result doesn’t even have an exact match to the keyword phrase.

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What those search results – and pretty much any search result – will show is that it’s not just the keyword in the title that is important, but rather, it’s important to tell what the topic of the webpage is in a way that also signals the user intent.

That, in my opinion, is a best practice for title tags: Optimize the title tag for the user intent topic, and don’t just dump the exact-match keyword phrase in the title element.

6. Alt Text

The alt text (aka alt tag or alt image attribute) is an HTML attribute of the image HTML element.

The purpose of the alt text is to describe what the image is about.

  • Screen readers read the alt text to site visitors with vision impairment.
  • The text in the alt attribute becomes visible when the image doesn’t download.
  • Google uses the alt text for understanding the image in the context of showing it in Google Images.

The SEO best practice for using the alt text is to describe what the image is about.

Casey Markee, Founder of MediaWyse, offers a useful way to think about alt text:

“Ask yourself, if someone with a visual disability was sitting next to you, how would you describe a photo to them on your computer screen?

Alternative Text (Alt Text) exists to describe a photo to someone who cannot see it.

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It does not exist to stuff with keywords, marketing jargon, or other nonsense.

Finally, make sure to add a ‘period’ to the end of your Alt Text. That’s an indicator to screen readers that the Alt Text has completed.”

7. URL Structure

Many in the search industry mistakenly believe that Google uses the words in the URL structure to understand what a page is about.

But that’s not necessarily the case today.

Google has a long history of minimizing the importance of using keywords in the URL. As recently as 2017, Google’s John Mueller said that keywords in the URL as a ranking factor are overrated.

And in 2018, Mueller again minimized the importance of keywords in URLs for SEO:

The best practice for URLs is to keep them short but descriptive.

That will help signal to a potential site visitor what the webpage is about (if they can see the URL), and help them to decide whether to click through to the webpage.

When in doubt, you can’t lose by asking how it will impact a potential site visitor.

So if you have the two main words relevant to the topic in the URL structure, that’s going to be just fine.

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If you return to the example of the “fishing flies” search results, you’ll see that the number one result doesn’t have the keywords in the URL.

However, at position number one, Google still ranked it as the most relevant for that keyword phrase.

8. Best Way To Use Headings For SEO

Headings are like the title tags in that the role they play is to describe what the web page is about and what a webpage section is about.

John Mueller explained the best way to use headings:

“…what we use these headings for is well we have this big chunk of text or we have this big image and there’s a heading above that, therefore maybe this heading applies to this chunk of text or to this image.

So it’s not so much like there are five keywords in these headings, therefore this page will rank for these keywords but more, here’s some more information about that piece of text or about that image on that page.”

The best practice for using headings is to describe what the page is about or what a page section is about.

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Casey Markee had this to say about optimizing heading elements:

“Headings on a page provide a road map for users and crawlers to navigate a piece of content.

Headings have been horribly abused over the years to the point they have targeted algorithmically by Google to be rewritten.

Focus on writing clear, concise headings that are not keyword-heavy, use Title-Case or Sentence-case, and follow clear Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Always use headings sequentially (never jump from a H2 to a H4 just because), don’t keyword stuff every heading with your focus keyword, and never use CAPITAL-CASE in headings since some screen readers can confuse those with acronyms.”

9. Google Discover

Cindy Krum, Founder & CEO of MobileMoxie – which offers tools for mobile SEO – is enthusiastic about Google Discover.

She shared these tips for Google Discover SEO:

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“Google Discover is natively included on all Android phones and in the Chrome app for iOS. Because there are so many users, Discover can be a significant driver of traffic. It’s a big way to reach enthusiastic and loyal site visitors.

Content is shown to users who are interested in a topic and not because of keyword queries, which can make it challenging to report it as directly attributable to SEO efforts.

But Google has to know what a web page is about in order to show it to users who have expressed an interest in specific topics. That means on-page SEO is important.

To get more exposure there, it is important for pages to have high resolution images, and to pass all the checks for Google’s mobile ‘Page Experience’ evaluation in Search Console.

It also helps if pages have a fast load time because the context of where Google Discover content is shown is mobile devices.”

A common mistake I see people make with regard to their featured image is to use one that’s too small, or that is not rectangular.

To ensure that Google surfaces your content in Google Discover, use an image at least 1200 pixels wide.

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A rectangular image has the option to be displayed in its entirety. A square image will only be displayed as a smaller thumbnail, which won’t stand out as much.

Speaking of standing out, be sure to use featured images that are colorful.

Images with bright colors call attention to themselves in Google Discover and can help encourage clickthroughs.

Also, use the max image preview robots meta set to large:

<meta name="robots" content="max-image-preview:large">

10. AI For Content

Marketers commonly think of AI as a way to produce a lot of content faster.

(And often not-so-good content.)

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The SEO best practice for AI  is not in generating content, but in using AI to automate the entire process of creating content.

Jeff Coyle, Chief Strategy Officer of AI content automation company MarketMuse, explained the SEO best practices for AI-based content:

“Evaluate the entire content creation and management lifecycle at your company in order to identify stages in the process that are manual and inefficient.

AI can improve each stage of content creation:

  • Research.
  • Planning.
  • Prioritization.
  • Briefing.
  • Writing.
  • Editing.
  • Publishing.

Finally, automation can be used in the promotion and optimization phases of the content lifecycle.

It’s possible to improve on each of those critical stages when refining a business content machine.

AI solutions for content can improve decision-making and research processes by making them faster and more successful.”

Jeff finished by sharing this best practice for getting the most out of automation:

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“Make sure that any speed improvement and automation has checks and balances for quality and performance so that you can have breakthroughs in volume, quality, and content engagement/performance with AI while growing trust in the technology throughout your organization.”

11. SEO For Images

Images should ideally be colorful but also low weight, under 100kb (and ideally under 50kb).

I know that sounds unrealistic, but the truth is that image editing software like Photoshop can help create the smallest possible image that still looks great.

Images within the body of an article are great for breaking up the content and helping readers make it to the end of the article.

But make sure the image is relevant to the content because, in that way, it will help communicate the topic or message of the content.

12. SEO For Product Pages

Cindy Krum is also an expert on optimizing product pages for SEO and conversions on mobile-sized webpages.

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She had much to share about best practices for optimizing product pages.

“Mobile product pages are a significant opportunity for SEO, but it can be different from what most SEOs are used to.

We are seeing more and more of an emphasis from Google on Merchant Center Listings, so when you are optimizing product pages for SEO, it is essential to know if those are ranking for your mobile shopping query.

If there is a Free Product Listing module ranking for your keyword, it could be hard to outrank that; it would be a bit like outranking a Knowledge Graph result.

We think that users like Merchant Center packs in the search results because they function as a quick price comparison, so it seems likely that Google will maintain these.

In this case, especially for broad queries like this, the strategy for ranking product pages is all about ranking in the Free Merchant Center Listings – which is a whole new game!”

13. Best Practices For Category Pages

There’s a longstanding idea in the search community that category pages aren’t useful, so they add a noindex, follow robots meta tag to the pages.

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But that’s a big mistake — because then, Google will not index the category pages (as requested), and because of that, Google won’t follow the links, because the page is not indexed.

So, the best practice is always to allow search engines to crawl the product pages.

Another best practice is to use unique excerpts for every page.

Those excerpts are what will be shown on the category pages. Using a snippet from the first few sentences of a webpage for the excerpt is a missed opportunity.

Category pages are a great way to present a general page about a topic.

14. Best Practices For Review Websites

Google wants to rank product reviews that are real and not just product summaries; Familiarize yourself with Google’s product reviews content guidelines.

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When writing reviews, make sure to show images of the product and use as many as a shopper may need.

If it’s useful, show images of the product used to illustrate a review section.

The key focus of Google’s guidelines is to encourage product reviews that are helpful to users.

The product review guideline ends with this:

“When writing reviews, focus on the quality and originality of your reviews, not the length… This will deliver the most value to shoppers reading your reviews.”

The best practice for SEO on review websites is to provide guidance about a product and to help shoppers make better decisions.

15. Structured Data For SEO

Joost De Valk, Founder of Yoast SEO Plugin, shared his tip for structured data best practices.

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Joost shared:

“When optimizing your site, make sure you have all the important information not just in human readable text form but also in machine readable structured data.

Whether it’s your store’s opening hours, the (sale) price of a product on a web shop, or the title and author of a news article on a news site: there’s a schema.org structured data for everything.

As Google’s structured data guidelines are constantly evolving, I’d highly recommend using a plugin for such work, as that shifts the burden of updating that schema on the plugin developer, instead of you.

Of course, that does mean you have to trust the plugin developer to actually do a good job for you as well as to understand the SEO impact.”

I agree with Joost that using a plugin for managing structured data is a best practice for SEO. Google’s structured data guidelines are constantly updated.

By using a plugin, one no longer has to devote time to keeping up with changes to the structured data guidelines and taking the time to update the structured data sitewide.

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16. Best Way To Do Internal Linking

Internal linking is a way to keep crawlers indexing content and to help Google better understand which content is important.

Scott Hendison, CEO of Search Commander, Inc., offers some useful ideas about internal linking:

“I’m currently auditing a giant website that was migrated by someone, where they did (at least) include all of the 301 redirects, but they did not fix the internal linking structure.

I’m simply using the better search replace plugin in WordPress to change tens of thousands of redirects and redirect chains to show the final URL destination. I guess I would call this tactic, ‘reclaiming your own internal link equity.’

It’s pretty basic, but I never fail to get a ranking bump when I do that to sites, which is quite often.

There are always redirects in place, but nobody bothers to fix the links within the content itself.

The 301’s of course, need to be left in place, for old bookmarks and external links, but finalizing the internal linking structure to have no redirects is something I’ve strongly believed in for a long, long time, and seen improvements after doing so – especially when there are redirect chains.

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Some SEO tools will list redirects as a minor issue, but over time, these kinds of issues add up, particularly with chained redirects, and become bigger issues.

I strongly encourage clients in favor of the fixes. They’re easy to find and fix and can result in significant improvements.”

Joost had this to say about internal linking:

“When optimizing a site, one of the first things to do is making sure you improve the internal links between pages.

Very often, sites will have very little to no internal links in their content, relying entirely on large navigation menu’s to get people to move around.

In the interest of helping both your visitors and search engines, you should link related content to each other from within that content.

This can often have dramatic effects on your rankings. There are tools and plugins out there that can help you find internal links easily, so you don’t have to know all the content on a site (I know I often don’t for sites I’ve written tons of content for).”

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SEO consultant Chris Labbate offered more best practices for internal linking:

“When it comes to internal linking, I like to say that ‘Context is King.’

Here is what I believe is a best practice for creating internal links, with Semantic SEO in mind:

Try not to build links at the start of a paragraph.

We all know Google crawls internal links, but it also looks at the surrounding text around each link, as well.

This is especially true if the anchor text is too generic, like ‘click here’ or ‘follow me,’ Google is almost forced in this situation to look at the surrounding words to pick up extra relevance.

What it also means is that you can use that approach for better internal linking.

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Always pay extra attention to the surrounding text of the internal anchor text.

If you give Google some good context around your links, this can help provide the crawlers with some good information about the link, but also improve your rankings by explaining what the link can do for them and any other user intent-related data.”

17. Read Patents Carefully

An important best practice for SEO is investigating every best practice to see if it holds true.

What sometimes happens is that patents and research papers are misunderstood, and subsequently, those misunderstandings become a false best practice.

Those kinds of false best practices are often based on a misinterpretation of what a Googler said, or of what was published in a patent or research paper.

For example, a common SEO myth is that Google uses “brand mentions” as some kind of ranking signal that is similar to a link.

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This myth came about in a patent that was about using branded search queries as a type of citation signal, similar to a link.

The idea of the patent was that if users are searching with the name of a website plus keywords, then that could be considered as a form of a citation, though not as a link, but implied as one.

The entire patent, from the opening paragraphs to the end of the patent, was explicitly focused on search queries that contain a URL or website name plus the keyword phrase.

Somewhere smack in the middle of that patent was one paragraph that used the phrase “implied link.”

This is the paragraph from the Google patent:

The system determines a count of independent links for the group (step 302).

A link for a group of resources is an incoming link to a resource in the group, i.e., a link having a resource in the group as its target.

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Links for the group can include express links, implied links, or both. An express link, e.g., a hyperlink, is a link that is included in a source resource that a user can follow to navigate to a target resource.

An implied link is a reference to a target resource, e.g., a citation to the target resource, which is included in a source resource but is not an express link to the target resource.

Thus, a resource in the group can be the target of an implied link without a user being able to navigate to the resource by following the implied link.

The SEO community removed that sentence from the context of the entire patent and then used that one sentence to create the idea that an implied link is when a URL is written but without it being a link.

This idea was further extended to the mention of a brand’s name.

This kind of mistake is not uncommon.

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Some SEO pros still make the mistake of skimming a patent (without trying to understand it), and then stopping at one or two paragraphs that seem to confirm an SEO idea that they have.

That’s not how to read patents.

So, any time someone claims that a patent says Google does something, always look at the patent for yourself.

The best practice for learning about what Google might be doing (according to a patent) is to pay close attention to the opening paragraphs.

It’s in the opening paragraphs that you’ll find the key to understanding what the patent is all about. By doing that, you’ll be better able to avoid false best practices.

Understanding SEO

The understanding of SEO can be baroque or minimal, depending on the individual.

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The most common error is focusing on what Google might be doing.

If there’s a golden rule for SEO best practices, whether researching keywords or evaluating competitors, it’s this: Develop your SEO strategy around how a site visitor or potential customer may react. 

More resources:


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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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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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