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8 Content Writing Tips From Experts In 2023

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8 Content Writing Tips From Experts In 2023

The digital market is volatile and ever-changing.

Everyone is competing for popular keywords, and artificial intelligence is changing content creation.

It can be a bit daunting, especially if you’re new to content writing.

So, how can you cut through the noise and write more effective content in 2023?

We’ve asked 17 industry professionals to share the wisdom they’ve learned over the years, their advice to those trying to find their way into content marketing, and their favorite tools for writing and optimization.

Julia McCoy, VP of Marketing at Content at Scale, would have told her younger self to realize the opportunity.

“It was hard to see it back then since I was at ground zero,” recalls McCoy.

“But the industry of content marketing itself had ballooned by billions of dollars since when I started. This would have given me more hope and excitement that what I did truly mattered to building not just income, but a legacy.”

Without further ado, here are their top tips:

1. Focus On Your Audience

Jamie Press, Digital Marketing Specialist At Eurisko

The best tip I can give a copywriter is to think “audience first.” This advice is straight from Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger.

Sometimes, we go straight for the keyword tools when we’re brainstorming a piece of content; however, if we don’t know who we’re writing for, our copy won’t resonate with the reader.

Dialing into our target audience and their pain points (specific problems our audience needs solving) is the first step.


Carlijn Postma, Brand Strategist, Speaker, and Author of “Binge Marketing”

Carlijn Postma, Brand Strategist, Speaker, and Author of

One: Start bingeing.

Really? Yes. The first educational go-to database is your streaming service.

The best writers and content creators are the creators of films and series. They know how to attract and retain an audience by creating a compelling story.

And bring your notebook.

Two: Know the difference between a target group and an audience.

In content marketing, your goal is to communicate through text, video, or audio. Therefore, you need readers, viewers, and listeners. That is an audience.

There is a huge difference between a target group and an audience.

A target group is pointed out by you as the sender of the content (whether this target group likes it or not).

An audience decides for itself if it wants to be your audience. I prefer to reach and engage an audience over a target group.

Focusing on an audience will make you a better writer.

infographic about target group vs. audienceImage credit: Carlijn Postma, January 2023

Three: Always create content in series.

Now, if your goal is to attract and retain a loyal audience, you have to start creating content in series.

With only one episode, one piece of content, you just won’t be able to build an audience.

And if you are creating a series, learn from the masters: use cliffhangers at the end, and recaps at the start of an episode.

Ask yourself: “What does my audience need to know about what I wrote in previous episodes to understand this one?” This signals your audience to consume the other episodes, too.


Linda Pophal, Founder At Strategic Communications, LLC

Linda Pophal, Founder At Strategic Communications, LLC

Focus on your audience and their needs and interests – that’s all that really matters.

If you write for your audience and work to address the questions they might have, you will automatically create SEO-friendly content, because that’s what SEO is all about.

Even when my clients have specific SEO requirements, I first write the copy as I had always written it, long before SEO existed – to meet my audiences’ needs.

Then I’ll go back and “retrofit” the keywords that clients have requested; often, they’re already there and may just need to be tweaked or added to a bit.


2. Choose Quality Over Optimization

Steph Andrusjak, SEO Consultant

Steph Andrusjak, SEO Consultant

Always write with the user in mind, even when optimizing for search engines.

You can optimize an article by using keyword tools, like KeywordTool.io or AlsoAsked, to find what queries people are searching to help you mold your article – but don’t let the quest for optimization undo the quality of your writing.

If you’re writing content to sell something, then embrace copywriting formulas to create compelling statements.

If you’re writing articles of interest, then write in a way that the end user can relate to and explain the subject as fully as possible.

Most of all, write for your audience.

If your end users are teenagers, write in a style that will appeal to them without sacrificing the image you want to present.

If the website’s main customers are business owners, then opt for a more professional, formal tone.

Making sure your content is search engine optimized doesn’t necessarily mean you have to write thousands of words.

The key is that it needs to be as long as required for you to explain your point clearly and comprehensively. This means that content can be just as effective by writing concisely.


3. Build Out Your Content With Search Intent In Mind

Rudy Mawer, CEO At Mawer Capital

Rudy Mawer, CEO At Mawer Capital

When you are just beginning your career in SEO writing, don’t forget that you write for both Google and the people who use it.

Keep these two equally important audiences in mind to maximize visibility and reach.

Quality content is essential, and Google knows this. It is pushing your content out to the world through its platform.

The better content that Google provides its users, the more likely people will use Google when they have a question.

It is essential to understand the keywords you are writing for and be able to talk about them dynamically.

You want your writing to be engaging, informative, and relevant for the reader.


Adam Berry, SEO Consultant At Adam Berry SEO Adam Berry, SEO Consultant At Adam Berry SEO

I would definitely urge my former self to write for humans, not robots!

I’ve learned that it’s important to take the time to craft meaningful sentences that are interesting and engaging to readers.

This means writing with more details and facts to provide context, as well as aiming for greater semantic richness.

For example, instead of simply stating a fact or opinion, try elaborating on why it’s true, or how others may feel about it, to draw readers in.

By taking this approach, I found that readers were more likely to connect with my content and leave feeling enriched by the experience.


Joe Karasin, CMO At CircleIt And Head Of Growth Marketing At DigitalWill.com

Joe Karasin, CMO At CircleIt And Head Of Growth Marketing At DigitalWill.com

One: Don’t let the new focus on AI-driven content deter you.

AI content may get technical points and be produced more quickly, but creating compelling content is something that is still a human endeavor.

At the end of the day, the search intent of most users will favor the content that holds interest, which as of right now, AI hasn’t shown it can do.

Two: Balance is key.

You might be able to craft a beautiful story with your content, but if it isn’t written with SEO in mind, it won’t rank.

However, if you write a bunch of SEO-friendly content that is boring, no one will want to read it, and it won’t rank.

Being focused on the balance is the way you will gain readers and traction in your career.

Three: Write about what people want to read.

If you are writing content for a company, you want to look at the real-life applications of the company’s products and services.

By putting the customer or reader in the central piece of your narrative, you will get others to read it and identify with the “hero” of your story.

For example, if you have created a new technology, don’t just write a post about the features. Talk about the users and how the features you want to write about are improving their lives.


Sherry Bonelli, Owner Of Early Bird Digital Marketing

8 Content Writing Tips From Experts In 2023

If you are just starting in the writing industry, I first recommend following Ann Handley and getting a copy of her “Everybody Writes” book.

Ann is an amazing writer that gives you writing tips that you can use whether you’re tasked with writing blog posts, website content, email newsletters, social media posts, ads – or anything in between. Plus, she has a great sense of humor – so she’ll make you laugh as you learn to be a better writer!

Now, when I began my writing career, I was very lucky to have a solid SEO foundation under my belt.

But looking back, I focused too much on writing for individual keywords when I should’ve spent more time writing about the topics people were searching for.

As a writer, create content about the topics people are searching for and then do more extensive keyword research about the questions people ask about the topic (and subtopics) you’re writing about.

Make sure you answer those questions thoroughly in your content. That’s the way to make your readers – and Google – happy!


4. Consider Using AI Writing Tools, But Use Them Wisely

Julia McCoy, VP Of Marketing At Content At Scale

Julia McCoy, VP Of Marketing At Content At Scale

We live in a completely new era versus the one I started in.

Today, the baseline of human content production can be assisted, if not nearly replaced, by AI tools built on top of OpenAI’s game-changing GPT language releases to write and create content.

With GPT4 on the horizon and about to launch, human content production will shift forever into an AI-assisted one.

That said, if you’re considering a writing career, don’t think there’s no need for the human. There’s a huge need for your writing skills.

It will just look different than when I started – when it was solely human-based.

My tips for you: Learn how to incorporate AI writing tools into your process. Learn how to edit, cut the fluff, and make the content that AI produces better. Learn strategy.

These skills will put you in a place where you cannot be replaced by AI.


Cai Ellis, SEO Manager At ToolTester

Cai Ellis, SEO Manager At ToolTester 

Now is not the time to completely move over to AI writing tools.

Although Google hasn’t come out and said that AI content is bad, we know that it prefers content that’s written by people for people.

With that said, it wouldn’t hurt to learn how to optimize AI content so that it’s a skill you can call on as and when needed.

We will likely see this as something that’s specifically needed from marketers in no time.

You could have a trial run of ChatGPT at home, focusing on the creation of content that’s helpful and user-first using the tool’s text as a starting point.

Other than that, the number one lesson for any new writer would have to be not to put themselves under too much pressure.

It takes time to learn how to craft the types of content that will engage and persuade.

It’s advisable to keep writing as a side hustle until you’re confident of meeting and exceeding client expectations.


Shubham Bajaj, Founder And SEO Scientist At Netsurge Technologies

Shubham Bajaj, Founder And SEO Scientist At Netsurge Technologies

With the onset of various AI writing tools and ChatGPT, it’s important for content writers who are just getting started to be able to write in a way that differentiates them from machines.

Adding your personality and character to your write-up and telling engaging stories that can keep the reader hooked are important aspects.

It is also important to note that, while it’s good to be quirky and conversational, make sure you have an NLP-friendly section that defines or provides an exact answer for the query in a format that Google or other search engines can directly use to display as a snippet.

5. Practice Writing Regularly

Jason Hennessey, Founder And CEO At Hennessey Digital

8 Content Writing Tips From Experts In 2023

Read widely and often to develop your writing skills and understand the various styles and forms of writing.

Then write every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes, to improve your writing discipline and practice your craft.

Lastly, seek feedback on your writing from others, and be open to constructive criticism.


Alex Valencia, President At We Do Web Content

Alex Valencia

If I could give my past self a piece of advice, it’d be to brush up on grammar and style rules.

For style, there’s nothing better than reading works by your favorite authors. How do they describe everyday things and situations? How do they craft sentences? What about their storytelling that hooks you in?

Then, practice, practice, practice.


Sam Hollingsworth, SEO Director At Moving Traffic Media

8 Content Writing Tips From Experts In 2023

Write more often and be less scared.

Like so many other things, we get better at writing the more that we do it (and reading).

It allows us to learn new things, experiment with new processes, and expand our skills for everything from creativity to accuracy and even speed and efficiency.


Dvir Ben-Aroya, Co-Founder And CEO At Spike

8 Content Writing Tips From Experts In 2023

For those just getting started in their writing careers, reading widely can help you develop a strong writing style.

By reading various authors and genres, you can learn about different writing techniques and styles and find inspiration for your own writing.

Practicing regularly is also important, as it allows you to improve your skills and become more proficient in your craft.

Networking with other writers can also be beneficial, as it can help you learn about the industry, find potential collaborators or mentors, and stay informed about new opportunities.

And it’s also important to be open to constructive criticism because it helps improve your writing.


Rudy Mawer, CEO At Mawer Capital

Rudy Mawer, CEO At Mawer Capital

If I could go back to the beginning of my writing career, I would tell myself that I need to spend more time reading and practicing different types of writing.

Even if you only write one specific style of writing, practicing different styles and formats of writing will strengthen your primary style by association.

It is a great mental exercise to sharpen and use the other “tools” in your writing toolbox.

For example, if you only write B2B long-form keyword-rich blog content, practicing creative writing every so often might be useful.

By doing so, you can combat writer’s block, gain additional perspectives, and have more engaging and dynamic content.


6. Find Your Rhythm And Style That Sparks Joy

Alex Valencia, President At We Do Web Content

Alex Valencia

When starting a career as a writer, it’s critical to uncover the type of writing that brings you joy.

The topics you cover should excite you, and crafting pieces should feel like a privilege.

It shows in your work when you have passion for the things you’re writing about. The energy is relaxed and confident.


Jason Hennessey, Founder And CEO At Hennessey Digital

Jason Hennessey

Focus on developing your own unique voice and style.

Writing is a highly personal and subjective endeavor, and it’s important to find your own way of expressing yourself and telling stories.

This will set your work apart and make it more likely to resonate with readers.


Sam Hollingsworth, SEO Director At Moving Traffic Media

Sam Hollingsworth

Never forget that writing is (seemingly) one of the most basic ways for humans to communicate.

Of course, like most everything in life, there are good and bad examples of it.

Be mindful of the foundational guidelines we’ve been told most of our lives but also do not lose out on creativity to do so.

I often think back to something one of my favorite journalism professors taught me (and of which he claimed one of his favorite professors taught him as a budding journalist): “Write like jazz.”

It should have rhythm, but also irregularities and improvisation that allow it to stand out. It should be enjoyable and digested with ease.


7. Learn To Overcome Setbacks And Imposter Syndrome

Kaitie Frank, Digital Marketing Copywriter At Page One Power

Kaitie Frank

Imposter syndrome is real. Kick it out the door and have confidence in your writing!

Read examples of great work, then put your spin on it.

Also, triple edit:

  • Edit on-screen.
  • Print it out and edit.
  • Have another set of eyes look at it.

Don’t let people bully you into submission. I spent too much time at a job where I was told I wasn’t good enough, and that made me lose confidence in my writing.

Instead, find a place where mentors help you grow and develop your skills, not knock you down because you don’t write exactly like them.


Dvir Ben-Aroya, Co-Founder And CEO At Spike

Dvir Ben-Aroya

If I could go back to the beginning of my writing career, I would advise myself to be more persistent.

Writing is a challenging and competitive field, and it can take a lot of time and effort to succeed.

It’s important not to give up too easily and to keep working towards your goals, even when faced with rejection or setbacks.


8. Grow Your Network And Portfolio

Monika Nozinic, Copywriter at Async Labs

8 Content Writing Tips From Experts In 2023

My advice to those who are just getting started in their writing careers would be:

  • Read and study as much as you can. Look at the work of famous copywriters and see what you can learn from them.
  • Write every day to develop your skills and build a writing routine. The more you write, the better you’ll get at it.
  • Get feedback. Show your work to other people and see what they think.
  • Learn SEO. Understanding SEO will help you to write copy that ranks well in search engines.
  • Network with other writers and industry professionals.
  • Know your audience. Understand who you’re writing for and what they need.
  • Be adaptable. Copywriting constantly evolves, so be prepared to learn new things and adapt to new trends.
  • Practice makes perfect. Keep practicing and experimenting until you find your voice and style.
  • Learn about the industry you’re writing for. This way, you’ll be able to understand their language and speak to their pain points and goals.
  • Be passionate. Copywriting is a creative field, so bring your passion for working, and it will shine through in your writing.

The advice I would now give myself at the start of my career would be to connect with other copywriters and content creators. Ask them to be my mentor for a week or two.

Also, I would tell myself to develop thicker skin and persistence, as rejection and criticism are a normal part of the writing process, which I learned, sometimes the hard way, along the way.


Adam Berry, SEO Consultant At Adam Berry SEO

Adam Berry, SEO Consultant At Adam Berry SEO

Take time to build your portfolio.

You’ll want to start collecting samples of your work as soon as possible; these will be invaluable when applying for jobs or searching for opportunities.

Make sure each piece is polished and showcases your best writing ability.


Experts’ Favorite Tools For Content Writing And Optimization

Grammarly And Hemmingway

Alex Valencia’s top writing tool is Grammarly, and he says that “every professional should use it (#notanad).”

“It’s taught me a lot about my writing style and how to improve it. For keyword research, I use Semrush,” Valencia shares.

Shubham Bajaj suggests Grammarly and Hemingway “for avoiding grammatical errors and ensuring that your content is structured properly, especially when starting and you have a low to zero budget to spend on tools.”

“Once you have some budget to spend, consider subscribing to advanced tools like ProWritingAid,” Bajaj recommends.

Surfer SEO

“When it comes to writing tools, there are oodles of SEO tools out there that have content tools built in. (Some are definitely better than others.) One of my favorite tools for optimizing content is Surfer SEO,” says Sherry Bonelli.

“Surfer SEO takes the keyword you’re trying to optimize your content for and analyzes your content against the top-ranking webpages.

Then it shows All words and Natural Language Process (NLP) words so you can see if you’re overusing some words – or not using words that you perhaps should use. (Like maybe you didn’t even think about including a word or topic in what you were writing!)

Surfer SEO can really take your writing optimization to the next level. I’d highly recommend you play around with it.”

8 Content Writing Tips From Experts In 2023Screenshot from Surfer SEO, modified by author, January 2023

“Don’t be afraid to use tools to your advantage,” advises Rudy Mawer.

“You are writing search engine-centric content; the internet has many resources and tools to help make your job easier and your writing more effective.”

Mawer loves using Surfer SEO as well. “Its content editor gives you a real-time score of your content’s strength for the keyword you are trying to rank for, NLP keyword suggestions, and a competitor analysis.”

Yoast SEO

Dvir Ben-Aroya’s favorite tools for content writing and optimization include Grammarly, Hemingway, Yoast SEO, and Google Analytics.

“Grammarly and Hemingway are writing tools that can help you improve your grammar, style, and readability.

Yoast SEO is a plugin that can help you optimize your content for search engines, and Google Analytics is a tool that allows you to track the performance of your content, including pageviews, bounce rate, and conversion rate.

These tools are very helpful in making your content more effective and engaging for your target audience,” explains Ben-Aroya.

Content At Scale

Julia McCoy saves up to seven hours per piece by using Content at Scale, “a long-form AI content writer that does everything for you – even SEO research and optimization.”

“It’s utterly insane to realize we’re here in an era where AI can replace hours and hours of grunt work at a fraction of the cost,” McCoy notes.

She also loves KWFinder for easy, simple, enjoyable keyword research and enjoys having ChatGPT for writing email outlines, topic ideas, and lists.

Otter.ai

Linda Pophal does a lot of interviews with subject matter experts and sources, and Otter.ai helps her accomplish the task.

“Otter.ai is great for recording and transcribing these interviews automatically so I can focus on what the sources are saying without worrying about missing anything,” says Pophal.

“I also like Grammarly, Hemingway App, and AP Styleguide online, and have begun experimenting a bit with ChatGPT, not to actually write my content but to help with outlining and getting a head start in fleshing out ideas,” she adds.

Reddit

Cai Ellis finds Answerthepublic and Reddit great for content inspiration.

“If you’re writing on a niche topic, diving into that Subreddit is the best way to get authentic and unique insight quickly,” Ellis recommends.

Joe Karasin also uses Reddit and Quora for topic research and to learn what people are talking about surrounding your topics.

“There are probably questions your audience has that you haven’t even considered. Write about those topics, and you’ll experience success,” Karasin advises.

Google Search And Suite

Jamie Press goes for a simple Google Doc for writing and collaborating with colleagues and clients.

Kaitie Frank uses good ol’ Google for research and optimization.

She believes that the “SERPs (search engine results pages) will tell you all you need to know about which headers to use and which information to include.”

Sam Hollingsworth shares a similar outlook.

“Like many old-school journalists, I don’t rely too heavily on many tools to help me optimize content or even come up with ideas to write about, but it’s nice to have them when needed.

It’s amazing how much direction and ideas we can get from free resources like Google Keyword Planner, as well as traditional Google Search.”

“For help optimizing content, MarketMuse and Frase are great tools to have available in your efforts,” Hollingsworth adds.

Editor’s note: All interviews have been lightly edited for clarity, brevity, and adherence to our Editorial Guidelines. The views expressed by the interviewees in this column are theirs alone and do not necessarily represent the view of Search Engine Journal.

More Resources:


Featured Image: Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock



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SEO

Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint: A Step-By-Step Guide

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Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint: A Step-By-Step Guide

This post was sponsored by DebugBear. The opinions expressed in this article are the sponsor’s own.

Keeping your website fast is important for user experience and SEO.

The Core Web Vitals initiative by Google provides a set of metrics to help you understand the performance of your website.

The three Core Web Vitals metrics are:

This post focuses on the recently introduced INP metric and what you can do to improve it.

How Is Interaction To Next Paint Measured?

INP measures how quickly your website responds to user interactions – for example, a click on a button. More specifically, INP measures the time in milliseconds between the user input and when the browser has finished processing the interaction and is ready to display any visual updates on the page.

Your website needs to complete this process in under 200 milliseconds to get a “Good” score. Values over half a second are considered “Poor”. A poor score in a Core Web Vitals metric can negatively impact your search engine rankings.

Google collects INP data from real visitors on your website as part of the Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX). This CrUX data is what ultimately impacts rankings.

Image created by DebugBear, May 2024

How To Identify & Fix Slow INP Times

The factors causing poor Interaction to Next Paint can often be complex and hard to figure out. Follow this step-by-step guide to understand slow interactions on your website and find potential optimizations.

1. How To Identify A Page With Slow INP Times

Different pages on your website will have different Core Web Vitals scores. So you need to identify a slow page and then investigate what’s causing it to be slow.

Using Google Search Console

One easy way to check your INP scores is using the Core Web Vitals section in Google Search Console, which reports data based on the Google CrUX data we’ve discussed before.

By default, page URLs are grouped into URL groups that cover many different pages. Be careful here – not all pages might have the problem that Google is reporting. Instead, click on each URL group to see if URL-specific data is available for some pages and then focus on those.

1716368164 358 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of Google Search Console, May 2024

Using A Real-User Monitoring (RUM) Service

Google won’t report Core Web Vitals data for every page on your website, and it only provides the raw measurements without any details to help you understand and fix the issues. To get that you can use a real-user monitoring tool like DebugBear.

Real-user monitoring works by installing an analytics snippet on your website that measures how fast your website is for your visitors. Once that’s set up you’ll have access to an Interaction to Next Paint dashboard like this:

1716368164 404 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear Interaction to Next Paint dashboard, May 2024

You can identify pages you want to optimize in the list, hover over the URL, and click the funnel icon to look at data for that specific page only.

1716368164 975 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideImage created by DebugBear, May 2024

2. Figure Out What Element Interactions Are Slow

Different visitors on the same page will have different experiences. A lot of that depends on how they interact with the page: if they click on a background image there’s no risk of the page suddenly freezing, but if they click on a button that starts some heavy processing then that’s more likely. And users in that second scenario will experience much higher INP.

To help with that, RUM data provides a breakdown of what page elements users interacted with and how big the interaction delays were.

1716368164 348 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear INP Elements view, May 2024

The screenshot above shows different INP interactions sorted by how frequent these user interactions are. To make optimizations as easy as possible you’ll want to focus on a slow interaction that affects many users.

In DebugBear, you can click on the page element to add it to your filters and continue your investigation.

3. Identify What INP Component Contributes The Most To Slow Interactions

INP delays can be broken down into three different components:

  • Input Delay: Background code that blocks the interaction from being processed.
  • Processing Time: The time spent directly handling the interaction.
  • Presentation Delay: Displaying the visual updates to the screen.

You should focus on which INP component is the biggest contributor to the slow INP time, and ensure you keep that in mind during your investigation.

1716368164 193 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear INP Components, May 2024

In this scenario, Processing Time is the biggest contributor to the slow INP time for the set of pages you’re looking at, but you need to dig deeper to understand why.

High processing time indicates that there is code intercepting the user interaction and running slow performing code. If instead you saw a high input delay, that suggests that there are background tasks blocking the interaction from being processed, for example due to third-party scripts.

4. Check Which Scripts Are Contributing To Slow INP

Sometimes browsers report specific scripts that are contributing to a slow interaction. Your website likely contains both first-party and third-party scripts, both of which can contribute to slow INP times.

A RUM tool like DebugBear can collect and surface this data. The main thing you want to look at is whether you mostly see your own website code or code from third parties.

1716368164 369 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the INP Primary Script Domain Grouping in DebugBear, May 2024

Tip: When you see a script, or source code function marked as “N/A”, this can indicate that the script comes from a different origin and has additional security restrictions that prevent RUM tools from capturing more detailed information.

This now begins to tell a story: it appears that analytics/third-party scripts are the biggest contributors to the slow INP times.

5. Identify Why Those Scripts Are Running

At this point, you now have a strong suspicion that most of the INP delay, at least on the pages and elements you’re looking at, is due to third-party scripts. But how can you tell whether those are general tracking scripts or if they actually have a role in handling the interaction?

DebugBear offers a breakdown that helps see why the code is running, called the INP Primary Script Invoker breakdown. That’s a bit of a mouthful – multiple different scripts can be involved in slowing down an interaction, and here you just see the biggest contributor. The “Invoker” is just a value that the browser reports about what caused this code to run.

1716368165 263 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the INP Primary Script Invoker Grouping in DebugBear, May 2024

The following invoker names are examples of page-wide event handlers:

  • onclick
  • onmousedown
  • onpointerup

You can see those a lot in the screenshot above, which tells you that the analytics script is tracking clicks anywhere on the page.

In contrast, if you saw invoker names like these that would indicate event handlers for a specific element on the page:

  • .load_more.onclick
  • #logo.onclick

6. Review Specific Page Views

A lot of the data you’ve seen so far is aggregated. It’s now time to look at the individual INP events, to form a definitive conclusion about what’s causing slow INP in this example.

Real user monitoring tools like DebugBear generally offer a way to review specific user experiences. For example, you can see what browser they used, how big their screen is, and what element led to the slowest interaction.

1716368165 545 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of a Page View in DebugBear Real User Monitoring, May 2024

As mentioned before, multiple scripts can contribute to overall slow INP. The INP Scripts section shows you the scripts that were run during the INP interaction:

1716368165 981 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear INP script breakdown, May 2024

You can review each of these scripts in more detail to understand why they run and what’s causing them to take longer to finish.

7. Use The DevTools Profiler For More Information

Real user monitoring tools have access to a lot of data, but for performance and security reasons they can access nowhere near all the available data. That’s why it’s a good idea to also use Chrome DevTools to measure your page performance.

To debug INP in DevTools you can measure how the browser processes one of the slow interactions you’ve identified before. DevTools then shows you exactly how the browser is spending its time handling the interaction.

1716368165 526 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of a performance profile in Chrome DevTools, May 2024

How You Might Resolve This Issue

In this example, you or your development team could resolve this issue by:

  • Working with the third-party script provider to optimize their script.
  • Removing the script if it is not essential to the website, or finding an alternative provider.
  • Adjusting how your own code interacts with the script

How To Investigate High Input Delay

In the previous example most of the INP time was spent running code in response to the interaction. But often the browser is already busy running other code when a user interaction happens. When investigating the INP components you’ll then see a high input delay value.

This can happen for various reasons, for example:

  • The user interacted with the website while it was still loading.
  • A scheduled task is running on the page, for example an ongoing animation.
  • The page is loading and rendering new content.

To understand what’s happening, you can review the invoker name and the INP scripts section of individual user experiences.

1716368165 86 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the INP Component breakdown within DebugBear, May 2024

In this screenshot, you can see that a timer is running code that coincides with the start of a user interaction.

The script can be opened to reveal the exact code that is run:

1716368165 114 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of INP script details in DebugBear, May 2024

The source code shown in the previous screenshot comes from a third-party user tracking script that is running on the page.

At this stage, you and your development team can continue with the INP workflow presented earlier in this article. For example, debugging with browser DevTools or contacting the third-party provider for support.

How To Investigate High Presentation Delay

Presentation delay tends to be more difficult to debug than input delay or processing time. Often it’s caused by browser behavior rather than a specific script. But as before, you still start by identifying a specific page and a specific interaction.

You can see an example interaction with high presentation delay here:

1716368165 665 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the an interaction with high presentation delay, May 2024

You see that this happens when the user enters text into a form field. In this example, many visitors pasted large amounts of text that the browser had to process.

Here the fix was to delay the processing, show a “Waiting…” message to the user, and then complete the processing later on. You can see how the INP score improves from May 3:

1716368165 845 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of an Interaction to Next Paint timeline in DebugBear, May 2024

Get The Data You Need To Improve Interaction To Next Paint

Setting up real user monitoring helps you understand how users experience your website and what you can do to improve it. Try DebugBear now by signing up for a free 14-day trial.

1716368165 494 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear Core Web Vitals dashboard, May 2024

Google’s CrUX data is aggregated over a 28-day period, which means that it’ll take a while before you notice a regression. With real-user monitoring you can see the impact of website changes right away and get alerted automatically when there’s a big change.

DebugBear monitors lab data, CrUX data, and real user data. That way you have all the data you need to optimize your Core Web Vitals in one place.

This article has been sponsored by DebugBear, and the views presented herein represent the sponsor’s perspective.

Ready to start optimizing your website? Sign up for DebugBear and get the data you need to deliver great user experiences.


Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by Redesign.co. Used with permission.

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International SEO For 2024: 9-Point Checklist For Success

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International SEO For 2024: 9-Point Checklist For Success

Getting your international SEO strategy right can be an elusive feat.

There are a lot more factors at play than people give credit for, and it’s often a thankless job.

A successful international SEO strategy requires a deep knowledge of your company’s commercial strategy as well as technical SEO knowledge, cultural sensitivity, and excellent data skills.

Yet the industry often regards international SEO as just your hreflang setup.

In this article, I will distill the complexities of international SEO success into an actionable step-by-step list that will take you from beginner to advanced practitioner. Let’s begin!

Part I: Be Commercially Aware

1. Understand Why Your Company Is Going International

Companies can grow by expanding their products and services, focusing on gaining market penetration or expanding into new markets.

While your team’s goal might be traffic, leads, or revenue, the leadership team is likely working under a different set of parameters. Most of the time, leadership’s ultimate goal is to maximize shareholder value.

  • In founder-owned companies, growth goals might be slower and more sustainable, usually aimed at maintaining and growing profitability.
  • VC-owned companies have high growth goals because they must provide their investors with a return that’s higher than the stock market. This is what is known as the alpha, or your company’s ability to beat the market in growth.
  • Publicly traded companies are likely aiming to grow their share value.
  • Startups, depending on their maturity stage, are likely looking to prove product-market fit or expand their reach fast to show that their operations are scalable and have the potential to be profitable in the future. The goal of this is to aid in raising further capital from investors.

Understanding why businesses go international is essential for informing your SEO decisions. What’s best practice for SEO isn’t always what’s best for business.

You must adapt your strategy to your company’s growth model.

  • Companies choosing to grow sustainably and maintain profitability will likely expand more slowly to a market that resembles their core market.
  • VC-owned companies will be able to invest in a wider range of countries, with a smaller concern for providing their users with an experience on par with that of their core markets.
  • Startups can try to beat their competitors to market by expanding quickly and throwing a lot of money at the project, or they might be concerned with cash flow and try to expand fast but cut corners by using automatic translation.

2. Stack Rank Your Target Markets To Prioritize Your Investment

I promise I’ll get to hreflang implementation soon, but so much about international SEO has to do with commercial awareness – so bear with me; this will make you a better professional.

Many companies have different market tiers to reflect how much of a priority each market is. Market prioritization can happen using many different metrics, such as:

  • Average order value or lifetime customer value.
  • Amount of investment required.
  • Market size.
  • And market similarity.

American companies often prioritize developed English-speaking countries such as the UK, Canada, or Australia. These are most similar to their core market, and most of their market knowledge will be transferable.

After that, companies are likely to target large European economies, such as Germany and France. They might also target the LatAm market and Spain in the same effort.

The last prioritization tier can vary widely among companies, with a focus on the Nordic, Brazilian, or Asian markets.

Part II: Know Your Tech

3. Define Your International URL Structure

When doing international SEO, there are 4 different possible URL structures, each with its pros and cons.

ccTLD Structure

A ccTLD structure is set up to target different countries based on the domain type.

This structure is not ideal for companies that target different languages rather than different countries. For example, a .es website is targeting Spain, not the Spanish language.

An advantage to this kind of structure is that the ccTLD sends a very strong localization signal to search engines as to what market they are targeting, and they can lead to improved trust and CTR in your core country.

On the other hand, ccTLDs can dilute your site’s authority, as links will be spread across domains rather than concentrated on the .com.

gTLD With Subdirectories

This is my personal favorite when it comes to international SEO.

These URL structures can look like website.com/en if they’re targeting languages or website.com/en-gb if they’re targeting countries.

This configuration aggregates the authority you gain across your different territories into a single domain, it’s cheaper to maintain, and the .com TLD is widely recognizable by users worldwide.

On the other hand, this setup can look less personalized to people outside the US, who might wonder if you can service their markets.

gTLD With Subdomains

This setup involves placing international content on a subdomain like us.website.com. While once popular, it’s slipping in favor because it doesn’t bring anything unique to the table anymore.

This setup offers a clear signal to users and search engines about the intended audience of a specific subdomain.

However, subdomains often face issues with SEO, as Google tends to view them as separate entities. This separation can dilute link, similar to the ccTLD approach but without the geo-targeting advantages.

gTLD With Parameters

This is the setup where you add parameters at the end of the URL to indicate the language of the page, such as website.com/?lang=en.

I strongly advise against this setup, as it can present multiple technical SEO challenges and trust issues.

4. Understand Your Hreflang Setup

In the words of John Mueller: hreflang can be one of the most complex aspects of SEO.

Screenshot from Twitter, May 2024

Hreflang reminds me of a multilingual form of a canonical tag, where we tell search engines that one document is a version of the other and explain the relationship between them.

I find hreflang implementation very interesting from a technical point of view. Because development teams mostly manage it, and it can be very much hit or miss.

Often, hreflang is constructed from existing fields in your content management system (CMS) or content database.

You might find that your development team is pulling the HTML lang tag, which follows a different ISO standard than hreflang, leading to a broken implementation.

Other times, there is a field in your CMS that your development team pulls from to build your hreflang setup.

Finding out how your hreflang tags are generated can be extremely helpful in identifying the sources of different issues or mitigating potential risks.

So speak to your engineering team and ask them how you’re currently generating hreflang.

5. Implement Hreflang Without Errors

There are three ways to implement hreflang on your site:

  • On your sitemap.
  • Through your HTTP header.
  • On your HTML head.

The method most of us are most familiar with is the HTML head. And while you can use more than one method, they should match each other perfectly. Otherwise, you risk confusing search engines.

Here are some basic rules for getting it done correctly:

  • In your hreflang implementation, the URL must include domain and protocol.
  • You must follow the ISO 639-1 language codes – don’t go around making up your own.
  • Hreflang tags must be reciprocal. If the page you’re listing as a language alternative does not list you back, your implementation won’t work.
  • Audit your hreflang regularly. My favorite tool for this, since it added the hreflang cluster analysis and link graphs, is Ahrefs. For the record, Ahrefs is not paying me to say this; it’s a genuine recommendation and has helped me a lot in my work.
  • You should only have one page per language.
  • Your hreflang URLs should be self-canonicalizing and respond with a 200 code.

Follow the above rules, and you’ll avoid the most common hreflang mistakes that SEO pros make.

And if you’re interested in the technical SEO aspect beyond hreflang, I recommend reading Mind your language by Rob Owen.

Part III: Invest In Content Incrementally

6. Translate Your Top-performing Content Topics

Now that you have the basic commercial and technical knowledge covered, you’re ready to start creating a content strategy.

You likely have a wealth of content in your core market that can be recycled. But you want to focus on translating high-converting topics, not just any topic; otherwise, you might be wasting your budget!

Let’s go step by step.

Cluster Your Website’s Content By Topic

  • Crawl your site using your favorite SEO tool and extract the URL and H1.
  • Use ChatGPT to classify that list of URLs into topics. You might already know what you usually write about, so include those topics in your prompt. You don’t want to have a classification that’s too granular, so you can prompt chatGPT to only create groups with a minimum of 10 URLs (adjust this to reflect the size of your website) and class everything else as other. This is an example of what your prompt might look like: “I will provide you with a list of article titles and their corresponding URL. Classify this list into the following topics: survey best practices, research and analysis, employee surveys, market research and others. Return this in a table format with the URL, title and group name.”
  • Start a spreadsheet with all your URLs in the first column, titles in the second column, and the group they belong to in the third column.

Measure Your Performance By Topic

  • Export your GSC data and use a =VLOOKUP formula to match your clicks to your URLs.
  • Export your conversion data and use a =VLOOKUP formula to match your conversions (leads, sales, sign-ups, or revenue) to the right URL.
  • You can then copy your topics column onto a new sheet. Remove duplicates and use the =SUMIF formula to aggregate your click data and conversion data by topic.

Choose What Topics You’ll Be Translating First

Using this data, you can now choose what topics are most likely to drive conversions based on your core market data. Choose how many topics or pieces of content you’ll be translating based on your budget.

Personally, I like translating one topic at a time because I’ve found that generating topical authority on one specific topic makes it easier for me to rank on an adjacent topic that I write about next.

7. Localize Your English Content

Once you’re set up with all your key pages and a few content topics, it’s time to evaluate your investment and see where you could be getting a bigger return.

At this stage, many companies have translated their content into a few different languages and likely copied the US content into their UK and Australian sites. Now that you’ve done some translation, it’s time to work on localization.

If you’ve just copied your US content into your UK and Australian sites, your Google Search Console indexing report might be screaming at you, “Duplicate, Google selected a different canonical than the user.”

A very easy fix that could yield great returns is to localize your English content to the nuances of those English-speaking markets.

You will want to instruct your translation and localization providers to adapt the spellings of certain words, change the choice of words, introduce local expressions, and update any cited statistic for the US with their local equivalent.

For example, if I’m targeting a British audience, “analyze” becomes “analyse,” a “stroller” becomes a “pram,” and “soccer” becomes “football.”

8. Invest In In-market Content

Once you’ve got the basics in place, you can start tackling the specific needs of other markets. This strategy is expensive, and you should only use it in your priority markets, but it can really set you apart from your competitors.

For this, you will need to work with a local linguist to identify pain points, use cases, or needs exclusive to your target market.

For example, if France suddenly made it mandatory to run a diversity and inclusion study for companies with over 250 employees, I’d want to know this and create some content on DEI surveys at SurveyMonkey.

9. Integrate With Other Content Workflows

In step six, we evaluated our top-performing content, chose the best articles to translate, and got it all down. But wait. Some of these source articles have been updated. And there is even more content now!

To run a successful international SEO campaign you must integrate with all the other teams publishing content within your organization.

Usually, the teams creating content in an organization are SEO, content, PR, product marketing, demand generation, customer marketing, customer service, customer education, or solutions engineering.

That’s a lot, and you won’t be able to integrate with everyone all at once. Prioritize the teams that create the most revenue-generating content, such as SEO, content, or product marketing.

Working with these teams, you will have to establish a process for what happens when they create a new piece, update some content, or remove an existing piece.

These processes can differ for everyone, but I can tell you what I do with my team and hope it inspires you.

  • When a piece of content that’s already been localized into international markets is updated, we get the content in a queue to be re-localized the next quarter.
  • When they create a new piece of content, we evaluate its performance, and if it’s performing above average, we add it to a localization queue for the next quarter.
  • When they change the URL of a piece of content or delete it, all international sites must follow suit at the same time, since due to some technical limitations, not making the change globally would create some hreflang issues.

Wrapping Up

International SEO is vast and complex, and no article can cover it all, but many interesting resources have been created by SEO pros across the community for those who want to learn more.

Navigating the complexities of international SEO is no small feat. It’s an intricate dance of aligning commercial strategies with technical precision, cultural insights, and data-driven decisions.

From understanding your company’s core motives for global expansion to meticulously implementing hreflang tags and localizing content, every step plays a crucial role in building a successful international presence.

More resources: 


Featured Image: BritCats Studio/Shutterstock



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Google’s AI Vision Driven By Panic, Not Users: Former Product Manager

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Hand pressing the red button. vector illustration

A 16-year Google veteran is raising concerns about the company’s current focus on AI, labeling it a “panic reaction” driven by fear of falling behind competitors.

Scott Jenson, who left Google last month, took to LinkedIn to critique the tech giant’s AI projects as “poorly motivated and driven by this mindless panic that as long as it had ‘AI’ in it, it would be great.”

Veteran’s Criticism Of Google’s AI Focus

Jenson stated that Google’s vision of creating an AI assistant for its ecosystem is “pure catnip” fueled by the fear of letting someone else get there first.

He parallels the ill-fated Google+ product, which he calls a “similar hysterical reaction” to Facebook’s rise.

Jenson wrote:

“This exact thing happened 13 years ago with Google+ (I was there for that fiasco as well). That was a similar hysterical reaction but to Facebook.”

Lack Of User-Driven Motivation

Jenson argues that Google’s strategy lacks motivation driven by genuine user needs, a sentiment echoed by a recent Gizmodo article that described this year’s Google I/O developer conference as “the most boring ever.”

The article, which Jenson linked to in his post, criticized Google for failing to clarify how Gemini’s new AI technology would integrate into its existing products and enhance the user experience.

See Jenson’s full post below:

Can You Turn Off Google’s AI Overviews?

One prime example of Google’s AI overreach is the AI overviews feature, which generates summaries to directly answer search queries by ingesting information from across the web.

This controversial move has sparked legal battles, with publishers accusing Google of violating intellectual property rights and unfairly profiting from their content without permission.

Related: Google’s AI Overviews Documentation: Key SEO Insights

Turning Off AI Overviews

While Google doesn’t provide an official setting to turn off AI overviews, a viral article from Tom’s Hardware suggests using browser extensions.

Alternatively, you can configure Chrome to go directly to web search results, bypassing the AI-generated overviews.

Here are the steps:

  • Open Chrome settings by clicking the three dots in the top-right corner and selecting “Settings” from the menu.
  • In the Settings window, click on the “Search Engine” tab on the left side.
  • Under the “Search Engine” section, click “Manage search engines and site search.”
  • Scroll down to the “Site search” area and click “Add” to create a new entry.

In the new entry, enter the following details:

  • Name: Google (Web)
  • Shortcut: www.google.com
  • URL: {google:baseURL}/search?udm=14&q=%s
  • Click “Add
Screenshot from: chrome://settings/searchEngines, May 2024.

Lastly, click the three dots next to the new “Google (Web)” entry and select “Make default.”

1716224163 590 Googles AI Vision Driven By Panic Not Users Former ProductScreenshot from: chrome://settings/searchEngines, May 2024.

After following these steps, Chrome will now default to showing regular web search results instead of the AI overview summaries when you perform searches from the address bar.

Tensions Over Data Usage

The controversy surrounding AI overviews creates tension between tech companies and content creators over using online data for AI training.

Publishers argue that Google’s AI summaries could siphon website traffic, threatening independent creators’ revenue streams, which rely on search referrals.

The debate reflects the need for updated frameworks to balance innovation and fair compensation for content creators, maintaining a sustainable open internet ecosystem.


FAQ

What concerns has Scott Jenson raised about Google’s AI focus?

Scott Jenson, a former Google product manager, has expressed concerns that Google’s current AI focus is more of a “panic reaction” to stay ahead of competitors rather than addressing user needs. He critiques Google’s AI initiatives as poorly motivated and driven by a fear of letting others get ahead.

How does Scott Jenson compare Google’s AI strategy to past projects?

Jenson parallels Google’s current AI focus and the company’s response to Facebook years ago with Google+. He describes both as “hysterical reactions” driven by competition, which, in the case of Google+, resulted in a product that failed to meet its objectives.

Why are content creators concerned about Google’s AI overviews?

Content creators worry that Google’s AI overviews, which generate summaries by ingesting web content, could reduce site traffic. They argue that this practice is unfair as it uses their content without permission and impacts their revenue streams that rely on search referrals.

How can users turn off Google’s AI overviews in Chrome?

Although no official setting exists to disable AI overviews, users can use a workaround by enabling a specific Chrome setting or using a browser extension.

Here are the steps:

  • Open Chrome settings by clicking the three dots in the top-right corner and selecting “Settings” from the menu.
  • In the Settings window, click on the “Search Engine” tab on the left side.
  • Under the “Search Engine” section, click “Manage search engines and site search.”
  • Scroll down to the “Site search” area and click “Add” to create a new entry.

In the new entry, enter the following details:

    • Name: Google (Web)
    • Shortcut: www.google.com
    • URL: {google:baseURL}/search?udm=14&q=%s
    • Click “Add

This will force Chrome to skip AI-generated overviews and show the classic list of web links.


Featured Image: Sira Anamwong/Shutterstock

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