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9 Essential Steps In Building A Winning SEO Strategy

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9 Essential Steps In Building A Winning SEO Strategy

Online shopping has taken over the world.

While people still run to the store to pick things up, the allure of buying just about anything from the comfort of your home is unstoppable.

From plumbing fixtures to pizza rolls, if you want it, you can get it delivered with the push of an app – without leaving the house.

And even if your business sells services, rather than products, there’s an incredible chance that the majority of people are shopping for it online.

This means ecommerce should be a focus for every company that’s selling something. And that means you need an increased focus on web traffic.

After all, you could have the best website in the world, with cutting-edge design, optimized for ideal user experiences, and copy that would make David Ogilvy gnash his teeth in envy, but if no one ever sees it, it’s not doing you an ounce of good.

You need to get found. And that, of course, is why SEO is a crucial part of any modern marketing plan.

You want to rank highly in search engine results pages (SERPs), so you get found organically by your targets.

However, this is much easier said than done. But don’t fret, we’re here to help.

Whether you’re an experienced professional looking to brush up on the fundamentals for a client or a complete newbie trying to figure out how this whole SEO thing works for your business, you’re in the right place.

Here, we’ll walk you through the steps of creating, implementing, and optimizing an SEO campaign that will have your site shooting up the rankings in no time.

What Is An SEO Strategy?

You’ve probably already figured out that an SEO strategy is your plan to make your website or landing page more appealing to Google and other search engines

The goal here is to rank higher and drive more organic traffic (and hopefully conversions).

It sounds simple enough, but there’s a big catch: Search algorithms are always changing.

As Google seeks to enhance the quality of its searches and provide users with better solutions to queries, its algorithms are updated several times a year.

What that means for SEO is that you can’t just set it and forget it. Every search engine optimization needs iterations.

You need to regularly analyze and course-correct to ensure you’re taking advantage of the latest best practices and strategies.

That’s good for SEO professionals – otherwise, we’d be out of jobs rather quickly

But it means a bit of a commitment for you.

To stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the world of search, you need to regularly consult with reliable sources (like this one).

Luckily, there are a wealth of resources you can mine for quality information. Whether you prefer articles, webinars or podcasts, there’s SEO content available for you.

Do You Really Need SEO?

Right now, some of you contrarians are sneering at your screen and asking if you really need SEO to find customers.

You have somebody handling paid search or affiliate marketing for you, so you’re not sure there’s much of a benefit to investing all this time into organic search. Don’t fall into that trap.

Organic search is what drives more than half of all website visits and should be an important part of any organization’s digital marketing strategy, whether you’re a multinational mega-corporation or a mom-and-pop shop.

And it’s especially important for direct-to-consumer sites. By providing useful content, you’re not only building trust, but you’re matching your website with customer intent, which means higher quality leads.

And even better, you’re not paying for every click, which means a lower cost-per-conversion.

So, even if you have the world’s best pay-per-click (PPC) and affiliate marketing campaigns routinely driving motivated customers to your site, you’re still only fighting half the battle by ignoring organic search.

Creating An Effective SEO Strategy: 9 Fundamental Steps

Though SEO requires a comprehensive strategy, you can break it down into several manageable steps.

1. Align SEO With Business Goals & Define KPIs

First things first, you need to know where you currently stand, where you want to go, and how you’ll measure success along the way.

You’ll want to begin by performing an SEO audit.

This is the roadmap that will guide you throughout the entire optimization process and allow you to benchmark against your current site.

You need to examine a variety of aspects, including:

  • Domain name, age, history, etc.
  • Page factors like headlines, keyword & topical targeting and user engagement.
  • Content organization, content quality, and the quality of your images (no one trusts stock photography).
  • Duplicate content.
  • Website factors like architecture, schema, markup. and click-through rate (CTR).
  • Past and upcoming website updates.
  • The quality of inbound links.
  • On-site factors like sitemaps, image optimization. and robots.txt.

For a step-by-step guide on how to perform this audit, we have an excellent series that will guide you through it.

Once you know where you’re starting from, it’s time to plan your timeframe and allocated budgets and resources.

This is yet another area of life where you get what you pay for. If you’re looking for fast and cheap, you’re not going to get the results you would by investing more time and money.

Obviously, your budget and timeframe will depend on your company’s unique situation, but if you want good results, be prepared to pay for them.

For an idea of how much you should be spending, consult this article.

During this step of the SEO process, you’ll also want to define your key performance indicators (KPIs).

This is how you’ll measure the success of your new implementations and figure out what’s working for you and where you need to make adjustments.

Some of the KPIs you should be tracking are:

  • Organic sessions.
  • Keyword ranking increases.
  • Leads and conversions.
  • Bounce rate (keep i mind that bounce rate is an internal metric and  is 100% dependent upon the events you set up on your pages and will be phased out in GA 4)
  • Pages per session.
  • Average session duration.
  • Page load time.
  • Top exit pages.
  • Crawl errors.

For more information on what these are and why they’re important, be sure to read this piece on top SEO KPIs.

2. Perform Keyword Research

Search engine rankings are determined by an algorithm that evaluates a variety of factors to decide how well a website answers a particular search query. And a huge part of that is the use of keywords.

From single words to complex phrases, keywords tell search engines what your content is about. But adding keywords isn’t quite as simple as just plugging in the name of the product or service you want to sell.

You need to do research to ensure keyword optimization, and that means considering the following:

Search Intent

The beauty of the English language (and the bane of SEOs) is in its richness.

But words often have multiple meanings, which makes it crucial to consider search intent, so you don’t attract an audience that was searching for something else.

For example, if you’re trying to attract customers to a haberdashery, ranking highly for [bowlers] may attract people who want to roll a few frames instead of those looking for a new hat.

Relevant Keywords

Once you’ve identified your targets, you need to figure out which keywords are important to them.

It’s usually best to target only a few keywords, as targeting too broadly will make it difficult for the search engine to determine what your pages are about.

Keyword Phrases

These are short phrases consisting of two or more words that people type into search engines to find specific content.

For example, someone looking for dance lessons may ask Google for [tango classes near me].

Keyword Research Tools

The brainstorming process is a great place to start keyword research, but to ensure you’re attracting the right audience and proving your value to search engines, you should utilize a research tool.

Most SEO professionals use Google’s Keyword Planner for this, but it can be a bit frustrating to use, so you may wish to consider other options.

Long-Tail Keywords

These are specific search terms people use to find an exact match for their query.

They tend to be longer and are more likely to be used by people who are closer to making a purchase.

An example of this would be [vegetarian restaurants in San Antonio], which would most likely be used by someone with a craving for a plant-based meal.

Search Volume

This will tell you the number of searches for a particular keyword over a specified timeframe, giving you an overall idea of the term’s value and competitiveness.

[Christmas lights] is going to get a lot more volume in November and December than it will in July. A lot of terms are seasonal, keep this in mind.

Likewise, [used cars] is going to have more competition than [2006 Volkswagen Passant].

Funnel Keywords

These are keywords targeting users at various parts of the sales funnel.

People at the top of the funnel are more likely to be attracted by more general terms like [Cancun vacation], whereas those who are nearer to purchasing are comparing prices and brands and will more likely be attracted by things like discounts or hotel names.

Keywords are as much about your audience as they are your content.

For a more detailed explanation of every part of keyword research and optimization, we have a detailed ebook on the topic.

3. Define Your Most Valuable Pages

Every team needs an MVP, and in the case of your website, that’s your most valuable pages.

These pages are the ones that do the bulk of the heavy lifting for you.

For non-ecommerce sites, these are usually things like your home page, your services pages or any pages with demos or other offers.

These pages are also likely MVPs for ecommerce sites, but will also be joined by category and/or product level pages.

To find which pages are your site’s most important ones, you should consider what your organization is known for.

What verticals to you compete in? What pain points do you solve? Define these or add more based on the high-level keywords you came up with in the previous step.

Once you’ve identified the category and product pages that bring in the most visitors, you’ll be able to focus your strategy on improving them and increasing your organic traffic.

Read more about how to find your MVPs here.

4. Conduct A Competitive Analysis

If you didn’t have any competition, there would be no need for SEO. But as long as other companies are manufacturing refrigerators, Frigidaire needs to find ways to differentiate itself.

You need to have an idea of what others in your industry are doing, so you can position yourself for the best results.

You need to figure out where you’re being outranked and find ways to turn the tables.

You should know which keywords are most competitive and where you have opportunities.

You should have some understanding of the opposition’s backlinking and site structure, so you can optimize your own site for the best possible search ranking.

Learn more about how to perform this analysis and develop a template for it by reading this piece.

5. Plan For User Experience & Technical SEO

Don’t overlook the importance of how your site is structured, both technically and how users interface with it.

The best content and keyword strategy in the world won’t lead to a single sale if your site is constantly broken or is so frustrating to use that people close your page in disgust.

You should carefully consider your site’s architecture and user experiences to ensure people are taking the desired actions.

Likewise, you should find and fix any technical issues like broken links, slow load times and bad site schema.

There are a number of free tools you can use to ensure your site is working optimally.

6. Consider Your Resources

SEO doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it impacts many other parts of your organization, including marketing, sales, and IT.

If you’re looking for the budget to perform SEO, you may find some of your employees are already well-qualified to help.

For example, your sales team probably knows which products people are most interested in.

Enlisting them in your SEO strategy development will help with lead generation and find new targets who are already qualified.

Similarly, SEO can tell your marketing team what types of content resonates best, so they can fine tune their campaigns. And your copywriters and graphic designers can develop the type of content that will help you shoot up the rankings.

Your IT team probably already has control over your website.

Your SEO strategy should be designed around their expertise, to ensure website design and structure, development cycles, data structure, and core principles are all aligned.

And these are just a few ways you can integrate SEO into your existing workflows.

Others exist if you look closely and it’s very unlikely that you’ll need to start completely from scratch.

Evaluate your existing software, technology, and personnel, as there’s a good chance you have some of the pieces already in place.

And if you need to scale production up, you may find the budget already in place in existing departments.

7. Align Your SEO Strategy With Your Customer Funnel

At the end of the day, sales are the name of the game. Without customers, there’s no revenue, and that means no business.

To aid in the sales process, your SEO strategy should align with your customer funnel.

Sometimes described as the customer journey, your sales funnel is a summation of the touchpoints customers have with your company as they go from awareness to post-purchase.

SEO fits neatly with every stage of this cycle:

  • Awareness: In the modern world, many customers first hear about your business online. Through a Google search, for example.
  • Interest: This is where customers start doing research. And what better place to do research than your website?
  • Decision: The customer wants to buy and is deciding between you and the competition. Your meta description mentioning free shipping could be the thing that sways them.
  • Purchase: Ecommerce continues to grow. Having a search engine optimized point of sale makes it easy for people to buy.
  • Post-purchase: Customer reviews, either on your website or on a third-party site are a great way to build trust and increase your relevancy for keywords.

8. Report And Set Realistic Expectations

Reporting is essential. You need to be able to effectively measure and report on the progress you’re making.

Reporting allows you to establish consistent, accurate data that earns trust.

It helps you understand the factors behind your ranking and identify areas where you could improve, and not least of all, it proves the value of SEO to the organization’s decision-makers.

One of the most common mistakes people unfamiliar with SEO make is expecting overnight results.

And because of the variables involved with competition, inbound links, and the content itself, it’s nearly impossible to provide a definite timeframe.

You need to go into the process with an understanding that SEO takes time and the more competitive the keywords you’re going after, the longer it will take to climb to the top.

This needs to be conveyed to stakeholders from the start, to ensure expectations are realistic.

For a guide on how to create impactful reports that generate quality insights, read our guide here.

9. Measure And Document Your Strategy

Congratulations on making it this far, but you’re not quite done.

After you’ve generated the reports on how your SEO strategy is working, you need to track the metrics and prove its impact.

Some of the most important metrics you’ll want to consider include organic sessions, bounce rate, top exit pages, and crawl errors.

By identifying all of these, you’ll get a better idea of what you customers are looking for – and what’s driving them away.

For more information, read this article on top SEO KPIs.

There are a variety of both paid and free tools available that you can use to measure and track conversions, and compare them weekly, monthly, or by another timeframe of your choosing.

Simply find one that works for your budget and needs.

Conclusion

No one ever said SEO was easy, at least not anyone who has done it. But it’s a vital part of any modern organization’s business plan.

However, with a solid strategy, a willingness to learn, and a little old-fashioned elbow grease, even a complete beginner can send their website to the top of the SERP.

In this piece, we’ve given you nine steps to take to get your SEO strategy off the ground. But of course, this is just the start.

You need a unique plan that will work for your industry and your needs.

Luckily, Search Engine Journal can help with this too.

Download our ebook on SEO strategy with a full-year blueprint for an easy-to-follow 12-month plan you can use to develop a solid strategy, track your progress, and adjust to changing situations.

More Resources:


Featured Image: Lena Noir/Shutterstock




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Chrome 110 Changes How Web Share API Embeds Third Party Content

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Chrome 110 Changes How Web Share API Embeds Third Party Content

Chrome 110, scheduled to roll out on February 7, 2023, contains a change to how it handles the Web Share API that improves privacy and security by requiring a the Web Share API to explicitly allow third-party content.

This might not be something that an individual publisher needs to act on.

It’s probably more relevant on the developer side where they are making things like web apps that use the Web Share API.

Nevertheless, it’s good to know what it is for the rare situation when it might be useful for diagnosing why a webpage doesn’t work.

The Mozilla developer page describes the Web Share API:

“The Web Share API allows a site to share text, links, files, and other content to user-selected share targets, utilizing the sharing mechanisms of the underlying operating system.

These share targets typically include the system clipboard, email, contacts or messaging applications, and Bluetooth or Wi-Fi channels.

…Note: This API should not be confused with the Web Share Target API, which allows a website to specify itself as a share target”

allow=”web-share” Attribute

An attribute is an HTML markup that modifies an HTML element in some way.

For example, the nofollow attribute modifies the <a> anchor element, by signaling the search engines that the link is not trusted.

The <iframe> is an HTML element and it can be modified with the allow=”web-share” attribute

An <iframe> allows a webpage to embed HTML, usually from another website.

Iframes are everywhere, such as in advertisements and embedded videos.

The problem with an iframe that contains content from another site is that it creates the possibility of showing unwanted content or allow malicious activities.

And that’s the problem that the allow=”web-share” attribute solves by setting a permission policy for the iframe.

This specific permission policy (allow=”web-share”) tells the browser that it’s okay to display 3rd party content from within an iframe.

Google’s announcement uses this example of the attribute in use:

<iframe allow="web-share" src="https://third-party.example.com/iframe.html"></iframe>

Google calls this a “a potentially breaking change in the Web Share API.

The announcement warns:

“If a sharing action needs to happen in a third-party iframe, a recent spec change requires you to explicitly allow the operation.

Do this by adding an allow attribute to the <iframe> tag with a value of web-share.

This tells the browser that the embedding site allows the embedded third-party iframe to trigger the share action.”

Read the announcement at Google’s Chrome webpage:

New requirements for the Web Share API in third-party iframes

Featured image by Shutterstock/Krakenimages.com



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All You Need to Know to Get Them

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All You Need to Know to Get Them

Do you want to jump to the first position in Google without building links or significantly updating your content? Featured snippets can help you with that.

Featured snippets are a special type of search result showing a quick answer to the search query at the top of Google’s results page. Google pulls this information from one of the top-ranking pages that then gets elevated to the top of the organic search results this way.

You may be wondering how that’s a good thing for the website that owns the featured snippet. Users see your content on the SERP, and that may mean losing clicks, right?

Well, yes and no. Check this example:

Featured snippet example

If this question were possible to answer thoroughly in a few sentences, most of us would be out of work. So while the snippet tells you the absolute basics, you still have to click to learn more.

That’s just one example. Featured snippets are one of the most prominent SERP features—and they’re evolving all the time.

Follow this guide to learn everything you need to know about featured snippets and what it takes to optimize for them. 

What types of featured snippets are there?

There are five types of featured snippets that Google shows depending on the intent behind the search query: 

  1. Paragraph
  2. Numbered list
  3. Bullet list
  4. Table
  5. Video

Let’s check an example for each type. 

1. Paragraph

Paragraph featured snippet

This one is a bit special because Google sometimes combines featured snippets with People Also Ask (PAA) boxes. You can see additional questions related to the search query there and click on them to see more information. That often comes from a different source than the featured snippet itself, as you can see in this case:

Featured snippet with PAA box

2. Numbered list

Numbered list featured snippet
This is an interesting case of a featured snippet where Google shows only the first point along with its own numbered list.

3. Bullet list

Bullet list featured snippet

4. Table

Table featured snippet

5. Video

Video featured snippet

It’s also important to note that there are other “snippet-like” results. You need to know about these to avoid any confusion:

Knowledge panel

Knowledge panel example

Knowledge card

Knowledge card example

Entity carousel

Entity carousel example

These three SERP features have one thing in common. They don’t pull answers from just one of the top-ranking search results, as they’re based on entities in the knowledge graph. While they may contain a link to the source of information (song lyrics, for example), it’s never in the form of a clickable title as we have in featured snippets.

How featured snippets influence search and SEO

Google introduced featured snippets in 2014, and I would say that they’re one of the most prominent SERP changes of the past decade. There are quite a few things that featured snippets changed for both users and SEOs.

Shortcut to the top organic position

If your content is ranking on the first SERP for a search query that shows a featured snippet, you can “win” that snippet and shortcut your way to the top position. Let’s break this down.

Our study found that featured snippets come from pages that already rank in the top 10. Moreover, the vast majority of featured snippets pages rank in the top five.

In conclusion, the higher your content ranks, the more likely it is to get a featured snippet.

Getting to the first SERP is a more manageable goal than ranking number #1 for a keyword. But if that keyword triggers a featured snippet, it makes the first position a bit more attainable.

Fewer clicks… sometimes

In the past, the page owning the featured snippet would also be listed in the standard “blue link” search results somewhere on the first SERP. But in January 2020, Google introduced featured snippet deduplication.

Once your page gets elevated to the featured snippet, you lose that “regular” search result.

Besides the little traffic losses back then, some people also think that featured snippets reduce clicks on the search results. After all, if the answer to the query is on the SERP, why would you click on a result?

While this is the case for some queries, it’s certainly not the case for them all. It depends on whether Google can provide a satisfactory answer in the snippet.

For example, take a look at the featured snippet for this query:

Featured snippet with a straightforward answer

The answer is right there for most people. And that’s why there’s only a 19% chance, on average, that the search for this query results in a click.

Example of a keyword with low Clicks Per Search

Now take a look at the snippet for “how does the stock market work”:

Featured snippet providing only a basic answer

Because it gives a basic answer to the question, most searchers will probably want to know more. 

That is most likely why, on average, 82% of searches for this query result in a click.

Example of a keyword with high Clicks Per Search

The takeaway here is that targeting keywords with a low number of Clicks Per Search (CPS) is rarely a good idea.

Pay attention to this when researching keywords in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

CPS column in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Featured snippets as superb branding opportunities

Clicks aside, featured snippets are the first thing that users see in the search results if there are no search ads. They’re even more prominent on mobile devices where they’re often the only thing people initially see:

Featured snippet on mobile

This is a very compelling argument in favor of featured snippets.

Increasing your share of voice on the SERPs is arguably one of the most important SEO KPIs. That’s because brand-building is proven to be the primary driver of long-term growth.

The more your brand is visible on the SERPs for relevant topics, the more you will be associated as a market leader.

You can opt out of featured snippets (don’t do that, though)

Cyrus Shepard led the way in experimenting with opting out of featured snippets after the SERP deduplication and discovered that it led to a 12% traffic loss.

That said, if you still want to opt out of featured snippets, Google offers various ways to do that. Just be aware that both nosnippet robots meta tags methods also block your content from appearing in traditional “blue link” snippets. I don’t recommend using those because Google could then only use your hard-coded title tag and meta description.

So the best way to remove your page from appearing in featured snippets is to include max-snippet robots meta tag. This tag specifies the maximum number of characters Google can show in the text snippets.

And because featured snippets are longer than descriptions in regular snippets, you can set the character limit to the usual maximum length of descriptions. That’s around 160 characters.

You’ll just have to paste this code snippet into the <head> section of the page that you wish to remove from the featured snippets:

<meta name="robots" content="max-snippet:170">

While this method doesn’t guarantee not appearing in shorter featured snippets, it still outweighs the cons of using the more restrictive methods.

Recommendation

If you’re thinking of opting out, it pays to first check which position your page would rank for the keyword without owning the featured snippet.

For example, here’s a featured snippet that we own:

Featured snippet for the keyword "h1 tag"

If we appended “&num=9” to the URL, preferably in Incognito mode, we can see where we’d rank if we weren’t in the snippet:

Seeing the true position of the featured snippet page

In this case, if we decided to opt out, we would be in the second or third position—depending on the page that would take over the featured snippet (you’ll see how to do that too).

Being in lower positions and opting out can hurt your traffic. You’ve been warned. 

How to find and optimize featured snippets that you already own

Google Search Console doesn’t show any information regarding featured snippets. You’ll have to use third-party tools like Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to dig into them.

Let’s stick with Site Explorer. Paste in your site, then head to the Organic keywords report to see the keywords you rank for, then filter only for those where Google shows your page in the featured snippet:

Filtering for your own featured snippets

As you can see above, Ahrefs’ domain currently ranks for 1,042 keywords with featured snippets in the U.S. 

In the previous version of this article, I recommended filtering for keywords with the highest search volume and checking the most important featured snippets manually. That’s because Google sometimes pulls content that isn’t optimal, and you’d want these important featured snippets to be perfect.

However, Google is still improving. Now, I didn’t find a single keyword where I’d bother editing the section Google pulls it from.

While you may come across featured snippets that can do with a bit of polishing, I don’t recommend editing things unless Google pulls poorly formatted, misleading, or just plain wrong information.

It’s better to own an imperfect featured snippet than to risk losing it to a competitor by revising it.

How to get more featured snippets

Winning more featured snippets is a simple way to potentially increase organic traffic to your site. Below, we’ll discuss a few ways to do that.

Leverage content that you already have and rank for

Here, we’ll be looking at pages that already rank in the top 10 for a particular term yet don’t own the snippet. It’s possible to win the snippet just by making a few tweaks to your page.

How to find these opportunities? It’s easy.

Go to Site Explorer and filter keywords that trigger featured snippets where your website is ranking in positions #2–10.

Checking featured snippet opportunities

This is an easy way to filter out the vast majority if not all the featured snippets that you rank for, since they’re predominantly ranking at the first position. There are cases where they appear at lower positions, but it’s rare these days. In fact, all of our 1,042 featured snippets are ranking at the first position.

In other words, we now have a list of low-hanging opportunities to steal featured snippets from your competitors. Let’s get you prepared for the heist.

We need to prioritize. Stealing 7,064 featured snippets at once is mission impossible.

I reduced the list to just 21 keywords by prioritizing those with higher search volumes where we rank in positions #2–5.

Filtering down featured snippet opportunities

Now things look much more manageable.

The search volume filter is an obvious one, as there’s no point in targeting long-tail keywords at this point. Regarding the positions and referring back to our study, the probability of owning a featured snippet increases with your organic position for that search query.

Again, these filters will be different for you. However, if you don’t rank for a substantial number of keywords already, I’ll suggest focusing on creating more great content and building links.

So we’ve got the list. What’s the battle plan?

In our case, I’ll prioritize further by manually checking for keywords with solid business value. Let’s take a look at some of those keywords:

Keywords with good featured snippet opportunities

For example, the search query “most searched thing on google” at the top is less valuable for us than “seo content” at the bottom even though the first has twice the search volume. People who want to learn about creating search-optimized content are much more likely to become our customers one day.

Taking that “seo content” query into account, this is what I see:

Competing featured snippet example

First thing I’ll do here is to check whether our page even qualifies for the featured snippet at the moment. That can dictate how big of a change we need to make. You do that by excluding the domain that ranks for the current featured snippet using the - search operator.

Checking the featured snippet queue

In this case, there’s no other page in the featured snippet “queue,” which is an indicator that we currently don’t provide a good, short answer to the search query in the eyes of Google.

Just so you know, here’s an example of a featured snippet that has other eligible pages in line:

Example of a featured snippet with a queue

After excluding the Coursera domain, we can see what Google considers as the second-best option:

Second featured snippet in line

And you can go on to even see the third domain in line, and so on. But back to optimizing for the “seo content” featured snippet.

Competing featured snippet

We can clearly tell that a short, definition-style paragraph is the way to go here. Let’s check what we have in our content:

Featured snippet content section to be optimized

So the appropriate section exists; that’s a check. An interesting thing here is that Google ranks a page that targets the keyword in reverse order. Let’s see if other pages qualified for ranking there in the past by opening that keyword in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and scrolling down to the Position history:

Position history in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

I only filtered for URLs that had the featured snippet at one point in the past two years. We can see that the rest targets “seo content” in the original order, and Backlinko claimed the first position for a long time. But we need to check whether Google was even showing the featured snippet back then.

You do that by scrolling further down in Keywords Explorer to the SERP overview. Select a date where you want to investigate the SERP for comparison. In this case, I need any SERP between July and September 2021:

Historical SERP overview for the keyword "seo content"

There it is: The featured snippet was there, claimed by another page. The last thing I need here is to check the section that was ranking back then by opening the URL on Archive.org after clicking on the caret:

Checking a page on Archive.org

And selecting a screenshot of that page during the time it was ranking for the featured snippet:

Historically ranking featured snippet section

We see three rather different definitions. There’s definitely room for the featured snippet optimization. I’d make our definition a bit longer, change the second sentence, and fit in the mention of keywords because I think that’s important. I’d change it from:

SEO content is content designed to rank in search engines. It could be a blog post, product or landing page, interactive tool, or something else.

To something like this:

SEO content is content designed to rank high in search engines for a specific keyword. Creating it requires researching and covering what searchers would find valuable.

I can honestly say that I feel this definition is superior to the competing ones. That should be your ultimate goal when it comes to optimizing for featured snippets regardless of the format.

This was quite an interesting example. One last thing to note here is that your snippet-worthy information needs to be formatted in a way that Google can easily parse, understand, and interpret. A good rule of thumb is that if the reader comes across that information easily, then Google should be able to as well.

Create new content with featured snippets in mind

Let’s make one thing clear from the start: Scoring a featured snippet should be just the icing on the cake, not the main purpose of why and how you cover a certain topic.

The prerequisite for winning the featured snippet is ranking well, so that should still be the focus. For this reason, I investigate potential featured snippet opportunities only after selecting a topic.

Since the major factor of being successful in SEO is aligning with the search intent, you should always analyze the competing pages on the SERP. Let’s take our main topic here as an example because it doesn’t get better than optimizing content to win featured snippets for “featured snippets” keywords.

I have my “featured snippets” topic, and you should select yours based on your keyword research. Look it up in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and scroll down to the SERP overview:

SERP overview for the keyword "featured snippet"

I see that the main keyword triggers a featured snippet, so I’m in the difficult position of trying to dethrone Google there:

Featured snippet for the keyword "featured snippets"

Honestly, this is a case of a bad featured snippet. It doesn’t really provide value to the searcher. I don’t learn what it is or how it works. Google has a clear advantage of coining the term, so it’s kind of a branded search. But I’ll try my best to create a definition-type paragraph that I think searchers likely want to see.

We already went through the process of creating content for the “seo content” featured snippet, so this is just a rinse-and-repeat process—provide the best answer possible using a suitable format.

Since pages can rank for thousands of keywords, there are naturally many more featured snippet opportunities than just the one for the main keyword. The easiest way to check these is to click through a few top-ranking pages to see all the keywords they rank for: 

Checking organic keywords of the top-ranking page

And filter the report for keywords that trigger featured snippets and have a certain minimum search volume to make it worthwhile (as we’ve already shown earlier). I also included a “1–20” Position filter to make the list as relevant as possible:

Checking other featured snippets opportunities

Some of those keywords will be almost the same, having the same search intent and featured snippet. I don’t need to check the featured snippets for keywords like “snippet google” or “what is a featured snippet” because the answer and optimizing your content for them remain the same.

We’re looking for keywords that can trigger different featured snippets and are aligned with sections we cover in the article. There are a bunch of these opportunities around optimizing and getting featured snippets:

Other featured snippet opportunities

Look them up and see what Google shows there:

Featured snippet for the keyword "how to get featured snippet"

So if I want to have a chance to rank for this, I should include a straight-to-the-point paragraph on how to get a featured snippet instead of explaining the whole process across many pages. This looks like something that can fit nicely into the “Final thoughts” section to sum it up, so I’ll do that.

And since different pages rank for different keywords, it pays off to repeat this process for one to two more top-ranking pages. I found that I should also optimize for the “types of featured snippets” keyword here.

Even if you don’t end up winning the featured snippets, we’re still trying to answer searchers’ questions in the best way possible. That in itself is critical to your content’s success on the SERPs.

Here are a few copywriting tips for winning featured snippets to wrap this section up. You should:

  1. Format and structure your content correctly (H1–H6, etc.).
  2. Try to avoid overcomplicated sentences. Succinct explanations win.
  3. Use the language of your audience. In the end, Google uses featured snippets as answers in voice search.
  4. Use the ”inverted pyramid” method (where it makes sense).

pro tip

If your content includes sections that contain a sequence of steps to achieve a certain result or you have FAQ sections, use appropriate schema markup to highlight these structured sections for Google.

First, it’s a good idea to do so regardless of featured snippets because it can enhance your plain search result into a rich snippet. But I’ve also seen such pages dominate the combined featured snippets with PAA boxes where everything was from a single source. 

How to keep track of your featured snippets

Getting a featured snippet is equal to ranking first for a keyword. You may already be tracking keyword ranking positions, so let me help you expand it to tracking featured snippets.

Enter Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker.

First of all, I track all important keywords regardless of their SERP features. But we can begin by adding the most important keywords that also trigger featured snippets.

You can do that in a few clicks through the Organic keywords report we’ve already shown multiple times here. You just have to create a Rank Tracking project first for it to appear here:

Adding keywords triggering featured snippets to Ahrefs' Rank Tracker

You’re all set to see when you win or lose a featured snippet. Go to the Rank Tracker’s Overview report, click on the “SERP features” tab, and check the “Featured snippet” row:

Checking SERP featured in Rank Tracker

As you can see, from the keywords I’m tracking, the project lost eight featured snippets, while 12 new ones appeared on the SERP over the tracked time period (last 30 days). 

Here are the key parts to keep an eye on:

  1. Number of featured snippets you currently own (plus the +/- change in the selected period)
  2. Number of featured snippets in total for the keywords you’re tracking (plus the +/- change for the period)
  3. Percentage of all the featured snippets among the tracked keywords that you own (9%, in this example)

You can also change the view from “all tracked features” to “featured snippets” to see your progress over time:

Progress of featured snippets in Rank Tracker

To delve deeper into the specifics on the keyword level, select the “Featured snippet” filter:

Filtering for keywords that only trigger featured snippets

And scroll down to the keywords list to see the time comparison data (30 days, in this example):

Featured snippet changes over the past 30 days

We can see that the top keyword is among our new featured snippets. But it is more helpful to isolate the featured snippet movements only.

To isolate the winning cases, we’ll need to apply two filters:

  • Position – Improved (you rank higher than at the start of your selected period).
  • SERP features – You rank for the featured snippet.
Filtering for won featured snippets

Again, scroll down and see the featured snippet winners of the month (or whatever period you choose):

Won featured snippets

To see lost featured snippets, just apply reverse filters -> decline in positions in the top 10 and only show featured snippets that you don’t own. Unfortunately, you can’t currently isolate cases where you lost the snippet, so you’ll see all declines in the top 10.

Look for keywords that dropped from the first position, like these first two:

Lost featured snippets

You may want to consider checking the position drops regardless of featured snippets anyway. Sort the table by traffic and pay attention to huge traffic drops. 

Final thoughts

You should now know everything necessary to win those coveted SERP jumps to the first position. To sum it up:

Optimizing for featured snippets is about providing a brief and valuable answer to the search query in the most suitable format. Getting the featured snippet involves following all the best SEO practices to make the content rank well for the target keyword.

If you have any comments or questions, don’t hesitate to ping me on Twitter.



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Google CEO Confirms AI Features Coming To Search “Soon”

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Google CEO Confirms AI Features Coming To Search "Soon"

Google announced today that it will soon be rolling out AI-powered features in its search results, providing users with a new, more intuitive way to navigate and understand the web.

These new AI features will help users quickly understand the big picture and learn more about a topic by distilling complex information into easy-to-digest formats.

Google has a long history of using AI to improve its search results for billions of people.

The company’s latest AI technologies, such as LaMDA, PaLM, Imagen, and MusicLM, provide users with entirely new ways to engage with information.

Google is working to bring these latest advancements into its products, starting with search.

Statement From Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, released a statement on Twitter about a conversational AI service that will be available in the coming weeks.

Bard, powered by LaMDA, is Google’s new language model for dialogue applications.

According to Pichai, Bard, which leverages Google’s vast intelligence and knowledge base, can deliver accurate and high-quality answers:

“In 2021, we shared next-gen language + conversation capabilities powered by our Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA). Coming soon: Bard, a new experimental conversational #GoogleAI service powered by LaMDA.

Bard seeks to combine the breadth of the world’s knowledge with the power, intelligence, and creativity of our large language models. It draws on information from the web to provide fresh, high-quality responses. Today we’re opening Bard up to trusted external testers.

We’ll combine their feedback with our own internal testing to make sure Bard’s responses meet our high bar for quality, safety, and groundedness and we will make it more widely available in coming weeks. It’s early, we will launch, iterate and make it better.”

In Summary

Increasingly, people are turning to Google for deeper insights and understanding.

With the help of AI, Google can consolidate insights for questions where there is no one correct answer, making it easier for people to get to the core of what they are searching for.

In addition to the AI features being rolled out in search, Google is also introducing a new experimental conversational AI service called Bard. Powered by LaMDA, Bard will use Google’s vast intelligence and knowledge base to deliver accurate and high-quality answers to users.

Google continues demonstrating its commitment to making search more intuitive and effective for users. As Pichai said in his statement, the company will continue to launch, iterate, and improve these new offerings in the coming weeks and months.

Source: Google



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