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Here’s How We Do It

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Here’s How We Do It

I’ve managed Ahrefs’ social media accounts for nine months now—and it’s been a journey, from experimenting with content formats to figuring out what engages people the most.

To keep things succinct, I’ll be focusing on our primary social media platform: Twitter.

I’ll also make it clear now that I won’t cover my content creation process in too much depth, since many people expressed more interest in learning about our growth strategy and how we measure engagement.

Twitter’s a convenient way to build camaraderie, lead conversations, get immediate feedback, as well as respond quickly to mentions and/or related news. Mind-blowing, right?

Now let’s get to the reasons for Ahrefs’ focus on the social media platform:

It’s the place for marketers to be

If you’ve been in the SEO space for a while, you’ll know that many prominent marketers and influencers spend their time on the platform, including Lily Ray, Rand Fishkin, Amanda Natividad, and scores more.

It “humanizes” us 

We get to interact with our followers closely and in a more casual manner. This reminds people that we’re actively listening to their concerns and engaged in the SEO space.

Brand-building 

In all, 47% of people who visit a Twitter profile also visit the website linked in that profile. In our case, we get an average of 113 link clicks per day across our tweets.

Graph showing link clicks

For versatility’s sake

We’ve got a wide variety of content and resources: product updates, blog posts, videos on Ahrefs TV, free courses in Ahrefs Academy, and free tools like Ahrefs Webmaster Tools.

Twitter allows us to amplify all of these in fresh formats, plus cover them in both breadth and depth. They’re also easily shareable (e.g., via RTs and quote tweets).

And because it’s impossible for us to cover everything within our own content, we sometimes create threads based on others’ content—I’ll get to this later.

Cracking the Twitter algorithm

It’s common knowledge that as long as you use a social media platform, you’re at the mercy of its algorithm. So how to crack it? Is there a formula to win the game?

Unless you go the Google Sheets hacks route, the answer’s… no. (Were you really surprised?)

The Twitter algorithm is constantly evolving, just like our social media strategy. So your best playing cards are experimentation and gathering feedback from your followers.

For instance, I try to publish each blog post in at least two formats on Twitter and stagger their publishing dates to reduce content fatigue.

Take these examples that are based off a blog post on promoting your website for free.

As you can see, numbered lists are one format that consistently gets a decent number of likes and RTs. That’s one measure of success in our books. 

Still, the secret isn’t to stick to one formula that works. Rather, it’s to keep finding new formulas over and over. That’s because repeatedly using the same format could tire out your followers by making you seem uninventive and boring. (Fight me on this one!)

In fact, some of my biggest hurdles include two key things.

First, finding a way to tell effective stories through tweets and threads. Capturing an audience’s attention once or twice is good, but getting them to view Ahrefs’ Twitter account as a go-to for SEO-related topics is the bigger challenge.

Second, not pandering to trends. Memes aren’t really our thing, and neither are snarky tweets. My colleagues, Si Quan Ong and Rebekah Bek, set the tone for Ahrefs’ social media pages early on—and ultimately, we’ve kind of stuck to it. 

That isn’t to say things won’t change, though. Our CMO, Tim Soulo, and I have discussed adopting a more casual tone of voice in the coming months and possibly experimenting with non-educational tweets. It’s all about trying things out to see what sticks.

(I kinda like some of what Shopify is doing on Twitter. Would you be averse to that if we took cues from it? Our DMs are open to suggestions. 👀)

Still, these realizations armed me with some lessons that will help you to sharpen your Twitter marketing strategy.

Lesson 1. Develop a thick skin

I originally joined Ahrefs as a content marketer, with a focus on producing and peer-reviewing content for our blog. Sure, I did things on the side—like run our Instagram accounts—but my knowledge of Twitter best practices was embarrassingly paltry.

After all, I hadn’t been active on Twitter since 2016 and only had a basic foundation of SEO to get things rolling.

So when I transitioned into looking after all of our social media pages, it was daunting—especially when it came to responding to our users, seasoned SEOs and, sometimes, trolls. 🥲

If you can relate to this, I’ll encourage you to speak with people who’ve been in the industry for some time. 

That may include reaching out to your colleagues or marketers whom you admire or even putting out a tweet (#DidABraveThing).

Make it clear you’re looking to learn and then build out your network from there. And ask questions, because no question is silly.

I also get regular feedback from the team about my published tweets—including from Tim.

Tim's feedback about a tweet

When writing threads based off blog posts, I share my drafts with the respective authors via Typefully too; then I refine them accordingly.

Mateusz's feedback about a tweet

Keeping a tight feedback loop helps me learn more quickly.

Lesson 2. Normalize making mistakes

Sometimes, you will inevitably stuff up. Think about it: The more you post, the higher your chances of making a mistake… but that’s part of the process. 

Here’s a tweet I put out that divided our followers—yet gained plenty of engagement.

Regardless, it was a mistake on my part because I left out some context when writing it. My intention hadn’t been to be divisive for the sake of it.

Lesson 3. Talk to people outside your circle

I also began lurking in marketing communities to have a look-see at what people were discussing and looked at top tweets for relevant hashtags (e.g., #SEO).

After doing this for some time, I noticed some patterns.

People love:

  • Relevant recommended reads.
  • The “I’ve been a [marketer/SEO] for XX years. Here are XX lessons I’ve learnt” format.
  • Infographics and clean charts/visuals.
  • Google updates—these are almost always a talking point.
  • To read things that reaffirm their points of view or are so grossly contrasting that they are irked enough to leave a response.

In fact, the latter observation holds true regardless of the topic you’re broaching. But don’t do it just for the sake of it.

You need to add value to the conversation, like this tweet by SparkToro’s Amanda.

It takes discipline to remain active in communities—and guts to reach out to seasoned marketers! But keep at it, and you’ll soon see how much you’ve learned from moving beyond your comfort zone.

You may even start your own marketing community, like what I did. (Drop me a DM via Twitter for invite details!)

My content planning process 

And now to the fun part!

If you’re setting up a Twitter page from scratch or are fresh into your role as a social media manager, you may wonder: How to get traction?

That’s a loaded question, but I’ll attempt to guide you by sharing my workflow.

At the start of each week, I plan the content schedule for Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Doing this weekly instead of monthly makes more sense, as things move so quickly at Ahrefs and in the SEO space.

As part of my research, I look at:

  • Our upcoming publishing schedules for Ahrefs TV and the Ahrefs Blog.
  • Product updates and announcements (in Slack).
  • The most recent edition of our newsletter, Ahrefs Digest.
  • Brand mentions on Twitter.
  • Top-performing tweets on our account.
  • Past Ahrefs blog posts and other pieces of content that may be worth sharing.

In my opinion, you’d be remiss to keep all social content on-brand. Sharing content from others is a win-win: You can amplify other voices while introducing your followers to new ideas. (Obviously, use your discretion when doing this!)

This is why I also look into promoting external content, including:

A content calendar isn’t a necessity

I’d initially maintained a content calendar in a spreadsheet but soon found it to be needlessly time-consuming.

My current process involves writing and scheduling content directly in scheduling tool Hypefury—then adapting my tweet for LinkedIn and Facebook. Much of the content is mirrored, albeit in different formats. 

Example of content planning spreadsheet
Contentious opinion: I ditched my content calendar because keeping it updated was hampering my productivity.

If it feels counterintuitive to neglect maintaining a content calendar, you’re right to have your doubts. Still, my current system works better for me.

My advice: Do this only after you’ve figured out how often to publish content and at what times of day.

I established these by studying Ahrefs’ Twitter analytics. Our weekly organic impressions tend to peak on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so I try to queue at least five (or more!) pieces of content on each of those days.

Graph showing data on impressions

Refine the process

Speaking of giving my content calendar a wide berth—I’m working on an SOP document to improve my workflow.

My aim is to iterate each step of the process (plan → write → schedule → update Notion cards with copy → promote → track engagement) so that, eventually, I’ll have a leaner and more efficient system for planning our socials.

Many of you showed curiosity about how we analyze performance.

Our main goal is to maintain steady growth to our Twitter page. A larger audience means we get to showcase the utility of our toolset, content, and ideas to a wider pool of marketers.

The end goal will then be conversions. For instance: get people to try Ahrefs Webmaster Tools, install our SEO Toolbar and, eventually, convert into a paying customer of our toolset.

Here’s the thing, though:

We don’t measure our goals or track conversions

(Phew, that deserved a subheading in itself!)

We don’t track any of these goals. These include click-through rates to blog posts or YouTube videos which, frankly, is a great load off of the marketing team. This allows us to focus on consistently creating quality content that resonates with our audience.

Tim elaborates on the rationale behind this process:

We do, however, try to identify successful posts—tweets that get >100 likes or more RTs/comments/quote tweets than the average post. But we don’t obsess over numbers. 

This brings me to my next point.

Vanity metrics aren’t our final source of truth

Likes,” follower numbers, and impressions are useful indicators of what our followers and potential followers (literally) like, but they still are vanity metrics. So they aren’t our only markers of success.

Not all your content can or will resonate with all of your followers at any given time. Relinquish the heavy obsession with numbers and focus on sharing valuable yet unique content instead.

For instance, I dug into Ahrefs’ past tweets to identify content formats and topics that were worth pursuing.

Example of past tweets that performed well
Researching top-performing tweets on Ahrefs’ account using the highlighted search operators.

I then categorized them in a spreadsheet and repurposed some of them accordingly:

Spreadsheet of content that could be repurposed

Reporting on performance

Every four weeks, Tim and I review the past month’s tweets and their engagement. Our discussions center around content formats that worked, what didn’t work (and why), and the types of topics that got traction.

Example report to Tim
Here’s how I open a typical report. You don’t need a fancy deck to get the job done.

The third section (“tweets”) is further categorized into:

  • Repurposed blog posts.
  • Monthly content picks (a thread).
  • Ahrefs TV + product updates.
  • Quick SEO tips/did-you-knows.
  • Question tweets/Ahrefs trivia.
  • Guest tweets/threads (external content sourced from newsletters and Twitter).
Tim's suggestion of creating a simple visual
Tl;dr: try everything at least once (within reason).

Many of you also asked about running ads on Twitter and how much they contribute to our growth.

Hold your hats, because I’m about to deliver yet another disappointing kicker: We don’t track ad performance all that closely.

(Breathe! Let that sink in, then read on.)

Amplification is only a part of the process, and it helps in raising awareness about the value we can bring to the user. But just like vanity metrics, we don’t rely purely on ads for growth.

Every three weeks or so, I study our ad performance. Then I revisit promoted tweets that achieved an engagement rate of 20% or higher.

Table showing engagement rates

Doing this has helped me develop a better understanding of what our audience wants.

Of course, this method may change in the near future—but for now, it’s what we’re rolling with.

Frequency

We also promote each of our blog posts and YouTube videos at least once, regardless of how well the original tweet performed organically. Each ad typically runs for at least three weekdays.

If something performs astronomically poorly (e.g., 10 likes or fewer after multiple RTs from our account), I rewrite it in a new format and track its performance before running an ad for it.

We’ve also got a slightly higher budget for running ads for product updates and feature releases. Unlike our content, I try to promote each announcement at least twice (once with a static image and another time with a screencast video).

Tracking the future

I’ve also begun looking into:

  • Studying marketers’ top tweets. 
  • Brand mentions (via Sprout Social).
  • Responding more actively to users’ tweets, including technical questions and negative feedback. (This is a team effort! Some questions continue to baffle me, which is where Tim and the marketing team help to fill the gaps.)

Bonus: Our Twitter toolkit 

If you’re curious, these are some of the tools to make my workflow a little bit easier.

Hypefury 

Hypefury is great for writing and scheduling tweets and threads. Also includes an auto-RT function.

Writing and scheduling tweets on Hypefury
Hypefury lets me craft and preview tweets and threads easily, as well as view my publishing schedule at a glance.

Typefully 

This lets you create, preview, and share draft tweets and threads. Typefully is especially useful if you’re looking to get internal feedback.

Drafting tweet thread on Typefully

Loom 

Loom is useful for screencast recordings (with or without audio). You can also trim your clips. I use these mainly to create simple product tip videos and to highlight product features.

Others 

I’m tinkering with Sprout Social and Napoleon Cat to track brand mentions (especially when we aren’t tagged directly on Twitter).

Recommended reading: 13 Top Digital Marketing Tools (Incl. Tips on Using Them)

Closing thoughts

By the time this blog post is published, our strategy will likely have shapeshifted in some way. No Twitter marketing strategy is foolproof after all.

Once you’ve found a formula that seems to resonate with your audience, you need to keep experimenting to find more formulas that work. Iteration will yield results.

If you show that you value your followers—and can offer them value and solutions through your content and product—you’ll have a far better chance at success.

Have questions or thoughts? Ping me on Twitter.



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WP Rocket WordPress Plugin Now Optimizes LCP Core Web Vitals Metric

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WP Rocket WordPress Plugin Now Optimizes LCP Core Web Vitals Metric

WP Rocket, the WordPress page speed performance plugin, just announced the release of a new version that will help publishers optimize for Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), an important Core Web Vitals metric.

Large Contentful Paint (LCP)

LCP is a page speed metric that’s designed to show how fast it takes for a user to perceive that the page is loaded and read to be interacted with. This metric measures the time it takes for the main content elements has fully loaded. This gives an idea of how usable a webpage is. The faster the LCP the better the user experience will be.

WP Rocket 3.16

WP Rocket is a caching plugin that helps a site perform faster. The way page caching generally works is that the website will store frequently accessed webpages and resources so that when someone visits the page the website doesn’t have to fetch the data from the database, which takes time, but instead will serve the webpage from the cache. This is super important when a website has a lot of site visitors because that can use a lot of server resources to fetch and build the same website over and over for every visitor.

The lastest version of WP Rocket (3.16) now contains Automatic LCP optimization, which means that it will optimize the on-page elements from the main content so that they are served first thereby raising the LCP scores and providing a better user experience.

Because it’s automatic there’s really nothing to fiddle around with or fine tune.

According to WP Rocket:

  • Automatic LCP Optimization: Optimizes the Largest Contentful Paint, a critical metric for website speed, automatically enhancing overall PageSpeed scores.
  • Smart Management of Above-the-Fold Images: Automatically detects and prioritizes critical above-the-fold images, loading them immediately to improve user experience and performance metrics.

All new functionalities operate seamlessly in the background, requiring no direct intervention from the user. Upon installing or upgrading to WP Rocket 3.16, these optimizations are automatically enabled, though customization options remain accessible for those who prefer manual control.”

Read the official announcement:

WP Rocket 3.16: Improving LCP and PageSpeed Score Automatically

Featured Image by Shutterstock/ICONMAN66

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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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