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How to Write a Blog Post (That People Actually Want to Read) in 9 Steps

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How to Write a Blog Post (That People Actually Want to Read) in 9 Steps

Type a couple of hundred words and publish them somewhere—poof, you have a blog post. Or do you?

If a blog post is published and no one reads it, is it still a blog post?

Anyone can write a blog post. But not everyone can create one that people want to read.

In this post, you’ll learn how to write blog posts that actually get readers.

Let’s get started.

Step 1. Find a proven topic

A proven topic is a topic that people want to read about. 

If you’re familiar with the niche, then this shouldn’t be a biggie. You probably already have a lot of ideas you want to cover. Open Google Docs and write all of them down (use a notepad if you prefer analog).

Otherwise, there’s no better way to find proven topics than to write about topics people are searching for. After all, if there are many people searching for the same topic month after month, then it’s very likely it’s something they want to read about. 

Here’s how to find these topics:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter a term relevant to your site or niche
  3. Go to the Matching terms report
  4. Switch the tab to Questions
The Matching terms report, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Shop around a little and look for the topics that interest you. Make a list—5 to 10 should be enough to start with. 

Ideally, they should have some traffic potential too. Our metric, Traffic Potential, is the estimated amount of search traffic you can potentially gain if you rank #1 for that topic. You can see if a topic has Traffic Potential by looking at the TP column. 

Step 2. Decide on the angle of your post

With more than 4.4 million new blog posts published each day, your blog post has to stand out. Otherwise, it won’t get discovered and no one will read it. 

The key ingredient here is novelty.

According to Julian Shapiro, there are five novelty categories:

  1. Counter-intuitive – “Oh, I never realized the world worked that way.”
  2. Counter-narrative – “Wow, that’s not how I was told the world worked!”
  3. Shock and awe – “That’s crazy. I would have never believed it.”
  4. Elegant articulations – “Beautiful. I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
  5. Make someone feel seen – “Yes! That’s exactly how I feel!”

For example, check out this blog post by finance writer Morgan Housel

An example of a blog post written by Morgan Housel

He states something that is counter-intuitive to what most people know and think. The best idea or “truth” doesn’t win—instead, the best story does. This is incredibly compelling to people in his field of finance. Indeed, it stands out from the other news-based, fact-driven kind of articles they read. 

Morgan does this all the time. He rarely writes about finance directly—instead, he’s always looking at the topic from the lenses of history, biology, anthropology, psychology, and more. It makes his posts unique, and the angle of his articles always stands out. 

It’s what you must do. So take your time and think of an angle that is unique and novel to your target audience. Use these questions to get started:

  • Do you have personal experience with this topic? For example, if you’ve successfully implemented the keto diet, you can write about your experience and how you did it. 
  • Can you interview experts? For example, you can interview an expert about the latest research and findings in the keto world. 
  • Can you crowdsource opinions and ideas? For example, if you’re writing about making keto-friendly ice cream, you can crowdsource recipes. 
  • Can you provide data or back your post with science? Consider running a study (if possible) or looking through scientific research papers. 
  • Can you be contrarian? Don’t be the devil’s advocate just for the sake of it. But if you truly have an opinion that’s opposite to everyone else’s, it can be a great angle.

Editor’s Note

If you’re blogging with SEO in mind, then you’ll likely have to match search intent. Search intent is the why behind a search query. We can look at the current top-ranking pages to figure it out. 

Specifically, we want to understand the three Cs of search intent:

  • Content type – Is there a dominant type of content on the SERP, such as blog posts, product pages, videos, or landing pages? If you followed step #1, this is most likely a blog post. 
  • Content format – Is there a dominant content format on the SERP, such as guides, listicles, news articles, opinion pieces, or reviews?
  • Content angle – Is there a dominant angle on the SERP, such as freshly updated content or content aimed at beginners?

For example, let’s look at the topic of “date ideas”:

SERP overview for the query "date ideas," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer
  • Content type – They’re all blog posts.
  • Content format – They’re all listicles.
  • Content angle – A potential angle is “fun date ideas.” 

If you’re writing about this topic, you may have to create something similar. 

But note that this is not a rule but a guideline. Even if your post is ranking high on Google, it still has to stand out from the rest of the ranking articles. So it goes back to finding a novel and unique angle for your article. If you can create one that’s better than the other top-ranking articles, go for it.

Joshua Hardwick

Step 3. Create an outline

The hardest part of writing is facing the blank page. It is possible to sit in front of your computer for six hours and churn nothing out. It happens to the best of us. 

Creating an outline “solves” this problem. When you have an outline, you’re not writing from scratch. Instead, you’re filling the “gaps” in it. 

What’s even better is that you don’t have to create the outline from scratch either. Spend enough time online, and you’ll realize that most blog posts’ structures are pretty much the same. 

So don’t be afraid to use templates. For example, we use this template for almost all our list-style posts:

A template for writing listicles

Here are three more templates for other blog post styles you can use.

When you have the skeletal structure in place, the next step is to figure out what you need to fill in, especially the H2s, H3s, H4s, and more. Here are some ideas to help you out:

A. Use your personal experience and expertise

Nothing beats your own experience and expertise. If you know there’s a right way to do something, use that knowledge to create your outline. 

For example, I’ve been breakdancing for more than 10 years now. If I had to create a blog post on how to do the six-step, I wouldn’t even need to do any research—I can simply pour the information directly from my brain. 

B. Run a content gap analysis

If there are subtopics that almost all the top-ranking pages cover, then it’s likely that they’re important to readers too. 

Here’s how to find these subtopics:

  1. Paste a few top-ranking URLs for your main topic into Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool
  2. Leave the bottom section blank
  3. Hit Show keywords
  4. Set the Intersection filter to 3 and 4 targets
Ahrefs' Content Gap tool
Results from Ahrefs' Content Gap tool

Here, you’ll see that these pages are ranking for subtopics like:

  • What is inbound marketing.
  • Inbound marketing strategies.
  • Inbound marketing examples.

And more. 

If you’re writing a blog post on “inbound marketing,” they’ll likely make good H2s.

Note that your goal is not to copy and rephrase the top-ranking pages. The internet’s full of that—cookie-cutter content no one’s interested in. 

Your goal is simply to use top-ranking pages as inspiration. If they make good points, you can consider including them in your post. If they’re stating something that’s completely wrong, then even better—take the chance to correct the misconceptions. 

Step 4. Write your first draft

With your outline in place, it’s time to flesh that skeleton out into a rough draft. 

I write mostly in Google Docs. An immediate perk is that I can turn the headings I’ve created into actual headings. I just have to click the “Styles” dropdown on the menu and change them:

The "Styles" dropdown in Google Docs

You’ll be able to see your outline on the side too:

Outline of this post, as shown in Google Docs

From here, use your headers as a guide and write your first draft. This stage is all about “getting it out.” That means: 

  • Avoiding any interruptions to your writing.
  • Not self-censoring as you go along.
  • Not repeatedly rearranging your outline to make things flow better.
  • Not rewriting the same sentence 10 times just because it “doesn’t read quite right.” 😅

I know, I know. It’s easier said than done. Still, try to minimize interruptions. There’s time to edit for perfection later—this stage is all about getting everything down on paper (or screen) so you have something tangible to work with. As author Shannon Hale writes:

I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.

One “trick” you can consider is to use the Pomodoro Technique. It’s my go-to if I’m stuck, distracted, or procrastinating. 

The basic idea: Set a timer for 25 minutes, write as much as you can, then take a break for five minutes. Rinse and repeat. You can use a Chrome extension like Marinara to automate your Pomodoros. 

Recommendation

Struggling to put pen to paper because you can’t figure out your intro? Use the PAS formula to get started. Here’s how it works:

  1. State the Problem
  2. Agitate the problem by digging more into the pain (felt by the reader)
  3. Offer a potential Solution
An illustration of the PAS formula

Here’s what it looks like in the wild:

An example of the PAS formula in action

Step 5. Polish and edit your post

I have rewritten—often several times—every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” 

Vladimir Nabokov

Here’s the surprise: Even though the activity is known as “writing,” the magic is not in that. Rather, it’s in the editing phase where the true blog post appears. 

This stage—after you’re done with your first draft—is all about editing, polishing, trimming, and rewriting. 

My recommendation is to only edit after one or two days have passed. Why? Because you’re too emotionally invested when you’re first done drafting. The time gap will be helpful to remove this attachment so you can actually edit with fresh eyes. 

Here’s what you can do during the editing process:

  • Use Grammarly – Great for checking grammar mistakes.
  • Read your draft out loud – Catch where it doesn’t flow well.
  • Break up long sentences – Turn sentences with endless “ands” and “thats” into short, punchier ones.
  • Add formatting where relevant – Images, GIFs, bullets, numbered lists, bold, italics, and more make your writing easier to read.
  • Pepper in “flow” – Wherever the opportunity arises, consider adding transition words and cliffhangers so that the rhythm of your post is not static.

You should also pay extra attention to your intro, as that is how your reader will decide if they will continue reading. 

When you’re done with the self-editing, get feedback from someone else. If you have an editor to show your draft to, great. Otherwise, a friend or colleague works absolutely fine as well.

What’s important here is to get an impartial pair of eyes on your work.

Chances are that a third party will be able to point out things like logical loopholes and poor flow that you won’t be able to spot on your own. 

We do this for every blog post at Ahrefs. We even “call out” the contributors:

We show the contributors for each Ahrefs' blog post in the author's box

When they’re done, incorporate their feedback where relevant. Build off their ideas and opinions to produce the best piece of work possible.

Take the time to think about each point that was made. Set aside your ego and really try to see things from a third party’s perspective: Which points do you agree with, which are you unsure about, and which do you definitely not agree with?

Make edits based on the suggestions you believe in and leave out the things you feel strongly against (but be sure to have a logical explanation for doing this). If you’re on the fence, it all comes down to how much you trust the person giving you feedback.

Also, be careful not to accidentally adopt the writing style of a third party, especially if they give feedback in long form or if you’re incorporating many of their suggestions. Again, if possible, take a break from drafting and work on something else. Then, when you come back to it, try and rewrite the section in your own voice and style.

Now is the time to rewrite sentences until they “sound right” or rearrange your points over and over again until they flow the best they can.

Keep getting feedback and revising your draft until you’re happy with the final product.

Step 6. Create an amazing headline

On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.”

David Ogilvy

Your headline is one of the most important aspects of your blog post. It determines whether someone decides to click through and read. So you should take the time and polish it until it is compelling.

Don’t stop on the first headline you create. Come up with a few and see which one looks best. Viral site Upworthy notoriously created 25 headlines for each article it published. 

A reply on Quora by the former editor-at-large at Upworthy

I’m not asking you to create clickbait headlines like it. But the exercise can be a fruitful one. As singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran puts it, and I paraphrase, “It helps to clear the wastewater from the faucet.”

That said, here are some tips for writing better headlines:

  • Use “power words” – Words like “remarkable” and “noteworthy” help trigger an emotional response. Sprinkling one or two can make your headlines more compelling. 
  • Add parentheses – Parentheses strengthen your title tag by adding the “icing on the cake.”

Step 7. Sprinkle on your on-page SEO

Even if you’re not blogging with SEO in mind, you’ll want search engines like Google to find your post and rank it. After all, Googling is still one of the major ways people discover new content to read online. 

It’s a good idea to follow simple SEO best practices for every blog post you’re publishing. At the basic level, you should:

  • Include the topic in the title – You’ve probably naturally included this while you were brainstorming your headlines. After all, if you’re writing about intermittent fasting, it’s difficult to not mention it. Don’t worry if you haven’t, though; a close variation works too.
  • Write a compelling meta description – This is not a Google ranking factor, but it helps to “sell” your article in the search results. 
  • Use short, descriptive URLs – This type of URLs makes it easy for searchers to understand what your post is about. The simplest way is to make the slug your topic. 
  • Add alt text to your images – Google uses alt text to understand images. Create a concise but accurate one for every image you use. 
  • Link to internal and external resources – Cite other people where relevant. It’s also helpful for readers who want to learn more. 

If you’re using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, installing plugins like Yoast or RankMath can make doing all of this a cinch. 

Recommended reading: On-Page SEO: The Beginner’s Guide

Step 8. Publish your post

You’re finally ready to publish your post! 

Upload your post into your CMS. Or if you’re using WordPress and have some budget, consider using Wordable. This allows you to do a one-click upload from Google Docs into WordPress. Really easy. 

Then give it another quick look to make sure all’s looking good. Finally, hit “publish”!

"Publish" button in WordPress

Step 9. Promote your post

It’s the truth—blogging is extremely competitive today. Your content, no matter how good, will not be discovered by itself. You need to go out and let people know it exists. 

Consider using some of these tactics to promote your content:

  • Share it with your audience – You may think you don’t have an “audience,” especially if you’re just starting out. But you have friends, family, colleagues, and followers on existing social media accounts. Share it with them! They’ll be your biggest supporters. Then, over time, as you build up your audience (e.g., an email list), you can share your articles with them too. 
  • Email people you mentioned in your contentFind the emails of those people you’ve cited or linked to and reach out to them. They’ll be happy to know they’ve been featured. 
  • Share your content in relevant communities – Facebook groups, Slack communities, Discord, Reddit, and forums—if you are a member of any communities, you can consider sharing your content there. But remember, don’t spam! 

Recommended reading: 13 Content Promotion Tactics to Get More Eyeballs on Your Content 

Final thoughts

Hopefully, this post has shown you writing a blog post that people want to read is not a difficult process. You can do it too. 

Now, go on and get started—that blog post isn’t going to write itself.

Any questions or comments? Let me know on Twitter



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

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Hand pressing the red button. vector illustration

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

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

Veteran’s Criticism Of Google’s AI Focus

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

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

Jenson wrote:

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

Lack Of User-Driven Motivation

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

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

See Jenson’s full post below:

Can You Turn Off Google’s AI Overviews?

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

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

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

Turning Off AI Overviews

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

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

Here are the steps:

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

In the new entry, enter the following details:

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

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

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

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

Tensions Over Data Usage

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

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

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


FAQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the steps:

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

In the new entry, enter the following details:

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

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


Featured Image: Sira Anamwong/Shutterstock

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