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Why Keyword Research Is Useful for SEO & How To Rank

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Search engines have moved away from matching keywords in search queries to keywords on webpages, a process that accelerated in 2012 with the introduction of the Hummingbird update.

The impact on SEO has been a shift in keyword research toward a deeper understanding of what words mean in different contexts and especially as a part of an overall topic.

Keyword research is still important, but in a different way than has been practiced in the past.

The strategic choice of topics and word phrases continues to be important, and this guide will show you how to research keywords in a manner that is appropriate for the way search engines appear to rank webpages today.

Keyword Dimensions

The first step for keyword research is to define what kinds of keywords you want to target.

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Most of us by now know about search intent and the different kinds of intent that keywords have, so I won’t bother with that.

I’ll only point out that the intent maps to a searcher’s reason for searching, to find information, to buy something, to research something, etc.

If you need a refresher, read this article about user search intent.

However, it is worth pointing out that choosing keywords by their search volume is not always a good approach.

There are additional keyword dimensions to consider beyond user search intents.

Keyword Dimensions

  1. Keyword Search Volume.
  2. Keyword Intent.
  3. Keyword Meaning.
  4. Keyword Latent Meaning.

There are at least six issues to consider regarding high search volume keywords:

  1. High-traffic keywords can have multiple search intents (not all of them your chosen intent).
  2. The People Also Ask feature encourages search query reformulation.
  3. High-traffic keywords don’t always convert.
  4. High-traffic keywords aren’t always relevant to the website’s goals.
  5. Google diverts some high-traffic keywords to local SERPs.
  6. Google reformulates vague queries.

The takeaway about high search volume keywords is that it’s important to research why people are searching with those search phrases and make decisions based on whether those keywords align with your goals, whether that’s to sell more products, get affiliate clicks, or more advertising revenue.

We can’t really know all the different reasons why searchers use specific high-volume keyword phrases unless we study the search results.

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And once the different reasons are understood, we can begin to understand the keyword dimension of the latent meaning.

We can understand the hidden reasons why people use vague search queries because the search engines provide clues.

Clues To High Search Volume Keyword Phrases

The best keywords are those that communicate a user need that aligns with the solution a website offers.

A keyword phrase like [what’s the best home router 2022] expresses a very clear need and is a useful phrase for an electronics-related site.

A keyword phrase like [heart attack] is vague and does not express a precise need. Often, vague keyword phrases like [heart attack] express multiple needs.

Those multiple needs are what I call a latent meaning.

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Latent means hidden or not immediately apparent.

Vague keyword phrases like [heart attack] contain latent meanings and express users’ needs that are hidden within the words used in search queries.

Let’s take a look at the search query, [heart attack], as an example.

Search engines provide clues as to what users mean when they use vague search queries.

So, if you want to rank for a high-volume search query, take a look at the clues that are hidden (in plain sight) within the search results.

Here’s a screenshot of the featured snippet for the keyword phrase, [heart attack]:

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Screenshot from search for [heart attack], Google, March 2022Featured Snippet for Keyword Phrase Heart Attack

Google ranks a page about Heart Attack Symptoms for the search phrase, [heart attack]. The title of the page shows that the page is about Heart Attack Symptoms.

And here’s a really cool observation about that page.

A search for Heart Attack Symptoms shows the exact same page from CDC.gov ranking #1 for that phrase.

SERPs for Heart Attack SymptomsScreenshot from search for [heart attack symptoms], Google, March 2022SERPs for Heart Attack Symptoms

It’s clear that Google is ranking a page about Heart Attack Symptoms for the phrase [heart attack] because Google is understanding that when people search for this phrase, what people really mean is Heart Attack Symptoms.

Understand The Latent Meaning Of Keyword Phrases

Earlier in this article, I wrote that every keyword phrase has a latent meaning, a meaning that is hidden.

The above search results are an illustration of my observation.

When someone searches for [heart attack], most people are really searching for [heart attack symptoms].

What that means is that if you want to rank for the high traffic search phrase [heart attack], then what you should really optimize for is [heart attack symptoms] because according to what Google is ranking, that’s what most people mean when they search for [heart attack].

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Now, let’s take a look at the rest of the SERPs and see what they tell us.

The next three top-ranked webpages (positions 2, 3, and 4) are about heart attack symptoms.

Screenshot of SERPs for Heart AttackScreenshot from search for [heart attack], Google, March 2022Screenshot of SERPs for Heart Attack

But if you look at the page ranked in position #5, it looks like the latent keyword phrase is [what is a heart attack].

Screenshot of a Search ResultScreenshot from search for [heart attack], Google, March 2022Screenshot of a Search Result
  • Q: What is a heart attack?
    A: Myocardial Infarction
  • Q: What is a heart attack?
    A: A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart suddenly becomes blocked.

Google Ranked Positions 6, 7, 8, and 9 For [Heart Attack] Keyword

If we examine the next positions, six to nine (there is no position 10), we see something really interesting.

The next four positions have a meaning that corresponds to:

  • Symptoms of a Heart Attack.
  • What is a Heart Attack?
Google SERPs for keyword phrase, Heart AttackScreenshot from search for [heart attack], Google, March 2022Google SERPs for keyword phrase, Heart Attack

Keyword Research Should Include The Latent Meaning Research

Creating a list of keywords ranked from high volume to low volume is just a start.

High-volume keywords should be lumped together with their latent meanings, and those latent meanings should be ranked according to whether those latent meanings are top-ranked by Google or lower-ranked by Google.

For the example of the keyword phrase, [heart attack], the real keyword to chase is [heart attack symptoms] if you want to rank #1, because that’s what most people mean when they search for [heart attack], according to Google’s search results.

And the cool thing about this is that you can confirm this observation with Google Trends.

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In the following screenshot, what’s notable is that the keyword phrase [heart attack symptoms] has significantly more search volume than the keyword phrase, [what is a heart attack] and also [what is heart attack].

Screenshot of Google TrendsScreenshot from Google Trends, March 2022Screenshot of Google Trends

What’s cool about the Google Trends for those two keywords is that the above trends match perfectly with what we saw in the search results for the keyword phrase, [heart attack].

The top result for the [heart attack] keyword phrase related to Heart Attack Symptoms clearly has more search volume than the secondary latent meaning, What is a Heart Attack.

Takeaways:

  • Understand all four keyword dimensions before making a decision on which keywords to create content for.
  • Search volume is just one dimension out of four for understanding the relative importance of keyword phrases for your project.
  • Traffic should not be the leading reason for choosing a keyword phrase target.

Awareness Building Phrases

There are several obvious kinds of keyword phrases that are defined by goals.

You can create lists and order those keywords by their goals.

Examples Of Typical Keyword Goals:

  • Sales (aka the money phrases).
  • Sales funnel segments.
  • Awareness building.

That last one, awareness building, can be fairly important.

It could help a site rank for competitive keywords and major keyword phrases in addition to driving direct sales. (More on this strategy a little later. Keep reading!)

Once you match keywords to keyword goals, you can then develop content topics to address those goals that can become the building blocks of a content strategy.

The first two categories are directly sales and potential customers related; they solve a business problem directly.

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The last category can be seen as grooming searchers to become customers and building recognition as a trusted site for solving problems with products, reviews, and other forms of content.

Money Phrases

The sales category focuses on what some in the SEO industry call “money phrases.”

Money phrases are so-called because they tend to convert at a higher rate.

These are keyword phrases with a commercial intent that are associated with a high level of sales (e.g., “cheap widgets” and “where to buy widgets”).

Money phrases are important (and competitive!) because they almost always result in a sale.

They are also important to ad-supported sites because the site visitor, being predisposed to making a purchase, is also more likely to click an advertisement and earn revenue for the web publisher.

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Advertisements that are associated with money phrases usually have a higher cost per click, resulting in higher advertising earnings.

That’s why these keywords are called money phrases!

The Problem With Money Phrases

Money phrases are highly competitive and difficult to rank for. That’s a given.

A more important consideration that many are unaware of is that pay-per-click (PPC) ads will siphon off traffic from the organic search results, with the rest of the traffic distributed to the organic results.

Let’s examine how to deal with this issue.

Anatomy Of Money Phrases

Aside from the obvious phrases containing words like “buy” in them, there are an additional set of (long-tail) keyword phrases that indicate a user’s intent to make an immediate purchase.

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I have categorized long-tail money phrases into five categories.

Each category represents a multiplicity of keyword phrases and their variants (singular and product name variants).

5 Money Phrase Keyword Categories

  1. Competitor comparison.
  2. Discount price searches.
  3. Product reviews and ratings.
  4. Coupon code searches.
  5. Searches for sales.

Money Phrase Keywords & Site Architecture

It’s possible to build a site around different money phrases, and to use them as the basis of creating different sections of a site.

But that’s kind of one-sided and might not build lasting repeat traffic, yet that’s an option, just not one that I am comfortable with.

For some merchants, it’s important to create content that discusses the different qualities of a product and to help a consumer choose the most suitable product.

But for now, it’s worth considering that many top-ranked sites, even ecommerce sites, are not built with a site architecture that revolves exclusively around money phrases.

Google Trends For A Comprehensive Set Of Keywords

Google Trends: Seasonal Fluctuations

A site that is comprehensive can generally weather the ups and downs of search-related cycles.

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Google Trends is a good keyword research tool for identifying seasonal cycles for keywords.

It’s useful to research keywords on Google Trends to identify regular dips and rises in order to maintain steady traffic throughout the year.

Google Trends can also identify keywords that are losing appeal.

Google Trends: Regional And Changing Trends

Understanding changing trends, as well as regional patterns, will better help you to know when to roll out certain kinds of content, whether to abandon a keyword phrase and even to help identify the best regions to focus your link building on.

This is an important insight!

Google Trends comparison Taxi vs Uber vs. Yellow cabScreenshot from Google TrendsGoogle Trends comparison Taxi vs Uber vs. Yellow cab

In the example above, it is clear that the search phrase [Uber] is wildly popular compared to the generic phrase [taxi].

The trend line also shows that the phrase taxi is trending downward.

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Comparing keywords with brand names is highly useful to confirm suspicions of why a keyword phrase may change, trending up or down.

For example, the keyword trends for [digital cameras] trended downward with the introduction of the iPhone.

Another example is a comparison of the trends between the phrases [radio station] and the brand name “Spotify.”

The phrase [radio station] is trending downward while the brand name “Spotify” is trending upward.

There is no direct correlation between the two trends; the trend does not mean that Spotify is eating into the demand for radio.

But it does point to a change in how people are consuming music.

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Insight: When you see a traffic decline even though your rankings are unchanged, it can sometimes mean there is a change in consumer behavior tied to the introduction of a new product or service.

Google Trends: Compare Known Keywords

Google Trends only shows relative traffic levels. It does not show the exact number of queries.

However, if you have an idea of keyword volume for one keyword phrase, then you can compare that keyword phrase to a target phrase in order to get a close estimate of what the actual search volume is.

Google publishes a daily list of trending searches that contain a rounded-up search volume.

It’s possible to use that list with actual search volume attached to search queries to compare with keywords that you’re researching and get a pretty close estimate of what the search volume is.

Google Trends: Related Queries

Google Trends has a feature called Related Queries that can be useful for teasing out possible latent meanings within vague keywords.

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As can be seen in the screenshot below, the related query for the keyword phrase [heart attack] is the keywords [heart attack keywords].

Related QueriesScreenshot from Google Trends, March 2022Related Queries

That’s pretty interesting how the top “related query” ([heart attack symptoms]) exactly matches the latent meaning for the keyword [heart attack], which is what we saw in Google’s search results.

Using the Google Trends tool like this could be helpful for understanding which keywords to choose in order to rank for high search volume keyword phrases, or to help you decide to devote your time to better keywords (because traffic is not everything).

The Related Queries feature offers two settings within the drop-down menu:

Select Top to see what queries are related, including what appears to be latent meanings within vague keyword phrases.

Google Trends Related Queries Dropdown MenuScreenshot from Google Trends, March 2022Google Trends Related Queries Dropdown Menu

Lastly, select the most relevant category of the topic from the top dropdown menu.

Google Trends Default CategoryScreenshot from Google Trends, March 2022Google Trends Default Category

Because we’re searching for medical information, choose the Health Category:

Google Trends Search CategoriesScreenshot from Google Trends, March 2022Google Trends Search Categories

Should You Worry About Latent Semantic Indexing Or LSI Keywords?

In a word, no.

Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) is a very old technology, developed nearly 20 years ago.

While LSI may be in use in some form, perhaps to identify stop words in a document, it’s a super old technology, and we are in the age of Natural Language Processing and AI in search.

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Background reading about Latent Semantic Indexing:

Google’s John Mueller is on record saying that LSI is not something that any competent SEO should be thinking about.

According to John Mueller:

“First of all, we have no concept of LSI keywords. So that’s something you can completely ignore.

I think it’s interesting to look at LSI when you’re thinking about understanding information retrieval as a theoretical or computer science topic.

But as an SEO you probably don’t need to worry about that.”

Should You Use Keyword Synonyms?

With the advent of the Hummingbird update, Google started using strategies like keyword expansion in order to select the best answer to a search query from a broader selection of webpages.

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Query expansion can use synonyms to expand the original search query.

The goal for query expansion is to identify more webpages that are relevant.

The goal is not to rank webpages that contain the keyword phrase and synonyms. That’s not how it works.

So, the answer really is no, adding synonyms is not a way to rank better and this can be verified by looking at the search results.

Third-Party Keyword Tools

All third-party keyword tools use a proprietary source of keyword data that is used to calculate an estimate of actual keyword search inventory.

So, it’s not an exact count of keyword inventory, it’s an estimate.

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Nevertheless, the tools provide excellent opportunities for speeding up the keyword research process and that is a significant value to investigate to see how it fits into your process.

Keyword Research Is More Than Search Volume

In the old days, researching keywords used to be an easy process of identifying the phrases with the highest search volume. That’s no longer the case.

Today, it’s important to cross-check the search results, and go deep into understanding what a keyword phrase means for a user and what they’re trying to accomplish.

It’s also important to think in terms of topics.

In 2018, Google added what it calls a Topic Layer in order to understand topics and subtopics from all the content on the internet and identify content that is evergreen (relevant year after year).

These are the kinds of challenges the modern SEO faces today, to expand the research process beyond search volume in order to keep up with how search engines rank content today.

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More Resources:


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

All in-post images created by author, March 2022

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SEO

An In-Depth Guide And Best Practices For Mobile SEO

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Mobile SEO: An In-Depth Guide And Best Practices

Over the years, search engines have encouraged businesses to improve mobile experience on their websites. More than 60% of web traffic comes from mobile, and in some cases based on the industry, mobile traffic can reach up to 90%.

Since Google has completed its switch to mobile-first indexing, the question is no longer “if” your website should be optimized for mobile, but how well it is adapted to meet these criteria. A new challenge has emerged for SEO professionals with the introduction of Interaction to Next Paint (INP), which replaced First Input Delay (FID) starting March, 12 2024.

Thus, understanding mobile SEO’s latest advancements, especially with the shift to INP, is crucial. This guide offers practical steps to optimize your site effectively for today’s mobile-focused SEO requirements.

What Is Mobile SEO And Why Is It Important?

The goal of mobile SEO is to optimize your website to attain better visibility in search engine results specifically tailored for mobile devices.

This form of SEO not only aims to boost search engine rankings, but also prioritizes enhancing mobile user experience through both content and technology.

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While, in many ways, mobile SEO and traditional SEO share similar practices, additional steps related to site rendering and content are required to meet the needs of mobile users and the speed requirements of mobile devices.

Does this need to be a priority for your website? How urgent is it?

Consider this: 58% of the world’s web traffic comes from mobile devices.

If you aren’t focused on mobile users, there is a good chance you’re missing out on a tremendous amount of traffic.

Mobile-First Indexing

Additionally, as of 2023, Google has switched its crawlers to a mobile-first indexing priority.

This means that the mobile experience of your site is critical to maintaining efficient indexing, which is the step before ranking algorithms come into play.

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Read more: Where We Are Today With Google’s Mobile-First Index

How Much Of Your Traffic Is From Mobile?

How much traffic potential you have with mobile users can depend on various factors, including your industry (B2B sites might attract primarily desktop users, for example) and the search intent your content addresses (users might prefer desktop for larger purchases, for example).

Regardless of where your industry and the search intent of your users might be, the future will demand that you optimize your site experience for mobile devices.

How can you assess your current mix of mobile vs. desktop users?

An easy way to see what percentage of your users is on mobile is to go into Google Analytics 4.

  • Click Reports in the left column.
  • Click on the Insights icon on the right side of the screen.
  • Scroll down to Suggested Questions and click on it.
  • Click on Technology.
  • Click on Top Device model by Users.
  • Then click on Top Device category by Users under Related Results.
  • The breakdown of Top Device category will match the date range selected at the top of GA4.
Screenshot from GA4, March 2024

You can also set up a report in Looker Studio.

  • Add your site to the Data source.
  • Add Device category to the Dimension field.
  • Add 30-day active users to the Metric field.
  • Click on Chart to select the view that works best for you.
A screen capture from Looker Studio showing a pie chart with a breakdown of mobile, desktop, tablet, and Smart TV users for a siteScreenshot from Looker Studio, March 2024

You can add more Dimensions to really dig into the data to see which pages attract which type of users, what the mobile-to-desktop mix is by country, which search engines send the most mobile users, and so much more.

Read more: Why Mobile And Desktop Rankings Are Different

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How To Check If Your Site Is Mobile-Friendly

Now that you know how to build a report on mobile and desktop usage, you need to figure out if your site is optimized for mobile traffic.

While Google removed the mobile-friendly testing tool from Google Search Console in December 2023, there are still a number of useful tools for evaluating your site for mobile users.

Bing still has a mobile-friendly testing tool that will tell you the following:

  • Viewport is configured correctly.
  • Page content fits device width.
  • Text on the page is readable.
  • Links and tap targets are sufficiently large and touch-friendly.
  • Any other issues detected.

Google’s Lighthouse Chrome extension provides you with an evaluation of your site’s performance across several factors, including load times, accessibility, and SEO.

To use, install the Lighthouse Chrome extension.

  • Go to your website in your browser.
  • Click on the orange lighthouse icon in your browser’s address bar.
  • Click Generate Report.
  • A new tab will open and display your scores once the evaluation is complete.
An image showing the Lighthouse Scores for a website.Screenshot from Lighthouse, March 2024

You can also use the Lighthouse report in Developer Tools in Chrome.

  • Simply click on the three dots next to the address bar.
  • Select “More Tools.”
  • Select Developer Tools.
  • Click on the Lighthouse tab.
  • Choose “Mobile” and click the “Analyze page load” button.
An image showing how to get to Lighthouse within Google Chrome Developer Tools.Screenshot from Lighthouse, March 2024

Another option that Google offers is the PageSpeed Insights (PSI) tool. Simply add your URL into the field and click Analyze.

PSI will integrate any Core Web Vitals scores into the resulting view so you can see what your users are experiencing when they come to your site.

An image showing the PageSpeed Insights scores for a website.Screenshot from PageSpeed Insights, March 2024

Other tools, like WebPageTest.org, will graphically display the processes and load times for everything it takes to display your webpages.

With this information, you can see which processes block the loading of your pages, which ones take the longest to load, and how this affects your overall page load times.

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You can also emulate the mobile experience by using Developer Tools in Chrome, which allows you to switch back and forth between a desktop and mobile experience.

An image showing how to change the device emulation for a site within Google Chrome Developer ToolsScreenshot from Google Chrome Developer Tools, March 2024

Lastly, use your own mobile device to load and navigate your website:

  • Does it take forever to load?
  • Are you able to navigate your site to find the most important information?
  • Is it easy to add something to cart?
  • Can you read the text?

Read more: Google PageSpeed Insights Reports: A Technical Guide

How To Optimize Your Site Mobile-First

With all these tools, keep an eye on the Performance and Accessibility scores, as these directly affect mobile users.

Expand each section within the PageSpeed Insights report to see what elements are affecting your score.

These sections can give your developers their marching orders for optimizing the mobile experience.

While mobile speeds for cellular networks have steadily improved around the world (the average speed in the U.S. has jumped to 27.06 Mbps from 11.14 Mbps in just eight years), speed and usability for mobile users are at a premium.

Read more: Top 7 SEO Benefits Of Responsive Web Design

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Best Practices For Mobile Optimization

Unlike traditional SEO, which can focus heavily on ensuring that you are using the language of your users as it relates to the intersection of your products/services and their needs, optimizing for mobile SEO can seem very technical SEO-heavy.

While you still need to be focused on matching your content with the needs of the user, mobile search optimization will require the aid of your developers and designers to be fully effective.

Below are several key factors in mobile SEO to keep in mind as you’re optimizing your site.

Site Rendering

How your site responds to different devices is one of the most important elements in mobile SEO.

The two most common approaches to this are responsive design and dynamic serving.

Responsive design is the most common of the two options.

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Using your site’s cascading style sheets (CSS) and flexible layouts, as well as responsive content delivery networks (CDN) and modern image file types, responsive design allows your site to adjust to a variety of screen sizes, orientations, and resolutions.

With the responsive design, elements on the page adjust in size and location based on the size of the screen.

You can simply resize the window of your desktop browser and see how this works.

An image showing the difference between Web.dev in a full desktop display vs. a mobile display using responsive design.Screenshot from web.dev, March 2024

This is the approach that Google recommends.

Adaptive design, also known as dynamic serving, consists of multiple fixed layouts that are dynamically served to the user based on their device.

Sites can have a separate layout for desktop, smartphone, and tablet users. Each design can be modified to remove functionality that may not make sense for certain device types.

This is a less efficient approach, but it does give sites more control over what each device sees.

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While these will not be covered here, two other options:

  • Progressive Web Apps (PWA), which can seamlessly integrate into a mobile app.
  • Separate mobile site/URL (which is no longer recommended).

Read more: An Introduction To Rendering For SEO

Interaction to Next Paint (INP)

Google has introduced Interaction to Next Paint (INP) as a more comprehensive measure of user experience, succeeding First Input Delay. While FID measures the time from when a user first interacts with your page (e.g., clicking a link, tapping a button) to the time when the browser is actually able to begin processing event handlers in response to that interaction. INP, on the other hand, broadens the scope by measuring the responsiveness of a website throughout the entire lifespan of a page, not just first interaction.

Note that actions such as hovering and scrolling do not influence INP, however, keyboard-driven scrolling or navigational actions are considered keystrokes that may activate events measured by INP but not scrolling which is happeing due to interaction.

Scrolling may indirectly affect INP, for example in scenarios where users scroll through content, and additional content is lazy-loaded from the API. While the act of scrolling itself isn’t included in the INP calculation, the processing, necessary for loading additional content, can create contention on the main thread, thereby increasing interaction latency and adversely affecting the INP score.

What qualifies as an optimal INP score?

  • An INP under 200ms indicates good responsiveness.
  • Between 200ms and 500ms needs improvement.
  • Over 500ms means page has poor responsiveness.

and these are common issues causing poor INP scores:

  1. Long JavaScript Tasks: Heavy JavaScript execution can block the main thread, delaying the browser’s ability to respond to user interactions. Thus break long JS tasks into smaller chunks by using scheduler API.
  2. Large DOM (HTML) Size: A large DOM ( starting from 1500 elements) can severely impact a website’s interactive performance. Every additional DOM element increases the work required to render pages and respond to user interactions.
  3. Inefficient Event Callbacks: Event handlers that execute lengthy or complex operations can significantly affect INP scores. Poorly optimized callbacks attached to user interactions, like clicks, keypress or taps, can block the main thread, delaying the browser’s ability to render visual feedback promptly. For example when handlers perform heavy computations or initiate synchronous network requests such on clicks.

and you can troubleshoot INP issues using free and paid tools.

As a good starting point I would recommend to check your INP scores by geos via treo.sh which will give you a great high level insights where you struggle with most.

INP scores by GeosINP scores by Geos

Read more: How To Improve Interaction To Next Paint (INP)

Image Optimization

Images add a lot of value to the content on your site and can greatly affect the user experience.

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From page speeds to image quality, you could adversely affect the user experience if you haven’t optimized your images.

This is especially true for the mobile experience. Images need to adjust to smaller screens, varying resolutions, and screen orientation.

  • Use responsive images
  • Implement lazy loading
  • Compress your images (use WebP)
  • Add your images into sitemap

Optimizing images is an entire science, and I advise you to read our comprehensive guide on image SEO how to implement the mentioned recommendations.

Avoid Intrusive Interstitials

Google rarely uses concrete language to state that something is a ranking factor or will result in a penalty, so you know it means business about intrusive interstitials in the mobile experience.

Intrusive interstitials are basically pop-ups on a page that prevent the user from seeing content on the page.

John Mueller, Google’s Senior Search Analyst, stated that they are specifically interested in the first interaction a user has after clicking on a search result.

Examples of intrusive interstitial pop-ups on a mobile site according to Google.

Not all pop-ups are considered bad. Interstitial types that are considered “intrusive” by Google include:

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  • Pop-ups that cover most or all of the page content.
  • Non-responsive interstitials or pop-ups that are impossible for mobile users to close.
  • Pop-ups that are not triggered by a user action, such as a scroll or a click.

Read more: 7 Tips To Keep Pop-Ups From Harming Your SEO

Structured Data

Most of the tips provided in this guide so far are focused on usability and speed and have an additive effect, but there are changes that can directly influence how your site appears in mobile search results.

Search engine results pages (SERPs) haven’t been the “10 blue links” in a very long time.

They now reflect the diversity of search intent, showing a variety of different sections to meet the needs of users. Local Pack, shopping listing ads, video content, and more dominate the mobile search experience.

As a result, it’s more important than ever to provide structured data markup to the search engines, so they can display rich results for users.

In this example, you can see that both Zojirushi and Amazon have included structured data for their rice cookers, and Google is displaying rich results for both.

An image of a search result for Japanese rice cookers that shows rich results for Zojirushi and Amazon.Screenshot from search for [Japanese rice cookers], Google, March 2024

Adding structured data markup to your site can influence how well your site shows up for local searches and product-related searches.

Using JSON-LD, you can mark up the business, product, and services data on your pages in Schema markup.

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If you use WordPress as the content management system for your site, there are several plugins available that will automatically mark up your content with structured data.

Read more: What Structured Data To Use And Where To Use It?

Content Style

When you think about your mobile users and the screens on their devices, this can greatly influence how you write your content.

Rather than long, detailed paragraphs, mobile users prefer concise writing styles for mobile reading.

Each key point in your content should be a single line of text that easily fits on a mobile screen.

Your font sizes should adjust to the screen’s resolution to avoid eye strain for your users.

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If possible, allow for a dark or dim mode for your site to further reduce eye strain.

Headers should be concise and address the searcher’s intent. Rather than lengthy section headers, keep it simple.

Finally, make sure that your text renders in a font size that’s readable.

Read more: 10 Tips For Creating Mobile-Friendly Content

Tap Targets

As important as text size, the tap targets on your pages should be sized and laid out appropriately.

Tap targets include navigation elements, links, form fields, and buttons like “Add to Cart” buttons.

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Targets smaller than 48 pixels by 48 pixels and targets that overlap or are overlapped by other page elements will be called out in the Lighthouse report.

Tap targets are essential to the mobile user experience, especially for ecommerce websites, so optimizing them is vital to the health of your online business.

Read more: Google’s Lighthouse SEO Audit Tool Now Measures Tap Target Spacing

Prioritizing These Tips

If you have delayed making your site mobile-friendly until now, this guide may feel overwhelming. As a result, you may not know what to prioritize first.

As with so many other optimizations in SEO, it’s important to understand which changes will have the greatest impact, and this is just as true for mobile SEO.

Think of SEO as a framework in which your site’s technical aspects are the foundation of your content. Without a solid foundation, even the best content may struggle to rank.

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  • Responsive or Dynamic Rendering: If your site requires the user to zoom and scroll right or left to read the content on your pages, no number of other optimizations can help you. This should be first on your list.
  • Content Style: Rethink how your users will consume your content online. Avoid very long paragraphs. “Brevity is the soul of wit,” to quote Shakespeare.
  • Image Optimization: Begin migrating your images to next-gen image formats and optimize your content display network for speed and responsiveness.
  • Tap Targets: A site that prevents users from navigating or converting into sales won’t be in business long. Make navigation, links, and buttons usable for them.
  • Structured Data: While this element ranks last in priority on this list, rich results can improve your chances of receiving traffic from a search engine, so add this to your to-do list once you’ve completed the other optimizations.

Summary

From How Search Works, “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

If Google’s primary mission is focused on making all the world’s information accessible and useful, then you know they will prefer surfacing sites that align with that vision.

Since a growing percentage of users are on mobile devices, you may want to infer the word “everywhere” added to the end of the mission statement.

Are you missing out on traffic from mobile devices because of a poor mobile experience?

If you hope to remain relevant, make mobile SEO a priority now.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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HARO Has Been Dead for a While

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HARO Has Been Dead for a While

Every SEO’s favorite link-building collaboration tool, HARO, was officially killed off for good last week by Cision. It’s now been wrapped into a new product: Connectively.

I know nothing about the new tool. I haven’t tried it. But after trying to use HARO recently, I can’t say I’m surprised or saddened by its death. It’s been a walking corpse for a while. 

I used HARO way back in the day to build links. It worked. But a couple of months ago, I experienced the platform from the other side when I decided to try to source some “expert” insights for our posts. 

After just a few minutes of work, I got hundreds of pitches: 

So, I grabbed a cup of coffee and began to work through them. It didn’t take long before I lost the will to live. Every other pitch seemed like nothing more than lazy AI-generated nonsense from someone who definitely wasn’t an expert. 

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Here’s one of them: 

Example of an AI-generated pitch in HAROExample of an AI-generated pitch in HARO

Seriously. Who writes like that? I’m a self-confessed dullard (any fellow Dull Men’s Club members here?), and even I’m not that dull… 

I don’t think I looked through more than 30-40 of the responses. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It felt like having a conversation with ChatGPT… and not a very good one! 

Despite only reviewing a few dozen of the many pitches I received, one stood out to me: 

Example HARO pitch that caught my attentionExample HARO pitch that caught my attention

Believe it or not, this response came from a past client of mine who runs an SEO agency in the UK. Given how knowledgeable and experienced he is (he actually taught me a lot about SEO back in the day when I used to hassle him with questions on Skype), this pitch rang alarm bells for two reasons: 

  1. I truly doubt he spends his time replying to HARO queries
  2. I know for a fact he’s no fan of Neil Patel (sorry, Neil, but I’m sure you’re aware of your reputation at this point!)

So… I decided to confront him 😉 

Here’s what he said: 

Hunch, confirmed ;)Hunch, confirmed ;)

Shocker. 

I pressed him for more details: 

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I’m getting a really good deal and paying per link rather than the typical £xxxx per month for X number of pitches. […] The responses as you’ve seen are not ideal but that’s a risk I’m prepared to take as realistically I dont have the time to do it myself. He’s not native english, but I have had to have a word with him a few times about clearly using AI. On the low cost ones I don’t care but on authority sites it needs to be more refined.

I think this pretty much sums up the state of HARO before its death. Most “pitches” were just AI answers from SEOs trying to build links for their clients. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not throwing shade here. I know that good links are hard to come by, so you have to do what works. And the reality is that HARO did work. Just look at the example below. You can tell from the anchor and surrounding text in Ahrefs that these links were almost certainly built with HARO: 

Example of links build with HARO, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerExample of links build with HARO, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

But this was the problem. HARO worked so well back in the day that it was only a matter of time before spammers and the #scale crew ruined it for everyone. That’s what happened, and now HARO is no more. So… 

If you’re a link builder, I think it’s time to admit that HARO link building is dead and move on. 

No tactic works well forever. It’s the law of sh**ty clickthroughs. This is why you don’t see SEOs having huge success with tactics like broken link building anymore. They’ve moved on to more innovative tactics or, dare I say it, are just buying links.

Sidenote.

Talking of buying links, here’s something to ponder: if Connectively charges for pitches, are links built through those pitches technically paid? If so, do they violate Google’s spam policies? It’s a murky old world this SEO lark, eh?

If you’re a journalist, Connectively might be worth a shot. But with experts being charged for pitches, you probably won’t get as many responses. That might be a good thing. You might get less spam. Or you might just get spammed by SEOs with deep pockets. The jury’s out for now. 

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My advice? Look for alternative methods like finding and reaching out to experts directly. You can easily use tools like Content Explorer to find folks who’ve written lots of content about the topic and are likely to be experts. 

For example, if you look for content with “backlinks” in the title and go to the Authors tab, you might see a familiar name. 😉 

Finding people to request insights from in Ahrefs' Content ExplorerFinding people to request insights from in Ahrefs' Content Explorer

I don’t know if I’d call myself an expert, but I’d be happy to give you a quote if you reached out on social media or emailed me (here’s how to find my email address).

Alternatively, you can bait your audience into giving you their insights on social media. I did this recently with a poll on X and included many of the responses in my guide to toxic backlinks.

Me, indirectly sourcing insights on social mediaMe, indirectly sourcing insights on social media

Either of these options is quicker than using HARO because you don’t have to sift through hundreds of responses looking for a needle in a haystack. If you disagree with me and still love HARO, feel free to tell me why on X 😉



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Google Clarifies Vacation Rental Structured Data

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Google updates their vacation rental structured data documentation

Google’s structured data documentation for vacation rentals was recently updated to require more specific data in a change that is more of a clarification than it is a change in requirements. This change was made without any formal announcement or notation in the developer pages changelog.

Vacation Rentals Structured Data

These specific structured data types makes vacation rental information eligible for rich results that are specific to these kinds of rentals. However it’s not available to all websites. Vacation rental owners are required to be connected to a Google Technical Account Manager and have access to the Google Hotel Center platform.

VacationRental Structured Data Type Definitions

The primary changes were made to the structured data property type definitions where Google defines what the required and recommended property types are.

The changes to the documentation is in the section governing the Recommended properties and represents a clarification of the recommendations rather than a change in what Google requires.

The primary changes were made to the structured data type definitions where Google defines what the required and recommended property types are.

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The changes to the documentation is in the section governing the Recommended properties and represents a clarification of the recommendations rather than a change in what Google requires.

Address Schema.org property

This is a subtle change but it’s important because it now represents a recommendation that requires more precise data.

This is what was recommended before:

“streetAddress”: “1600 Amphitheatre Pkwy.”

This is what it now recommends:

“streetAddress”: “1600 Amphitheatre Pkwy, Unit 6E”

Address Property Change Description

The most substantial change is to the description of what the “address” property is, becoming more descriptive and precise about what is recommended.

The description before the change:

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PostalAddress
Information about the street address of the listing. Include all properties that apply to your country.

The description after the change:

PostalAddress
The full, physical location of the vacation rental.
Provide the street address, city, state or region, and postal code for the vacation rental. If applicable, provide the unit or apartment number.
Note that P.O. boxes or other mailing-only addresses are not considered full, physical addresses.

This is repeated in the section for address.streetAddress property

This is what it recommended before:

address.streetAddress Text
The full street address of your vacation listing.

And this is what it recommends now:

address.streetAddress Text
The full street address of your vacation listing, including the unit or apartment number if applicable.

Clarification And Not A Change

Although these updates don’t represent a change in Google’s guidance they are nonetheless important because they offer clearer guidance with less ambiguity as to what is recommended.

Read the updated structured data guidance:

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Vacation rental (VacationRental) structured data

Featured Image by Shutterstock/New Africa

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