Struggling with a Search Engine Optimization Skill Gap? Here’s What You Can Do

Given that it’s been plaguing the IT sector for years, it was inevitable that the ongoing digital talent shortage would eventually sink its talents into marketing and search engine optimization (SEO). As noted by MarketingWeek, upskilling has become crucial for specialized agencies and ordinary businesses alike. An annual survey from online marketing agency Verbli, meanwhile, found that SEO expertise is one of the most desirable skills in marketing.  

It follows that, if you currently lack that expertise internally, you need to start looking for ways to bridge that gap. We’ll walk you through how to accomplish that.

Start With a Decent Tool

Tools like Moz, Ahrefs, and Semrush can seem incredibly overwhelming at first glance.  But they also provide an excellent—albeit temporary—solution to a lack of internal SEO knowledge. All three tools are relatively simple to use once you get past the initial growing pains, and all three organizations maintain comprehensive knowledge bases to help you and your employees learn the basics of SEO.

In some cases, this might even be enough. These tools could serve as the foundation from which your business builds up skills in everything from content marketing to PPC advertising. On the other hand, you might find that you simply aren’t getting your money’s worth. 

At this point, you have three options—though there’s no rule saying you can’t attempt all three:

  • Initiate a hiring push to bring in the necessary expertise
  • Hire an agency to manage marketing and SEO for your business
  • Implement training and reskilling programs to develop SEO professionals internally 

Handling Things Yourself

If you’ve decided to take the talent acquisition route, start by looking at a few job listings for similar roles in your industry. This will give you an idea of what constitutes a competitive offer, as well as what to look for in a candidate. Ideally, you’ll want to hire someone with a proven track record—but failing that, they should at least be able to demonstrate a baseline knowledge of SEO. 

If instead you choose to develop SEO skills within your existing staff, start by looking at materials like Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO. Consider how you might translate that into hands-on, self-directed training courses—if possible, allow anyone interested in this training to engage with it while on the clock. 

Bringing In an Agency

group of people sitting in front of computers

Believe it or not, hiring an agency has a great deal in common with hiring someone internally. Here as there, you’re looking for someone with a proven track record, an established client base, and clear expertise. A prospective agency should be willing to sit down with you in a discovery call to hash out your requirements, expectations, and budget. 

Be wary of anyone who over-promises. We’d also advise establishing at least a baseline understanding of SEO so you’re able to spot the scammers. Their knowledge is often only surface-level, and they rely on their targets knowing even less than they do. Want to learn more about how to avoid missing out on opportunities to increase traffic with SEO? Check out our blog where we cover SEO-related topics monthly!

Why You Should Include Sentiment Research With Your Keyword Research

Like most content creators with a mind for search engine optimization, you understand the importance of thorough keyword research. It’s at the heart of developing an effective inbound marketing strategy. And for any given piece of content, it’s crucial in determining which keywords you should focus on when it actually comes time to write. 

What you may not realize, however, is that keyword research is only part of the equation. It’s not enough to devise a list of potential topics without context. You also need to know what people are saying about those topics and how they feel about them.

This is especially important with topics where there may be some degree of controversy. And if you don’t know what side of an issue your audience falls on prior to writing? There’s a very good chance you’ll end up leaving a significant portion of your audience feeling alienated. 

Let’s say, for instance, that you decide to write about non-fungible tokens (NFTs). If your audience is against them and you attempt to cast them in a positive light, you can and will lose their interest and likely their trust. Similarly, if your audience is involved in cryptocurrency and you try to claim NFTs are the same as Bitcoin, most people probably won’t appreciate the comparison. 

As for where you can conduct this kind of research? That’s the good news. You have a nearly limited well of information upon which you can draw, including: 

  • Social media. Figure out the social networks on which both your audience and your competitors are most accurate, and pay careful attention to comments, shares, mentions, and hashtags. This will not only allow you to gauge sentiment around a broad range of topics, but also regarding your brand as a whole. For ‘trendy’ news, Twitter will typically be the best bet.
  • Ratings and reviews. Although generally more useful for determining direct sentiment around your brand, customer reviews also have the potential to provide unexpected inspiration for both possible topics and the approach you should take with them. 
  • Customer surveys. Provided you can properly incentivize your audience to take them, surveys are easily the best way to gauge sentiment on virtually any topic. These could be offered via email, on your website, or even through your existing social channels. 
Facebook home page

Ultimately, sentiment analysis is about more than simply figuring out tone and angle. That’s really only part of it. What’s more important is that it helps you understand who your audience is and how they think. 

And from that understanding, you can brainstorm more compelling topics and express them in a way that’s much more likely to resonate.

Word Count is Not A Ranking Factor, But it Does Matter

If you’re like many people, you probably believe in the unimpeachable word count. The notion is that the longer you make a piece, the better it will perform on the search engine results page. The idea is that there’s some sort of magic ‘sweet spot’ for content length that will land you on the first page of Google.

It’s somewhat unclear how these became such common beliefs in the search engine optimization space.  Because the truth is that content length has no direct bearing on PageRank. It never has. 

This isn’t just us saying this, either. As noted by Search Engine Journal, Google has stated as much on more than one occasion. More specifically, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller, who’s posed the question on a regular basis. 

“Word count is not a ranking factor,” wrote Mueller on Reddit. “Save yourself the trouble.” 

“Word count is not indicative of quality,” Mueller explained, this time on Twitter. “Some pages have a lot of words that say nothing. Some pages have very few words that are very important & relevant to queries. You know your content best (hopefully) and can decide whether it needs the details.”

Search Engine Journal noted in another piece that Mueller has also stated that word count is a quality factor rather than a ranking factor. Adding more text without good reason will do nothing to improve your content. In short, there is no arbitrary ‘perfect’ word count. 

Content should be exactly as long as it needs to be in order to convey its message. A piece with 1000 words is no more likely to be relevant than a piece with 100 lacks relevance—in actuality, longer content could potentially perform even worse than short form, depending on device and audience. 

Therefore, the best advice we can give you is to stop stressing about length. Just focus on creating high-quality, compelling content, and everything else will fall into place. And remember that there are many elements that are significantly more important than meeting some milestone that doesn’t actually exist:

  • Page speed
  • Performance
  • Ease of use
  • Bounce rate
  • Domain age, history, authority, and registration length
  • Keywords—primarily whether or not they appear in your title tag, header tag, and copy 
  • Backlinks
  • Optimization

If you’re looking for affordable web hosting that is built around SEO development, check out our services! In an era of microblogging and mobile Internet, length is functionally irrelevant. What matters isn’t how much space something takes up on a page. What matters is that it fulfills your audience’s search queries. What matters is that it provides people with genuine value.

Beyond that, everything else is ultimately secondary. 

Wondering Why You’re Not Ranking on Google? Here’s Three Possibilities

If your content isn’t ranking—or if it was ranking but has suddenly dropped down the SERPs—you’re generally left up to your own devices when it comes to figuring out what went wrong. In our experience, however, the answer usually isn’t all that complicated. When content isn’t ranking on Google, it usually comes down to one of three things. 

You’re Targeting the Wrong Keywords

Each and every piece of content on your site should be built out of the following questions

  • Why am I creating it? 
  • What value does it provide to my audience? 
  • What search terms would someone typically use to find this content? 

The last question is where we generally see people slip up. They might be targeting keywords that are too competitive, or trying to rank for phrases dominated by a much larger, more successful brand. Or maybe they’ve chosen keywords based on raw numbers rather than intent

Either way, if your content isn’t ranking, your first step should be to re-examine your keywords. 

Your Website is Bad

Picture two department stores.

  • The first store is clean, well-lit, and laid out in a streamlined, intuitive way. The way everything is laid out makes sense to shoppers, and the staff are friendly and efficient.
  • The second store is a dirty, confusing labyrinth. No one is entirely sure where anything is, and employees are surly at best, actively unhelpful at worst. 

Where would you rather shop? 

The best websites load fast and have an interface that’s easy to both navigate and understand. Their content is well-organized, and their design is aesthetically pleasing. Can you say that about your site, too? 

You Simply Aren’t Publishing Compelling Content

Not everyone is a content creator—and not everyone needs to be. If you know for a fact your keyword research is accurate and your website is well-designed, it may well be that your content simply isn’t that good. Remember that the best content is:

  • Original
  • Concise
  • Informative and/or entertaining
  • Well-written, with no errors
  • Trustworthy
  • Authentic

If you’re simply rehashing word for word the things you’ve found elsewhere, you’re not going to rank. 

Closing Thoughts

If there’s one thing that’s remained constant about search engine optimization for the past few years, it’s Google’s insistence on keeping its search algorithms close to its chest. Much of what we know about search engine optimization (SEO) and the search engine results page (SERP) is the result of observation and educated guesses. It’s conjecture made by knowledgeable experts, but conjecture all the same.

That isn’t to say that Google has provided no SEO guidance, mind you. The company has actually published a fairly comprehensive SEO Starter Guide that walks you through pretty much all the basics. The last piece of advice we’ll give is to familiarize yourself with that guide if you’ve not done so already.

It may help immensely.

Understanding the Different Types of Keywords

Keywords used to be simple. You’d enter your search terms, and you’d be presented with a list of results containing your keyword or phrase. Pages with more instances of that phrase ranked higher on this list. 

As you might expect, this system was incredibly easy to abuse. That’s why since then, both keywords and the algorithms that analyze them have grown considerably more complex. These days, there are a ton of different classes of keywords—and it’s in your best interest to understand them all. 

Specificity

Let’s start with the different matching options you can choose during keyword research and ad targeting. Once you’ve defined your initial topic, focus, or core keyword, you can find variants of it in a few different ways. 

Broad Match

Although search engine optimization research tools still allow broad match searches, broad match keywords have been retired by Google as of July 2021. Originally, they used to match any result containing your core keywords. They accounted for any permutation or variation of those words, and also included similar words. 

This functionality has largely been wrapped into phrase match keywords. 

Phrase Match

Phrase match keyword searches contain your core keywords in the order you typed them. When it retired broad match keywords last year, Google also tweaked phrase match keywords. Phrase match searches now apply road match criteria while still preserving the original meaning of the search. 

Exact Match

An exact match keyword is exactly what it sounds like. The exact permutation of each word in the exact order you typed them. With that said, exact match targeting will also typically include reordered or rephrased close variants if Google determines that they retain the original meaning. 

Intent

Arguably the most important characteristic of a keyword is its intent—what the searcher is looking to do.

Commercial

Someone searching with commercial intent fully intends to make a purchase as soon as possible. They’re effectively right at the end of the sales funnel, ready to convert when they find what they’re looking for. 

Transactional

Transactional intent is similar to commercial. Searchers do intend to make a purchase at some point in the future, but they’re still doing research. 

Informational

Someone searching with informational intent simply wants to learn. They might be looking for a how-to, developing their own content, or performing academic research. Though they may be convinced to convert, they typically aren’t looking to purchase. 

Navigational

A person searching with navigational intent is looking for a specific website or brand. They know exactly what they’re looking for, and why. Your job is to ensure your site provides this to them. 

Length

Lastly, keywords can be categorized in terms of length. 

Short-Tail

A short-tail keyword tends to be much more general and consists of only one or two words. Generally speaking, a short-tail keyword acts as a starting point. Users don’t typically only type one or two words into Google, instead resorting to more generally conversational searches. 

Long-Tail

Long-tail keywords consist of three or more words. Particularly with the growing prominence of semantic search, long-tail is generally the way to go. 

Link Building 101: Laying the Foundations for Outreach

It’s a bit of an oversimplified explanation, but the more high-quality pages that link to one of your pages, the greater that page’s authority. The greater that page’s authority, the better it’s likely to rank on Google. The higher your PageRank, the more traffic you get through organic search.

When it comes to building up your website and creating brand awareness, link building is arguably one of the best strategies at your disposal—but you must first understand how it works. 

What is Link Building? 

Link building is the process of generating more inbound links to your website. Said links must be from websites that themselves have a reasonably high E-A-T score—Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. In simple terms, what this means is that they have an established reputation for publishing authentic, informative, high-quality content. 

How Do You Start Link Building?

As with any marketing or growth strategy, the first step in any link building campaign is to define what you want to accomplish with it. 

Are you trying to establish yourself as an authority in your sector? Are you looking to generate conversions and inspire more people to purchase your products or services? Or do you simply want to generate traffic and increase awareness of your brand? 

What Are Some Common Link Building Strategies? 

Modern link building is generally predicated on a very simple idea—if you create excellent content, people will link to that content. Informative, entertaining, and well-researched blog posts can easily generate a ton of passive inbound links to your website, particularly if they rank well on the search engine results page. Similarly, highly shareable content can draw considerable traffic from social media. 

However, if you want to take a more active role in your link building efforts, you generally have three options. 

  • Guest blogging. Find a well-established site in either your niche or a related one, and create guest content that can be published on that site with a link redirecting back to you. Typically, it’s advisable to focus on sites with guest editorial programs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reach out if you find a promising prospect—but do not, under any circumstances, use a generic email template. 
  • Seek out broken links. Basically, this involves looking at high-quality sites and searching for broken or outdated links. When you find one, contact the webmaster and offer to replace the link with similar content on your own site. 
  • Syndicated content. Somewhat similar to guest blogging, this involves creating high-quality content such as an infographic, then submitting it to user-driven directories and content sites. 

What Link Building Tactics Should I Avoid? 

Let’s wrap things up with a quick list of link building tactics that are not only doomed to fail, but likely to get your site penalized in the process: 

  • Buying your inbound links.
  • Using a link farm or content mill.
  • Paid content disguised as organic content.
  • Purchasing/creating and interlinking multiple websites.
  • Spamming links in comments, forums, etc. 

How Would Search Engine Optimization Change if Google’s Algorithm Were Public?

As Google continues to battle lawsuits, there’s talk that it may be forced to reveal its algorithm. Could this actually happen? And what would change if it did?

Google May Be Forced to Reveal its Search Algorithm to an SEO, the headline on Search Engine Journal announces. 

For those not in the loop, back in 2012, a company called Foundem filed a suit against the search engine giant. A price comparison search engine, Foundem alleges that it was the victim of anti-competitive practices by Google in 2006. Specifically, it claims that Google intentionally manipulated its search engine results page (SERP) to bury the site. 

The accusation, notes SFGate, was tied to several algorithm changes that penalized sites with large quantities of duplicate content and changed how Google handled URL canonization—known respectively as Gilligan, Jagger, and Big Daddy, per Moz. At first glance, the whole suit may seem cut-and-dry. 

Foundem simply doesn’t want to acknowledge that its business model became irrelevant, which was ultimately the real reason it foundered, claims the International Center for Law & Economics.

The courts clearly disagreed, and the fact that Foundem continued to perform well in other search engines was admittedly suspicious. So it was that the two companies found themselves embroiled in a years-long legal dispute. And here’s where it gets interesting.

Let’s circle back to the Search Engine Journal piece we cited at the beginning. As part of the court proceedings, Google revealed documents detailing its algorithm to the court—confidentially, of course.  In April 2020, Foundem reportedly demanded that the company bring in SEO expert Philipp Kloeckner to interpret them.  

Google’s response, understandably, was that doing so would compromise the integrity of the entire search engine. Foundem responded that it could simply withdraw the documents afterward—seemingly forgetting the extreme competitive advantage Kloeckner would gain as a result of the process. It couldn’t withdraw them either, however—the documents were key to its defense.

And so it was that Google faced an ultimatum. If Google neither withdraws the documents nor consents to provide them to Kloeckner, the judge will simply give them to Kloeckner himself. And that could ultimately lead to the documents being released to the general public. 

We expect one of two things would happen as a result of this.

If we were to be optimistic, this could completely change the face of the web. Armed with a complete understanding of content quality and ranking signals, SEOs and marketers could create better, more relevant content than ever before. It would be a golden age for search.

If we’re being realistic? We’d probably regress to the early days of SEO—a chaotic mess where the SERP is poisoned by black hats and spammers. Not exactly ideal, in other words. 

Either way, we don’t think it’s likely that Google will reveal its algorithm. Far likelier that it will choose to withdraw the documents and eat the fine. That small dent in its revenue would be far smaller than the damage it would incur from its algorithm being made public.

What Can You Do if Google Displays The Wrong Title on the SERP?

We’ve received a sobering reminder that no matter what we do, our search engine optimization efforts are ultimately at Google’s mercy. At least that’s the message the search engine giant sent in August. Midway through the month, SEO experts noticed some massive changes to how titles were generated on the search engine results page, as reported by Search Engine Journal.

Rather than pulling SERP headlines from a page’s title tag, Google instead began replacing them with everything from H1 tags to anchor text from internal links. Per Search Engine Land, it didn’t take long for the company to confirm that yes, it had indeed changed how SERP titles were generated. It claimed that its algorithms now generate titles that describe what a page is actually about — regardless of the query or title tag.

There’s just one problem. Evidence suggests that, at least in this case, those algorithms aren’t exactly working as intended. Some of the changes seem, to put it bluntly, absolutely nonsensical — one expert noted an instance where they replaced a page’s title text with copy from a completely different page.  

At first glance, this seems like a huge problem. After all, what’s the point of planning out metadata like title tags if Google is simply going to ignore it? As is often the case, however, there’s a bit more going on here than one might at first assume.

First and foremost is the fact that, according to Google, 80% of results will still use your title tag on the SERP. This means that instances where Google uses a different or ‘wrong’ tag will be relatively rare. Google further lists a few specific cases in which it will replace the title tag:

  • It’s too long
  • It’s stuffed with keywords
  • It’s boilerplate, containing generic copy or lacking keywords

“A focus on good HTML title tags remains valid,” the company maintains. “Our main advice…to site owners remains the same. Focus on creating great HTML title tags. Of all the ways we generate titles, content from HTML title tags is still by far the most likely used.” 

Further, as noted by SEO expert Brodie Clark, most scenarios in which Google replaces a page’s title tags actually end up being beneficial.  For the most part, the changes end up being an improvement, providing “a better preview of the content to come.” And in the rare cases where they end up being detrimental, a site owner’s best bet is to take a step back and re-evaluate.

And more importantly, to double-check that their existing HTML titles follow SEO best practices.  

5 Excellent Tips To Help You Do SEO on a Budget

Search engine optimization needn’t break the bank. If you know what you’re doing, it can be done without spending a cent. Here are some tips to help you do so.

Search engine optimization (SEO) need not break the bank — and anyone who tries to tell you it does is in all likelihood trying to sell you something. While it’s certainly true that there’s no shortage of premium SEO tools available, they mostly just cut down on a lot of work you’d otherwise need to do manually. And while there are certainly SEO firms that can do an excellent job of managing your website, you don’t strictly need them in order to succeed. 

It’s entirely possible to take care of all the SEO on your website while barely spending a cent — here are some tips to help you do exactly that. 

Leverage Your Own Expertise With a Blog

Here’s a question for you — what are you good at? What skills do you possess that the layperson lacks? What might you be able to teach others if you took the opportunity to share your expertise? 

Whatever your business or industry, you’re bound to know something you can share with your audience. Something they might be interested in learning. Translating that into a thought leadership blog could be a valuable means of bringing in new traffic, particularly if you’re keyed into the kinds of questions your audience is asking. 

Use Any of a Number of Free SEO Tools

Just because there’s such a wealth of premium tools available on the web, that doesn’t mean you’re completely adrift if you don’t use them. There are actually quite a few free tools that can help you achieve most of what you could with a paid subscription if used in tandem with one another. Some examples include: 

Draw in Traffic With User-Generated Content

Depending on your industry, you might actually be able to create some buzz on social media through your audience itself. Not only will this show other people that you have an audience engaged enough to actively work with your brand, but it also shows that your brand is trustworthy and open to conversation. Plus, if a contest or campaign on social media goes viral, you’re looking at a massive influx of traffic. 

Pay Attention to Local SEO

Local SEO is unique in that it doesn’t actually require much in the way of expenditure. All you really need to do is fill out your Google My Business page. Once that’s done, simply ensure you have your business’s name, address, and phone number on each page of your website, and keep an eye on local reviews. 

Manually Take Care of Internal SEO

For most smaller websites, internal/technical SEO isn’t terribly difficult to manage. Particularly if you’re using a content management system like WordPress, you’ll have access to multiple plugins that allow you to take care of everything from website performance to mobile friendliness to your sitemap. And if you’re uncertain where to start, tutorials like Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO can be a great help.  

The Critical Link Between User Experience and SEO

A positive user experience impacts more than your conversion rate. It’s actually a ranking factor, and one you need to pay attention to.

User experience has always been crucial, both on the web and off. It influences everything about how users interact with your brand, from conversion rate to brand loyalty. And if your site is not designed with the end user in mind — if visiting is not a positive experience for your audience — then nothing else matters. 

In light of that, it should not come as any great surprise that it’s a ranking factor. Google has long been tweaking its algorithm with the user in mind. Everything from relevance to context to intent boils down to user experience. 

More recently, that culminated in Google’s Page Experience Update. 

What Is The Google Page Experience Update?

Currently, in the process of being rolled out and due to be completed at the end of this month, the page experience updates spins several new metrics into Google’s ranking algorithm, known as Core Web Vitals. These vitals are then measured alongside several other signals, which together are used to assign a page experience score, viewable through the Google Search Console. 

The factors measured as part of the page experience score are as follows: 

  • Core Web Vitals
    • Largest contentful paint. Essentially, this is a measurement of load time. The fast a page loads, the better, but ideally, this should occur within 2.5 seconds, per Google.
    • First input delay. How long after loading a user can interact with a page. Google recommends this score be less than 100 milliseconds. 
    • Cumulative layout shift. This measures a site’s visual stability. 
  • Use of HTTPS (required) 
  • No obvious security issues
  • Usability on mobile devices
  • Lack of intrusive content such as popups
  • Page safety/security

How To Take a UX-Focused Approach to SEO

More than anything else, the Google Page Experience Update provides a benchmark for optimizing the user experience on your website. By following the framework outlined by Google, there’s the opportunity to do more than improve your PageRank — you can potentially improve conversions, as well. So, with that in mind, let’s wrap things up with a bit of advice on what you can do specifically to improve your page experience score. 

  • Prioritize Performance.  Where possible, avoid using any content that could potentially impact performance, such as JavaScript, CSS, and rich media. 
  • Streamline Your Interface. Keep your site simple and easy to navigate, without any unnecessary visual elements. 
  • Make Sure Your Site is Mobile-Friendly. Self-explanatory. A mobile-friendly site is non-negotiable in 2021. 
  • Police your ad network. Or simply don’t use an ad network at all. 
  • Make sure you’re using HTTPS. Again, self-explanatory. Security, like mobile usability, is non-negotiable. 

User experience is crucial. It always has been. Just remember that while it’s essential to have a good page experience score, that’s still no substitute for quality content.