Tag Archives: Search Engine Optimization

The Mobile First Index: Do We Just Have Plain Old “Websites” Again?

The mobile first index is a ranking factor that was rolled out by the Masters of Google in 2016. To understand what it is, and how it affects your site, you need to understand plain, old-fashioned indexing.

Indexing just means organizing data, and that’s what Google does to rank websites on its search engine. Of course, it is far more complicated than this but then again everything to do with SEO can seem complicated.

crying woman
I don’t think SEO was intended to make people cry…

Indexing: Organizing Mobile and Desktop Versions

At one point, there were just websites. You got them on computers (fancy) instead of having to get them mailed to your door. I think it was Homer Simpson who famously announced that you could now get the Internet on computers. So, that solved a lot of problems. No more mailing pictures of my food!

As devices became more sophisticated, it became obvious that a lot of websites were too much for tiny screens. Even though the screens got better (seriously, though, some smartphones don’t even fit in my pocket…).

So, enter mobile sites: website optimized and fiddled with specially to appear on smartphone and mobile device screens. Nice.

Search engines continued to index desktop sites. They soon realized they also needed to index mobile sites. So, mobile indexing came into being. Now, you had mobile and desktop indexing: you had to pretty much make sure the SEO was up to standard on both sites, or you risked missing out on a lot of juicy traffic. As time went by, mobile became more and more important. These days, mobile traffic has overtaken desktop traffic.

The Masters of Google therefore decided to roll out mobile-first indexing. This simply means that only the mobile version of a site is indexed. To hell with the desktops. SEOs now have to make sure that sites are optimized for mobile, but must still look nice on desktops devices. Which brings me to this conclusion…

We Just Have ‘Websites’ Again

Seriously. It’s gone full circle: websites must now able to appear on every Internet-faring device imaginable. In my opinion, it has made SEO a little easier. Technology is and has been changing so fast that this is a small mercy to ensure that the ball keeps rolling.

Yes, there was (and still is) a massive hullaballoo about mobile versus/desktop and everyone scrambling to ensure that their sites are in top order. In reality, however, it just means that websites are essentially the same, albeit slicker and more mobile.

What Is Content Localization? Insights on SEO Translation

International SEO calls on marketers to localize their content for a specific country. Independent of language, the process involves tailoring content to a specific culture. UK users, for example, will find ecommerce sites that display currencies in pounds and use terms that they are familiar with to be the most helpful.

Localization, therefore, can be done within a specific language. While you may have two sites in Spanish, one may be focused on Mexico and the other on Spain. Often, this content may be a near-duplicate (to save time, in which case a hreflang tag will help you avoid duplicate content issues).

Localization is, however, a part of the translation process. It goes hand-in-hand with SEO translation when you’re not only localizing content for a specific culture, but also for a specific language.

Translating Cultural Expressions and Terms into Your Target Language

Before we go on, I would like to express the importance of hiring a native-speaking translator. When localizing content, you are doing so for the user. When writing content that is to be localized, the writer should do it in a manner that is most natural to them. This text can then be worked on later (if you’re localizing for the same language).

This localized content can be targeted towards a specific country. For example…

  • If you have an English text that you would like to translate and localize into Dutch, you can change some of the terms. These include things like currency, names of cities/regions, i.e. everything that will ensure it makes sense within a Dutch cultural context. It of course depends on the text (if it is very general, you probably won’t have to do much).
  • The keywords are also important (which I shall detail later). Make sure you do your keyword research in your target language(so, in my case, Dutch).
  • You then simply translate the text. For most people, this means sending it on to a translator.
tulips
We paid our Dutch translator in tulips (not really).

SEO Translation: Tips and Things to Keep in Mind

For the most part, translators are not SEOs (some are, though). So, while you have the power of a native speaker who can bring your message across expertly in their own language, you still need to detail the specifics of what you want.

The first thing I would therefore like to address is keyword research. Keyword research, especially in a language you probably aren’t even familiar with, may sound scary. Don’t worry, however: you only need to understand the terms that appear in the search engines, because that’s what people are looking for. You can use a dictionary to get a general gist of the “lingo” that is used. Keyword research in another language is a process that goes beyond the scope of this post, so take a look at this resource.

google translate
Don’t ever use this to translate. EVER.

Once you’ve got the foreign language keywords you want to use in your text, it is important to structure them. If you have some familiarity with the language (or are perhaps fluent in it but don’t trust yourself to write quality content), you can dictate to the translator where the keyword should appear.

But what if you’ve no clue? Well, the best trick I found was to simply put the keyword at the end of the sentence it ought to appear in. Write a note to the translator and tell them to use the keyword where it makes sense grammatically. This is the glorious marriage of optimization for both users and search engines (not a very exciting wedding, I’ll admit).

IMPORTANT: When doing keyword research in a different language, stick to primary keywords. Unless you know the language really, really, really damn well. Secondary keywords will come naturally to the translator. When preparing texts for translation into Dutch, I avoided secondary Dutch keywords like the plague. It was different when doing it in German since I am fluent in the language, but this is an exceptional case.

A lot of people tend to balk at the idea of dealing with another language. Yes, it is a challenge however if you want to your business to go global you need to suck it up and dive right in. You should also consider investing in the services of a translator. Alternatively, of course, you could just hire a SEO who is fluent or (ideally) native in that language.

Canonical and Hreflang Demystified

Previously, I wrote a blog post covering the very basics of technical SEO. I really only covered the bare essentials and naturally left out smaller, more specialized aspects. Today I’d like to take a close look at what are known as canonical tags and URLs and hreflang tags (also known as attributes).

Before we go any further, I would also like to point out:

Canonical and Hreflang tags are for URLs are used to prevent issues with duplicate content.

That’s pretty much it. You will often see them mentioned together, but remember that they are not the same thing and have very different functions.

What Is a Canonical URL/Tag in SEO?

We’ll start with the canonical tag (also known as a canonical link). As you may well know, duplicate content is probably one of the greatest sins of content marketing. Google’s minion spiders certainly won’t be amused if you have multiple pages on your site that have the same content (even if it is relevant or necessary). You’ll still get penalized (not in a fire-and-brimstone sort of way of course, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Google is working on that. Ouch).

For the most part, this makes sense. A website with the same content on multiple pages is just boring. However, as a webmaster you may come across instances where it makes sense to copy the content onto other pages. Product descriptions are a great example.

What to do then?

Essentially, you want this content to be indexed but only on one page. You want to avoid it to appear on other pages (for informative reasons) and will perhaps link to it, however you don’t want Google to consider it and penalize you. This is where the canonical tag comes in. Essentially, it’ll tell you that similar-looking URLs are the same.

The process of canonicalization is as follows:

  • First, pick the page that you actually want to canonicalize. Consider this to be your “one and only” in terms of indexing. Which one is the most important is up to you (maybe it’s the page with the most traffic, the most backlinks, etc.).
  • So if you choose, for example, http://www.example.com/about-page as your canonical page, you then add the canonical link to the non-canonical page(s) like so:

rel canonical tag example

That’s all you have to do.

What Are Hreflang Tags?

Hreflang tags (or attributes) carry out a function in the same area as canonical tags, in that they avoid duplicate content. However, the attribute itself will tell Google that one page is specifically for one country/language. What’s pretty handy is that you can have two English languages sites with the same content. However, they’ll be directed at different countries. See below:

rel canonical tag example us
rel canonical tag example uk

One hreflang tag is for the States, the other is for the UK. A lot of the advice I originally read about hreflang tags focused on multiple sites in multiple languages, but I cannot stress the importance of using it in on same-language sites in multiple countries.

With regards to hreflang, you can of course simply do away with it and rewrite the content. That’s fine too, but it is a lot of work (and money).

My God, What Is Technical SEO? A Quick Look

Terms like “technical SEO” make some people shake in their boots, especially those new to or just learning the ropes of search engine optimization. I’ll admit I was a bit of a freak when I first found out about it: while it was confusing, it was also exciting. Though apparently it worries some people. That’s why I’ve written this short, simple post which will hopefully work as a basic introduction to the technical aspects of SEO.

Search engine optimization is about making your website easy to rank in the search engines and appear in the top search results. It is done through optimizing relevant keywords in your website copy, getting relevant inbound links from reputable sites and ensuring that content is unique and relevant to users (notice repetition of the word “relevant”?).

So, there’s a lot of focus on content. However…

…technical SEO focuses on the non-content side of your website.

It is the art of helping search engine spiders crawl and index your site as efficiently and easily as possible.

With technical SEO, you basically need to be aware of the major technical ranking factors.

Technical SEO: Basic Aspects to Keep in Mind

As an SEO, you may primarily focus on content and not the technical aspect of search engine optimization. That’s fine, but even being aware of the following points is a good idea. There’s no way around it (stop crying). Or, you may be very interested in learning technical SEO so you can charge thousands to get people’s websites up and running.

island forest
Then, buy and island and start your own raccoon kingdom… Okay, I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

Whatever your reason for learning technical SEO, the following points are aspects that will affect your website as a whole from the technical standpoint.

  • Site loading speed: Search engines and users alike love a site that loads fast on all devices. A significant chunk of people will close their browser if it takes more than 3 seconds to load (not me, I do wait a bit… but I’m also a little strange). They’ll click “Back” and that’s it, your bounce rate goes up (and gives Google another reason to punish you). It’s a bad day for everyone (except the Masters of Google). When considering loading speed, don’t forget about images.
  • Good site architecture refers to the structure of your site and how easy it is for Google’s little minion spiders to crawl through and index all that content. So, it would be highly advisable to look into sitemaps (both HTML and XML versions). Make sure to read up on site architecture, and sitemaps so you have a better idea.
  • SEO Siloes: This means stacking all of your content neatly. Effective internal linking is therefore a good strategy to implement here. You will also need to categorize your content by subject so that the website isn’t a horrible, confusing mess (and it gets worse the bigger your site gets). As a general rule, however, try to have all parts of your site at least three or four clicks away from one another.
  • If you have to redirect a page then be mindful of how you do it. Look into 301 and 302 redirects (so you can see how much traffic you preserve). And don’t forget about 404 redirects: customize the page because the standard ones look tacky and will just make the user click away. Instead, making it look pretty gives it a higher chance of the user staying on your site.
  • Content: Basically, try to ensure that you have fat and juicy content for the user to lap up. So, it mustn’t be “thin”. In addition, duplicate content should also be avoided. Again, just a couple of basics to keep in mind (I’ve also just noticed this is the shortest point on the list…).
  • Structured data libraries: Search engines can look at a page and understand what the content is about. However, there’s no reason to make it more difficult for them. Structured data libraries are essentially a tool that describes content to the search engines (the most popular and recommended one is Schema.org).

Like SEO itself, the scope of technical SEO goes far, far beyond a single post. This is, however, a good way of getting to grips with the most technical aspects. I hope to be exploring it a little more in the future, so stay tuned.

SEO Tips: Optimizing Images

Not many people think about optimizing images for SEO purposes.

Which I can understand.

Images and I have not been friends. We’re slowly repairing our relationship though. SEO image optimization was unfortunately a technique I had to learn. Not difficult, but it did mean I would have to learn a lot when it comes to image editing. As someone who is eager to learn as much as possible, I decided to get over my fear of Photoshop and other image editing tools.

Which brings me to this particular post on images and how you can optimize them for web search.

SEO, Pictures and Images – Give Them a Name!

When optimizing images, every SEO person understands that you can get traffic through pictures and images. How does a search engine know how to direct this traffic? Yes, by using keywords. Which means naming your images. Those keywords are vital. A string of numbers and letters with .jpg or .png isn’t going to tell the dear search engines very much.

In naming your image, you’ll be picked up both through the image search and the regular text search (…is there another defining name for that? :/).

Don’t Forget ALT Tags!

Alternative text tags provide a description of the picture that’s being uploaded. So, for example, if you have a picture of a new blender you’re selling on an ecommerce site then you can easily have a short description (with relevant keywords).

Optimizing Images for SEO – Don’t Forget About Resizing!

Your image has now been named (shameless-self-promotion-lady-waving.jpg – something relevant to the topic of your content). Since page speed is a ranking factor, you don’t want your content to take a million years downloading a single image onto the user’s browser. Not only will Google take a disliking to this, but user may simply think “Well, feck it anyway” and simply click “Back”. Now you’re in a pickle, because it’s just contributed to your bounce rate!

NOTE: It’s also pretty crap for web accessibility, too.

So, make sure to scale the image to the size you actually want it to be (and please keep mobile in mind…). You may also want to reduce file size. Ultimately, the image has to download as quickly as possible and not be too big for the user’s screen. Hell, test it out on a bunch of devices if you feel like.

File Type? That Too?

GIF, JPEG and PNG are the three image file types generally used when it comes to SEO. GIFs are low-quality images. That’s why you’ll see them turn up in the form of simple images (icons and whatnot tend to be GIFs). They do, however, look rather horrible if used for bigger pictures with more complex colors. Yuck.

JPEG is often the standard for bigger pictures. For the most part, it is advisable to do your images in JPEG however PNG can also work as an alternative to GIF (and won’t degrade over time if it is constantly resaved). Unfortunately, PNGs are still rather big and therefore can affect page speed. It’s not an absolute tragedy if you use them, but I tend to stick to JPEGs and try to avoid GIFs when I can.

These were the first things I learned when it came to SEO image optimization. There always seems to be a fine line between the user and the search engine… As always, you sometimes have to please two rather fickle masters.