John: Hi, I’m John Maher, and this is Digital Marketing Madness. This podcast is brought to you by McDougall Interactive. We’re a digital marketing agency in Danvers, Massachusetts. Today I’m here with the president of McDougal Interactive, John McDougall. Welcome.
McDougall: Hi, John.
John: I’m also here with the VP of Digital Marketing, Pavel Khaykin. Hi, Pavel.
Pavel: Hi, John.
John: Today we’re just going to do another one of our sessions where we talk about whatever the latest things are that we’re dealing with, with Google, or search engine optimization, or digital marketing in general. John McDougall, what do you have for us today?
Six Factors for Search Engine Ranking
McDougall: Recently I gave a webinar with the National Law Review and it was all about building an actionable SEO strategy for 2017 and just thought I’d recap that. The six items we talked about were from Searchmetrics study of ranking factors.
The six factors are content, user signals, user experience, technical SEO factors, social media, and backlinks. They do this study looking at 10,000 keywords and why people are in the top 10 results for those keywords. It’s a really big, very deep study, very highly respected study.
John: Those are main categories and obviously there’s lots of individual little items that may help you rank better or worse, within each one of those categories.
McDougall: Yes, they do a nice job to really break it into buckets. There are even some sub buckets [that are technical, like] mobile [is] technical. There’s lot of stuff going on, so right up there with the Digital Marketing Madness, it’s almost a little over the top. For content lately, the big thing is relevance and is your page relevant? Not do you just have a title tag that says it’s relevant.
Because anyone can jam in a keyword into a title tag, into a heading tag, into a meta description.
Of course, the SEO keyword meta tag has been long gone, I don’t know, was it like a decade John? When Google said — they literally said we don’t even look at that anymore, that was like some 10 years ago or something.
John: We still come across sites every now and then from clients where meta keyword tags are jammed with like 50 keywords.
McDougall: It’s awesome, I love them doing that, it’s like nostalgia, it’s fun to look.
John: You spent all this time coming up with this whole list of keywords and it’s not doing anything for you.
McDougall: Yes, totally useless, your competitors can check it out and see what you’re focused on. But a lot of times they just put single big words in there, like “company.” Almost that, not that bad, but almost like they’re going to rank for certain single words, as a five-page website. In the content category, they talk a lot about relevance, and then depth of content.
Breaking Down Top Ranking Pages
McDougall: 1633 words is the average for the top ranking pages on desktop and just a little less than that on mobile. If you search for something like “hiking boots,” or “best snow blowers,” you’re now going to see something you didn’t see 10 years ago.
It used to be people will get a bunch of backlinks to a page that might have a few paragraphs on it, maybe one picture all about best snow blowers didn’t have to be that deep.
Now people are going way over the top. John, you showed us that one the other day, the hiking boots, was that LL Bean?
John: The hiking boots, I think was REI actually.
McDougall: REI yes, pretty amazing page. If you’re going to be interested in hiking boots, you’re going to want to know the types of hiking boots. Are you hiking with a little rock climbing involved? Is it hiking in the snow, in the mud?
John: Then it was like the different types of materials that the hiking boots can be made of. Then it was how to choose the best type for you. It just went into everything that you could possibly want to know ahead of time before choosing a hiking boot.
McDougall: Then some links to things you can buy, but really comprehensively covering the topic is the idea. Pages that do that are ranking really well right now. I highly recommend people just go search for “hiking boots,” or “best snow blowers,” or things like that, “pellet grills.”
I just bought a smoker grill, it’s awesome. It’s like $500 from REC TEC. In looking for it, you see these reviews and they cover the 10 best brands, the 10 best styles, compare it to a gas grill.
John: It’s like the ultimate guide to whatever it is.
McDougall: Yes, like something normally you’d put like make a whole eBook, and you’d make a whole section of your site, now like one page. Not to say you’d only want to have one page, because really you should have topical authority. You should have a section on your site about this topic of hiking boots.
Then you should also, these days, have a really long kick ass page that gets some links to it, get some social shares of it, make it comprehensive. That page will probably be the one ranking, but it’s also great to have other blog posts linking up to it.
Other resource pages about various Q&A and things linking to it so that it becomes a powerful page. Content and comprehensive content is huge. Not just using the word “hiking boots,” but “hiking shoes”, or a “mountain climbing shoes.” You use LSI keywords, like they call it Latent Semantic Indexing, or just related keywords to keep it simple.
You can even search Google for “hiking boots” and then scroll down past the 10 results and past all the ads. Then you’ll see it will say “related searches.” You can take those keywords and put them into your content, and that’s a good thing to do.
Content has to be more comprehensive these days, so that’s number one. User signals is number two. The three big user signals they discuss are click through rate, time on site, and bounce rate. For click through rate, the first one to three listings in Google have a 36% average click through rate.
If your title tag just says “hiking boots,” whereas the REI one says “a comprehensive guide to hiking boots,” you’re probably more likely to click the comprehensive guide one. Making an enticing title tag and meta description, is an important part of boosting your click through rate from the search result pages.
Then Google has some patents around the idea of dwell time and long click versus short click. Average time on site is three minutes and 10 seconds for good ranking pages. We know for a fact from these patents that Google’s looking at this, and so these days to really do well with SEO you actually need to optimize your click through rate.
When they get to your site, they can’t just pogo stick back to the search results. They have to go multiple pages deep, as opposed to just bouncing.
The average bounce rate of a high ranking page, top 10 I think from Searchmetrics study, 46% bounce rate.
Basically, shoot for less than half, you’re not shooting necessary — it would be great to have a 5% bounce rate. Obviously if you have 100% bounce rate, people get to your page and just bail out, you can’t have that. You don’t always get a 20% or a 30% bounce rate. But shoot for 40% or 50%, at least to get started.
More often than not, people are searching Google, clicking to your page, and they are not hitting the back button.
If you’re going over 46%, certainly over 50%, you’re lessening your chances of ranking well.
John: You can affect that by adding cause to action so that people click onto other pages. Adding links within your texts so that people click to more information and things like that.
Rankings Based on User Experience
McDougall: That’s actually perfect segue into the third category, user experience. They talk about font size, don’t have too small of a cheesy little tiny font. People are squinting, especially on mobile. A lack of images or video, bulleted lists.
Just cramming a big wall of key text, like big, thick paragraphs that are hard to read. That doesn’t fly on the internet and that will diminish the user experience. You want to make scan and skim friendly pages, easy to scroll up and down, and get the gist of it by just looking in four or five sentence maximum paragraphs, more like two or three sentences.
Look at some Neil Patel from Quick Sprout, check out some of his blog posts. They are 2500 to 3300 words, typically. That’s what he shoots for because he wants them to rank well and he wants a lot of content. But it doesn’t feel like you’re reading 3000 words. It’s just so easy to scroll up and down.
John: Because it’s all broken up with images and things like that too.
McDougall: Really, sometimes it will be two sentences, one sentence, two sentences, one sentence. You’re reading like — it’s almost like a little bit of an infomercial sales page in a way. It’s broken up really well, 20 sentences in a paragraph is not going to do it.
McDougall: Then internal links are huge. If you have a whole eight blog posts about hiking boots, and you interlink throughout all of them to connect them all, that’s really powerful. It’s good for the user, they can click around and explore your site. Make sure the content is mobile friendly.
That’s all going to really help you increase your user experience, and decrease bounce rate. You can target by looking at analytics, where your pages with the highest bounce rate, and target those and fix those first.
The last three — tech, social, and links. For tech, interesting HTTPS almost half of sites, and I think I read yesterday actually that that’s gone up.
It’s like overwhelmingly in the direction of you should use HTTPS now. Google’s just pushing hard for it, it’s going to help you a bit with ranking. Seven to eight second load time on average. That doesn’t sound great but again you can talk about the entire internet. You’ve got stock video sites, and photo sites, photography sites. There’s massive graphics and some things that are animated or whatever. The average seven, eight seconds we usually can get our clients sites way below that, but shoot for seven seconds or less for loading.
Then all 100, and I’ll repeat that, all 100 of the top ranking sites are mobile friendly. Google’s not messing around, either have a friendly mobile site or just forget about ranking well in most cases. For social media, Facebook’s is still the strongest signal and social correlates well with good rankings.
It doesn’t necessarily mean you go buy likes on Facebook, and you’re going to just shoot up directly because of that in the search results. Most good brands have good social and Google knows that and they know how to look at those signals. Even if it’s not a direct correlation, you want to make sure you’re covering your grounds in social.
It’s becoming more important as links, the next topic kind of decline. You want to still do content that gets shares from social and backlinks. You can use Ahrefs, it’s a great tool, A H R E F S, for checking that out and who’s linking to you, who’s linking to your competitors.
Backlinks are less important than they used to be, but they’re still important. Use like Help A Reporter, HARO, PRleads.com and get PR links to get more links. That’s basically it, those are the big six categories.
The overarching ideas, you have to really rethink SEO, the old days of just jam some keywords in your title tag, your heading tag, throughout a 400 or 500 page and you’re done.
Maybe get some directory links, article submissions, that stuff just doesn’t work at all. I mean we’re talking not at all. Especially, if you get crappy backlinks, you’re actually going to backwards with the Penguin algorithm. You’ve got to rethink SEO, think about click through rate, and bounce rate, and really deep content, mix it up with social shares, backlinks.
Finally, universal ranking factors are dead and it’s really moving to a world where there’s a different algorithm for different industries like lawyers, legal, financial, e-commerce.
Search rankings next studies are going to be by industry and not just this big massive overarching set of rules for ranking in SEO. Google’s so sophisticated they have different factors for different industries. They’re using artificial intelligence to really enhance their ability to judge who should come up.
Yoast SEO Tool
John: All right that’s great, thanks for that review. What I wanted to talk about a little bit was I had a client ask me a question recently about the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress Y O A S T, Yoast SEO. It’s a pretty common SEO plugin, we use it a lot on all of our clients’ websites. It’s a good plugin, what it allows you to do in WordPress on each individual page specify want you want for the title tag, for the meta description.
Then you can also put in a focus keyword, which is kind of the keyword that you’re trying to target on that page. Then the Yoast SEO plugin will give you when you put in that focus keyword some list of little recommendations, the good things and bad things that it’s seeing on your page based on the keyword.
For example, it might say, “Oh, I noticed that you’re using the focus keyword in your title tag. Great, good job.” and it will have a little green dot next to that. And then it will say, “Hey, we noticed that you’re not using your focus keyword in the first paragraph on the page.
Consider putting the focus keyword there.” And it will give you maybe a red dot saying that’s a warning sign. One of the things that our client was seeing was that they shouldn’t be using stop words in the title or URL on the page. A stop word are small little words like, the, and, but, or, things like that that are sort of put in between other main keywords in a full key phrase, if you will.
I think she may have been sort of misunderstanding the Yoast plugin was saying, “Your focus keyword contains one or more stop words and consider removing the stop words from your focus keyword.” And she was taking that to mean she should remove the stop words from her title tag, from her meta description. from the URL or the things like that.
McDougall: It’d read like a robot.
John: Yes exactly, and actually since the issues — I think she was using an older version of the Yoast SEO plugin. Because as of version 3.1, it no longer says that stop words will result in an orange bullet, like a warning sign. It basically has removed that recommendation.
The reason that Yoast did that is because ever since Google Hummingbird especially, Google was much more adept at dealing with natural language types of searches online and that includes stop words. Google can handle those stop words much better than they used to be able to.
Yes, it used to be better to just have just your main sort of keywords and put those in there on your text, and make sure that it appears exactly like that several times in your content.
Now Google is much smarter than that. They know how people search with natural language, they expect those stop words, they can parse those things out. It’s no longer necessary to just remove stop words from your keywords. And like you said John, we used to do that when added keywords under a phrase. We used to struggle with that a lot, because often it would make the text sound really clunky and not really natural at all.
Because you’d sort of reading along and all of a sudden you’d get to a keyword and you’d go, “Oh, I don’t like the way that sounds.” But you really don’t need to be doing that anymore, you really should try to write in natural language, it’s much better for the user.
McDougall: You do want to use your main keyword a few times. Neil Patel, the other day, on a webinar he did an awesome summit. He was saying, I think he’s still often using even seven or eight times the keyword in a page but using lots of related keywords.
Again, he’s writing these 3000 word pages. I wouldn’t go the extreme of that and then just say, “Well, I don’t even need to use my keywords anymore.”
John: Right, of course, that’s not what we’re saying at all.
McDougall: I think that’s the mistake people are maybe going to make now.
John: We don’t have even to do an optimization anymore. You’ll just rank automatically. That’s not true.
McDougall: There are pages that are ranking without a title tag with a keyword in it and without much optimization. As a general rule of thumb, having some good basic, clean optimization with your exact phrases are good. But then definitely vary it up and less just robotic-ness to it.
John: Yes. Do it in a reverse order, have the words mixed up a little bit, have the stop words in it, have the stop words not in the phrase.
McDougall: Whatever makes the most sense to make it relevant.
John: Related keywords. Yes, so my recommendations too would be to look at what the search volume is. You say the Google AdWords keyword tool or other tools to look at what the search volume is, like SEM Rush. Look at what the search volume is for your key phrase with and without the stop words.
If you’re seeing that people are searching for your keyword without the stop words in it, more than they are with the stop words, then yes, by all means, try to optimize for it without the stop words and use that phrase on your page. You may find that there’s not too much difference in the search volume between those two versions.
Then you might just want to use the more natural language one, or vary it up like you said. Another thing is to check and see what the Google results are for your keyword with and without the stop words. Because you might find that having the stop words in it, your results are much different than with the stop words in it.
I saw an example online recently of that where if you search for “notebook,” the results in Google are pads of paper right? But if you search for The Notebook the results in Google are it’s a movie, because that’s a title of a movie. Google knows that when you’re searching for The Notebook, you’re probably not searching for a pad of paper, you’re searching for the movie instead.
In that case, if you’re trying to rank for one of those, you’re going to be very specific about which one you’re going to use. Look and see what the results are that Google spits back when you use your key phrase with and without stop words. If it’s vastly different be careful which one you’re using.
That was the question that I got from my client that kind of got me down that road. What about you Pavel? What’s some of the latest things that you’ve been working on?
The Sophistication of Google
Pavel: To your point John, how sophisticated Google really is, Google just updated…so Google has its “how search works” section and you can actually access it by going to Google.com/search/howsearchworks and they just updated it. It kind of gives you a glimpse into how many changes Google is actually making and what they’ve done over the past years. I thought it was kind of interesting to share.
McDougall: Absolutely, I love some of Google’s own content about this stuff, but I haven’t seen that.
John: It’s like behind the scenes stuff.
Pavel: It’s pretty rare to kind of — you always hear Google is constantly changing its algorithm. But you don’t really know how much they’re changing it. We have an idea now with this update. Based on what Google is saying, they have performed over the last year, over 1,600 changes that rolled out — just over the past year alone.
John: It’s like, that’s more than 100 a month.
Pavel: Yes, it’s pretty fascinating. In terms of experiments okay, so this what it looks like, 1,653 launches, 9,800 live traffic experiments, 18,015 side by side experiments. And this is a great one, 130,336 search quality tests. Out of that number, only 1,653 launches come out of that. It’s just incredible.
McDougall: One hundred thousand tests.
Pavel: Yes, so it’s pretty incredible how much they were testing.
John: They’re doing these quality tests and seeing what the quality is of their results for this particular search. Then what’s the quality of this particular search? Then they’re putting those together and saying, “Oh, all right. We need to tweak something here.” Then they go, and they’re doing more testing, and then they’re implementing changes to their algorithm.
Pavel: Exactly. It seems like 1,600 is a lot. But when you see how they’re testing over 130,000 in total tests being conducted, I mean it’s just pretty impressive to see what actually goes on behind the scenes.
McDougall: That’s crazy.
Pavel: I just want to share that.
McDougall: Yes, how search works, it’s awesome.
John: Yes, we’ll definitely check that out. All right, well thanks again everybody for talking to me today. Thank you, Pavel.
Pavel: Thanks, John.
John: Thank you John McDougall.
McDougall: Sure. I got to go run a hundred thousand tests. I’ll be back later.
John: We’ll be back next month after we run a hundred thousand tests on Google. All right, thanks again, guys. I’m John Maher, this is Digital Marketing Madness, and again this podcast is brought to you by McDougall Interactive. For more information on digital marketing, visit mcdougallinteractive.com, and please subscribe, rate, and review this podcast on iTunes. Thanks for listening, see you next time on Digital Marketing Madness.