What, Exactly, Is Barebones SEO?

What, Exactly, Is Barebones SEO?

Organic traffic from Google and other search engines remains critical to many merchants. It generates a steady stream of prospects. And it insulates merchants from over-relying on Amazon for sales.

There is no greater authority on search engine optimization than Stephan Spencer. He’s the co-author of The Art of SEO and the sole author of other leading digital marketing books. He founded Netconcepts, the pioneering SEO firm. He’s a worldwide speaker, consultant, and host of two popular podcasts.

I recently spoke with Spencer on bare-minimum SEO tactics for ecommerce. What follows is the full audio interview and a transcript, edited for length and clarity.

Practical Ecommerce: What is the bare minimum small to mid-sized merchants can do to maintain or improve organic search traffic?

Stephan Spencer: It depends on their time and resources. If there’s very little time, but they have other people to assign work to, there are some options.

If they have a budget but no time and no internal staff, they still have options. But the worst thing to do is go with the low-cost option. You’re better off doing nothing than potentially harming your search engine optimization from working with a low-quality provider.

Don’t hire somebody who’s going to wreck your reputation in the eyes of Google. If you have some time and you’re hungry for knowledge, and you want to learn it yourself, you can pick up my book, The Art of SEO. Maybe start with chapter seven, which is all about content marketing. It’s not too technical.

PEC: What if a merchant said, “I can do four hours a week, and I’ve got the budget for one premium SEO tool.” What would you advise?

Spencer: I’d ask her what the objective is. What’s the desired outcome? She needs to be outcome focused. You have a tool now. Maybe it’s Ahrefs or maybe it’s SEMrush. Maybe it’s Majestic. Maybe it’s LinkResearchTools. Maybe it’s Screaming Frog or DeepCrawl. All those are great tools.

But if there’s nobody making the data-driven decisions for your business, a tool a waste of money. You’re better off spending that money on a person, versus a tool, if there’s nobody who’s going to glean insights from that tool.

PEC: Wouldn’t the outcome for most merchants be to obtain more traffic?

Spencer: Yes, but not all traffic is created equal. I could double your traffic but it would be garbage.

I could buy Facebook likes legitimately with ad campaigns. That’s the worst thing to do because now you’ve got a bunch of unrelated likes clogging the system.

You could do the same thing with SEO. You could add a bunch of garbage into the system and be in a worse situation. You hired somebody or you used a tool or you followed some advice in a blog post, and now, two years later, you’re figuring out that something went haywire.

PEC: How do merchants choose which one or two tools are best for them?

Spencer: It comes back to having a smart, specific, measurable, and attainable goal. This could be, for example, a goal of increasing my organic Google traffic over the next four months by 500 percent. I’m just making that up. It might be doable. It might not be. But that’s very specific.

So now I’ve got a goal that I can say, “Well, what are the tools that’ll help me get there?” And you first have to identify what is your Achilles heel in terms of your SEO. If your link authority or link equity is lousy, then you should focus your tool investments on things for link analysis and link building.

If, on the other hand, it’s an internal linking structure issue and how you pass link equity internally around your site — maybe you’ve got fast navigation and it’s not properly configured for SEO — then it’s a different set of tools, perhaps DeepCrawl or Screaming Frog or Botify.

If you have little budget, then Screaming Frog is a great option. It’s free for up to 500 URLs. A very small website — a couple of hundred products and a handful of articles or blog posts — could be under the 500 URLs.

If you wanted to improve organic rankings, you could study the search analytics reports in Google Search Console, which is free. But probably you’re going to want a lot more capability, such as a rankings tracker.

Develop a list of keywords that you want to rank on and feed them into the rankings tracker tool. Rank Ranger and STAT Search Analytics are among my favorites. Both can also track your featured snippets, which appear at the very top of the organic listings — an instant answer, essentially.

Now let’s get to link building. “Link analysis” is figuring out whether you have toxic links and whether your link profile looks natural and not engineered. LinkResearchTools is a fantastic toolset. It contains something like two dozen tools overall.

PEC: What is a toxic link?

Spencer: The kinds of links that Google does not want to see that are pointing to your site, such as spammy websites, porn sites, and sites that are infected with malware and viruses. Having those sorts of sites linking to you is not a good thing.

They could result from a negative SEO attack, where a competitor — someone — wants to push you down the search results. Someone could buy bad links on your behalf or build toxic, low-quality links to your site.

Every ecommerce merchant should monitor toxic links. A great tool for that is Link Detox, which is part of LinkResearchTools.

PEC: Tell us about your consulting practice and other activities.

Spencer: I’m writing books. I run two podcasts. One is marketing related called “Marketing Speak.” Another, which has nothing to do with SEO even though it sounds like it, is called “The Optimized Geek.” It’s all about bio-hacking, life-hacking, living a hundred years, and having lots of energy and vitality.

I’m working with SEO clients. I have a small, boutique firm. I didn’t want to build a huge agency in three different countries with 65 employees all over again.

PEC: Amazon is increasingly dominant. Many consumers now start product searches on Amazon. Is optimizing organic search traffic on Google less important than optimizing for Amazon search?

Spencer: The commonsense answer is to optimize for both. Amazon is a great starting point for consumers. But, for ecommerce merchants, if you’re putting all your eggs in the Amazon basket you’re asking to get devoured eventually by Amazon.

I like Amazon. It’s a real boon to the economy and a boon to consumers. However, Amazon could notice your success and say, more or less, “Wow, that’s really great. We should create an AmazonBasics version of this product and just sell this direct.” And so now you as a merchant are out of business.

PEC: Anything else?

Spencer: To learn more about SEO, go to StephanSpencer.com for archived webinars and presentations that I’ve given at different conferences. Lots of stuff there. There are checklists and worksheets and whitepapers. I’ve written tons of articles over the years, at Practical Ecommerce, Search Engine Land, and many other sites.

Indispensable SEO Tools, from Free to Expensive

Indispensable SEO Tools, from Free to Expensive

Search engine optimization is rooted in data: technical data, analytical data, and contextual data. The tools you use to access that data fuel your ability to make smart SEO decisions, to keep your performance moving in the right direction.

In this post, I’ll recommend SEO tools in eight categories. Some of the tools are free or low cost. Others are more expensive, with many more features. It’s generally true that you get what you pay for, and that holds true for SEO tools. The more expensive ones are easier to use, contain more features, and enable you to work more effectively and efficiently.

However, a scrappy SEO professional can wage a perfectly good SEO campaign by cobbling data together in Excel from multiple datasets. It will take longer, but the results will likely be similar.

Enterprise SEO platforms. These all-in-one tools offer the convenience and scalability of monitoring and predicting natural search performance across hundreds or thousands of keyword targets and pages and against many of your chosen competitors — for a price. They’ll even recommend targeted optimizations for different pages, though in my experience you should take any auto-generated recommendation with a grain of salt.

Top contenders in the enterprise SEO platform category include BrightEdge, Searchmetrics, Moz. Each will set you back thousands of dollars per month. But they’re a favorite of SEO agencies and large companies.

Webmaster tools. Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools should likewise be cornerstones in your SEO toolbox. Both are free. They give access to performance data that can’t be acquired from any other source. They enable the two largest search engines to send you messages regarding issues on your site that impact your rankings.

Keyword tools. Google AdWords Keyword Planner is still the go-to source for keyword data, though the SEO community is increasingly ambivalent about it. Unless you’re in an account that runs a campaign above a minimum threshold in spend, today’s Keyword Planner provides only data rangesfor keyword values instead of actual rounded numbers, making finer optimization decisions very difficult.

If your company runs AdWords campaigns, access that account to use the keyword planner. There’s no cost beyond what you already spend on AdWords. If you don’t have access to an actively bidding AdWords account, try one of the other keyword tools, such as Wordstream, SEMrush, and Ahrefs. All are subscription-based and range from tens to hundreds of dollars monthly.

Rankings trackers. It’s hard to find a standalone tool that only tracks rankings. The best rankings trackers are part of larger SEO platforms or bundled with broader tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs. Don’t forget, though, that Google Search Console offers rankings data for Google search results for free.

Web crawlers. To understand how search engine spiders encounter the basic meta elements of your site, you’ll need a crawler. Use it to find errors, check for duplicate title tags, test a new site launch, create an XML sitemap, and much more.

The top two names in crawlers for SEO purposes are Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider and DeepCrawl. Screaming Frog offers a free version that crawls up to 500 pages at a time. The full version, for unlimited crawls, is £149 per year. It’s a good place to start.

DeepCrawl is more expensive — hundreds of dollars per month depending on the subscription type — but it packs additional features like backlinks and site architecture analysis.

Backlink tools. Links to your website are the lifeblood of natural search performance. These tools identify the links to your site and, also, links to your competitors’ sites, which you may want to woo. They can also help determine which links to your site are doing more harm than good, and whether you have been the victim of a negative backlink campaign.

Majestic is the most frequently used standalone backlink tool, with supposedly the largest link index in the world. The cost ranges from tens of dollars per month to hundreds. Google Search Console also offers backlink data for Google for free. Ahrefs and SEMrush are the more full-featured and higher priced alternatives, offering many more features and a slicker interface.

Spreadsheets. Anyone who says Excel is not a core SEO tool isn’t deeply invested in data-driven decision making. There are so many disparate datasets in SEO that need to be crunched into a single view to make optimization decisions. Even if you have access to the most expensive tools, you’ll still have to export data into a spreadsheet to merge it with other datasets to diagnose issues and make critical ad hoc decisions.

Get comfortable with at least the basic Excel formulas, such as VLOOKUP, SUMIFS, COUNTIF, IFERROR, and CONCATENATE.

Web analytics. Why are web analytics packages SEO tools? Because if you’re making SEO decisions that aren’t based on current performance and the potential to increase that performance, you’re not optimizing. You’re merely changing things haphazardly.

Google Analytics is the undisputed SEO favorite in the analytics space based on its ease of extracting data at the URL level. And it’s free unless you need an enterprise version. If you don’t have analytics on your site today, stop everything and mount a campaign to implement Google Analytics immediately. Adobe Analytics is another package often seen in large companies. But its powerful capabilities come at the expense of ease of use.


Google dedicates engineering team to accelerate development of WordPress ecosystem

The need for speed: Google dedicates engineering team to accelerate development of WordPress ecosystem

Google’s partnership with WordPress aims to jump-start the platform’s support of the latest web technologies — particularly those involving performance & mobile experience. And they’re hiring WordPress experts.

Google has invested heavily in shaping the architecture of the web, working with developers, the open-source community and the SEO community to ensure adoption of technologies and practicesas part of its mission “to contribute to the prevalence of a healthy, flourishing, and vibrant web.”

Most recently, Google has partnered with open-source content management system (CMS) WordPress, arguably the largest, with market share nearing 59 percent and an estimated 1/3 of all web content published through the platform — including our three publications.

Speed, mobile-first and WordPress

Google has been focusing on speed, speed, and then also speed, for eight years now. It formally announced a Speed Update that will roll out in July 2018, using mobile page speed as a ranking factor in mobile search results.

It has also announced that the mobile-first index has begun rolling out — meaning that Google has started indexing and using for ranking in SERPs, the mobile version of a website. The emphasis on mobile and speed is driven by data that demonstrates most searches are now performed on mobile devices. Slow, poorly performing sites result in a bad user experience and negatively impact site engagement, as well as conversions.

With the goal of assisting site owners in improving page load time for mobile visitors, Google launched the AMP project in 2015. Google has been aggressive in pushing adoption via the open-source community, working with platform plugin developers as well as providing large brand sites with developer resources to implement the technology. Even so, adoption of this mobile-friendly framework across the web has been slow: It’s estimated that fewer than .1 percent of all websites are using the markup language.

With its 59 percent CMS market share equating to 29 percent of all websites running WordPress, a partnership with the platform makes perfect sense for Google to advance its goals of a stronger, better, faster web.

Google participated this past December at WordCamp US, the largest of the WordPress developer events that happen around the country. From an article by Alberto Medina, Developer Advocate in the Content Ecosystems Team at Google: “Our goal was to engage with the WordPress community and start a discussion around the performance of the WordPress ecosystem.” At the event, Google shared data in a presentation that demonstrates a fundamental problem of the CMS: its poor performance on measures of speed and page load as benchmarked against non-WordPress-based sites.

To anyone who has developed or worked on WordPress-based websites, it’s no secret that the open-source platform has struggled throughout the years with code bloat, security and performance challenges. The past couple of years have seen significant improvements in the core code, but as the data below demonstrate, WordPress pages still lag behind non-WordPress webpages on most performance indicators.

Turn off birthday notifications in Mac OS X

In this Best Mac Tip I’ll be showing you how to fine-tune aspects of the Notification Center in Mac OS X. For example, we’ll look at how to turn off birthday notifications which come through from the OS X Facebook integration.

Current versions of Mac OS X have the new Notifications center. It sits on the right side of the screen and is accessed via an assigned touchpad swipe and/or clicking the little icon at the far right of your Mac menu bar. Newer versions of OS X also have Facebook integration, which for some people is useful. One downside is that birthday data is pulled through from Facebook, and if you have a lot of Facebook “friends”—many of whom are basically strangers—seeing birthday notifications can be a real nuisance.

Turning off birthday notifications

In Calendar you can view your calendars on the left panel. If that’s not showing, go to the View menu and select Show Calendar List. At the end of the list you’ll likely see a section called Subscriptions. There you’ll likely see a calendar subscription called Birthdays. If you deselect this it will prevent birthdays showing up in Calendar. It is up to you whether you want them showing or not. If you have Facebook synchronisation set up on OS X you may have birthday entries for more people than you care to know about. I know. Over 800 of them!

But this won’t prevent them showing up as Notifications. To do that select the Birthdays calendar and hit Command-I (to bring up the Info panel). There you’ll want to select Ignore Alerts.

If you want to hide the Birthdays calendar entirely, go to Calendar, then Preferences (Command + , [comma]), General, and at the bottom you’ll see an option to Show Birthdays Calendar. Deselect that option.

Disable other potentially useless Calendar alerts

If you are subscribed to Shared Calendars, you might want to turn off alerts for these calendars. You can do that under the Alerts section of Calendar Preferences. You’ll see the option one up from the bottom of that Preference panel.

Hopefully that’s fixed the issue for you.

HTTPS Is Important for More Reasons Than SEO

HTTPS Is Important for More Reasons Than SEO

A website’s use of the secure protocol — as evidenced by the HTTPS designation and the presence of a security certificate — is a priority for search engines. But recent changes to Google Chrome make it important for web browsers, too.

HTTPS and Browser Behavior

Google is tackling the security challenge across the web via its Chrome browser. This week, the Chrome team announced that all web pages without an HTTPS certificate will display a “Not Secure” label in Chrome 68, scheduled to be launched in July 2018. Previously, the “Not Secure” label had been reserved for pages with form fields, such as password logins, shopping cart checkouts, and site-search boxes.

Chrome 68 Not Secure warning
Chrome 68 will display a “Not Secure” warning for all pages that have not migrated to HTTPS.
While browser behavior isn’t typically considered natural search marketing, it does impact searchers’ perception of the quality of your company.

Natural search is an excellent way to expose more people to your brand, and rekindle the interest in those who already know of it. The experience they encounter on their visit to your site will create a strong impression.

Seeing a warning in their browser that the site is not secure can signal that it is risky or low quality. It could cause the searcher to leave and choose a competitor. Moreover, an increase in quick bounces could trigger in search engines a rankings decrease, based on the presumption that searchers are not finding what they want.

Thus a change in the security labeling for a widely used browser like Chrome could impact natural search performance.

In addition to Google’s heightened Chrome warnings, Safari and Firefox, the other leading browsers, also provide security signals in their address bars.

Rankings Boost

Google has long been vocal in its push for a more secure internet.

Google’s rankings boost associated with HTTPS is based purely on the letters “HTTPS” in the URL, as opposed to the existence of a valid certificate. That means that even insecure pages could receive a rankings boost if they masquerade behind an HTTPS notation. This seems like a pretty weak effort from the search giant, but it reportedly decided to focus on other areas in the algorithm.

Still, in the competitive world of search engine optimization, even a small boost in rankings could give you the lead over a competitor and create additional natural search revenue.

Bing, the world’s second largest search engine across desktop and mobile devices combined, considers the security of the site to be a matter of the owner’s choice, rather than a ranking signal. Bing does not, reportedly, provide a rankings boost for HTTPS.

Migrating to HTTPS

Migrating to HTTPS isn’t as simple as purchasing a security certificate. Everything from images to links to 301 redirects is involved. The process is often complicated.

Much of the complication involves SEO, as the migration should preserve organic rankings. It should be treated as any other URL change or technical migration. Search engines consider HTTP and HTTPS as different URLs. Thus HTTP and HTTPS can be indexed simultaneously and create duplicate content that competes for rankings and splits link authority between different versions of the site.

As such, make sure to register and verify in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools the HTTPS versions of the site and all subdomains — including www and non-www. The search engines use these tools to send you messages about your site’s performance and crawl-ability, which will be vitally important as you migrate.

For a much more detailed list, see contributor Hamlet Batista’s excellent article, “SEO: How to Migrate an Ecommerce Site to HTTPS.”

From July, Chrome will name and shame insecure HTTP websites

From July, Chrome will name and shame insecure HTTP websites
Shame! Shame! says carrot-dangling Google
By Thomas Claburn in San Francisco 8 Feb 2018 at 18:00 51 Reg comments SHARE ▼

Three years ago, Google’s search engine began favoring in its results websites that use encrypted HTTPS connections.

Sites that secure their content get a boost over websites that used plain-old boring insecure HTTP. In a “carrot and stick” model, that’s the carrot: rewarding security with greater search visibility.

Later this year comes the stick. This summer, Google will mark non-HTTPS websites as insecure in its Chrome browser, fulfilling a plan rolled out in September 2016.

Starting with Chrome 68, due to hit the stable distribution channel on July 2018, visiting a website using an HTTP connection will prompt the message “Not secure” in the browser’s omnibox – the display and input field that accepts both URLs and search queries.

“Chrome’s new interface will help users understand that all HTTP sites are not secure, and continue to move the web toward a secure HTTPS web by default,” Google explained in a draft blog post due to be published today and provided in advance to The Register.

Warnings … How users will be alerted

Beware the looming Google Chrome HTTPS certificate apocalypse!
Because Chrome holds something like 56 per cent of the global browser market share across mobile and desktop platforms, Google’s name-and-shame label is likely to be noticed by a great many Chrome users and by any websites those fans no longer visit due to security concerns.

While many websites will be affected, plenty are already in compliance. According to Google, 81 of the top 100 websites use HTTPS by default, over 68 per cent of Chrome traffic on Android and Windows occurs over HTTPS, and over 78 per cent of Chrome traffic on Chrome OS and macOS and iOS travels securely.

Google offers a free security auditing tool called Lighthouse that can help developers identify which website resources still load using insecure HTTP.

The Chocolate Factory’s shunning scheme follows a similar tack the company has taken to issue warnings to websites that rely on dodgy Symantec digital certificates. ®

PS: You can get free legit SSL/TLS certificates to make your site HTTPS from Let’s Encrypt