How and Why to Master Site Structure
Not all websites, pages and blogs are created (or ranked, searched for or indexed) equally. This is true when it’s a human interacting with it and when it’s a search engine.
If you are a marketer or business owner, you probably know the 80/20 rule of websites: 80% of your business will come from 20% of your pages. If you have a blog of 100 posts, about 20 of those will drive the majority of your conversions (whatever “conversion” means for your business model). This is totally normal and not something that necessarily needs to be “fixed”.
However, because a minority of pages drive the majority of conversions, site structure becomes extremely important, for both visitors and search engines.
When I work with a client, one of the first things I do is audit their website to get a clear picture of what we’re starting with. Having performed hundreds of such audits, I’ve come to realize that site structure if a common issue for many businesses.
Think about it like this: brick and mortar stores carefully layout and display merchandise to make it easy for customers to move around and find what they’re looking for, and to highlight particular items for quicker sale or to draw in street traffic. Site structure is the web equivalent of that practice.
Here are the main disadvantages of not having a well-structured site:
- Dilution of page strength
- Site cannibalization (self-competing)
- Lack of consistency
- Potential for duplicate content
- Harder for search engines to crawl and understand
5 things you can do to get a more structured site:
Divide content into categories.
There are many ways that the human brain and search engines are similar. One of those is that we both LOVE to categorize things! We like it when information fits neatly into set categories. When someone else clearly defines those categories for us (whether human or search engine), we can find things more quickly.
Aggregate related content and organize it into categories or with tags. When you have a lot of content, it is ideal to create a new directory (subdirectory, NOT subdomain as a new subdomain is much harder to rank for). The content in your subdirectories should be specific and should not overlap with other content.
As you categorize and tag your site, ensure that highly related content is put in the right subdirectory as one of your main goals is to avoid cannibalization.
Create a sitemap and submit it to search engines.
XML sitemaps are important for your ranking on SERPs (search engine results pages) because they make it easier for search engines to find pages on your site. Rather than have to follow a bunch of links, search engines know to look for your XML file so they can see all the pages in one place. Kind of like those giant maps in shopping malls.
Another key role of the XML sitemap is to tell search engines which pages are ok to crawl. This way, they know right away which pages not to bother with and can quickly crawl the others.
When creating your sitemap, it’s important to know which pages are your key pages, as you will need to organize the map accordingly.
Here is a great tool for creating an effective sitemap: https://www.xml-sitemaps.com/
Once you have your sitemap, add it under your default sitemap URL, which should look like this: https://thecaminowithin.com/sitemap.xml. Use this URL (obviously with your own website, not mine) as your sitemap URL when connecting Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools.
Use canonical tags.
This is one of the most basic and impactful optimization tools. It’s a way of telling search engines that a certain page represents the original copy of a page in order to avoid duplicate content.
The word “canon” means, generally, “authoritative”. When a page is canonical, it means that’s the main one. The original. It’s the one that should be referenced above all others like it. So, if you have different URLs hosting the same content, designate one page as “canon” to instruct search engines to ignore the others. This ensures all search strength is directed towards your one main page, and not diluted among many.
Here’s an example of a canonical page: https://thecaminowithin.com. That’s my canonical homepage, but all these URL structures may be considered variations of that page:
To the human eye, we can tell that these are probably all the same page. But, without canonical tags, a search engine will see all these as separate. Use a tag like this to tell search engines which page is your canon page: <link rel=”Canonical” href=”https://thecaminowithin.com”>
Remove duplicate pages, content or tags.
Duplicate content happens when content appears in more than one place within the same website. It makes your site repetitive and irrelevant for both humans and search engines.
When navigating through a website, both humans and search engines look for (and expect) unique information or content with each new page visit.
Duplicate content makes it hard to figure out what is original and what is not. It confuses search engines in deciding which version should get ranking strength and which should be ignored.
The best analogy is that you are taking a good piece of content and watering it down. Diluting its strength.
Aim for all your content to be unique, concentrating on the following areas:
- Duplicate titles and descriptions.
- Duplicate headers.
- Duplicate paragraphs.
An internal link is a type of hyperlink on a webpage that links to another resource (page, image, document, etc) within the same site.
There are many advantages to interlinking, such as connecting relevant pages, enabling visitors to easily find information and helping them spend more time on your site.
But, when it comes to interlinks, you must stay structured, relevant, consistent and not overdo it.
A best practice is to use relevant and descriptive anchor text that relates to the content of the page or resource you are linking to.
Just like a brick and mortar business, your website needs to be well structured for it to perform optimally. Don’t ignore site structure. Master it.
What questions should a business ask before introducing SEO to their site?
10 questions every business should ask before kicking off an SEO project.
People always come to me asking, what I should ask my agency before I get them on my site SEO? Being an important question as is, I always mention that it really depends on the offer itself.
Yet there is some basic Q & As that should be considered by all business before any online engagement of that type.
Before we start with the list, it’s important to know that getting someone to do your SEO is like giving them the keys to your backdoor. It is important that you trust that person, or that company is of high authority in the market.
One of things that frightens me, is when I do SEO for a client and I discover that the person who did their SEO prior left some back links of the other clients he was servicing. Not only this is illegal, it will also negatively impact your site authority and cause lose of SEO juice.
That being said it is important for you to know that you are dealing with the right person.
Let’s start with the main question you should ask your SEO agency:
- What is the most recent Google algorithm update and what should I be considering when it comes to my site?
- What is the process that you will follow when it comes to optimization ?
- The brief answer should be as follows:
- The brief answer should be as follows:
- Can you give me a list of the keywords that you optimized for and what did you rank for?
- When will I start seeing results?
- The best answer should be 5 to 10 months depending on the size of the site and the level of the competition in that industry.
- Who will be implementing the optimization?
- It is preferable that you do your own implementation if it is your first interaction with this agency.
- Yet the option of having the agency implement these optimizations will ensure full liability on them. And it will ensure that everything is done professionally.
It is your call on this one.
- Make sure that they integrate the SEO strategy with content strategy at hand.
- Make sure that they integrate the SEO strategy with the social strategy at hand.
- Make sure they address both off-page and on-page optimization.
- How often will the agency be following up and updating you, is really important.
- Who will be responsible for reporting?
Even if this is brief it will already show the agency that you know what you are doing.
Finally and most importantly, make sure that you have a proper scope of work and a quote that matches it.
Site migration is the process where you move a site to a new domain or directory.
Migrating happens to almost every company out there,and more often than we tend to realize.
All Marketers and Digital Specialists aspire and aim for a site migration that does not create any loss in traffic, revenue, SERP rank, or SEO strength.
What I hear most often is that it is as simple as redirecting the old domain to the new domain with a simple 301 redirect – SEO friendly redirect. This is a good start and better than nothing. But it is important to follow a more detailed procedure that will allow you to make this transition without losing value, while getting rid of any mistakes on the current site.
So How to conduct a smooth SEO Friendly site migration while maintaining good rankings on Google, Bing or any other Search engine ?
1. First step is understanding the objective behind an SEO friendly migration.
The main Goals you should keep in mind are the following:
- Maintain Traffic
- Maintain Rankings
- Seamless User Experience and Transition
2. Second step is to know what to pay attention to.
Understand that there is no magic Bullet. we need to do the best we can to ensure that we maintain the highest ranking possible.
And here are Main Factors to pay extra attention to as an SEO Specialist:
1. URL structure
2. Duplicate content
4. Indexed pages
3. Understand the process
Here are the 3 different phases that make an SEO friendly site migration:
Phase 1: Pre-Migration Phase
Here is what to account for and work on:
• Know what you have on your current site/platform
For an ideal SEO friendly site migration; the best place to start is with an SEO audit of the site on hand. It is important not to bring the current site’s mistakes with you to the new one.
• Understand and map current site architecture
Download your current sitemaps, and export the list of indexed pages from the Google Search Console.
This will allow you to know the pages that should be redirected to the new site.
• Understand and map new site architecture
This will allow you to understand what URLs you will be matching from the old site to the new site.
• Account for technical limitations
In some situations while moving domains, directories, or hosting, it is important to understand if the new site can support all the changes being made.
• Create a URL redirect map
Map out all the old URLs to the new URLs on the new site.
Additional Things to Account For:
• URL structure
Ensure the new site is well structured and categorized, so that there is a consistency across all the pages, posts and properties.
• Content – avoid duplication
Ensure you are using the right tags on the new site to avoid any duplicate content.
• Messaging/New design/Site
As there is a new design and there is a new domain, we tend to get too familiar with it that we forget to notify our visitors about the changes made.
It is important that you have a notification mentioning the changes, and if it is going to affect your visitors in any way.
Smart marketers turn new designs into marketing advantages, by creating a buildup, a release date and a feedback request.
Phase 2: Migration Process
• Keep the old site (in parallel while using the right redirects and SEO tags)
The most common mistakes I see in this market is when an old site is put down by the time it is redirected.
The ideal approach is to keep the old site and the new site running in parallel after performing the redirect.
• Tag the new site page properly to avoid penalization
It is important to have all the pages canonicalized to the new site before your redirect, to avoid any duplicate content.
Phase 3: Post-Migration
• Perform an audit for the new site (Fix any broken links, loop, or missing URL)
Check your Google Search Console and Bing Web Master tools.
This will allow you to discover: crawl errors, mobile usability, pages indexed, top keywords driving traffic, organic search traffic.
• New sitemap, new robots, and submit new site for indexing
Submit the new site map and robots.txt file to search engines, and keep an eye for any errors, broken links, and redirects.
• Check redirects
As a final check on the new site, check redirects to ensure there are no redirect loops or inconsistencies.
Also, ensure that all the redirects are 301 redirects. The 301 status code means that a page has permanently moved to a new location.
Site migration might be a bit of a tedious process, but it is crucial that is done correctly.
As it is done once every couple of years, it is best to pay extreme attention to details through out this process. If one is not vigilant in the process, they can suffer a loss in visitors, or SEO strength that might take a much longer time to bring back.
Are SEO and Content Marketing supposed to be separate?
Should we be treating our Search Engine Marketing and content marketing projects with different strategies?
I get a lot of client calls asking the same question, which is normal. And more specifically, where do we draw the line between content and SEO.
Well, the problem is this:
Most of the clients, currently and historically, seem to hire 2 different agencies, 1 for SEO, and 1 for Content marketing. In a situation like this, the creative agency will be the one with less technical skills, and with a lot of content writing experience; while the SEO will be optimized by a more technically oriented agency.
Clients and agencies should work together to integrate your SEO and content marketing efforts. The benefits of marrying search engine tags with content will yield a bigger reward and a higher ROI to clients.
3 important quotes on this matter:
Successful SEO, is the one that is done with Content and the Client in mind.
Successful SEO is the one that is created with real human readers as an audience, and not Bots.
Successful content marketing is the one the embraces SEO completely.
What should you know as a marketer of a business owner?
Content marketing is a great way to establish trust, authority and build a strong relationship with your clients and partners, it will help position you as an expert in the subject matter, a reference.
Most of the people will come across your brand, with a question, and looking for an answer. Make sure that you are there for them with the right information, listed and categorized.
How will they find you?
- Through search engines
- Social Searches/Social timelines
How will you rank?
- By using good content
- Using the right content in the right spots
- Tagging the right content with the right tags
- Getting the right (high search volume) keywords to best describe your content
How to stay ranking?
- Use engaging content, Content that will keep people on your pages for more than just 10 seconds.
- Use visuals, infographics, graphs, pics, etc.
- Use videos
- Use strong references
So where do content marketing and SEO actually converge?
What can Content and SEO build together?
Transforming how your marketing works, into a more successful mix.
It is important for all of us to start looking at SEO and Content as Allies, and not rivals.
These 2 should work together, and there is no point in the future that one will replace the other.
Yet content will continue to drift more to become more technical, and SEO will continue to drift to become more resourceful and creative.
How often do we hear that SEO is dead, obsolete, or not as important as it was a few years ago?
It is true that the Search Engine Marketing industry is in a constant change. There are continuous updates and algorithm changes across all the search engines every couple of months. That makes it seem like more of a challenge to keep up, and small business owners and entrepreneurs can easily get overwhelmed.
But the challenge does not make the practice obsolete. The use of search engines to find products and services has certainly not decreased. As long as people continue to use search engines, optimizing to rank well will continue to be a solid and smart investment.
Over the past 7 years, I have worked in SEO for agencies, Fortune 500s and small businesses. In that time, I’ve learned that there are some SEO factors that never change.
If you are hesitant about ‘keeping up’ with the latest in SEO, at the very least ensure you are capitalizing on these 6 constants.
6 Un-obsolete SEO Tips for Entrepreneurs
1. Optimizing for humans, not search engines
Although “SEO” stands for Search Engine Optimization, the optimization you do truly is more for humans than search engines. After all, the people are your customers. Not the engines
To rank well, think about the human experience rather than the search engines. Focus on human engagement, relevancy to searchers, what will be most attractive to the people, rather than stuffing in keywords just to appeal to search engines.
2. Focusing on what makes you different
What makes you different from anyone else selling a product or service? Be clear on what makes you different. Ensure you have content on your website and in your SEO strategy that highlights it. Your differentiator is what will stand out and attract attention when someone is doing a search.
I always tell my clients that SEO is more about you than it is about technical optimization and upgrades. It is about showing your business, service, product, values and unique selling point with the right content while tapping into the searcher’s intent. To do that, ask yourself, “What is my target persona thinking when they are searching for my specific product or service?” Your answer will often tell you what to highlight.
3. User experience
Always look at your own site from a visitor’s perspective.
People spend more time on sites that are easy to navigate, drive value and educate them. More time on site increases the chances of conversions (i.e. more clients/customers).
As long as there are users, the user experience will never go out of style. Make sure your site is responsive and fast to load, creating a seamless user experience.
4. Clean site structure
Clean and organized goes a long way, especially in search engines. You can know a lot about a site just by looking at the URL. Any unconventional characters, a mix of upper and lower case characters, parameters, and excessive categories and sub-directories all make for a messy site structure.
Have a structured site and clean URLs. This makes it easier for search engines to navigate your site and index your pages.
Caption: Infographic on SEO | Source: Tarek Riman – CAP.TAIM
5. Abiding by the rules
Search engines are smarter than we think they are. Whatever trick you are thinking of pulling on Google… trust me, Google has seen it before.
Avoid playing tricks, or any black hat SEO. More often than not, it’ll end up getting your site penalized by search engines. And that is hard to recover from.
Creating value and driving traffic through hard work is rewarding and effective.
Don’t put yourself or your client in a bad situation or at risk of getting penalized for petty rankings.
6. Creating great content and driving value
“Content is king!” Ten years ago, marketers and SEO specialists lived by this mantra. And it is still true today. Great content is simply great SEO.
Content is not only text. Content is video, images, slides, white papers, pdf, etc.
When you have a valuable piece of content that will educate your client, share it and tag it properly.
Caption: Infographic on SEO | Source: Tarek Riman – CAP.TAIM
When it comes to investing in SEO, don’t hesitate to invest out of a mistaken belief that SEO has little impact, or that what you do today will be obsolete tomorrow. SEO is an integral part of digital marketing. The six factors above don’t get a lot of airplay these days, only because they aren’t shiny and new. They are tried and true tactics for ranking well. Use this article as a guide for your SEO efforts and the investment into your website will pay for itself many times over.
As we are moving more and more towards voice search, mobile-first indexing, and machine learning algorithms, search and SEO are becoming more and more… intentional.
At least in the sense that you must focus on the intentions of your market.
If the content is to successfully build strong SEO, it cannot be based solely on keywords. The intent of your audience must also be taken into account.
What do I mean by this?
An intention, in search, is the meaning behind a search query and not simply the words used.
Let’s say you are looking for a gym to go to so you type “gym” into Google. Go ahead. Give it a try.
Notice that Google doesn’t give the definition of the word “gym”. It doesn’t give you the history of gyms, or even an alphabetical list of gyms.
No. Google anticipates your intention. It assumes you are looking for a gym in your neighbourhood. The first results you see will be the Google local listing gyms near you, then a list of search results for gyms in your area and gym directories, typically listed based on an algorithm of user reviews, link popularity and many other factors.
Google’s mission is, “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
For me, the most important part of Google’s mission/vision statement, are the last two words: accessible and useful.
We are constantly moving to more relevant and smarter search results – results that are more and more accessible and useful. Relevancy, accessibility and usefulness depend heavily on understanding the intent of the audience.
To capitalize on relevancy and intent as a marketer, remember these four query types:
Each of these query types can be associated with certain phases of the consumer purchase journey:
Informational Queries – Researching non-transactional information
Informational queries are at the very top of the funnel – the awareness phase. Results are usually broad and informational, with no intent to sell.
The main intent behind informational queries is, well, to get information. Most search results associated with informational queries tend to be direct answers.
Investigative Queries – Researching options
Investigative queries come from consumers with the intention to discover options in the market or do additional research. In terms of the consumer purchase process, these searchers can be in either the awareness or consideration phases of the funnel. These queries may not necessarily lead to conversions. Indeed, they may not even be driven by any intent to purchase.
These are queries that involve researching specific details. Searchers may be looking for talent, competition or options available in the market.
The intention behind these queries may or may not be to eventually purchase, but what Google does know (or assume) is that the searcher is exploring options. Search results are, therefore, tailored to provide those options for investigation.
Navigational Queries – Looking for something you already know you want
By this phase, the consumer already knows what they want. Perhaps it is healthy fruits (from informational queries) and the consumer now knows the best places to buy them from (investigative queries).
For example, when a searcher knows the brand, product or service, but does not know the URL, they will just type the name into their search or address bar.
For example, when you want to access Gmail, you usually just type “Gmail” into the address bar rather than a full URL. Google does the rest.
As generations are getting lazier by the second, navigational queries are becoming more and more popular.
Transactional Queries are queries that involve an intent towards an action
The action doesn’t have to be money related, it could be a signup, newsletter, phone details, address discovery, getting direction.
For example, if you search “Buy healthy food”, then that is a transactional query.
So what can we do as marketers, entrepreneurs, and startups?
We have to capitalize on the searcher’s intent instead of keywords and capitalize on each query type.
I would recommend using this approach in your future content as well as for past content. Go to your current blogs, pages, and products; analyze the actual intent and value of the content and update accordingly.
The best way to test search intent is Google Search itself. Search the term you have in mind and based on search results, you will be able to categorize it accordingly.
Remember there are no right or wrong search intent queries, the right approach is to match the right queries with your brand and business goals.
If you are an e-commerce site, it is ideal to concentrate on transactional queries and investigation queries, while not fully ignoring the informational and navigational queries.
Intentions can no longer be ignored, they need to be a critical part of your marketing moving forward.
- The Ultimate Content SEO Checklist for 2019 December 19, 2018
- The Importance of Analytics in Business for 2019 December 10, 2018
- Why Site Structure Matters and What to Do About It September 4, 2018
- What questions should businesses ask before introducing SEO to their site April 28, 2018
- Tips on Conducting a Site Migration Without Losing Rankings, Traffic and SEO Strength April 28, 2018