Clean up your bad backlinks

Andrew Raynor

 

 

Websites that have made the mistake of hiring some shady SEO company to buy bad backlinks for their website can loose almost all their rankings. In this post, we will go beyond on-site optimization and explain a bit more about bad backlinks for your website and how to clean them up.

Although buying bad links might give you short term wins, it will backfire in the end; you’re at risk of a Google Penguin penalty. Unnatural links indicate that your website might not have the quality or content to be interesting enough to get proper backlinks on its own. At the end of this article, we’ll mention a way to get great backlinks without buying any. 

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How to find bad backlinks

The main difference between good and bad backlinks is the quality of the website they are on. Sometimes bad backlinks are easy to find, sometimes you do have to check the website itself to see if and why the backlink can have a negative impact on your website.

There are a couple of categories in this.

Links from a website that is just set up for SEO links

If a website has a ton of articles that lack all coherence, chances are the website is set up solely for the purpose of linking other websites. If the website is a WordPress site, most of the times a default WordPress themes like TwentyEleven is used. These websites are usually not linked from other websites, or are part of an odd link network designed just to link these lousy websites.

Links from the comments of other websites

MajesticSEO link profile

At Yoast, we use the link profiles provided by Majesticseo.com a lot. The combination of a Trust flow and a Citation flow gives you a nice overview of how good your backlink profile actually is.

Link profile in MajesticSEO: Trust and Citation Flow

Trust flow refers to the authority given to the website that links to you (by MajesticSEO, based on a number of chosen factors), and Citation flow refers to the number of links the website has. Low quality backlinks come from websites that are low on both trust and citation.

We get dozens of these on a daily basis, here at yoast.com. Bots populating your website’s comment forms telling you ‘great article, love the info, hope you can elaborate more about the topic soon’. Personalized comments even, including author name. Spambots get more intelligent by the week, unfortunately. We’ve reviewed a site that was run by an older man replying to all of these comments, thanking them for the kind words. Don’t get fooled. Comment spam links are bad for your backlink profile.

Links with over optimized anchor texts

In general, one can assume the most backlinks to a websites are linked using the website name as the anchor text (link text). The URL itself is also often used. If your website has a huge number of websites linking to your website using exact keywords, as the shady companies we mentioned tend to do, that looks very suspicious. If our main backlinks would have Yoast SEO Premium as an anchor, that will ring some alarm bells at Google. The most used anchor for links to our site should be ‘Yoast’ in a natural link profile. And it is, of course.

Links within lousy, duplicate texts

Usually, websites that are just set up for the links have content that just doesn’t make sense, or is scraped from related websites. Some black hat companies create sites per subject, to make it look like the links are on related, quality websites. In most cases Google Panda will hit these sites eventually, resulting in yet another low quality backlink for your site. Duplicate content is a sign of low quality in most cases, and that is (among others,) what the Google Panda updates are about.

Links from Russia, while your local audience is in the US

As the websites linking to you are likely to be related to your business, you’ll understand that a link from a Russian or Dutch website (for that matter) for your local consultancy company site in Kansas City doesn’t look natural at all.

Of course there are more and more specific indications that a backlink is of low quality. Alan Bleiweiss listed some more in his article How To Clean Up Bad Backlinks and Establish Trust With Link Vendors (2013, still valid IMO).

How to remove backlinks

Now that we have a general idea of the links that you don’t want for your website, let’s get rid of them. In general, we have a number of ways of disabling these links so they won’t hurt your Google rankings:

  1. This is the easy one: find the contact details of the website owner and ask him to remove the link. Don’t demand the other website to take the link down, but ask this politely. That usually works better 🙂 However, you will most likely also be faced with webmasters who ask you to pay for link removal or who don’t reply at all. In such cases, you should disavow the unwanted links that can’t be removed.
  2. Check which low-quality pages on your website are linked by bad backlinks and get rid of the pages (404/410) instead of the links. That is probably not what you want, as most pages will have value for your website. Besides that, too many 404s send a wrong message to Google as well. In addition to getting rid of the page, you should also disavow these bad backlinks.
  3. Get rid of the domain and start all over. Drastic, but if your site isn’t worth investing to clean up these bad backlinks, that might be an effective way. I wouldn’t do that unless Google has clearly penalized you for Penguin, Panda and more, though.
  4. If you have just too many backlinks you want to get rid of, or webmasters aren’t responding to your call to remove the link, you can also disavow these links. That’s basically telling Google you’d prefer these links not to be taken in account when assessing your site.

Now there is one thing I have to warn you about: you will probably lose traffic. Your website will have less links pointing to it after this, so less people will visit your website via these links. In the case of disavowing, the links will still be there, but the sudden drop in backlinks (bad or not) will trigger something at Google, telling it your website is less interesting. That’s the signal Google gets when these links disappear. It will work out in the end, but traffic will probably go down at first. There is no telling how much and how long, to be honest.

Of course, this is a lengthy process. It will take a lot of steps and therefore time. However, there is a way to speed this process up.

Let’s speed up the bad backlink cleaning process

If your website suffers from negative SEO (the competitor buying bad backlinks for your website), or you have made the mistake of buying bad backlinks via that shady SEO company in the past, cleaning up your backlink profile is quite a hassle. We tried to explain that above.

That’s where LinkResearchTools comes in

LinkResearchTools (LTR) provide excellent value for money when it comes to cleaning up your bad backlinks. They have helped us out on more than one occasion, where one of our customers had made the mistake of buying bad backlinks.

Especially when Google Search Console is telling you that you have bad backlinks via their Manual Spam Actions, you want these links cleaned up as soon as possible. No matter the cause of these backlinks! But also, keep in mind that you need a tool that shows you as many links as possible, so you have a chance to see all the links Google knows about.

LTR provides monthly subscriptions for their link tools that help you to for instance:

  • manage your backlinks and find the links that actually harm your site. LTR will show you which links should be removed or disavowed asap;
  • get rid of a Manual Action and/or algorithmic Google Penalties by cleaning up your backlink profile that way;
  • compare your backlinks to competitors and find great new backlink opportunities;
  • find possible linking partners and be notified of new links to your website.

linkresearchtoolsFor $649, LinkResearchTools offers their Superhero plan, which will include their Link Detox Boost, Link Alerts, Competitive Link Detox and many more tools. You can analyze up to 600.000 links with this plan, but also have the chance to upgrade to a plan that fits the size of any domain, even multiple millions.

In the philosophy of LRT, link audits are about “all or nothing”, and they will support you finding the right plan, so that you can give your domain a complete audit. They do that by combining and re-crawling link data from up to 25 different link data sources.

Sign up for a LinkResearchTools (LRT) plan »

Note that this isn’t an affiliate link! We trust LinkResearchTools and recommend them based on our own experience.

Clean up your site!

Can’t wait to start with a spring cleaning on your site? Go ahead and give your website a good clear-out:

Read more: ‘Link building from an holistic point of view’ »

 

SEO New Hampshire

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Cornerstone analysis to help you create your best articles

Andrew Raynor

 

 

Cornerstone articles should be the best and most complete articles on your website. That means that you should make an effort to make this article as awesome as possible. Raise your normal standards and write extraordinary cornerstones. To help you create excellent cornerstone articles, we developed a special cornerstone analysis. 

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Why do you need a separate analysis?

Of course, our default SEO and readability analysis already helps you to write awesome articles. So why do you need a separate analysis for cornerstones? The answer to this question is that for cornerstone articles you should raise the bar. Your cornerstones should be the best. They should be better than your other articles and the demands on your writing should be higher. Our cornerstone analysis will help you to raise your standards (and stick to it). It will be harder to score that green bullet. You have to do all important things right!

What does the cornerstone analysis do?

You know our green bullets, right? In our default analysis, we check whether or not your post is readable and SEO-friendly. The cornerstone analysis is an adaptation of the default SEO analysis. In the cornerstone analysis we’ve set higher standards. A number of checks in both the readability analysis as well as the SEO analysis has been adapted in Yoast SEO 4.8.

How does it work?

If you’re working on a cornerstone, you should indicate so by checking the cornerstone box. If you checked the box, the default analysis will automatically change into the cornerstone analysis.

cornerstone analysis yoast seo

Which checks are adapted?

We adapted 2 readability checks and 8 SEO checks to come to the cornerstone analysis. You’ll need to use enough subheadings and make sure to write in rather short sentences to receive a green bullet in the readability analysis. Cornerstone articles are usually long and therefore a bit harder to read. Subheadings and short sentences will help people to read all the way through the end.

Most important adaptation in the SEO checks is the demand for a lengthy article. Cornerstones should be informative and complete. They just need to be long. In order to score a green bullet on text length, you’ll need to write an article of at least 900 words.

The other checks we adapted for cornerstone articles are:

  • keyword in subheading;
  • meta description length;
  • title width;
  • images;
  • links;
  • URL keyword;
  • URL links.

We’re just a bit stricter concerning these checks. To score a green bullet, you need get all of these right: use keywords in the subheadings, write an awesome meta description, use your keyword in the URL and make sure your images are optimized properly. For cornerstones you just need to go all the way. These are the articles you would like to rank with, so make sure you give them the very best chances.

Check out the internal linking tool

Cornerstone articles are an essential aspect of your SEO strategy. You should make sure to embed these articles correctly into your site structure to get the most out of a cornerstone approach. The Yoast SEO premium plugin can help you do this. Our internal linking tool suggests which articles you should be linking to when you’re writing a new post. Cornerstone articles actually get a priority in the internal linking tool as these are the articles you want to be linking to:

Priority cornerstone articles yoast seo premium

Optimize your cornerstones!

So go ahead and start optimizing your cornerstone articles to make them rank higher. Use the new free cornerstone analysis in Yoast SEO as a guide to find out which aspects of the article you could improve. And if you want to take it a step further, get Premium to help you do some sophisticated internal linking. Good luck!

Read more: ‘Site structure: the ultimate guide’ »

SEO New Hampshire

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153: Why Meaningful Work Automatically Attracts an Audience: Interview with Mark Frauenfelder

Andrew Raynor

One of the biggest challenges any creative faces is what to make and who to make it for. How do you determine if an idea is a good fit for you, or if anyone will pay attention?

153: Why Meaningful Work Automatically Attracts an Audience: Interview with Mark Frauenfelder

Being a full-time writer doesn’t necessarily equate to writing “full-time”. I don’t sit at my desk for eight hours every week day and pound away at the keyboard writing books and blog posts. There’s a bit more complexity to running a successful blog, launching books, and operating a digital business.

However, and more importantly, I’m interested in more than just writing from both a professional and personal standpoint. I enjoy speaking, drinking great coffee (not from Starbucks), reading, making guacamole, singing karaoke, playing with my kids, and travel among other things.

But I don’t write about all of these topics because that would be confusing to even the most loyal reader.

So how do you decide what to pursue when you feel bombarded by ideas and a collage of interests?

This week on The Portfolio Life, our guest is a modern day polymath, and basically created the Internet as we know it today (at least in my book). He’s been involved in magazine publishing since the 80’s, served as the Editor in Chief of Wired.com, started a podcast network, unknowingly cofounded the Maker movement, and designed a Billy Idol album cover.

Listen in as Mark Frauenfelder and I discuss the theme of his creative pursuits, why he doesn’t work on anything that doesn’t pique a personal interest, and how he came to write a how-to book on card tricks.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you’re reading this via email, please click here).

Show highlights

In this episode, Mark and I discuss:

  • Starting a print ‘zine in the 80s
  • Getting recruited by Wired
  • Taking a ‘zine digital in the 90s
  • How his editor thought blogs weren’t going to be viable
  • Identifying the common thread through diverse experiences and interests
  • Avoiding being a jack-of-all-trades while embracing opportunities to explore
  • Dealing with the tension between daily life and a creative career
  • The origins of the Maker movement
  • Why some comics are unreadable
  • What artistic style he subscribes to

Quotes and takeaways

  • “Make sure you give yourself time to do deep work.” –Mark Frauenfelder
  • Pursue work that is personally meaningful to you and an audience.
  • Embrace new ideas you enjoy, but stay grounded to a common theme.

Resources

What is the theme of your creative work? How can you combine your interests to make something meaningful to others? Share in the comments.

Andrew Raynor

Yoast SEO 4.8: Cornerstone content analysis

Andrew Raynor

 

 

In this release, we’re fine tuning our algorithms to give cornerstone content articles the analysis they deserve. Articles you’ve marked as cornerstone content will now be judged on a different level, so we can make sure they have the quality and authority an article like that should have. Yoast SEO 4.8 helps you write better cornerstone content articles.

Optimize your site for search & social media and keep it optimized with Yoast SEO Premium »

Yoast SEO for WordPress pluginBuy now » Info

Cornerstone content analysis

For some time now, Yoast SEO checks your articles and gives you feedback so you can fix readability and SEO issues. This analysis has always been one-size-fits-all, but that’s about to change. These last couple of weeks, we’ve been investing heavily in site structure. One of the most important parts of a solid site structure is cornerstone content: authoritative articles based on the keywords you most definitely want to rank. These should form the basis of your site.

In Yoast SEO 4.6, we added the possibility to mark a certain article as cornerstone content. This way, it is given a higher value in Yoast SEO, which causes this article to show on top sooner in the suggestions the internal linking tool provides.

Starting from Yoast SEO 4.8, we can now analyze your cornerstone content following a particular, stricter set of specifications. These checks will help you build killer cornerstone articles. Among other things, we now check if a cornerstone article has 900+ words and if the keyword is in at least two subheaders.

yoast seo 4.8 cornerstone analysis

But wait, there’s more

While the rest of this release mostly consists of bug fixes and enhancements, there’s also a couple of other changes. We now remove the prominent words option for unsupported languages and change the string ‘current url’ to ‘old url’ in the Search Console Redirect to match the language in the Redirect Manager. We’ve also made several improvements to the Local SEO plugin.

As always, we hope you enjoy this new release. Don’t forget to update!

Read more: ‘Why every website needs Yoast SEO’ »

SEO New Hampshire

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Ask Yoast: Block your site’s search results pages?

Andrew Raynor

 

 

Every website should have a decent internal search functionality that shows the visitors search results that fit their search query. However, those search results pages on your site don’t need to be shown in Google’s search results. In fact, Google advises against this too; it’s not a great user experience to click on a Google search result, just to end up on a search result page of your site. Learn what’s best practice to prevent this from happening!

User experience is not the only reason to prevent Google from including these pages in their search results. Spam domains can also abuse your search results pages, which is what happened to Krunoslav from Croatia. He therefore emailed Ask Yoast:

“Some spam domains were linking to the search results pages on my WordPress site. So what could I do to block Google from accessing my site search results? Is there any code that I could put in robots.txt?”

Check out the video or read the answer below!

Become a technical SEO expert with our Technical SEO 1 training! »

Technical SEO 1 training$ 199 – Buy now » Info

Block your search results pages?

In the video, we explain what you could do to prevent Google from showing your site’s search results:

“Well, to be honest, I don’t think I would block them. What you could do, is try two different things:

1. One is do nothing and run our Yoast SEO plugin. We’ll automatically noindex all the search result pages on your site. But if that leads to weird rankings or to other stuff that is not really working for you, then you could do another thing:

2. The second way is to block them and put a disallow:/?=s* in your robots.txt. This basically means that you’re blocking Google from crawling your entire search query. I don’t know whether that’s the best solution though.

I would try noindex first and see if that does anything. If it doesn’t, then use the method of blocking your search results in your robots.txt.

Good luck!”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we answer SEO questions from followers. Need some advice about SEO? Let us help you out! Send your question to ask@yoast.com.

Read more: ‘Block your site’s search results pages’ »

SEO New Hampshire

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The Real Person Responsible for Creative Geniuses

Andrew Raynor

My new book Real Artists Don’t Starve is coming out soon and I’m giving away some really cool bonuses if you preorder.

Along with the bonuses that come with preordering my new book, I’m sharing some of my favorite lessons from Real Artists Don’t Starve. Here’s the first:

The Starving Artist waits to be noticed.
The Thriving Artist cultivates patrons.

The Rule of the Patron

When we see someone succeed with their art, we often chalk this success up to luck. But is that what’s really happening?

At the same time, was it just talent that allowed them to succeed?

Behind most creative geniuses, there is an invisible influencer making it all happen. These people lend their influence to help creative talents succeed, introducing them to people and opportunities they would not encounter otherwise.

The Rule of the Patron

Before you reach an audience of many, you must first please an audience of one.

Every artist needs a patron. Without one, your success becomes exponentially more difficult; with one, it becomes not only possible but probable.

Starving Artists disdain the need for patrons. It feels disempowering, even beneath them.

On the other hand, Thriving Artists respect the Rule of the Patron and use it to their advantage. All creative workers need influencers who will vouch for them to an audience who doesn’t know them yet. But it is not enough to meet a patron; you must cultivate one.

The publisher who pays an author’s book advance is a patron. The venture capitalist who funds a startup in Silicon Valley is one too. But so is the church who gives a minister a salary or the donors who support nonprofit organizations around the world.

Patrons do not just make the arts possible; they make the world we inhabit—and so often take for granted—possible. Our job isn’t to wait for patrons to come to us but to find and cultivate these relationships, wherever they may be.

So, where are today’s patrons? Do they even exist anymore? In the New Renaissance, patrons are not some elite class of influencers. They are all around us.

The budget of a band

My first year out of college I traveled across North America playing music with a band. As the group’s leader, I oversaw setting up gigs ahead of time, coordinating with event planners and hosts, and making sure everyone arrived at the show on time.

It was a lot of hard work, long days, and cold casseroles. But one factor made the work possible: the fact that we didn’t have to do it alone.

Moving from city to city, our band would play shows in exchange for donations and meals; we were always at the mercy of other people’s generosity. Wherever where we went, we met someone who would make sure we found a good meal, warm bed, and sometimes even a hot shower.

For a year, we lived off the good nature of other people, staying in their homes and eating their food, getting to make our art. Everything we did that year cost something: the gasoline for the van, the meals on the road, the occasional night in a hotel when we couldn’t find a host home.

It all had to be paid for by someone.

My six bandmates and I didn’t have to worry about any of that, though, because there were people concerned about those things for us. They paid our bills and took care of our expenses; they hosted events for us and took us into their homes.

These people were our patrons. They were not wealthy connoisseurs or influential leaders. They were ordinary people who used their resources to help our art thrive. Certainly, there can be value in connecting with an influential tastemaker, but sometimes, the patron you need is the person right in front of you.

It’s our job to recognize them and prove ourselves worthy of their investment.

May you do just that.

To download a free excerpt of the Cultivate Patrons chapter from my book, click here.

Real Artists Don’t Starve comes out soon. If you preorder the book before then, you’ll get a 12-part online video course, expert interview transcripts, and access to a private community.

All you have to do is:

  1. Buy the book at (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound).
  2. Forward your receipt to rads@goinswriter.com.
  3. I’ll send you the bonuses.

How does The Rule of the Patron apply to your craft? Who is someone that has supported your art? Share in the comments.

Andrew Raynor

How to start a blog

Andrew Raynor

 

 

If you’re thinking about starting a blog, the most important thing I have to say to you is: go for it! Start your blog! Just do it! Blogging is a great SEO strategy, it’s a wonderful marketing tool and blogging is lots of fun! A new blog will allow you to make smart and strategic choices. Just take a little time to think about how to set up your blog before you begin, so you’ll have less work later on. Let me share some tips with you on how to start a blog.

Choose your niche

You should always write about what you know. But you should not write about everything you know. Pick a niche. Decide upon a main topic and write posts related to that topic. It’s more likely that your audience will come back and read your other posts if you’re writing about similar topics. People will know what to expect. Starting a mom blog implies that you write about all things concerning your children and family life. Starting a travel blog implies you write about traveling. You can write about something slightly off topic once in a while of course, but try to stick to your niche. An audience of a travel blog doesn’t expect a blog post about gardening. 

Our SEO for WordPress eBook guides you through every aspect of Search Engine Optimization »

SEO for WordPress$ 25 – Buy now » Info

Do your keyword research

Once you’ve chosen your niche, you should do some solid keyword research. Try to find out what people are searching for. What words are they using when they want to read about your niche and your topic? You should really get inside the heads of your potential audience. If you do your keyword research properly, you should end up with a long lists of keywords you would like to be found for. Try to come up with competitive, head keywords as well as with less competitive long-tail keywords.

Read more: ‘How to start your keyword research’ »

Think about site structure

This is the best time to think about site structure. What categories are popular in your niche? What are the most important head keywords you’d like to rank for? You should write a long, kick-ass article about each of these keywords. Those will be your most essential articles, or in other words, your cornerstone content. You should give those articles a prominent place on your site.

After you’ve written those beautiful cornerstone articles, write lots of blog posts on sub topics of that main topic and always link to your cornerstones. That way, you’ll be telling Google exactly what the most important articles on your website are.

Keep reading: ‘What is cornerstone content?’ »

Write that first post

Take some time to do keyword research and to think about site structure. But don’t take too much time. Just write that first post! Put pen to paper and just do it. Your blog starts with the very first post. That post doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be published. Need some help to get started? Check out our 10 tips on how to make your post awesome.

Pictures and videos

Writing blog post is more than writing a nice story; a successful blog has pictures and videos as well. Every post should show at least one image. Taking nice photos yourself is a great way of creating images and making short videos is a really good blogging strategy as well. Especially if you’re blogging about (aspects) of your own life, photos of it are a necessity.

Read on: ‘Images for blogs’ »

Optimize for the search engines

Before publishing your post, optimize it using Yoast SEO (on WordPress of course, but on Magento and TYPO3 now too!). Don’t forget to create an awesome SEO title and a decent snippet. Finetune your text. Make sure your text is both readable as well as SEO-friendly.

Read more: ‘How to use the content & SEO analysis of Yoast SEO’ »

Promote your blog

Using social media is the best way to reach and grow the audience of your blog. That’s why your blog should have a Facebook page. Sharing your posts on Facebook is a good marketing strategy. Don’t forget Instagram and Twitter either!

In addition to the use of social media to promote your blog, we advise you send out a digital newsletter. Let people sign up for it and send out emails with your latest blog posts and some other fun facts.

Keep reading: ‘Marketing your blog’ »

Stick with it!

The most important thing to start a blog – besides setting up your new blog – is to write that very first blog post. Once you’ve written that first post, your blog has started. You should keep on writing blog posts to make it successful, so try to determine a frequency to publish new posts. You don’t have to blog every day, once a week or maybe even once in every two weeks would be a nice frequency to start with. Find a frequency you can stick with! Your audience will know what to expect, if your blogging frequency is stable.

Read on: ‘Blog SEO: make people stay and read your post’ »

SEO New Hampshire

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Meta keywords: why we don’t use them

Andrew Raynor

 

 

You would think this post would be redundant by now: people know that the meta keyword tag is useless nowadays, right? The truth is that we still see site owners using meta keywords on their website. In addition to that, people are still searching for meta keywords according to Google Trends, although there seem to be less queries than 5 years ago. That’s why we republish this post about the uselessness of meta keywords for SEO once again.

Let me give you the full history of the meta keywords tag’s demise. Already in September 2009, Google announced officially what was true for years back then: “Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking”. Matt Cutts explained it in a video:

Do Yahoo! and Bing use meta keywords?

In October of that same year, 2009, at SMX East, Yahoo! announced they no longer use the meta keywords tag anymore either. This turned out to be not entirely true, as they do index them, but they won’t help you one bit.

Bing also stated in 2014:

“Today, it’s pretty clear the meta keyword tag is dead in terms of SEO value. Sure, it might have value for contextual ad systems or serve as a signal to bots plying the web looking for topics to target, but as far as search goes, that tag flat lined years ago as a booster.”

Earlier, they even implied that using them – the wrong way – could work against you, because it’s rather seen as a spam signal than a ranking signal.

So don’t waste your time on the meta keywords tag. Instead of thinking about which keywords to put in that silly tag for 5 minutes, think about your content for 5 minutes longer. Really. It’s worth it.

New to SEO? Learn the Basics of SEO in our Basic SEO course »

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But I want meta keywords!!!

By default, there is no meta keywords input field in our Yoast SEO plugin. If you use Yoast SEO and you really can’t live without them, you can turn it on though. You’ll first need to enable the advanced settings before you can change this. For a detailed explanation on how to do this, check out ‘how to enable meta keywords in Yoast SEO‘.

turn on meta keywords in yoast seo

Don’t expect me to think you’re cool though. The reality is, that if you’re trying to rank for any term that’s even only a little competitive, meta keywords won’t help. You should write engaging, meaningful content on a technically well optimized platform and get good links and social engagement. That’s what builds great rankings, meta keywords have nothing to do with it.

Read more: ‘Metadata and SEO part 1: the head section’ »

SEO New Hampshire

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152: The Truth Behind Finding Luck: Interview with Brett Kelly

Andrew Raynor

People start writing for all kinds of reasons. Fame, fortune, boredom, or another hobby they’ll quit in three weeks. But sometimes, a person writes for something more.

152: The Truth Behind Finding Luck: Interview with Brett Kelly

They write for freedom.

Most of us want freedom from something. Our past, a bad habit, a toxic relationship, a dull day job, or even the distractions we let keep us from writing.

Our guest this week on The Portfolio Life, was living somewhat comfortably, but wanted freedom from debt. Over the years he’d developed close relationships with a small circle of friends who ended up being quite influential.

He knew Chris Guillebeau before The Art of Non-Conformity was published by Penguin. He knew Leo Babauta when Zen Habits was on a blogspot domain. Our guest saw his friends writing online and creating digital resources for their audiences and wanted to do the same.

So, Brett Kelly took one of his favorite productivity tools and wrote a robust user guide called Evernote Essentials. With the blessing of Evernote, the support of his friends, and the attention of people like Michael Hyatt, Brett has sold nearly 80,000 copies of Evernote Essentials.

Listen in as we discuss how Brett launched with a list of 400 people, losing track of how many tattoos he has, and how the CEO of Evernote personally recruited him.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you’re reading this via email, please click here).

Show highlights

In this episode, Brett and I discuss:

  • Debt freedom as a motivator to create
  • Paying attention to market trends
  • Not getting sued by Evernote
  • Broadening creative horizons and diversifying personal brand
  • The awkwardness of explaining what you do as a creative to people who care, but don’t “get” it
  • The ambiguity of calling yourself a writer
  • How running a business around your writing is like fixing a plane mid-flight
  • Accidentally building a cadre of friends who ended up being very influential
  • Distilling complexity into something digestible for the masses

Quotes and takeaways

  • Sometimes humility isn’t very helpful when people are looking to you for answers.
  • Be helpful. Be encouraging.
  • “People who had more than I had, gave to me. That’s why I’m here.” –Brett Kelly
  • The medium of creation effects the final outcome.

Resources

What is your favorite app to write in? What is your “superpower” or the theme of your work? Share in the comments

Andrew Raynor

Interview with Karl Gilis (AGConsult) – speaker at YoastCon

Andrew Raynor

 

 

We’re thrilled to announce that CRO expert Karl Gilis will be speaking at YoastCon on November 2! Karl Gilis from AGConsult is one of the most influential usability and conversion optimization specialists in the world, and our personal go-to-guy if we need advice on these matters for Yoast.com. We’ve asked him 5 questions, or actually 6, to warm you up for his talk on YoastCon. Read on if you want to find out which trends annoy Karl the most and what the most unexpected improvement was he ever saw on a website.

Don’t want to miss the ‘conversion comedian’ on stage? Get your ticket now for YoastCon 2017!
Tickets

AGConsult is specialized in optimizing website conversion and usability. If you could give people only one advice to improve their site’s conversion, what would it be?

That’s a very easy question to start with 🙂 No, it’s an incredible difficult one. On a more generic level I would say: listen to your clients and visitors.

  • What words are they using?
  • What questions do they have?
  • What do they really like about your product or service?
  • How did it help to make their life better / easier / …?

Use these insights to rewrite your copy. Because your copy is probably written from your point of view: you talk about what you think is important. Don’t do that. Focus on what your clients think and say. Use their words. Don’t sell the way you want to sell, sell the way people want to buy.

If you want a more practical hands-on tip, I would say: get rid of all the clutter. Print a typical and important page from your website, such as a product detail page or your order form. Take a red marker and draw a big red cross on all the things that you make you wonder ‘Why is that here, isn’t this a distraction from my main message’? Remove all those things.

Less clutter will result in:

  • Faster loading times, especially when you have lots of fluffy stuff or stock photos that don’t add to your message.
  • A cleaner look. And yes: the less elements you have, the clearer your message will be. 
A great example of this is the top part of the homepage of Airbnb, especially now they finally removed the sliders and the video background.
  • More room to add things that will result in more sales. Things like social proof or a sense of urgency.

Come see Karl Gilis speak at YoastCon 2017 on November 2 »banner YoastCon

Scientific evidence is what drives you. Do you have an example where your research wiped the floor with design trends and hypes?

Don’t get me started about design trends and hypes. Most of them don’t increase sales or conversions. They only help design agencies and designers make more money. When a design change is not driven by a business or user need, it’s a big gamble to change something.

3 examples:

  1. Sliders with different messages
    They’re part of almost every theme for WordPress and other platforms, because they’re fun to make and beautiful to look at. But they don’t convert.
Your website is not a piece of art. It’s a tool. A sales tool.
 When we removed the slider on the Suzuki homepage and showed 2 static images instead, this resulted in 55% more clicks in the same screen real estate.
  2. Flat design and ghost buttons
    A few years ago designers decided that buttons shouldn’t look like buttons anymore. They introduced so-called ghost buttons. Where a button is just a square line around some words. So it’s more inline with the design and it doesn’t attract attention.
 Excuse me: your call-to-action should attract attention. That’s what it’s there for!
 What we’ve seen is when a site went from a normal button to a ghost button, the number of clicks on non-clickable elements increased with 600%. Because users had no clue where to click.
  3. Video background
    They’re the new Flash and the new sliders rolled into one. So please avoid them.
 A moving background is always a distraction from your message. And visitors should focus on your message. 
We’ve done several tests where we replaced a video-background with a static background and saw an uplift. 
It’s no coincidence even AirBnB ditched their video background for -euhm- nothing. Yep, there’s nothing wrong with a white background.

As a consultant you must have seen changes on dozens of websites over the years. What was the most unexpected improvement that you’ve ever seen happen on a website?

Another difficult one. What probably surprises me the most is that I’m still often surprised. That’s the most important thing I’ve learned thanks to AB-testing. There are always exceptions to the rules and guidelines. Don’t get me wrong: there are best practices. But they do not always work on every website.

When you’re asking for a specific case, I think of the shopping cart of an online shop selling watches and sunglasses. We took away all friction, made delivery time and shipping costs extra clear and everything that is in the classical usability book. But the results were still disappointing.

Then we added the message ‘You’ve made an excellent choice’. And whoppa: sales went up by a huge margin. Why? Because we supported the user in his choice. We took away their biggest fear: will this watch or sunglass suit me? So, don’t only focus on taking away the imperfections of your site. Give compliments too!

Your specialization is conversion and usability, ours is SEO. Do you feel these two are interconnected, or would you rather see them as two separate areas?

They are interconnected. And more people need to realize that. On a generic level this is pretty obvious. When you attract lots of people to your site but they don’t do anything (buy, subscribe, …), you’ll be out of business soon. When you have a website that converts like crazy but you don’t have any visitors, you have a problem too.

But also on a deeper level SEO and Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) are very connected. When we do AB-tests the big changes almost always come from changes in words. And I’m not talking about random changes, but using the right words that tickle the human brain. As I said earlier: if you use the same words as your clients, they’ll have the feeling you understand them. When you relate to their problems, dreams and hopes, they will more likely convert than when you use corporate lingo and only talk about features. And I guess your readers know that those things are also important for SEO. Use the same word as your audience.

In all these years I’ve never had big conflicts with good SEO specialists. I only have fights with black hat SEO people or those who use the old tricks that don’t work anymore (keyword stuffing, anyone?). Never forget: you’re optimizing for people. Not only for Google. And not for the sake of usability as such either. You’re optimizing your website for your audience.

Failure is an important part of finding out how to make things work in the best possible way. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned while working for any of the big brands you’ve worked for?

Most big brands are afraid of failure. They don’t want to take risks. But that means you’ll reach a status quo. You have to take calculated risks. Based on user research and past experience you identify the weak points of site of page. And then you start making changes.

Small changes will mostly result in small results. Big, bold changes will result in big changes. Hopefully an uplift, but sometimes a drop in sales. But that’s why you test. And you learn something from those failures. What we often see is that our 2nd or 3rd test after a big failure, results in a big winner. And if you implement that winner, the gains of that will be so much bigger than that temporarily loss in sales or leads during the test. Big (and smaller) brands who understand this, will often choose to test more. And the more you test, the more you learn, and the more winners you’ll have.

Conversion optimization is not a project. Not something you do once. It’s a continuous process. And when you keep doing it, it will result in big wins. 
Just as it is with SEO. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Come see Karl Gilis speak at YoastCon 2017 on November 2 »banner YoastCon

We assume this interview has convinced people to go see your talk at YoastCon on November 2! In the unlikely case someone is still in doubt, what’s the main reason they shouldn’t miss your talk?

Who am I to answer why people need to see me? If you insist, I think there are 3 reasons:
· My talk will be full of practical hands-on tips. Little tricks you can apply yourself and will result in more sales and conversions.
· There’s also a more strategic layer that focuses on techniques and methods that you can also apply yourself.
· You will laugh a lot. People call me the conversion comedian and I do my best to put a smile on everybody’s face.

Read more: ‘YoastCon 2017: Practical SEO’ »

SEO New Hampshire

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