Mobile SEO: the ultimate guide

Andrew Raynor

 

 

We are addicted to our smartphones. For many people, the smartphone is the first thing they check when they get out of bed in the morning. It is also the last thing they check before they go to sleep. People use it for everything. It’s huge. Mobile has changed our lives. It has also changed SEO. Mobile SEO helps you to reach customers and satisfy their needs in an enjoyable way. This guide to mobile SEO will show you everything you need to deliver a perfect mobile experience.

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Why is mobile SEO important?

Mobile SEO is so important because it helps you get in the right place at the right time and makes sure the experience you offer consumers is stellar. Mobile traffic has eclipsed desktop traffic. Every day, more and more people are discovering the enormous advantages of the smartphone. Our whole lives are in those machines – it’s almost scary to see how attached we’ve become to our smartphone. Many people call it an extension of themselves and something they couldn’t live without. To reach these people you need mobile SEO.

Mobile does not necessarily mean on the go. Studies find that people often grab the nearest device to look something up and in most cases that’s their smartphone. They use it to inform themselves about products before making the decision to buy something. Anywhere any place. According to research by Google, smartphone users have a higher buyer intent than desktop users. They’re focused and ready to buy. It’s your job to be there when they are looking for your products.

Mobile SEO vs. desktop SEO

There’s a difference between desktop SEO and mobile SEO, but the goals are often comparable. You want to reach your audience and turn them into customers. In some ways, desktop SEO tactics also work for mobile SEO, but in a slightly different form. Three big themes still apply: focus on performance, user experience, and content. In desktop SEO you’ll often focus more on the general public, while mobile SEO is somewhat more local oriented.

Google’s mobile-first index

The importance of mobile SEO is made even clearer by Google’s recent announcement. Sometime in 2018, Google will switch to a mobile-first index. What does this mean? For the first time, Google will determine rankings based on the quality of the mobile version of the site instead of the desktop version. A new Googlebot will crawl your mobile site and determine if its performance, content and user experience are up to scratch. If so, you can get a good ranking. If it fails somehow, other sites will be higher rated and will pass you by. Even if you’re not focusing on mobile you will still be judged by your mobile site, so now is the time to take action.

Right now, nobody knows exactly how this process will differ from the current one. We do know, however, that you must keep your mobile site crawlable by taking down all possible barriers like poorly loading scripts. Don’t block stuff in your robots.txt. It also has to offer the highest possible performance if you want to be indexed well.

You can no longer present less information on your mobile site than on your desktop site. Your content has to be the same on both, because, in the future, you can only rank on the information that is on your mobile page. Don’t forget to tell Google your site is mobile-proof. You can add a viewport declaration – if you’re using responsive design – or a Vary header when using dynamic serving. More on later on in this article or in Google’s developer documentation.

Know what to do

Mobile SEO is – just like regular SEO – all about making sure your site is crawlable and findable. Also, you need stellar performance, great content and a flawless UX. To get it right, you need to know how your site is currently performing and what your visitors are doing right now. For instance, do people use the same keywords on mobile to find you? People often change how they search while using a mobile device. And what do you want people to do? Offering to navigate to the nearest Whole Foods is less than ideal when you’re on a desktop machine. It makes total sense on your smartphone, though.

Mobile SEO tools

You need to become best friends with Google Search Console. Its search tools are legendary and a big help if you want to find out how your site is doing in the search results. For instance, by using the Search Analytics feature, you can see how mobile and desktop users use words to find what they need. Are you targeting the right words? Should you focus on something else?

One of the other Google Search Console tools that make your life a bit easier is the Mobile Usability tool. This tool checks your site and presents an overview of posts and pages that don’t follow Google’s mobile-friendly rules. This is an excellent way to start improving your mobile SEO.

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Another Google tool is PageSpeed Insights. This tool shows you exactly how fast your site loads on mobile and desktop. It also suggests performance improving enhancements. Use this alongside the Developer Tools in browsers to see how your site is rendering its contents. Some other great tools to up your mobile SEO game are Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, Analytics, SEMrush, OnPage.org, ScreamingFrog, and SimilarWeb.

Read more: Google Search Console: Search appearance
Read more: DIY: Test your mobile site

Design for performance

It’s the number one thing you’ll be working on when you’re trying to improve mobile SEO: performance. In this case, performance almost entirely boils down to site speed. It’s a given: the faster your site is, the happier your users will be. We all know that a site has to load within a couple of seconds or else your visitors will be gone. If you combine this with the knowledge that sites are only increasing in size, you know you have your work cut out for you.

Optimizing performance, however, is a continuous process. Your site will never be fast enough because there’s always more to improve. And that’s ok. By keeping a close watch on how your mobile site is performing, you can immediately jump onto every opportunity to improve it. Google loves fast sites, and so do your customers.

Read more: How to improve your mobile site
Read more: Page speed as a ranking factor, what you need to know

Responsive design vs. dynamic serving vs. separate domain

While developing your mobile site, you’ll have three options: responsive design, dynamic serving and a separate site on a subdomain. Google prefers responsive design. This way, you have one site that adapts to the device it’s used on. There’s only one code base, so maintenance is easy. According to Google, using responsive design will make your site eligible for addition in the new mobile-first index. Always let Google know that your site is mobile-proof by adding the meta name=“viewport” declaration in the head of your documents.

<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">

Dynamic serving takes a different approach. It uses server-side technology to serve a different version of your site to mobile users, depending on the way they access your site. The URL stays the same, but the files sent differ completely. You need to add the Vary header to get Google to crawl your site. This way, Google immediately knows that it will receive mobile-optimized files from somewhere else. A Vary header appears like this when a browser makes a request:

Vary: User-Agent

The third option is a separate mobile site on a different URL – usually an m. domain – and with different content. Google supports this method, but only if you make correct connections between your regular desktop domain and the mobile domain. Use rel=”alternate” and rel=”canonical” to tell Google how these pages are connected. More on these different types and how Google uses them on this Developers page.

PageSpeed Insights

PageSpeed Insights is a powerful tool to analyze the performance of your mobile site. It’s easy to use and gives you loads of insights into the loading speed of your site. Put in your URL and Insights will give you two scores: one for mobile and one for the desktop. These will differ. If your score is red, you have work to do. Orange means an average performance and green is good. You’ll receive suggestions to enhance the performance of your site. Follow these suggestions, and you’ll be on your way.

I hear you thinking:

“Nobody has a score of 0/100, right?”

Well, think again. It’s a combination of things that can do your mobile site a lot of harm. Find a bad hosting provider, install WordPress on a crappy shared hosting program, activate thirty plugins and upload a hundred non-optimized images to your blog and you are well on your way to a bad score. But these things can easily be undone. Run PageSpeed Insights and other speed analyses tools and follow their advice.

What can you do to improve your site speed?

When improving your page speed, you should always ask yourself if you need all these assets, libraries, images, plugins, theme features and so on. The famous saying “less is more” is still as valuable as ever.

Read more: Site speed tools and suggestions »

Think about implementing AMP

The Google-led open source project AMP, or Accelerated Mobile Pages, has one goal: loading your pages as fast as possible. It’s been in development for some time now. It has reached new heights with the release of amp-bind, a JavaScript library that adds interactivity to AMP pages. Now, one of the biggest drawbacks of using AMP is fixed.

In the beginning, AMP was used on static posts, like blogs or news articles, that didn’t need interaction from the user. For e-commerce purposes, AMP fell short. Until now, that is. Look into what AMP could do for your site and how you might implement it. Not every site needs it, but the ones that do could gain a lot from it.

Read more about implementing AMP with WordPress »

New kid on the block: Progressive Web Apps (PWA)

PWAs offers another way of targeting that mobile user. A progressive web app is an all-in-one solution that works on all devices, for all users. It’s the perfect crossover between the app world and the web world. The web app works like an app, without the need to publishing it in an app store. PWAs combine the loading speeds of mobile sites with the best functionality of a native app. If done correctly, a good PWA might fool users into thinking they are using a native app.

Thanks to technologies like service workers, the browser can do a lot more in the background, while keeping the front end updated in real-time. This makes it a viable option if you need an app, but can’t justify the cost. There will be a lot happening with progressive web apps in the next couple of years. Google has a must-read blog post if you want to know how to create indexable PWAs.

Focus on user experience

Besides being findable and lightning fast, your mobile site should offer an enjoyable user experience. Try to take away any obstacles and make sure users can reach their goals quickly. There’s a lot you need to consider when optimizing your user experience. I’ve listed a couple of things you can think of below:

  • Fix your font size: your typography needs to be top notch.
  • Keep enough room between the clickable elements.
  • Make your sub-menu clickable, so users don’t automatically go back to home instead of the submenu.
  • Put your phone number on the homepage and make it clickable. This way, people can call you if they want to do business.
  • Don’t make users pinch and zoom to see – and use – your interface.
  • Make your buttons large enough for fingers.
  • Fix your forms: bad forms are unusable on mobile.
  • Cut the clutter.
  • Test, adjust and test again!

Read more: 10 ways to improve mobile UX »

Optimize for local

While we use our smartphones a lot in our house, these devices become extra useful when we’re out and about. To cope with that local demand, you need to work on your local SEO. Local search results can look very different from regular desktop searches, so you have to know what to target and how to target that. Here are some things you can to do to improve your local SEO for mobile:

Read more: Ultimate guide to small business SEO
Read more: Local ranking factors that help your business’ SEO

Finetune your mobile content

The screen of a smartphone is small, that’s a given. On that screen, text gets truncated or wrapped in a seemingly never-ending stream of paragraphs. A user has to scroll endlessly. Text on a mobile screen has the potential to give every web designer a headache. But the design – and use – of text is of crucial importance to the success of your site. If your site is unreadable or plain ugly, people will not read your 1,000-word article. Hell, not even your 100-word summary. Fix your typography.

People read a lot on their smartphones, but you have to make it as easy as possible for them to do so. Also, you have to make sure that your content is up to scratch as well.

Read more: Optimize your mobile content

Write for the small screen

Always keep the restrictions of the small screen in mind when creating or editing content. Don’t use too many long sentences, keep your paragraphs around four sentences and use many stops like lists and headings to break up your text. Nothing is more daunting to your visitor than a massive block of unformatted text. Check your content on a smartphone to see how it works and if it’s possible to improve it.

Read more: Copywriting for mobile (coming soon!)

Write better meta descriptions and titles

Google will show less information in the search results on mobile than on a desktop. Your meta descriptions and your titles will be truncated if you made them too long. Thinks about that when you optimize your posts and pages. You lose several characters when optimizing your meta descriptions and titles for mobile. In Yoast SEO’s snippet editor, you can switch between a mobile and desktop preview. This way, you can see how the differences between the two and pick a perfect middle ground.

Read more: The snippet preview in Yoast SEO

Prepare for voice search

When working on your content, you should take the next biggest thing into account: voice search. Yes, it’s been around for a while. But with the advent of Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s nameless Home assistant, things are moving fast right now. More and more people are using their voice to perform actions on the web, and your content has to provide answers. If done correctly, you might kill two birds with one stone: you’ll not only respond to questions mobile users have, but it might also lead to so-called featured snippets or answer boxes on desktop searches.

To prepare for voice search, you need to take a good look at your current content. Ask yourself, does it answer any question a user might have? If not, change it. Find out which questions people use to find your content and optimize for that. Use Google’s autofill or tools like Answer the Public to find alternative questions to answer.

Read more: How to prepare for voice search

Add structured data to a mobile site

Structured data is hot. By adding structured data in the form of Schema.org to your site, you can open a line of communication with search engines. Structured data makes it clear for search engines what all the different elements on your site mean. If done correctly, search engines can use this data to give you highlighted search results, known as rich results or rich snippets. This way, your site immediately stands out from the crowd, and that might lead to a higher click-through rate.

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Structured data forms the basis for many new ways of presenting search results. The rich results we used to know as rich cards, for instance, use data you can add to your mobile site. The result is a snippet that is mobile-optimized and very enticing to click. Structured data is one of the most important topics you have to read up on. Follow our structured data course if you need an easy way to add structured data to your mobile site.

Read more: Structured data with Schema.org: the ultimate guide

A mobile SEO guide

This ultimate guide to mobile SEO gives a lot of pointers to improve the performance of your mobile site.  Mobile SEO should always be a work in progress because there are always new things to improve. Also, technologies arrive or get discarded. The world is always changing, and you have to keep up. If you do, the rewards can be great. So, what are you waiting for? Get your smartphone, check your site in a mobile browser and find and fix those issues. Use this mobile SEO guide well, because 2018 is going to be an important year! This is the time to take action because if you don’t, you might miss out in the new year.

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

SEO New Hampshire

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Favicons and your online brand

Andrew Raynor

 

 

Those used to tabbed browsing know why favicons are important. Your site will stand out from the rest if your favicon is recognizable. After all, a picture says more than a thousand words. Personally, I often find myself pinning websites in Google Chrome, still my browser of choice. As a to-do list, or simply because I want Gmail at hand anytime. Or that specific spreadsheet in Sheets. Or Facebook. That little favicon is the only reference to what site is hidden in that tab. You simply need a good favicon for your website.

Make your favicon stand out

You should make sure your favicon stands out from that long list of tabs. Check if it matches your logo and website well. Especially when you are not one of the big brands, you want people to recognize your favicon. Two tips directly related to that are: 

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  • avoid too many details in your favicon,
  • and please use the right colors, so the favicon doesn’t blend in with the gray of your browser tab.

Both are closely related to branding. Your brand should be recognizable in your favicon. Although we’re able to use more colors and more depth in our favicons nowadays, the fact is that the space available on that browser still hasn’t improved from the small 16×16 pixels it used to be in the early days. It doesn’t look like 16×16 pixels anymore, but that’s because we have better screens, not because that space increased. The main improvement is that lines are sharper and you can use all the colors you want.

Proper branding is making sure people will relate your favicon to your website immediately. I listed a number of favicons for you to test. Drop me a line in the comments about what favicon belongs to what brand:

favicons quiz

Too easy? In that case, these brands did a good job on translating their brand to their favicon.

SEO benefits of favicons

Are there real SEO benefits to favicons? Tough one. Besides branding, probably not, though opinions may differ on this a bit. One might argue that you can now add an image of 1MB as a favicon and that this will slow down loading times. You could say that a proper favicon highlights a bookmark and might increase return visitors. I have even found a story where someone stated that some browsers automatically look for a favicon and return a 404 if it’s not there.

My 2 cents? If there is an SEO benefit, it’s so small that all other optimization, like proper site structure or great copy, should always have priority. Does that mean you don’t need that favicon? Hey, didn’t you read that part about browser tabs? You do need it, even if it’s just to stand out.

WordPress just made your day: favicons in the Customizer

If you use WordPress, you might already know that there’s been a favicon functionality in WordPress core since version 4.3. So you can use this default functionality, without hassle. It’s located in the Customizer and is called Site Icon. In fact, WordPress recommends using this option to add a favicon. You don’t even need to create a favicon.ico file, like you used to, years ago. Just use a square image, preferably at least 512 pixels wide and tall. That seems to contradict with the recommendation to keep it as small as possible. But if you optimize your image, it won’t slow down your site 🙂

More information on how to go about this in WordPress is in the WordPress Codex. Go read and add a nice favicon to your own site!

Read more: ‘5 tips on branding’ »

SEO New Hampshire

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Note to All Creatives: Marketing is Your Job

Andrew Raynor

In an interview, the novelist Ian McEwan once complained light-heartedly about what it was like to go out and market a book after spending all the time creating it:

“I feel like the wretched employee of my former self. My former self being the happily engaged novelist who now sends me, a kind of brush salesman or double glazing salesman, out on the road to hawk this book. He got all the fun writing it. I’m the poor bastard who has to go sell it.”

Note to All Creatives: Marketing is Your Job

Every artist can relate. Very few of us got into this business because we wanted to have to manage social media accounts or approve an advertising campaign. Writers became writers because they wanted to write. Actors want to act—not spend two weeks on a grueling press tour. The founder wants to be working on their product, not polishing blog posts for some content marketing side hustle.

But considering how few people get to produce art for a living, and how much drudgery and “hawking” is involved in almost every other industry and profession, this seems like a rather privileged complaint. Who is going to sell your movie, your app, your artwork, your service if not you? Even if you pay someone else a lot of money, how hard are they really going to work?

Nothing has sunk more creative projects than this silly, entitled notion that “I’m just the ideas guy.” Or that McEwan put it, that there is a difference between being an artist and a salesman. In fact—they are the same job.

If Not You Then Who?

Who should make the time for your art if not you? What does it say that you’re not willing to roll up your sleeves to get to work telling people about this work you have made? Name one person who should be more invested in the potential success of this project than you.

The idea that the world is waiting with bated breath for another movie, another book, another app? It’s not true. People love classics from the recent and distant past. When Harper-Collins has an imprint called Harper Perennial, for instance, or when catalog albums are outselling new releases, it should tell you something: People are pretty happy with the old stuff.

To get them to like your stuff is no easy task, then. “’If you build it they will come’ can happen, but to count on that is naive,” Jason Fried explained to me when I asked how he built 37signals, now Basecamp, into a platform with millions of users after pivoting from a Web design company to a Web app company in 2004. “In order for the product to speak for itself, it needs someone to speak to.” It needs someone to speak for it too.

As Byrd Leavell, a literary agent, puts it to his clients, “You know what happens if your book gets published and you don’t have any way of getting attention for it? No one buys it.” That can’t be what you want!

There is Plenty of Time

Al Ries and Jack Trout, likely two of the greatest marketers who’ve ever lived, acknowledge that CEOs are very busy. They have meetings, phone calls, business dinners, and countless other day-to-day responsibilities. So, naturally, CEOs delegate the marketing to other people. But this is a huge mistake. “If you delegate anything,” Ries and Trout say, “you should delegate the chairmanship of the next fund-raising drive. (The vice president of the United States, not the president, attends the state funerals.)” The same is true for creatives. We get it—you have other projects to do, you have a family, you’re busy.

The same goes for artists. If we’re honest with ourselves, we will find that there is plenty of waste inside our artistic routine. Time spent watching TV, time spent on meetings that go nowhere. You can cut back on all this.

  • Take the time you spend messing around on your personal Facebook and use it to build an online community
  • Take the time you spend fantasizing about being in the New York Times and spend it developing relationships with people who can get you there.
  • Take the time you spend dealing with the Resistance, with procrastination, and lean into it. Use those less-than-inspired moments to think about how to build your platform or get attention.

The last thing you can ever afford to skimp on is marketing. Your product needs a champion. As Peter Drucker put it: “[Each project] needs somebody who says, ‘I am going to make this succeed,’ and then goes to work on it.”

That must be you. Marketing is your job. It can’t be passed on to someone else. There is no magical firm—not even mine, which was lucky enough to count Jeff as a client—who can take it totally off your hands. Even if you’re famous, even if you have a million Twitter followers, even if you have a billion dollars to spend advertising—it’s still on you and it still won’t be easy. It’s on you to make this great thing you’ve made and reach as many people as possible with it.

What’d I’d like you to see is that this isn’t an obligation. It’s an opportunity. It’s perfectly possible to apply same amount of creativity and energy into marketing as you put into making.

Marketing Is Art

Look at brilliant campaigns like Paulo Coelho’s decision to upload his own book on Bittorrent sites in Russian to grow his fan base. Look what he did in Brazil with his publisher to run ads that featured the entire text of his famous novel The Alchemist. It’s a giant block of text in 4.1-point font, so it’s basically impossible to read, but it’s still a stunningly clever and brazen move. The brilliant ad reads in part, “Thanks to the 70 million who read the book. If you are not one of them, read this ad…” The result was immediate coverage in outlets like Adweek and, of course, much love on social media. He had to do that—he had to lead those efforts.

In 2014, the mostly unknown band Vulfpeck released a 10 song album, Sleepify, all songs featuring 31 seconds of silence. The idea stemmed from the fact Spotify didn’t pay artists until a “proper play” of 30 seconds. By creating this album the band was inserting themselves into the larger discussion of royalty payments to artists. When the band released the album and encouraged fans to download and play while sleeping (since all the tracks were silent) the band not only earned $20,000 in Spotify royalties, they earned mentions in Rolling Stone, Forbes, Billboard, The Guardian, and many more.

Think about Marc Ecko hustling to send “swag bombs” to influencers—including a hand crafted Malcolm X airbrushed jacket to Spike Lee to celebrate the director’s movie. He was making stuff as his marketing. Over two decades later, Marc and Spike are still working together.

Are creative marketing ideas like this not their own works of art? Wouldn’t your work be served well by applying your muscle and creativity to coming up with something similar?

There are so many great ideas and cool ways to get your work out there, I promise.

  • Do the thing that you think is crazy–that isn’t allowed (I once helped an artist create a boycott of their own work)
  • Take a stand. Take a risk.
  • If you want to be in the news, make news.
  • Reach out to potential champions of your work (they are desperate for good stuff too)

Jeff talks about the difference between a starving artist and a thriving artist–this is that difference. The desire and the ability and the initiative to get what you’ve made in front of people. To see the whole equation as the artist’s responsibility–not just the time they spend in the studio or at the computer or on stage.

Plenty of people can make great work. Not everyone has the dedication to make it and to make it work. Marketing is an opportunity for you to distinguish yourself, to beat out the other talented folks whose entitlement or laziness holds them back.

So yeah, you have to get out there and hawk your stuff. Not just because if you don’t, who will, but because no one can do it as well as you can.

What has held you back from marketing your work? What are you going to do next to get your work out into the world? Share in the comments.

Andrew Raynor

Moving your website to HTTPS / SSL: tips & tricks

Andrew Raynor

 

 

In 2014, we decided to switch over to the (now) commonly-used HTTPS to encrypt sensitive data that’s being sent across our website. This post describes some useful tips based on our own experiences that might come in handy if you’re considering switching. 

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A little backstory

Back in 2014 HTTPS became a hot-topic after the Heartbleed bug became public. This bug allowed people with ill intent to listen in on traffic being transferred over SSL/TLS. It also gave them the ability to hijack and/or read the data. Luckily, this bug got patched quickly after its discovery. This incident was a wake-up call that properly encrypting user information over the internet is a necessity and shouldn’t be an optional thing.

To emphasize the importance of encrypting sensitive data, Google Chrome (since January, 2017) displays a clear warning next to the address bar whenever you visit a website that doesn’t encrypt – potential – sensitive data, such as forms.

How do I switch?

Because it’s important that your data is safe, we took steps in 2014 to ensure that we have SSL-certificates across our own websites. If you decide to switch (you really should!), there are a few things that you need to take into account to ensure your website fully works as intended once you’re done.

  • You need to change all your internal links. This also means updating links to assets (where necessary). Make sure to go through your theme and alter references to CSS, images and JavaScript files. Additionally, you can change all your links to start with // instead of https:// which will result in protocol-relative URLs.
  • Ensure your CDN supports SSL as well. We make use of MaxCDN, which allows you to easily set up SSL on your CDN subdomain.
  • There are various levels of SSL that you can choose from, each with their own pros and cons. You will find more information about that later on.
  • Ensure you have a canonical link present in the <head> section of your website to properly redirect all traffic coming in from http:// to https://.

Google also published a handy guide on how to move to HTTPS without massively impacting your ranking, which can be found here.

How does this influence my rankings?

Like stated in the previous section, moving from HTTP to HTTPS can influence your rankings slightly if you don’t plan accordingly. However, after you switch over to HTTPS, your rankings will actually improve over time. Google announced in 2014 that having an SSL certificate will be considered a positive ranking factor, so it’s worth the investment.

To make sure Googlebot can re-index your website more rapidly after the move, make sure you migrate to https:// during low-traffic hours. This way Googlebot can use more of your server’s resources. Just take into account that a medium-sized website might take a while to regain rankings. Have a sitemap? Then Googlebot might be able to recalculate and re-index your website even faster.

Setting up HTTPS & SSL on your server

Generally speaking, hosting providers have a service to allow you to enable HTTPS/order a certificate. There are a few types of certificates you can choose from, which differ in a few ways. Every variant also has their own price tag, so before purchasing one, make sure that you go with a certificate that fits your needs and budget!

If you’re a bit strapped for cash and tech-savvy, go take a look at Let’s Encrypt to acquire a free(!) certificate.

If you run and manage your own web server, there are a few things that you’ll have to enable in your server configuration before being able to use SSL certificates. This tutorial explains what steps to take to get a certificate running on your server.

OCSP stapling

Having to check the validity of an SSL certificate can result in a small hit in loading speed. To overcome this, you can make use of OCSP stapling. OCSP stapling is a feature that enables the server to download a copy of the certificate vendor’s response when checking the SSL certificate. This means that once a browser connects to the server, it checks the validity of the certificate based on the copy on the server instead of having to query the certificate vendor itself, resulting in a significant performance improvement.

Apache

Before enabling OCSP stapling on your Apache server, please check that you’re running version 2.3.3+ of Apache by running the command apache2 -v (or httpd -v) on your server. Lower versions of Apache do not support this feature.

If you went through the process of setting up HTTPS on your server as described in the ‘Setting up HTTPS & SSL on your server’ section, then you should have come into contact with a VirtualHost configuration specifically made for usage with HTTPS/SSL.

In that file, take the following steps:

  1. Inside the <VirtualHost></VirtualHost> section, you should add SSLUseStapling on.
  2. Just above the <VirtualHost></VirtualHost> section, add SSLStaplingCache shmcb:/tmp/stapling_cache(128000)
  3. Check that the configuration is still valid by running apachectl -t. If so, reload Apache by running service apache2 reload.

Nginx

Nginx also supports OCSP stapling. Before editing the server configuration, please check that you’re running version 1.3.7+ of Nginx by running the command nginx -v on your server. Lower versions of Nginx do not support this feature.

If you went through the process of setting up HTTPS on your server as described in the ‘Setting up HTTPS & SSL on your server’ section, then you should have come into contact with an Nginx configuration specifically made for usage with HTTPS/SSL.

In that file, add the following lines in the server {} section:

ssl_stapling on;
ssl_stapling_verify on;
ssl_trusted_certificate /etc/ssl/private/ca-certs.pem;

The last line references a file that contains a list of trusted CA certificates. This file is used to verify client certificates when using OCSP.

After adding these lines to the file, check that the configuration is still valid by running service nginx configtest. If so, reload Nginx by running service nginx reload

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Strict Transport Security header

The Strict Transport Security Header (HSTS) is another handy feature that basically enforces browsers to use the HTTPS request instead of the HTTP equivalent. Enabling this feature is relatively painless.

Apache

If you’re running Apache, first enable the Apache Headers module by running a2enmod headers. After this, it’s only a matter of adding the following line to your VirtualHost configuration (in the <VirtualHost></VirtualHost> section) that you set up earlier for HTTPS:

Header always set Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=31536000; includeSubDomains"

Reload the Apache service and you’re good to go!

Nginx

Nginx requires you to add the following line in the server{} section of your server configuration file:

add_header Strict-Transport-Security max-age=31536000;

Testing

To see if your SSL certificate is working properly, head over to SSL Labs, fill in your domain name and see what kind of score you get.

Redirecting URLs

To ensure requests are properly redirected to the HTTPS URL, you need to add an extra line to you configuration. This way, traffic that tries to visit your website over HTTP, will automatically be redirected to HTTPS.

Apache

In your default VirtualHost configuration (so the one that’s used for HTTP requests), add the following to ensure URLs get properly redirected:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTPS} off
RewriteRule (.*) https://%{HTTP_HOST}%{REQUEST_URI} [R=301,L]

As with the other changes we made before, don’t forget to reload Apache!

Nginx

In Nginx, change the default configuration file that was used for HTTP requests and alter it as such:

server {
    listen 80;
    server_name your-site.com www.your-site.com;
    return 301 https://your-site.com$request_uri;
}

Don’t forget to reload Nginx before testing these changes.

Conclusion

“Should I switch over to HTTPS?” Short answer: Yes. Using HTTPS ensures that private (user) information is being sent across the web in a more secure manner. Especially if you’re dealing with monetary transactions, HTTPS is a must.

What type of certificate you end up going with, depends on your specific use case and budget. Make sure to properly research your options beforehand.

Read more: ‘WordPress security in a few easy steps’ »

SEO New Hampshire

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How to Write Your Best Book: Part Two

Andrew Raynor

It doesn’t matter how good your idea is or how interesting the message. If you’re missing this one essential quality in your writing, it will lack credibility. A little research goes a long way.

How to Write Your Best Book: Part Two

How far would you travel to conduct an interview for a book? To what lengths would you go in order to secure an influential source to reference? Is research necessary even when you’re doing more creative writing?

This week on The Portfolio Life, Marion Roach Smith and I continue the How to Write Your Best Book series with Part Two in which we address these questions and more. Listen in as we discuss Marion’s surprising research methods, what ocean she crossed to interview an expert, and her recommendations to me for how to research the ideas behind Real Artists Don’t Starve.

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, Marion and I discuss:

  • Looking for holes to build on what other people have written
  • Saying something unique that contributes to the arena
  • How to use studies and bibliographies to dig deeper
  • The danger of accidentally building a straw man argument
  • Surprising results from picking up the phone
  • Scripts for building rapport with industry experts
  • Why to avoid referencing celebrities
  • The one word no one has ever said to Marion
  • How to find interesting sources and connect with them
  • The difference between an Internet writer and one who does real research.
  • Which characteristic of a city gets Marion on the plane to interview someone
  • When to call, email, or Skype a lead versus flying to meet them
  • Why remaining vague is a strategic move
  • A narrative trick that instantly bestows your writing with street cred

Quotes and takeaways

  • “Repurposing the famous is not going to cut it.” –Marion Roach Smith
  • “Every fact, every interview, should heighten and add to the argument.” –Marion Roach Smith
  • “Live quotes are always better than repurposed quotes.” –Marion Roach Smith
  • “There are no tricks to reaching out.” –Marion Roach Smith
  • It’s easy to assume “no” for someone else and avoid asking them your question.
  • Never research a piece starting from an intent to prove something. Research to discover the truth.
  • “Make sure you have one whacky, off-the-wall question.” –Marion Roach Smith

Resources

What did you last discover while conducting research? Where have you traveled to interview a source? Share in the comments

Andrew Raynor

SEO for a new website: the very first things to do

Andrew Raynor

 

 

How does a new website start ranking? Does it just magically appear in Google after you’ve launched it? What things do you have to do to start ranking in Google and get traffic from the search engines? Here, I explain the first steps you’ll need to take right after the launch of your new website. Learn how to start working on the SEO for a new website!

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First: you’ll need to have an external link

One of my closest friends launched a birthday party packages online store last week. It’s all in Dutch and it’s not WordPress (wrong choice of course, but I love her all the same :-)). After my friend launched her website, she celebrated and asked her friends, including me, what they thought of her new site. I love her site, but couldn’t find her in Google, not even if I googled the exact domain name. My first question to my friend was: do you have another site linking to your site? And her answer was ‘no’. I linked to her site from my personal site and after half a day, her website popped up in the search results. The very first step when working on SEO for a new website: getting at least one external link.

Why do you need an external link?

Google is a search engine that follows links. For Google to know about your site, it has to find it by following a link from another site. Google found my friend’s site because I put a link to that site on my personal site. When Google came around to crawl my site after I put the link there, it discovered the existence of my friend’s site. And indexed it. After indexing the site, it started to show the site in the search results.

Read more: ‘What does Google do?’ »

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Next step: tweak your settings…

After that first link, your site probably will turn up in the search results. If it doesn’t turn up, it could be that the settings of your site are on noindex or is still blocked by robots.txt. If that’s the case, you’re telling Google not to index your site. Sometimes developers forget to turn either of these off after they finished working on your site.

Some pages are just not the best landing pages. You don’t want people landing on your check out page, for instance. And you don’t want this page to compete with other – useful – content or product pages to show up in the search results. Pages you don’t want to pop up in the search results ever (but there aren’t many of these) should have a noindex.

Yoast SEO can help you to set these pages to noindex. That means Google will not save this page in the index and it’ll not turn op in the search results.

Keep reading: ‘The ultimate guide to the robots meta tag’ »

Important third step: keyword research

My friend’s site now ranks on her domain name. That’s about it. She’s got some work to do to start ranking on other terms as well. When you want to improve the SEO for a new website you have carry out some proper keyword research. So go find out what your audience is searching for! What words do they use?

If you execute your keyword research properly, you’ll end up with a long list of search terms you want to be found for. Make sure to search for those terms in Google yourself. What results are there already? Who will be your online competitors for these search terms? What can you do to stand out from these results?

Read on: ‘Keyword research: the ultimate guide’ »


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And then: write, write, write

Then you start writing. Write about all those topics that are important to your audience. Use the words you came up with in your keyword research. You need to have content about the topics you want to rank for to start ranking in the search results.

Read more: ‘How to write a high quality and seo-friendly blog post’ »

But also: improve those snippets

Take a look at your results in the search engines once you start ranking (the so called snippets). Are those meta descriptions and the titles of the search results inviting? Are they tempting enough for your audience to click on them? Or should you write better ones?

Yoast SEO helps you to write great titles and meta descriptions. Use our snippet preview to create awesome snippets. That’ll really help in attracting traffic to your site.

Keep reading: ‘The snippet preview: what it means and how to use it?’ »

Think about site structure

Which pages and posts are most important? These should have other pages and posts linking to them. Make sure to link to the most important content. Google will follow your links, the post and pages that have the most internal links will be most likely to rank high in the search engines. Setting up such a structure, is basically telling Google which articles are important and which aren’t. Our brand new text link counter can be a great help to see if you’re linking often enough to your most important content.

Read on: ‘Internal linking for SEO: why and how’ »

Finally: do some link building

Google follows links. Links are important. So get the word out. Reach out to other site owners – preferably of topically related websites – and ask them to write about your new site. If Google follows multiple links to your website, it’ll crawl it more often. This is crucial when you do the SEO for a new website, and will eventually help in your rankings. Don’t go overboard in link building for SEO though, buying links is still a no-go:

Read more: ‘Link building: what not to do?’ »

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What are breadcrumbs and why are they important for SEO?

Andrew Raynor

 

 

Breadcrumbs are an important part of almost any good website. These little navigational aides not just help people visualize where they are on your site, but also help Google determine how your site is structured. That’s why it makes a lot of sense to add these helpful little pointers. Let’s see how breadcrumbs work.

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What are breadcrumbs?

When Hansel and Gretel went into the woods, Hansel dropped pieces of bread on the ground so they could find their way home if the two of them ever got lost. These breadcrumbs eventually became the model for the breadcrumbs we see on websites nowadays. A breadcrumb is a small text path, often located at the top of a page. On yoast.com, for instance, the path to our Yoast SEO plugin page is Home > Software > WordPress Plugins > Yoast SEO for WordPress. This breadcrumb immediately shows you where you are. Every part of that path is clickable, all the way to the homepage.

Breadcrumbs also appear in Google. If you use Yoast SEO or add the correct form of structured data to your site, search engines can pick up this data and could show your breadcrumbs in the search results. These provide users an easy to understand overview of where the page sits on your site.

Different kinds

Looking closely, we can distinguish different types of breadcrumbs. These are the three most common types of breadcrumbs you will find on sites:

Hierarchy based breadcrumbs

These will pop up most often. We use them on our site as well. Breadcrumbs like this will tell you where you are in a site structure and how many steps you can take to get back to the homepage. Something like Home > Blog > Category > Post name.

breadcrumbs hierarchy

Attribute based breadcrumbs

Attribute based breadcrumbs appear after a certain selection has been made, for instance, while searching for a product on an e-commerce site. Maybe, Home > Product category > Gender > Size > Color.

breadcrumbs attribute

History based breadcrumbs

History based breadcrumbs do what it says on the tin; they are ordered according to what you have been doing on the site. Think of these as a replacement for your internet history bar. These would appear like this: Home >  Previous page > Previous page > Previous page > Current page. It’s also possible to combine these like Macy’s does in the screenshot below.

breadcrumbs history

Advantages to using breadcrumbs

There are a couple of advantages to using breadcrumbs on your site. Let’s go over them quickly:

1. Google loves them

Your visitors like breadcrumbs, but Google likes them as well. Breadcrumbs give Google another way of figuring out how your website is structured. In addition to that, Google might use your breadcrumbs to show these in the search results. This way, your search result will at one become much more enticing to users. To increase the chance to get these breadcrumbs in Google, you need to add structured data or use Yoast SEO.

2. They enhance the user experience

People hate to get lost. When confronted with a new location, people often look around in search of recognizable objects or landmarks. The same goes for websites. You need to keep visitors happy and reduce as much friction as possible. Breadcrumbs can help your user experience since it is a well-known interface element that instantly shows people a way out. No need to click the back button!

3. They lower bounce rates

Hardly anyone comes in via the homepage anymore. It’s all organic search nowadays. That means every part of your site could be an entry point. You must come up with a way to guide these visitors to other parts of your site if the selected page does not meet their expectations. Breadcrumbs can lower bounce rates because you’re offering visitors an alternative means of browsing your site. Don’t you think it’s better to send a visitor to your homepage than back to Google?

How to add breadcrumbs

There are several ways of adding breadcrumbs to your site. Firstly, if you use a WordPress site, you can use one of the many breadcrumb plugins or just use Yoast SEO. If you use a different CMS the process might be different. It is also possible to add them by hand. If you want them to appear in Google as well, you need to use structured data in a way that Google understands. You can find more information on this in Google’s developer documentation on breadcrumbs.

Yoast SEO offers an easy way to add breadcrumbs to your WordPress site. It will add everything necessary to add them not just visible on your site, but get them ready for Google as well. To add breadcrumbs to your site, you need to add the following piece of code to your theme where you want them to appear:

<?php
if ( function_exists('yoast_breadcrumb') ) {
yoast_breadcrumb('


','

');
}
?>

This code can often be placed inside the single.php or page.php files, just above the title of the page. Some themes want it at the end of the header.php file. Try not to add it to functions.php since this could create problems.

After adding the code, you can go to the advanced settings of Yoast SEO and switch on breadcrumb support. Here, you can also determine how the breadcrumb structure will look and what prefixes will be used. Find out more on our Knowledge Base page on implementing breadcrumbs with Yoast SEO.

Conclusion

While using breadcrumbs, Hansel and Gretel still got lost in the woods. Don’t let that happen to your visitor. Breadcrumbs provide an easy to grasp way of navigating for users. Visitors instantly understand how the site structure works. For the same reason, Google loves them as well. Use Yoast SEO to add breadcrumbs to your site easily.

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

SEO New Hampshire

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The Rule of the Scene: Why Where You Live Affects the Work You Do

Andrew Raynor

I’ve written before that every story of success is really a story of community. In fact, this was one of the central ideas to my book, Real Artists Don’t Starve. You need a scene. But how do you find one, exactly?

The Rule of the Scene: Why Where You Live Affects the Work You Do

When we look at the lives of successful artists, writers, and creatives, we don’t just see a collection of serendipitous moments. We see strategy. Whether intentional or not, a series of incidents and connections often allow a person’s work to get the attention it deserves.

And this does not happen by accident. At least, not usually.

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this is how Ernest Hemingway moved to Paris in the 1920s to join a scene of expatriate writers and artists who had taken up residence in the Left Bank to focus. Almost every time I tell this story, someone will ask, “But what if I can’t move?”

Do you have to move across the world to find your scene? What if circumstances prevent you from doing so? Here’s what to do if you find yourself in that situation.

Go where the magic is

The Rule of the Scene, as I call it, states that it’s easier to go where creative work is happening than it is to will yourself to be more creative. The research on this is pretty clear: genius is a group effort, not the result of any single person’s work. The concept of the solitary genius is a myth. We don’t do our best work alone.

At the same time, not all of us are able to pack up our things and move across the country or the other side of globe to find our scene. Does this mean we’re out of luck? Not exactly.

We need a scene. That much is obvious. But you may not have to move as far as you think. Here’s how this works. If you want to do your best work, you have a choice:

  1. You can either go join a scene.
  2. You can create one right where you are.

Either way, you don’t get out of this. You have to find your scene, even if it means you make it yourself.

Join an existing scene

Let’s look at the first strategy, which we’ll call “Go Join a Scene,” (see Chapter 6 of Real Artists Don’t Starve for more on this). The idea here is there are certain pockets of creativity in the world that are worth tapping into. These places and unique moments in time are sometimes called “creative clusters.”

Researcher Richard Florida writes about the Creative Class, as a group of workers who are particularly drawn to areas of technology and diversity. They intuitively understand that where we live affects what we do and how we do it.

Travel writer Eric Weiner shared the same phenomenon in his book The Geography of Genius. Some places, he argues, seem to have an “it” factor, something that makes that location a hotspot for creative. And if we want to do our best creative work, we would do well to tap into these places.

One quality, according to Weiner, is that these places are unlikely — they can happen anywhere. When Hemingway sees a bunch of poets and painters moving to Paris because the exchange rate is good, he decides to follow. There, he can live on a meager budget while growing as a writer in the company of greatness. So he goes. And he finds his scene.

That’s one way to do it. But of course, there is another.

Create your own scene

You can either do what Hemingway did and go join a scene, or you can create one. Let’s look at that second strategy, which we’ll call “Create Your Own Scene.” If one way to do your best creative work is going where creativity is already happening, the alternative, then, would be to stay put.

This, too, is a strategy. Because for every Hemingway in Paris, there’s a Bronte in Haworth. Haworth, England was a small rural town where the Bronte family made their home. The daughters of a clergyman, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne grew up without much exposure to the outside world. To pass the time and to amuse themselves, they would tell stories to each other.

One day, one of the older sisters Charlotte found some poetry written by Emily, which caused the older sister to share that she, too, had been writing. Before long, it was clear that all three siblings were closet writers, and thus began a literary collaboration that would last a lifetime.

The Bronte sisters would go on to write some of the most influential works of literature in the English language, and it all began in a small village, far from the reaches of civilization. These young women didn’t have to leave home to find their scene. In fact, some of them did leave only to return to Haworth because that was where they did their best work.

Sometimes, the community we need is closer than we realize.

You must move

So which should we do? Go find a scene? Or create one? It may sound like contradictory advice. If you can stay put or leave, then you really don’t have to do anything. But that’s not what I’m saying.

You need a scene. You need to find that place where your people are, that community you can connect and collaborate with to create your best work. And make no mistake. This does requirement movement.

For some of us, that may mean a move across the room, as was the case with the Brontes. For others, it may mean a move overseas, as Hemingway did. In my case, it meant realizing that I lived in a city where creative work was already happening. I just needed to join it. This, too, required action. I had to put myself out there, showing up at local coffee shops and meet-ups where other creative workers like me were gathering. And over time, the more I made myself available to the scene, the more I became a part of it.

If you want to find your scene, you must move. Standing still is not an option. As you consider where you need to do your best work, it may help to understand that a scene requires three things:

  • A place
  • A people
  • A purpose

You need a place to gather, a group of people to connect with, and a reason for meeting. This was true of the Brontes, it was true of Hemingway and the rest of the Lost Generation, and it was even true of the scene that I joined here in Nashville so many years ago.

We do our best work in community. And those communities are found in places, sometimes the ones we least expect. Our job is to go find it, wherever it is. Because once you join your scene, it changes everything.

How to do this today

An example of someone who has done a good job of combining these two strategies is Eric Gale, a member of our Tribe Writers community.

Every year, he has consistently come to the Tribe Conference, going where the creative scene he needs is. But he doesn’t just show up. He makes the most of the experience, taking it upon himself to put together a meet-up for other Tribe Writers in the area. No one asked him to do this. He was just hungry enough for connection with other writers that he decided to create his own community.

This is how you find a scene. You put yourself out there, going where creative work is already happening — whether that’s in your own back yard or perhaps at a nearby (or even faraway) event. You do whatever you can to get to where your people are. And then, you do something like Eric did — you step out, take initiative, and make yourself as helpful as possible to others.

And if you do this well, you win.

So your next steps are simple:

  1. Join an existing scene. Find a place where the people you want to connect with are already gathering. Check out meetup.org or even the Tribe Conference if it’s the right fit for you.
  2. Commit to showing up. Buy a ticket. Schedule that meeting. Do whatever you need to do to get there.
  3. Be helpful. Go above and beyond, just as Eric did, to become the community you need. Help enough people and you’ll be surprised how that generosity has a way of coming back around.

If you’re curious about joining Eric along with a few hundred other writers and creatives this year who are to get the attention their work deserves, check out Tribe Conference.

Click here to reserve your seat before the early bird price expires.

What creative community are you part of? Do you need to join or create a new scene? Share in the comments.

Andrew Raynor

How to use the text link counter‎

Andrew Raynor

 

 

In the latest release of Yoast SEO, we’ve added a text link counter. It consists of two counters, the first counts the number of internal text links you’ve put in your post. And the other counter counts the number of internal links to a post. These counters can be a huge help in improving the structure of your site. I’ve already explained why you should use the text link counter. Here, I’ll show you how to use our new text link counter.

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Where do I find the text link counter?

From now on, checking the number of internal links in a post and the number of links to a certain post is very easy. You can find the two counters in your post overview:yoast seo 5.0 text link counter
Look a bit closer:

text links counter

This functionality is very actionable. If you want to improve your site structure and your SEO, the text link counter will help you do that. You can go through your post with few links and improve your site’s structure step by step. We’re already thinking of ways to make this experience even smoother.

Find and resolve: ‘Orphaned articles’

Some articles don’t get many links from other posts; we often refer to them as ‘orphaned articles.’ These pages are hard to find, both by Google as well as the user. With the help of our text link counter, these articles are easy to detect. If you want to check which articles don’t receive many links, you can sort the articles by number in the second link counter column. Articles with 0 posts linking to them, will appear on top of the list.

The next step is to open those posts or pages with few links. Is it a page you don’t find useful anymore? Just delete and redirect it to another relevant page. If you do think it’s still a valid page on your site, figure out which other posts could link to it. Our internal linking tool (only for Yoast SEO premium) could help you to figure out which posts are linking candidates. Go to those similar post and insert links from these posts to your ‘orphaned’ post. That strategy could very well result in a small boost in your rankings.

Improve site structure by adding links

The other counter – the first column – counts the number of text links to other posts and pages on your website. You’ll want your post to link to other posts and pages with similar content, as it helps your readers to figure out other posts to read. If you link to similar content, the time people spend on your website will go up.

To find blog posts with few links to other posts, order the posts by the number of links. The posts with the fewest links will appear on top of your list. Adding links is incredibly easy with our internal linking tool. In our internal linking tool, we’ll suggest which post to link to based on similar content. You can add the suggestions, and you’re ready to go to the next blog post with few links.

Improve those cornerstone articles

An excellent way to use the text link counter is to use it for the cornerstone content articles. These are your most important articles. You’ll need to have your other posts linking to these particular relevant posts. To check whether you’re linking sufficiently to these cornerstones, you should select your cornerstone articles in your post overview. You can indicate which posts are your cornerstones in the Yoast SEO meta box (just beneath the snippet preview).  If one of your cornerstones has very few links, you’ll have work to do! Our internal linking tool will help you to figure out which articles to start linking to.

Conclusion on the text link counter

The new text link counter is a beneficial tool to improve your site’s structure actively. It’ll show you which posts need linking. If you combine this text link counter with our internal linking tool and the cornerstone content check, you’ll be able to bring your site’s structure to the next level. That will instantly increase the time people spend on your page and eventually will result in higher rankings in Google.

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

SEO New Hampshire

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Ask Yoast: Meta descriptions and excerpts

Andrew Raynor

 

 

When you’re running a large and busy website, it’s practical and time-saving if you can reuse some of your material. Both meta descriptions and excerpts use a brief passage to summarize the content of a web page. So, it could be handy to use the same text for both. But how do you do that? In this video, Joost explains the easiest way to reuse your text for both meta descriptions and excerpts, and whether Google approves of this reuse.

Renee Lodens sent us an email with the following question:

“Is there a way to bulk copy the Yoast SEO meta descriptions to the excerpt field? Also, is this considered duplicate content?”

Watch the video or read the transcript further down the page! 

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Meta descriptions and excerpts

So, what to do if you want to save time and use the same passages for meta descriptions and excerpts?

“Well, let’s start with the first thing. It’s probably easier to do it the other way around. If you put the description that you want in the excerpt field, and then in the back end, in the Yoast SEO Titles & Meta section, you can use the excerpt short code for meta descriptions. We will automatically put your excerpt in your meta description. That’s easier. You can do it the other way around too, but then you’d have to code a bit.

Is this considered duplicate content? No, it’s not. Because they are different things used for different purposes. Your meta description will only show up in the metadata, which will not be shown on the page. And Google considers these two separate things.

So this might actually work well for you if you write really good short excerpts that fit well into your meta description.

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: ‘How to create the right meta descriptions’ »

SEO New Hampshire

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