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Parenting

E-A-T and the Quality Raters’ Guidelines – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by MarieHaynes

EAT — also known as Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness — is a big deal when it comes to Google’s algorithms. But what exactly does this acronym entail, and why does it matter to your everyday work? In this bite-sized version of her full MozCon 2019 presentation, Marie Haynes describes exactly what E-A-T means and how it could have a make-or-break effect on your site.

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Hey, Moz fans. My name is Marie Haynes, from Marie Haynes Consulting, and I’m going to talk to you today about EAT and the Quality Raters’ Guidelines. By now, you’ve probably heard of EAT. It’s a bit of a buzzword in SEO. I’m going to share with you why EAT is a big part of Google’s algorithms, how we can take advantage of this news, and also why it’s really, really important to all of us.

The Quality Raters’ Guidelines

Let’s talk about the Quality Raters’ Guidelines. These guidelines are a document that Google has provided to this whole army of quality raters. There are apparently 16,000 quality raters, and what they do is they use this document, the Quality Raters’ Guidelines, to determine whether websites are high quality or not.

Now the quality raters do not have the power to put a penalty on your website. They actually have no direct bearing on rankings. But instead, what happens is they feed information back to Google’s engineers, and Google’s engineers can take that information and determine whether their algorithms are doing what they want them to do. Ben Gomes, the Vice President of Search at Google, he had a quote recently in an interview with CNBC, and he said that the quality raters, the information that’s in there is fundamentally what Google wants the algorithm to do.

“They fundamentally show us what the algorithm should do.”- Ben Gomes, VP Search, Google

So we believe that if something is in the Quality Raters’ Guidelines, either Google is already measuring this algorithmically, or they want to be measuring it, and so we should be paying close attention to everything that is in there. 

How Google fights disinformation

There was a guide that was produced by Google earlier, in February of 2019, and it was a whole guide on how they fight disinformation, how they fight fake news, how they make it so that high-quality results are appearing in the search results.

There were a couple of things in here that were really interesting. 

1. Information from the quality raters allows them to build algorithms

The guide talked about the fact that they take the information from the quality raters and that allows them to build algorithms. So we know that it’s really important that the things that the quality raters are assessing are things that we probably should be paying attention to as well. 

2. Ranking systems are designed to ID sites with high expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness

The thing that was the most important to me or the most interesting, at least, is this line that said our ranking systems are designed to identify sites with a high indicia of EAT, of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.

So whether or not we want to argue whether EAT is a ranking factor, I think that’s semantics. What the word “ranking factor” means, what we really need to know is that EAT is really important in Google’s algorithms. We believe that if you’re trying to rank for any term that really matters to people, “your money or your life” really means if it’s a page that is helping people make a decision in their lives or helping people part with money, then you need to pay attention to EAT, because Google doesn’t want to rank websites that are for important queries if they’re lacking EAT.

The three parts of E-A-T

So it’s important to know that EAT has three parts, and a lot of people get hung up on just expertise. I see a lot of people come to me and say, “But I’m a doctor, and I don’t rank well.” Well, there are more parts to EAT than just expertise, and so we’re going to talk about that. 

1. Expertise

But expertise is very important. In the Quality Raters’ Guidelines, which each of you, if you have not read it yet, you really, really should read this document.

It’s a little bit long, but it’s full of so much good information. The raters are given examples of websites, and they’re told, “This is a high-quality website. This is a low-quality website because of this.” One of the things that they say for one of the posts is this particular page is to be considered low quality because the expertise of the author is not clearly communicated.

Add author bios

So the first clue we can gather from this is that for all of our authors we should have an author bio. Perhaps if you are a nationally recognized brand, then you may not need author bios. But for the rest of us, we really should be putting an author bio that says here’s who wrote this post, and here’s why they’re qualified to do so.

Another example in the Quality Raters’ Guidelines talks about was a post about the flu. What the quality raters were told is that there’s no evidence that this author has medical expertise. So this tells us, and there are other examples where there’s no evidence of financial expertise, and legal expertise is another one. Think about it.

If you were diagnosed with a medical condition, would you want to be reading an article that’s written by a content writer who’s done good research? It might be very well written. Or would you rather see an article that is written by somebody who has been practicing in this area for decades and has seen every type of side effect that you can have from medications and things like that?

Hire experts to fact-check your content

Obviously, the doctor is who you want to read. Now I don’t expect us all to go and hire doctors to write all of our content, because there are very few doctors that have time to do that and also the other experts in any other YMYL profession. But what you can do is hire these people to fact check your posts. We’ve had some clients that have seen really nice results from having content writers write the posts in a very well researched and referenced way, and then they’ve hired physicians to say this post was medically fact checked by Dr. So-and-so. So this is really, really important for any type of site that wants to rank for a YMYL query. 

One of the things that we started noticing, in February of 2017, we had a number of sites that came to us with traffic drops. That’s mostly what we do. We deal with sites that were hit by Google algorithm updates. What we were noticing is a weird thing was happening.

Prior to that, sites that were hit, they tended to have all sorts of technical issues, and we could say, “Yes, there’s a really strong reason why this site is not ranking well.” These sites were all ones that were technically, for the most part, sound. But what we noticed is that, in every instance, the posts that were now stealing the rankings they used to have were ones that were written by people with real-life expertise.

This is not something that you want to ignore. 

2. Authoritativeness

We’ll move on to authoritativeness. Authoritativeness is really very, very important, and in my opinion this is the most important part of EAT. Authoritativeness, there’s another reference in the Quality Raters’ Guidelines about a good post, and it says, “The author of this blog post has been known as an expert on parenting issues.”

So it’s one thing to actually be an expert. It’s another thing to be recognized online as an expert, and this should be what we’re all working on is to have other people online recognize us or our clients as experts in their subject matter. That sounds a lot like link building, right? We want to get links from authoritative sites.

The guide to this information actually tells us that PageRank and EAT are closely connected. So this is very, very important. I personally believe — I can’t prove this just yet — but I believe that Google does not want to pass PageRank through sites that do not have EAT, at least for YMYL queries. This could explain why Google feels really comfortable that they can ignore spam links from negative SEO attacks, because those links would come from sites that don’t have EAT.

Get recommendations from experts

So how do we do this? It’s all about getting recommendations from experts. The Quality Raters’ Guidelines say in several places the raters are instructed to determine what do other experts say about this website, about this author, about this brand. It’s very, very important that we can get recommendations from experts. I want to challenge you right now to look at the last few links that you have gotten for your website and look at them and say, “Are these truly recommendations from other people in the industry that I’m working in? Or are they ones that we made?”

In the past, pretty much every link that we could make would have the potential to help boost our rankings. Now, the links that Google wants to count are ones that truly are people recommending your content, your business, your author. So I did a Whiteboard Friday a couple of years ago that talked about the types of links that Google might want to value, and that’s probably a good reference to find how can we find these recommendations from experts.

How can we do link building in a way that boosts our authoritativeness in the eyes of Google? 

3. Trustworthiness

The last part, which a lot of people ignore, is trustworthiness. People would say, “Well, how could Google ever measure whether a website is trustworthy?” I think it’s definitely possible. Google has a patent. Now we know if there’s a patent, that they’re not necessarily doing this.

Reputation via reviews, blog posts, & other online content

But they do have a patent that talks about how they can gather information about a brand, about an individual, about a website from looking at a corpus of reviews, blog posts, and other things that are online. What this patent talks about is looking at the sentiment of these blog posts. Now some people would argue that maybe sentiment is not a part of Google’s algorithms.

I do think it’s a part of how they determine trustworthiness. So what we’re looking for here is if a business really has a bad reputation, if you have a reputation where people online are saying, “Look, I got scammed by this company.” Or, “I couldn’t get a refund.” Or, “I was treated really poorly in terms of customer service.” If there is a general sentiment about this online, that can affect your ability to rank well, and that’s very important. So all of these things are important in terms of trustworthiness.

Credible, clear contact info on website

You really should have very credible and clear contact information on your website. That’s outlined in the Quality Raters’ Guidelines. 

Indexable, easy-to-find info on refund policies

You should have information on your refund policy, assuming that you sell products, and it should be easy for people to find. All of this information I believe should be visible in Google’s index.

We shouldn’t be no indexing these posts. Don’t worry about the fact that they might be kind of thin or irrelevant or perhaps even duplicate content. Google wants to see this, and so we want that to be in their algorithms. 

Scientific references & scientific consensus

Other things too, if you have a medical site or any type of site that can be supported with scientific references, it’s very important that you do that.

One of the things that we’ve been seeing with recent updates is a lot of medical sites are dropping when they’re not really in line with scientific consensus. This is a big one. If you run a site that has to do with natural medicine, this is probably a rough time for you, because Google has been demoting sites that talk about a lot of natural medicine treatments, and the reason for this, I think, is because a lot of these are not in line with the general scientific consensus.

Now, I know a lot of people would say, “Well, who is Google to determine whether essential oils are helpful or not, because I believe a lot of these natural treatments really do help people?” The problem though is that there are a lot of websites that are scamming people. So Google may even err on the side of caution in saying, “Look, we think this website could potentially impact the safety of users.”

You may have trouble ranking well. So if you have posts on natural medicine, on any type of thing that’s outside of the generally accepted scientific consensus, then one thing you can do is try to show both sides of the story, try to talk about how actually traditional physicians would treat this condition.

That can be tricky. 

Ad experience

The other thing that can speak to trust is your ad experience. I think this is something that’s not actually in the algorithms just yet. I think it’s going to come. Perhaps it is. But the Quality Raters’ Guidelines talk a lot about if you have ads that are distracting, that are disruptive, that block the readers from seeing content, then that can be a sign of low trustworthiness.

“If any of Expertise, Authoritativeness, or Trustworthiness is lacking, use the ‘low’ rating.”

I want to leave you with this last quote, again from the Quality Raters’ Guidelines, and this is significant. The raters are instructed that if any one of expertise, authoritativeness, or trustworthiness is lacking, then they are to rate a website as low quality. Again, that’s not going to penalize that website. But it’s going to tell the Google engineers, “Wait a second. We have these low-quality websites that are ranking for these terms.How can we tweak the algorithm so that that doesn’t happen?”



But the important thing here is that if any one of these three things, the E, the A, or the T are lacking, it can impact your ability to rank well. So hopefully this has been helpful. I really hope that this helps you improve the quality of your websites. I would encourage you to leave a comment or a question below. I’m going to be hanging out in the comments section and answering all of your questions.

I have more information on these subjects at mariehaynes.com/eat and also /trust if you’re interested in these trust issues. So with that, I want to thank you. I really wish you the best of luck with your rankings, and please do leave a question for me below.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Categories
Parenting

GET YOUR KIDS OUTSIDE! (5 Excuses Holding You Back)


GET YOUR KIDS OUTSIDE (5 Excuses Holding You Back)

The Parenting Junkie shares 5 reasons you might not be getting outside and what you can do about it. We all know you need to get your kids outside. Even mainstream media is sending the message to get kids outside. You probably have reasons kids aren’t outside, including reasons your kids aren’t outside. In order to get kids in nature we need to make it a priority. To help get your kids in nature it helps to have the right gear. When you get kids to play outside you know you are serving their well-being. When you get kids to play in nature they benefit from the sense and natural color palette nature provides. By not getting outside our kids are suffering. By kids not playing outside they are losing out on time to move their bodies freely. By kids not getting in nature they are missing out on all the exploration that comes from the natural world. By kids not playing in nature they are losing out on a wonderful sensory experience. There are probably multiple reasons you are not going outside and reasons kids won’t go outside but luckily today this video will show you what you can do about it.

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#1 – They don’t want to go outside [0:40]
#2 – It’s too hot! [1:47]
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#4 – We don’t have time [3:21]
#5 – It’s boring! [3:59]

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Parenting

How to Win Some Local Customers Back from Amazon this Holiday Season

Posted by MiriamEllis

Your local business may not be able to beat Amazon at the volume of their own game of convenient shipping this holiday season, but don’t assume it’s a game you can’t at least get into!

This small revelation took me by surprise last month while I was shopping for a birthday gift for my brother. Like many Americans, I’m feeling growing qualms about the economic and societal impacts of putting my own perceived convenience at the top of a list of larger concerns like ensuring fair business practices, humane working conditions, and sustainable communities.

So, when I found myself on the periphery of an author talk at the local independent bookstore and the book happened to be one I thought my brother would enjoy, I asked myself a new question:

“I wonder if this shop would ship?”

There was no signage indicating such a service, but I asked anyway, and was delighted to discover that they do. Minutes later, the friendly staff was wrapping up a signed copy of the volume in nice paper and popping a card in at no extra charge. Shipping wasn’t free, but I walked away feeling a new kind of happiness in wishing my sibling a “Happy Birthday” this year.

And that single transaction not only opened my eyes to the fact that I don’t have to remain habituated to gift shopping at Amazon or similar online giants for remote loved ones, but it also inspired this article.

Let’s talk about this now, while your local business, large or small, still has time to make plans for the holidays. Let’s examine this opportunity together, with a small study, a checklist, and some inspiration for seasonal success.

What do people buy most at the holidays and who’s shipping?

According to Statista, the categories in the following chart are the most heavily shopped during the holiday season. I selected a large town in California with a population of 60,000+, and phoned every business in these categories that was ranking in the top 10 of Google’s Local Finder view. This comprised both branded chains and independently-owned businesses. I asked each business if I came in and purchased items whether they could ship them to a friend.

Category

% Offer Shipping

Notes

Clothing

80%

Some employees weren’t sure. Outlets of larger store brands couldn’t ship. Some offered shipping only if you were a member of their loyalty program. Small independents consistently offered shipping. Larger brands promoted shopping online.

Electronics

10%

Larger stores all stressed going online. The few smaller stores said they could ship, but made it clear that it was an unusual request.

Games/Toys/Dolls etc.

25%

Large stores promote online shopping. One said they would ship some items but not all. Independents did not ship.

Food/Liquor

20%

USPS prohibits shipping alcohol. I surveyed grocery, gourmet, and candy stores. None of the grocery stores shipped and only two candy stores did.

Books

50%

Only two bookstores in this town, both independent. One gladly ships. The other had never considered it.

Jewelry

60%

Chains require online shopping. Independents more open to shipping but some didn’t offer it.

Health/Beauty

20%

With a few exceptions, cosmetic and fitness-related stores either had no shipping service or had either limited or full online shopping.

Takeaways from the study
Most of the chains promote online shopping vs. shopping in their stores, which didn’t surprise me, but which strikes me as opportunity being left on the table.
I was pleasantly surprised by the number of independent clothing and jewelry stores that gladly offered to ship gift purchases.
I was concerned by how many employees initially didn’t know whether or not their employer offered shipping, indicating a lack of adequate training.
Finally, I’ll add that I’ve physically visited at least 85% of these businesses in the past few years and have never been told by any staff member about their shipping services, nor have I seen any in-store signage promoting such an offer.

My overarching takeaway from the experiment is that, though all of us are now steeped in the idea that consumers love the convenience of shipping, a dominant percentage of physical businesses are still operating as though this realization hasn’t fully hit in… or that it can be safely ignored.

To put it another way, if Amazon has taken some of your customers, why not take a page from their playbook and get shipping?

The nitty-gritty of brick-and-mortar shipping

62% of consumers say the reason they’d shop offline is because they want to see, touch, and try out items. – RetailDive

There’s no time like the holidays to experiment with a new campaign. I sat down with a staff member at the bookstore where I bought my brother’s gift and asked her some questions about how they manage shipping. From that conversation, and from some additional research, I came away with the following checklist for implementing a shipping offer at your brick-and-mortar locations:

✔ Determine whether your business category is one that lends itself to holiday gift shopping.

✔ Train core or holiday temp staff to package and ship gifts.

✔ Craft compelling messaging surrounding your shipping offer, perhaps promoting pride in the local community vs. pride in Amazon. Don’t leave it to customers to shop online on autopilot — help them realize there’s a choice.

✔ Cover your store and website with messaging highlighting this offering, at least two months in advance of the holidays.

✔ In October, run an in-store campaign in which cashiers verbally communicate your holiday shipping service to every customer.

✔ Sweeten the offer with a dedication of X% of sales to a most popular local cause/organization/institution.

✔ Promote your shipping service via your social accounts.

✔ Make an effort to earn a mention of your shipping service in local print and radio news.

✔ Set clear dates for when the last purchases can be made to reach their destinations in time for the holidays.

✔ Coordinate with the USPS, FedEx, or UPS to have them pick up packages from your location daily.

✔ Determine the finances of your shipping charges. You may need to experiment with whether free shipping would put too big of a hole in your pocket, or whether it’s necessary to compete with online giants at the holidays.

✔ Track the success of this campaign to discover ROI.

Not every business is a holiday shopping destination, and online shopping may simply have become too dominant in some categories to overcome the Amazon habit. But, if you determine you’ve got an opportunity here, designate 2018 as a year to experiment with shipping with a view towards making refinements in the new year.

You may discover that your customers so appreciate the lightbulb moment of being able to support local businesses when they want something mailed that shipping is a service you’ll want to instate year-round. And not just for gifts… consumers are already signaling at full strength that they like having merchandise shipped to themselves!

Adding the lagniappe: Something extra

For the past couple of years, economists have reported that Americans are spending more on restaurants than on groceries. I see a combination of a desire for experiences and convenience in that, don’t you? It has been joked that someone needs to invent food that takes pictures of itself for social sharing! What can you do to capitalize on this desire for ease and experience in your business?

Cards, carols, and customs are wreathed in the “joy” part of the holidays, but how often do customers genuinely feel the enjoyment when they are shopping these days? True, a run to the store for a box of cereal may not require aesthetic satisfaction, but shouldn’t we be able to expect some pleasure in our purchasing experiences, especially when we are buying gifts that are meant to spread goodwill?

When my great-grandmother got tired from shopping at the Emporium in San Francisco, one of the superabundant sales clerks would direct her to the soft surroundings of the ladies’ lounge to refresh her weary feet on an automatic massager. She could lunch at a variety of nicely appointed in-store restaurants at varied prices. Money was often tight, but she could browse happily in the “bargain basement”. There were holiday roof rides for the kiddies, and holiday window displays beckoning passersby to stop and gaze in wonder. Great-grandmother, an immigrant from Ireland, got quite a bit of enjoyment out of the few dollars in her purse.

It may be that those lavish days of yore are long gone, taking the pleasure of shopping with them, and that we’re doomed to meager choosing between impersonal online shopping or impersonal offline warehouses … but I don’t think so.

The old Emporium was huge, with multiple floors and hundreds of employees … but it wasn’t a “big box store”.

There’s still opportunity for larger brands to differentiate themselves from their warehouse-lookalike competitors. Who says retail has to look like a fast food chain or a mobile phone store?

And as for small, independent businesses? I can’t open my Twitter feed nowadays without encountering a new and encouraging story about the rise of localism and local entrepreneurialism.

It’s a good time to revive the ethos of the lagniappe — the Louisiana custom of giving patrons a little something extra with their purchase, something that will make it worth it to get off the computer and head into town for a fun, seasonal experience. Yesterday’s extra cookie that made up the baker’s dozen could be today’s enjoyable atmosphere, truly expert salesperson, chair to sit down in when weary, free cup of spiced cider on a wintry day… or the highly desirable service of free shipping. Chalk up the knowledge of this need as one great thing Amazon has gifted you.

In 2017, our household chose to buy as many holiday presents as possible from Main Street for our nearby family and friends. We actually enjoyed the experience. In 2018, we plan to see how far our town can take us in terms of shipping gifts to loved ones we won’t have a chance to see. Will your business be ready to serve our newfound need?

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Parenting

Better Than Basics: Custom-Tailoring Your SEO Approach

Posted by Laura.Lippay

Just like people, websites come in all shapes and sizes. They’re different ages, with different backgrounds, histories, motivations, and resources at hand. So when it comes to approaching SEO for a site, one-size-fits-all best practices are typically not the most effective way to go about it (also, you’re better than that).

An analogy might be if you were a fitness coach. You have three clients. One is a 105lb high school kid who wants to beef up a little. One is a 65-year-old librarian who wants better heart health. One is a heavyweight lumberjack who’s working to be the world’s top springboard chopper. Would you consider giving each of them the same diet and workout routine? Probably not. You’re probably going to:

Learn all you can about their current diet, health, and fitness situations.Come up with the best approach and the best tactics for each situation.Test your way into it and optimize, as you learn what works and what doesn’t.

In SEO, consider how your priorities might be different if you saw similar symptoms — let’s say problems ranking anything on the first page — for:

New sites vs existing sitesNew content vs older contentEnterprise vs small bizLocal vs globalType of market — for example, a news site, e-commerce site, photo pinning, or a parenting community

A new site might need more sweat equity or have previous domain spam issues, while an older site might have years of technical mess to clean up. New content may need the right promotional touch while old content might just simply be stale. The approach for enterprise is often, at its core, about getting different parts of the organization to work together on things they don’t normally do, while the approach for small biz is usually more scrappy and entrepreneurial.

With the lack of trust in SEO today, people want to know if you can actually help them and how. Getting to know the client or project intimately and proposing custom solutions shows that you took the time to get to know the details and can suggest an effective way forward. And let’s not forget that your SEO game plan isn’t just important for the success of the client — it’s important for building your own successes, trust, and reputation in this niche industry.

How to customize an approach for a proposalDo: Listen first

Begin by asking questions. Learn as much as you can about the situation at hand, the history, the competition, resources, budget, timeline, etc. Maybe even sleep on it and ask more questions before you provide a proposal for your approach.

Consider the fitness trainer analogy again. Now that you’ve asked questions, you know that the high school kid is already at the gym on a regular basis and is overeating junk food in his attempt to beef up. The librarian has been on a low-salt paleo diet since her heart attack a few years ago, and knows she knows she needs to exercise but refuses to set foot in a gym. The lumberjack is simply a couch potato.

Now that you know more, you can really tailor a proposed approach that might appeal to your potential client and allow you and the client to see how you might reach some initial successes.

Do: Understand business priorities.

What will fly? What won’t fly? What can we push for and what’s off the table? Even if you feel strongly about particular tactics, if you can’t shape your work within a client’s business priorities you may have no client at all.

Real-world example:

Site A wanted to see how well they could rank against their biggest content-heavy SERP competitors like Wikipedia but wanted to keep a sleek, content-light experience. Big-brand SEO vendors working for Site A pushed general, content-heavy SEO best practices. Because Site A wanted solutions that fit into their current workload along with a sleek, content-light experience, they pushed back.

The vendors couldn’t keep the client because they weren’t willing to get into the clients workload groove and go beyond general best practices. They didn’t listen to and work within the client’s specific business objectives.

Site A hired internal SEO resources and tested into an amount of content that they were comfortable with, in sync with technical optimization and promotional SEO tactics, and saw rankings slowly improve. Wikipedia and the other content-heavy sites are still sometimes outranking Site A, but Site A is now a stronger page one competitor, driving more traffic and leads, and can make the decision from here whether it’s worth it to continue to stay content-light or ramp up even more to get top 3 rankings more often.

The vendors weren’t necessarily incorrect in suggesting going content-heavy for the purpose of competitive ranking, but they weren’t willing to find the middle ground to test into light content first, and they lost a big brand client. At its current state, Site A could ramp up content even more, but gobs of text doesn’t fit the sleek brand image and it’s not proven that it would be worth the engineering maintenance costs for that particular site — a very practical, “not everything in SEO is most important all the time” approach.

Do: Find the momentum

It’s easiest to inject SEO where there’s already momentum into a business running full-speed ahead. Are there any opportunities to latch onto an effort that’s just getting underway? This may be more important than your typical best practice priorities.

Real-world example:

Brand X had 12–20 properties (websites) at any given time, but their small SEO team could only manage about 3 at a time. Therefore the SEO team had to occasionally assess which properties they would be working with. Properties were chosen based on:

Which ones have the biggest need or opportunities?Which ones have resources that they’re willing to dedicate?Which ones are company priorities?

#2 was important. Without it, the idea that one of the properties might have the biggest search traffic opportunity didn’t matter if they had no resources to dedicate to implement the SEO team’s recommendations.

Similarly, in the first example above, the vendors weren’t able to go with the client’s workflow and lost the client. Make sure you’re able to identify which wheels are moving that you can take advantage of now, in order to get things done. There may be some tactics that will have higher impact, but if the client isn’t ready or willing to do them right now, you’re pushing a boulder uphill.

Do: Understand the competitive landscape

What is this site up against? What is the realistic chance they can compete? Knowing what the competitive landscape looks like, how will that influence your approach?

Real-world example:

Site B has a section of pages competing against old, strong, well-known, content-heavy, link-rich sites. Since it’s a new site section, almost everything needs to be done for Site B — technical optimization, building content, promotion, and generating links. However, the nature of this competitive landscape shows us that being first to publish might be important here. Site B’s competitors oftentimes have content out weeks if not months before the actual content brand owner (Site B). How? By staying on top of Site B’s press releases. The competitors created landing pages immediately after Site B put out a press release, while Site B didn’t have a landing page until the product actually launched. Once this was realized, being first to publish became an important factor. And because Site B is an enterprise site, and changing that process takes time internally, other technical and content optimization for the page templates happened concurrently, so that there was at least the minimal technical optimization and content on these pages by the time the process for first-publishing was shaped.

Site B is now generating product landing pages at the time of press release, with links to the landing pages in those press releases that are picked up by news outlets, giving Site B the first page and the first links, and this is generating more links than their top competitor in the first 7 days 80% of the time.

Site B didn’t audit the site and suggest tactics by simply checking off a list of technical optimizations prioritized by an SEO tool or ranking factors, but instead took a more calculated approach based on what’s happening in the competitive landscape, combined with the top prioritized technical and content optimizations. Optimizing the site itself without understanding the competitive landscape in this case would be leaving the competitors, who also have optimized sites with a lot of content, a leg up because they were cited (linked to) and picked up by Google first.

Do: Ask what has worked and hasn’t worked before

Asking this question can be very informative and help to drill down on areas that might be a more effective use of time. If the site has been around for a while, and especially if they already have an SEO working with them, try to find out what they’ve already done that has worked and that hasn’t worked to give you clues on what approaches might be successful or not..

General example:

Site C has hundreds, sometimes thousands of internal cross-links on their pages, very little unique text content, and doesn’t see as much movement for cross-linking projects as they do when adding unique text.

Site D knows from previous testing that generating more keyword-rich content on their landing pages hasn’t been as effective as implementing better cross-linking, especially since there is very little cross-linking now.

Therefore each of these sites should be prioritizing text and cross-linking tactics differently. Be sure to ask the client or potential client about previous tests or ranking successes and failures in order to learn what tactics may be more relevant for this site before you suggest and prioritize your own.

Do: Make sure you have data

Ask the client what they’re using to monitor performance. If they do not have the basics, suggest setting it up or fold that into your proposal as a first step. Define what data essentials you need to analyze the site by asking the client about their goals, walking through how to measure those goals with them, and then determining the tools and analytics setup you need. Those essentials might be something like:

Webmaster tools set up. I like to have at least Google and Bing, so I can compare across search engines to help determine if a spike or a drop is happening in both search engines, which might indicate that the cause is from something happening with the site, or in just one search engine, which might indicate that the cause is algo-related.Organic search engine traffic. At the very least, you should be able to see organic search traffic by page type (ex: service pages versus product pages). At best, you can also filter by things like URL structure, country, date, referrers/source and be able to run regex queries for granularity.User testing & focus groups. Optional, but useful if it’s available & can help prioritization. Has the site gathered any insights from users that could be helpful in deciding on and prioritizing SEO tactics? For example, focus groups on one site showed us that people were more likely to convert if they could see a certain type of content that wouldn’t have necessarily been a priority for SEO otherwise. If they’re more likely to convert, they’re less likely to bounce back to search results, so adding that previously lower-priority content could have double advantages for the site: higher conversions and lower bounce rate back to SERPs.Don’t: Make empty promises.

Put simply, please, SEOs, do not blanket promise anything. Hopeful promises leads to SEOs being called snake oil salesmen. This is a real problem for all of us, and you can help turn it around.

Clients and managers will try to squeeze you until you break and give them a number or a promised rank. Don’t do it. This is like a new judoka asking the coach to promise they’ll make it to the Olympics if they sign up for the program. The level of success depends on what the judoka puts into it, what her competition looks like, what is her tenacity for courage, endurance, competition, resistance… You promise, she signs up, says “Oh, this takes work so I’m only going to come to practice on Saturdays,” and everybody loses.

Goals are great. Promises are trouble. Good contracts are imperative.

Here are some examples:

We will get you to page 1. No matter how successful you may have been in the past, every site, competitive landscape, and team behind the site is a different challenge. A promise of #1 rankings may be a selling point to get clients, but can you live up to it? What will happen to your reputation of not? This industry is small enough that word gets around when people are not doing right by their clients.Rehashing vague stats. I recently watched a well-known agency tell a room full of SEOs: “The search result will provide in-line answers for 47% of your customer queries”. Obviously this isn’t going to be true for every SEO in the room, since different types of queries have different SERPS, and the SERP UI constantly changes, but how many of the people in that room went back to their companies and their clients and told them that? What happens to those SEOs if that doesn’t prove true?We will increase traffic by n%. Remember, hopeful promises can lead to being called snake oil salesmen. If you can avoid performance promises, especially in the proposal process, by all means please do. Set well-informed goals rather than high-risk promises, and be conservative when you can. It always looks better to over-perform than to not reach a goal.You will definitely see improvement. Honestly, I wouldn’t even promise this unless you would *for real* bet your life on it. You may see plenty of opportunities for optimization but you can’t be sure they’ll implement anything, they’ll implement things correctly, implementations will not get overwritten, competitors won’t step it up or new ones rise, or that the optimization opportunities you see will even work on this site.Don’t: Use the same proposal for every situation at hand.

If your proposal is so vague that it might actually seem to apply to any site, then you really should consider taking a deeper look at each situation at hand before you propose.

Would you want your doctor to prescribe the same thing for your (not yet known) pregnancy as the next person’s (not yet known) fungal blood infection, when you both just came in complaining of fatigue?

Do: Cover yourself in your contract

As a side note for consultants, this is a clause I include in my contract with clients for protection against being sued if clients aren’t happy with their results. It’s especially helpful for stubborn clients who don’t want to do the work and expect you to perform magic. Feel free to use it:

“Consultant makes no warranty, express, implied or statutory, with respect to the services provided hereunder, including without limitation any implied warranty of reliability, usefulness, merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, noninfringement, or those arising from the course of performance, dealing, usage or trade. By signing this agreement, you acknowledge that Consultant neither owns nor governs the actions of any search engine or the Customer’s full implementations of recommendations provided by Consultant. You also acknowledge that due to non-responsibility over full implementations, fluctuations in the relative competitiveness of some search terms, recurring changes in search engine algorithms and other competitive factors, it is impossible to guarantee number one rankings or consistent top ten rankings, or any other specific search engines rankings, traffic or performance.”Go get ’em!

The way you approach a new SEO client or project is critical to setting yourself up for success. And I believe we can all learn from each other’s experiences. Have you thought outside the SEO standards box to find success with any of your clients or projects? Please share in the comments!

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