rel=sponsored rel=ugc updates

What does Google’s new rel=sponsored and rel=ugc link attributes mean for SEO & websites?

On 10th September 2019 Google announced two new link attributes alongside the already widely used (for 15 years now!) rel=”nofollow” in new ways to identify the nature of links.

This is another way to tackle the SEO link spam and to help Google further understand the intention of different backlinks to improve their search results.

It also follows in the same vein as steps taken by Facebook and Instagram to label content that is sponsored or gifted. And, of course not forgetting that YouTube has a similar policy too.

This is quite a big update and one that could have fairly significant knock on ramifications for SEO. But oddly, it’s perhaps one that you don’t need to do too much about now.

So what does this all mean and what should you be doing now?

When and where should I be using rel=sponsored or rel=ugc?

Well, here’s what Google Webmasters original post states:

rel=”sponsored”: Use the sponsored attribute to identify links on your site that were created as part of advertisements, sponsorships or other compensation agreements.

rel=”ugc”: UGC stands for User Generated Content, and the ugc attribute value is recommended for links within user generated content, such as comments and forum posts.

rel=”nofollow”: Use this attribute for cases where you want to link to a page but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement, including passing along ranking credit to another page.

So for the rel=”sponsored” you could use this in future for any sponsored, advertorial or paid-for content. Many webmasters have been using the rel=”nofollow” for advertorial links thus far. This leads on to the next question…

Does this mean I have to go and change all my links?

No. Google say that you don’t need to change your existing links, but just start using the new method when convenient. They go on to state the following: “Any link that is clearly an ad or sponsored should use “sponsored” or “nofollow,” as described above. Using “sponsored” is preferred, but “nofollow” is acceptable.”

Do I have to change my nofollow links in comments to rel=ugc?

Again, you shouldn’t need to start rushing to change your code and getting your developer to make changes. Many have commented that this is going to be a struggle to implement and get “ordinary” users to implement these attributes.

However one good piece of news for WordPress users and Yoast users in particular is that an update looks to be on the horizon.

Do nofollow, sponsored and ugc attributes carry SEO juice?

So there’s a bit of a change here, particularly with nofollow. Nofollow links have previously carried no link juice (i.e. no SEO impact on your keyword rankings).

A side note: This was debatable amongst SEO professionals – did nofollow links maybe carry a little weighting? Well, a mixture of dofollow and nofollow links are typically a sign of a “healthier” backlink profile (as it shows you’re not just trying to chase dofollow links and manipulate too hard).

So what’s changed? Here’s what Google said…

When nofollow was introduced, Google would not count any link marked this way as a signal to use within our search algorithms. This has now changed. All the link attributes — sponsored, UGC and nofollow — are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search.

So it appears that Google has said that nofollow links will be used as a “hint”. This is a weird paradox of both a big and small change. It’s dramatic in that this is the first change in 15 years to the nofollow rule. SEO wizard Barry Schwartz puts it well:

All external links on Wikipedia are nofollowed, if those links start counting, and you have a lot of links from Wikipedia, you might see your rankings improve.

But what value those nofollow links have and what changes they make remains to be seen. I’d hazard a guess that short term, there won’t be any change, but slowly over time they start to take a stronger influence.

Final thoughts

The technical stuff:

Google is constantly clamping down on spam as well as getting more and more sophisticated in interpreting link profiles. Having said that, some (more risky) SEO professionals have still been one step ahead in terms of playing the SEO game, in that they may use blackhat (or iffy) tactics to manipulate the SERPs.

These methods of manipulation are frowned upon by Google – well they’re not just frowned upon – they violate their policy guidelines. And while there have been known cases of websites being hit with penalties or dramatic losses in rankings, in the SEO community there will still be stories of some sites who manage to perform with somewhat shady tactics.

And that word “shady” is open to interpretation too. Some tactics are clearly spam, others may well be grey areas of manipulation. My view is that if Google one day phoned me up and asked to explain a backlink, then if I could explain it, it’s OK, if I couldn’t, then it’s not OK. But to be honest the days when I would need to ask myself that question are long gone. The methods you should be using have to be genuine and this from Google is another move that dents the efforts of typical SEO spammers.

The bigger picture:

SEO is changing – While there is the technical on-site side of SEO (think page titles, site structure, heading markups etc), the off-site tactics are arguably becoming less algorithms and metrics, and instead more classic marketing just done in an online space.

And in my opinion, that should always be the goal. Even speaking as an SEO professional myself, I don’t believe businesses should be at the mercy of those who know how to blindside or fool an algorithm. There are plenty of small businesses out there who do great jobs but get little recognition in the search engines. But I’m not saying that’s unfair, they still need to have invested time and effort in marketing their business better like others might have done.

But coupling those businesses with Search Engine/Marketing professionals and Google’s everchanging clamp down on spam, will be a great recipe. Sure, there are more traditional (or “nerdy”, as I call them) methods like broken link building which lean on the classic SEO expertise side and can be very effective and will probably be effective for years to come. But there are also methods like sponsoring charities or local events and in return having a presence on their websites – and this is traditional marketing done with an SEO backdrop in mind.

Overall to me this is another sign of Google becoming increasingly intelligent. And while it’s still a robot, I see it as one who’s starting to think more like a human. Humans still have faults and weaknesses (ones that might be exploited by some), but It’s gradually growing into some kind of superhuman.

If you have any questions about this post or need some help with your digital marketing & SEO, you can get in touch with me here.

Tips on building a corporate website

7 things you shouldn’t forget when building a corporate website

When building or migrating to a new website there are so many considerations to bear in mind that it’s easy to forget some things. While you’re busy gathering photography or organising copy there can be some less immediate concerns that get overlooked.

It’s not just about building a website for launch, it’s about creating something that’s futureproof and flexible for the next couple of years. And, here are a handful of those things to think about:

 

#1 Image libraries

It’s great having brand new imagery for your new website – It looks fresh and you’re proud of your new branding. However sometimes you or your web designer have collated only enough images for your launch and not much further beyond that. As the content on your website grows over time, whether that’s new blog posts or new services, you may find yourself re-using imagery from other sections.

If you have an in-house designer then great, it’s unlikely you’ll encounter this problem, but if you have an external designer then bear in mind that the costs could rise very quickly. So with your new website, try to build an image library as the new site is being constructed.

Lesson: Try to make sure that you have more imagery in reserve when it comes to adding new pages to your website down the line.

Extra tip: In advance of your site going live, upload your images to your site and optimise them (compress the size and add alt tags) ready for the future.

 

#2 Contact email notifications

If a user sends you a message through a contact form, or orders a product, you’ll usually want them to receive an email notification. And, if you have several different contact forms you’ll want to make sure that the copy for all those email notifications has been well crafted and signed off by your manager.

This is often thought about at the last minute in the testing stage and can sometimes be rushed through without careful consideration. But these notifications can be incredibly important in providing a positive message about your brand with a potential customers first interaction.

Lesson: Discuss the user journey early and think about how these notifications could enhance your audience’s interaction with your brand.

Extra tip: Think about utilising this area for promotion – include links to services you are promoting or dynamically add your latest blog post.

 

#3 SEO structure and content

I still see it occasionally, where even big brands neglect optimising their site for search engines. This means they’ll be missing out on valuable traffic to their website which can drastically affect sales particularly if you have an ecommerce site or rely on a lot of web enquiries.

When you’re in your initial stages of your site design it’s vital to get your SEO specialist involved. They’ll be able to make sure that your site will be optimised as much as possible and help the site to grow in visitors over time.

Here’s where your SEO specialist can help:

  • Navigation and site structure: Your specialist will be able to help create the most appropriate navigation and link structure for your site. This is particularly important for ecommerce sites where categories are vital for SEO performance.
  • Which pages get migrated: Some pages have more value than others from both an SEO and conversion value. And, before you decide to just get rid of them you should ask your specialist to check the value of them. I’ve seen sites lose so much value from getting rid of pages where they have spent years building hard-earned links to them.
  • On-page structure: Your specialist will be able to work with both you and the developer to ensure that the page templates have been correctly marked up with the appropriate HTML. Things like H1 and H2 headings are marked up with the right text or that footer links are the made the best use of.
  • Page content: “Keeping things simple” is not always the best mantra to live by with page content. As a general rule 400 words is a good target to aim for. While this may sound like a lot, good design can help ensure that the text doesn’t appear overwhelming. Your specialist should also play a part in the sign-off process of approving copy. They will then be able to optimise your copy and suggest changes to the content to help improve it’s SEO performance.

You may also want to start your new website project by getting an extensive SEO website audit report on the performance of your site 😉 Or at least have a look at some of the SEO tools out there that can help -> See my earlier post: 9 of the best SEO audit tools (free & paid).

Lesson: Think about your site from an SEO perspective as much as you think about the design.

Extra tip: Get an SEO specialist – I might know one 😉

 

#4 Google Tag Manager tracking

Google Tag Manager is a great tool for customising extra things you want to report on in your Google Analytics. In an ideal world you’ll want to make sure that when your site is about to go live everything is in place to track elements in your new site. This will help with getting clearer reporting and improving elements based on data. Things like:

  • How much of your embedded YouTube videos are people watching and how much are they helping users enquire
  • Are they clicking the main call-to-action button
  • Which blog posts are people reading thoroughly
  • Are users signing up to the mailing list
  • Are people hitting the call button on their phone accidently

Lesson: Give time to set up Google Tag Manager Tracking in the testing phase.

Extra tip: If any of those elements are on your current site then start tracking those before switching over. This will give you extra reporting stats to compare your old site with your new one.

 

#5 Supporting functionality

Your site doesn’t have to be static – it can contain supporting functionality that can really make it sparkle and turn passive visitors into active ones.

Your new site is more than just pretty colours and nice design. Put your mind in the eyes of the viewer and try to understand what would make them feel like they could easily enquire.

Here’s a few ideas to consider:

  • Twitter/Instagram feed: Displaying a feed of your latest social media messages can show that you’re ‘always on the ball’ and active within the community.
  • Book a meeting integration: Tools such as Calendly have the ability to sync with your calendar so that when someone enquiries they can book a meeting in a slot available in your diary. This not only looks impressive but increases conversions tenfold!
  • Email sign-ups: It’s an obvious one to include but it shouldn’t be neglected particularly after the introduction of GDPR which has made the process of signing up a little harder.
  • Abandonment pop-ups: While pop-ups have a history of being really annoying these don’t have to be, as they’re a pop-up from you on your site. When a user is about to leave your page you can show them a pop-up that highlights an offer to them, which might make them reconsider.
  • Live bots / Chatbots: Not everyone wants to pick up the phone or submit an enquiry the traditional way. Some may just have a question about a product that you can quickly tell them the answer to and see them could turn into a customer. The upkeep of these are a lot easier than you might think and you don’t have to have a customer service assistant on call 24/7. Even just having one shows that you’re willing and happy to help. Check out LiveChat which has some good cost-effective options.

Lesson: Spend some time thinking about how you can make your site even better with functionality. Ask yourself: What will help people enquire? What are the preconceptions people might have visiting my site? What problems may they have?

Extra tip: Use a site like https://www.awwwards.com/ to get inspiration.

 

#6 Sign off / updating process

Once your site has gone live it’s inevitable that there will be changes you’ll want to make within the first month. This might be adding in more pages, tweaking the content for SEO or just correcting spelling mistakes. Either way, you need to know where you stand when it comes to who has the final say on those edits, as otherwise it can get a little messy – it can take too long to get things changed or sometimes people just get angry!

Lesson: Be clear what things can be edited and controlled at different levels. Write out a process chart for each type of change e.g. spelling mistakes = “web administrator”. New blog posts = “Content writer -> SEO specialist -> Marketing manager -> web administrator”.

 

#7 Testing testing testing

Testing is most definitely something not to skimp on. Even if your web developer or design agency has said they will happily test everything, they aren’t the ones who will be doing the day-to-day running of the site. Therefore you still need to go through and test everything.

While a good place to start is to go through your site and test links and functionality, the next step is to play different user journeys with different personas e.g. If you have a job website for marketing roles, then pretend to be an SEO specialist applying for digital roles – could you find what you were looking for? How did you feel about the brand going through the process? Then, try to be a recruiter who is looking to post a job and ask other relevant questions.

Lesson: Don’t leave it up to your developer or designer agency – Put aside whole days of testing on different devices.

Extra tip: Decide at the beginning of the project on some other people within the business who can be your guinea pigs and test the site out.

 

Got any more tips you’d like to suggest? Or perhaps you have a project yourself and need a freelance website project manager to help? Either way, feel free to drop me a line at [email protected] 🙂

Free & Paid SEO auditing tools

9 of the best SEO audit tools (free & paid)

Before we get started, let’s recap what is a search engine optimisation audit tool and why you might need one (or several) for your website!

Often the first step to building any SEO strategy is to analyse the technical on-page details of your website. These details might include some (and more!) of the following:

  • Page titles
  • Meta descriptions
  • Header tags
  • Keyword focus/consistency
  • Duplicate content
  • Image alt tags
  • Backlink quality
  • URL structure
  • Mobile
  • Broken links
  • Click depth
  • Site speed

All these can have an impact on how well your website performs in Google. And, once you perform an SEO audit on your website you will then have a shopping list of items you can correct and start improving your on-page SEO.

Of course, this only tells half the story as you will also need to focus on your off-page SEO strategy (which includes things like link building, online reputation management and social media) if you want to make significant gains in Google. But, starting with your on-page technical SEO audit will help to lay some solid foundations to your SEO strategy.

Before you begin your audit you can often get a feel for how well optimised a website is simply by casting your eyes over it. But, there’s only so much manual work a person can do. SEO audit tools not only take a lot of the guesswork out of the game but also provide an analysis far quicker.

Bear in mind that some tools may just analyse the homepage which while limited, can still give you a rough idea of how well the rest of the site will perform. Whereas others will take a look at the whole site.

You’ll also need something to continuously monitor any errors that crop up particularly if you have a site with lot so pages or with a site that has new pages everyday.

One tool Vs a few?

My take is to have one go-to tool as well as two to three others for quick reference. If you’re looking to save some money unfortunately it’s most likely that your go-to tool will need to be paid for. Bear in mind that different tools can produce different results, so it’s good to use a few to cross-check your results.

In no particular order here are my favourite SEO audit tools…

Google webmaster (free)

+ Must-have
+ Alerts you of significant issues
+ If it’s in here it needs to be fixed!
– Doesn’t tell you enough

SEO Sitecheckup (Free and paid from £20 per month)

+ Great place to start
+ Good clear layout and reliable score
+ Quick PDF download for free version
+ Good recommendations
+ Paid version analyses whole site as well as a rank checker and domain comparison
– Cannot do multiple checks without signing up
– Free version analyses just one page

SEO Profiler (Paid, from £63 per month)

+ Personal favourite
+ Great user interface
+ Excellent breakdown of errors
+ Constantly updated
+ White label reporting
+ Other tools such as a great rank tracker, and uptime monitoring available
+ Weekly updates
– Reports on demand take a bit longer

Ahrefs (Paid, from £76 per month)

+ Ahrefs is known for being one of the best in SEO so you’ll be in good hands
+ Crawls on demand
+ Helpful visual charts
+ Provides overall health score
+ Flexible scheduling on whichever day and time you prefer and by daily, weekly or monthly
+ Other brilliant tools including the best backlink analysis ever
– Bit difficult to get PDF reports (not white labeled)
– Not as detailed breakdown as SEO Profiler

SEObility (Free and paid from £39 per month)

+ Personal favourite
+ Great interface and clear layout
+ In-depth analysis without being clunky
+ Paid version includes ranking & backlink tools
+ Clear overall score
+ Free for 1000 crawled pages
– Free version analyses just one page

Screaming Frog (Free and paid version £149 per year)

+ Personal favourite
+ Extensive and detailed
+ A manual overview of meta data
+ Great for large sites
+ A mainstay in SEO
– Manual work involved
– No overall score
– Doesn’t necessarily tell you what’s wrong – you’ll need to have prior SEO knowledge

SEOptimer (free)

+ Great place to start
+ Focus on page speed very useful
+ Clear overall score
+ Scores for different areas
+ Good layout
– Quite simple
– Analyses just one page

SEOmator (Paid from £15 per month or pay as you go at £4)

+ Dedicated audit checker
+ Gives detail as well as a graded score
+ Clear layout and instructions on how to fix
+ Cheap pay as you go as well as monthly option
+ Comparison with other domains
– URL crawl limit could be an issue if you have large sites

Zadroweb SEO Auditor (free)

+ Great place to start
+ Colour coordinated
+ Good summary
– Quite simple
– Analyses just one page

 

If you have any questions about this post or need some help with your digital marketing & SEO, you can get in touch with me here.

SEO Hacks for Accountants

Top SEO hacks for accounting firms

Within the accounting industry there is fierce competition. There are lots of firms that at a glance seem to offer the same range of services. You could almost lift the copy from one website and place it onto another and not see any change. The usual USP’s such as price won’t be explicit. And, therefore getting ahead through clever digital marketing is vital.

Getting ahead doesn’t necessarily require a big budget either. While those larger firms, may have larger pots to spend on PPC advertising, they may find it difficult to quickly make their moves in digital spaces due to sign-off processes. In contrast, boutique practice’s are much more agile and open to new experimental ideas but can lack the budget.

This makes it quite a level playing field where search engine optimisation (SEO) is concerned. And getting ahead in SEO can give you huge gains for brand awareness and more importantly new business. And with that, here are some of the key SEO tactics for accounting firms:

Marrying good Web Design with structured Search Engine Optimisation

The website design of your accountancy practice should ideally provide a balance of impressive, sleek design and branding as well as a lot of informative copy.

It can be a difficult balancing act: having lots of information can often clash with the sleek design. And, there is a tendency to “keep things simple” and have minimal amounts of copy. But this can be very risky.

From an SEO perspective “keeping things simple” and using only a few words per page can hold back the chance of a page ranking. This is even more an important point for smaller firms who will tend to have a lower domain score and less impressive backlink profile compared to bigger firms. This means that getting words on the page is an important foundation of your page and site ranking.

Generally speaking adding at least 400 words per page will generally help that page to rank for particular keywords. The impressive design of the site and its user experience will help that user to enquire once they are on the site, but those words on the page will help them get there in the first place.

Aim for the fastest experience on all devices

Fast site speed is becoming increasingly important particularly with Google’s latest update on both site speed and separate mobile rankings. Building a site that’s slow will only halt your progress in climbing the rankings. Using Google’s Page Speed Insights tool will give you a good starting point to understand your page speed. But bear in mind this tool only looks at one page and not your entire site, where your speed could be different.

Turn location pages into homepages

Whether you have a couple of offices or a couple of hundred, making sure there is a page for each location on your site is invaluable. These pages can get found for local search terms in google like “Accountants in [location]”. Because of that you shouldn’t just treat your location page as a place for people just to get contact details. Sure, that’s OK if the user has already browsed through your site and is looking for a telephone number, but these users could be coming from a Google search to your site for the very first time – just having some basic contact details isn’t going to be the warmest of welcomes. Therefore it’s good practice to treat these location pages like a homepage. Here are a few tips on how to get the best out of these pages:

  • Start with a heading that contains both the word, “accountants” and your location.
  • Include contact details such as address and telephone number above the fold.
  • Then further down the page include details like:
    • What services you provide at this location
    • Case studies
    • Latest blog posts
    • Contact form
    • Local images
    • Local telephone number

One of the trickiest parts of creating these location pages is ensuring you still have unique content. It’s no good copying and pasting the text only to insert location [here]. Here’s what you can include to make your content unique

  • How long have you been in the area
  • Any local press coverage in that area
  • Directions to your location

Also, make sure you have a Google My Business listing for each of your offices and link back to your new location page.

Sponsor local events

To help get the most out of you local SEO even more, one of the best ways to get ahead is sponsoring local events. While some of these events might seem small-game compared to the rest of your marketing activity, they’re actually great at boosting your local SEO. Things like local music festivals, food festivals, schools and colleges are great ways to get a link back from a local site, even if it’s just an image link on their website. Of course, there’s also the added benefit of getting your brand seen by the local community.

Turn your news posts into evergreen content

Evergreen content posts are typically those with a longer shelf life as they take a look at the topic on a wider, but also detailed scale.

While reporting on a new piece of legislation and sending an email out to your clients is OK, the chances are they may have been already come across this news anyway. As well as that, your post isn’t going to be very unique compared to every other publication reporting on that new piece of legislation.

One way to change that is to produce an article that takes a reflective look at recent news once the dust has settled. For example rather than reporting on a new piece of legislation, you could instead provide an outlook of what might this mean over the next six months. E.g. “15 ways in which [new legislation] will affect businesses going forward”.

Doing this will not only give you an extra few days to produce that article for your audience, but also provide you with much more unique and carefully crafted content with a longer shelf life. And it’s this longer shelf-life that now makes your content evergreen and let’s it continue to potentially gain new visitors from search engines.

You don’t just have to look at recent news though. You can also provide answers to common questions that don’t necessarily go out of date. Questions like, “what is the difference between a merger and acquisition?” or “what does corporation tax entail?”. The answers to these might not change within a few months and therefore it can pick up new visitors months after it was published.

Sometimes these topics don’t need to be so common – finding a niche area that no one else has provided information on is one of the best ways to get numbers to your well produced article. A quick Google of your potential topic (or question) will reveal how widely covered it is. The good thing with these questions is that they are aimed at generating new site visitors (and therefore potentially new clients) through getting found in Google.

Producing well-written un-rushed evergreen content is the way to go. As a guideline you’ll need at least around 800 words to make it be seen as a quality article, both in the eyes of Google and users. You might think that’s a tough task, but it’s far better to produce three high quality articles a month than thirty poor ones.

If you have any questions about this post or need some help with your digital marketing, you can get in touch with me here.