Mike’s Tuesday Tips
I do a lot of site audits. There are a ton of things I look for in my audits, but there are 3 things I always check for right away and get developers working on. I prioritize these 3 things because they are usually easy to fix or change and they can result in quick wins.
The first thing I am looking for is wasted links or links out of position. These are links that do not serve any SEO benefit and are not particularly useful for the user experience either.
I am particularly interested in links that are part of the site template. In other words, they generally appear across the entire site on every page. Headers and footers are the most common place you find these.
Without going into a whole essay on all the factors that determine the strength of a link, a simple rule of thumb is that the more links there are on a page, the weaker each link is. Also, links at the top of a page tend to carry more weight than links at the bottom of a page.
A page does not pass on an equal amount of link equity through each link on the page, but the amount of link equity that a page can pass on is divided up among the existing links. If you can cut down the links, you can strengthen the remaining ones.
The first thing I want to eliminate is what I consider to be wasted links. The most common example I come across of these are links that appear in both the navigation and the footer.
An argument can be made that these are better for the user experience, but are they really? Among web visitors today, I think everyone knows they will find key links in the header. I don’t think anyone runs to the footer to look for something.
A lot of sites use sticky headers. In these cases especially, you cannot really try to argue that duplicating links in the header and footer help the user experience.
If you have a business owner or developer that argues for keeping these links or you yourself are not sure of the impact of removing these links from the footer, set up some tracking. Track what percentage of visitors scroll to the bottom of your pages. Track who clicks on the links in the footer.
Now, I know some people will argue that sites like Semrush have links that appear in both the header and footer. Well guess what? When you build a brand that is as well-known as Semrush, you can do whatever you want.
Next, I want to look for links that are out of position. I mentioned above that links at the top of a page are generally stronger than links at the bottom of a page. I prioritize link placement based on that.
The most common example I see of links that are what I call “out of position” are links in the header to privacy or ToS pages. Those pages are not a priority, so stuff them in the footer.
In some niches, I would argue that links to social media accounts are also wasted in the header and better served just in the footer.
Based on the industry, I might consider doing the same for About pages. In some industries, it is vitally important to build trust with web visitors in order to get a conversion, such as attorneys, financial advisors, and counselors.
In other industries, it may not be as vital. Nobody is visiting Amazon or Best Buy’s about pages to decide if they want to buy something from them or not.
If you are unsure, again set up some tracking to see how many people are clicking on the About page from the navigation. Data does not lie.
The second thing I look for is link depth on primary / important pages. I want to know how many clicks away from the home page these pages are.
Depending on the size of the site, they should never be more than 1 or 2 clicks away from the home page.
If they are, you need to figure out a way to add links where appropriate to rectify it.
I might make some exceptions to this on a very, very large site, but generally, I try to keep important pages no more than 2 clicks from the home page.
The reasoning behind this is that in almost all cases, the home page is the strongest page on a site. The more clicks away a page is, the less link equity it is feeding off of the home page.
This is a little more advanced and takes some additional work, but for the pages that are 2 clicks away (or more), I’ll also take a look at the link path. If the intermediary page has 100 outbound links on it, but there is another page that could also make sense to use with only 20 outbound links, I’ll consider linking through that page instead (or in addition to).
Again, this is to strengthen the link equity feeding into that target page.
The third thing I’m looking at for some simple adjustments and quick wins is title tags.
I know people like to try to write catchy title tags to improve click through rates. To me, the best way to improve your click through rate is to rank higher. You will almost never see a page ranking #2 or #3 getting a better click through rate than the page ranking #1.
I focus on two things for title tags. I want primary keywords near the beginning of the tag, not at the end, and I want the title tag to address the primary search intent of the page. What was the page created to answer?
Following those two guidelines will typically give you title tags that search engines like and that will also get solid click through rates.
One of the most useful, yet underutilized, tools available to SEOs is Google Search Console. In talking to SEOs and business owners, a lot of them set it up, submit their sitemaps, and only check it when they get a message from Google about a coverage issue or some other error.
There is a ton of data you can gather inside Search Console if you spend some time with it.
Here is a simple way I like to use Search Console to uncover additional opportunities.
SEARCH TERM / PAGE AUDITS
I often will look at Performance >> Search Results >> Queries and add a filter at the top for a specific URL.
This lets me see the keywords that page has received impressions and clicks for during the selected timeframe. I’ll add in average rankings and export this to a spreadsheet.
Sometimes you will be amazed at how many different search terms a given page is ranking for.
I do this periodically on client sites for main hub pages and whenever I do site audits. Generally, I’m looking for 2 things: search terms I do not want to target on this page because there is a better page on the site for those terms, and I am looking for search term opportunities.
Once in a spreadsheet, you can easily sort this data however you want. I like to look for search queries with high impressions, low clicks, and a top 20 average ranking. If the search intent matches, these are terms we can optimize for to bring in more traffic, and since they are already in the top 20, they can often be quick wins.
You may also find search terms that fit this criteria but are really better served on a new page or another existing page.
Want to narrow things down further and only include queries with a certain word or phrase in it? You can. Just add a query filter in addition to the URL filter at the top.
One of the key steps of any good keyword research that often gets overlooked is to actually spend some time in the SERPs. You can use all the tools you want to research search volumes, competition, etc., but none of them will give you a great picture of the search intent for a keyword or what is really going on in the SERP.
They also won’t tell you what kind of results Google is showing in the SERPs.
Without looking at the actual SERPs and the results on page one, it’s tough to get a good picture of the actual problems users are trying to seek out an answer to when searching for a particular query.
Whenever you pick out a new keyword to target or decide to go back to an old piece of content to refresh it, take a look at what kind of results Google is showing.
You want to pay attention to a few things.
***Look for Google featured snippets. If Google is displaying a featured snippet at the top of the search results, you want to take a close look at the query and the featured snippet.
Does it fully answer the query? If it does, chances are the search results below, even the first organic position, are not getting very much traffic. Keep this in mind. If you do not replace that featured snippet, the keyword is probably not going to bring much traffic.
A simple example of what I’m talking about would be a search such as “How tall is Mount Everest”... Google immediately shows the answer of 29,032 feet.
This is a simplistic example, but there are plenty of other queries to think about like this. Someone might search for something like “What size X should I use for Y”. If the answer to that is simple and doesn’t require any additional explanation, a featured snippet is going to solve it. Very few results below are going to get clicks.
***You also want to pay attention to what type of content is ranking. Is it product listings? Tutorials? Lists? Service pages?
This will give you a good indication of what Google has decided is the most common search intent for the query and what it is favoring for search results.
***What kind of sites are ranking? Is it mostly news sites? Local businesses? Directories? Blog pages?
This can also give you some clues into what Google has determined to be the search intent. For example, if you look at a search result and see a lot of directories, that can be an indicator that the search intent is to find a list of places that can offer a solution. This is common for a lot of local searches.
***How far do you have to scroll before you see the first organic search result?
This is often the answer when people are confused as to why their high ranking page is not bringing them more traffic.
If you see a featured snippet, followed by ads, followed by a ‘people also ask’ box, and then the organic results, keep that in mind. Even if you rank #1 in the organic results, you are probably not going to get the usual 45-70% of clicks you could expect from a #1 ranking.
All of those other things are going to siphon away clicks.
***Do this on both a desktop and mobile device.
Today we are obsessed with the user experience on our websites, but few of us take the time to check out the user experience of the SERPs.
Try to look at a SERP without bias.
What are the common themes you see in the search results? How could your page better serve searchers? Again, forget about your own bias and what you think might be best. How can your page better fit into what Google thinks is best?
***Lastly, this process can be useful when trying to identify ranking drops.
Sometimes the user intent for a search query changes over time, or more precisely, based on new data Google’s interpretation of it changes.
If you see traffic drops, it can be because suddenly Google is showing a featured snippet when they weren’t before. Maybe a ‘people also ask’ box popped up in the search results.
If you see ranking drops, inspect the SERPs compared to what they looked like previously. Maybe over time the search results have shifted from showing tutorials to showing more products and services, or the search intent has shifted in another way.
Ranking and traffic drops are not always because you did something wrong or just because competitors overtook you. Sometimes they are because of new ‘features’ showing up in the SERPs ahead of you or because the search intent is shifting.
Some time in the SERPs can make your job easier.
I am often asked about what tools I use for SEO. There are a lot and some of them are situation based, but this is a quick list of the tools I use frequently on basically every project.
Semrush - Obviously. This is one of only two tools that I log into every single day. I use this for assisting with site audits, competitor organic and paid research, keyword research, and content generation/marketing.
Next, let’s get the Google tools out of the way:
Google Search Console
Google Tag Manager
Google Optimize - If you are not familiar with this one, I use it primarily for A/B conversion testing.
Google Data Studio - I just want to mention that this is one I think is underutilized and underappreciated. With Data Studio you can pull data from Analytics, Search Console, and Google Ads and combine and present it how you want. You can also much more easily segment the data. If you are working with clients, you can make all that data more appealing to the eye and emphasize what you want them to focus on as well (like leads, sales, etc.).
Google Chrome Developer Tools - I have shown in other tips how I use this for identifying things like LCP and CLS issues. That is just scratching the surface of what you can do in it.
Auditing / Monitoring Tools:
Screaming Frog - I know a lot of people like SiteBulb instead. They do pretty much the same thing, but Screaming Frog does it faster and is less resource intensive.
ContentKing App - This has recently replaced DeepCrawl for me. It has great monitoring features, but also lets me easily dig through and segment pages. Too much to cover here, but a great tool.
Jarvis.AI - There are plenty of AI writing tools out there and it seems like new ones popping up each day now. I prefer this one. I use it to boost our content generation. I do not create content in Jarvis and post it straight to websites. Everything gets edited first, but it really speeds things up versus writing from scratch.
I do not use it just for writing articles. I use it for helping to generate ad copy and headlines. I use it to help generate title tags and H tags in articles. I don’t often use something it generates for these, but I will have it write 20-25 variations of a title tag, and use those to create something myself. I’m constantly finding new ways to use this.
Frase - Love this for generating content briefs for writers and picking apart data, headings, questions, etc. used in top ranking sites for queries. Great tool for writing content. It's AI writer is not great right now, but could improve over time.
Answer the Public - Great tool for generating additional ideas for content and keyword research.
SEOPress - Because I know someone is going to ask what Wordpress SEO plugin I prefer. I’m not a fan of Yoast and anyone using it is doing so at their own peril, or the peril of their clients. Yoast has a long history of releasing updates with bugs in it, sometimes site and SEO crippling ones. It’s not just the bugs that bother me though, it is the way the company treats its customers and reacts to those issues.
SEOPress basically does everything Yoast does, but is less bloated and has never F’d up one of my sites.
(On a side note relating to that, except for security patches, when it comes to Wordpress you should never be updating Wordpress versions or plugins when updates are first released. Even in staging areas. Bugs can creep up that you do not catch in staging. Let everyone else be the guinea pigs for a few weeks.)
Monday - Although not directly an SEO tool, this is the other tool I log into every single day. I often get asked how I keep on top of everything and manage clients without anything falling through the cracks. This is how. There are plenty of similar tools out there, and even if you are working solo, I would recommend using one. ClickUp and Asana would be my next choices.
Octopus.do - Something I have been using a little bit more recently on smaller sites. It helps to visualize the site structure changes I want to make with clients.
There are plenty of other great tools out there, but these are the ones I use most frequently.
This is a short one (cue the 'That's what she said' jokes)
Condense common resources.
I was auditing at a site once talking about addiction and addiction rehab. I found 10 posts that mentioned the same 4 addiction rehab/help sites and linked to all 4. Something like…
"If you or someone you know suffers from addiction or you think might be suffering from addiction, check out the xyzaddictioncenter.com. There is also an addiction hotline at addictionhotline.com…."
And so on. They linked to the same 4 places with the same kind of info. The problem with that is every time you do it, you are passing on link equity from those pages to an external site. Instead of doing that, they could have just created a resource type page and directed people there if they are seeking more information and help.
Now instead of having 4 external links on 10 different pages, there are 4 external links on 1 page. Each of those pages will have 1 link pointing to that resource page.
If you find that your site is linking to a lot of the same places multiple times on a variety of pages, consider creating some kind of resource or FAQ type page that you can direct those links to instead and cut down on your total links on some of your pages.
Spend less of your time, energy, and resources worrying about what Google may or may not do to you.
I get messages all the time from people worrying about some what-if scenario, usually in regards to worry about invoking some Google penalty for something.
If you are an SEO or a business owner that does your own SEO, I want you to write this down. I'm serious. Write it down.
*** Google spends way more resources looking for reasons TO rank your website than looking for reasons NOT to rank your website. ***
Many SEOs tend to spend too much time worrying that Google is out to get them or is just dying to slap them with some sort of a penalty.
If you have good content that answers a particular search query, Google wants to show your page. Never forget that.
Your goal should be to provide them with reasons to show your page.
If you are not using Google Tag Manager on your websites, you should be.
Google Tag Manager is a free tool that allows you to manage and deploy marketing and tracking tags on your website without the need to modify the code on your website.
It’s a one stop shop for deploying Google Analytics, Facebook Pixels, creating new events, tracking form submissions, and a host of other features.
A few of the benefits of using Google Tag Manager include:
-No need for a developer.
Have you ever wanted to add tracking for a new form deployed on a site or want to add a scroll event to a new piece of content to see how far down visitors are reading it? You let your developer know only to be met with a, “I will get that done next week,” response.
Of course, that usually means “I will have to follow up with you next week to find out why you did not do this yet.”
No more. Once Tag Manager is installed on a site, you can easily do all of this yourself in a few minutes.
-No need to code.
Tag Manager comes with a bunch of preset tags for adding things like Google Analytics, Google Ads Conversion Tracking, Google Ads Remarketing, Google Optimize, HotJar, LinkedIn Insight, and a host of other integrations. The only thing I commonly use that is not already ready to go in Tag Manager is the Facebook Pixel, but there is an option for adding custom code where you just copy and paste your Pixel code into the tag.
You can easily set up tags to track button clicks (all buttons or specific buttons), link clicks, form submissions, scrolling events, PDF downloads, and you can even install schema.
Note: Google recommends not using GTM for schema, but it does work. They have honestly never given a great reason for why they do not recommend it. Just be aware it will not work in the schema testing tool, but you can copy and paste your schema code directly into there to test that it works.
-Test new products without waiting for a developer.
Want to test a new product or service on your site but need your developer to install the code? Not anymore. You can just insert it into Google Tag Manager.
-All third-party code is in one place.
Need to make a change to one of your tracking scripts? There is no more hunting down the code in your website. Everything is in GTM and easy to find.
-Preview and debug mode.
This is maybe one of my favorite features of GTM. It has its own preview and debug mode where you can test things before making it live on your site. It will show you what tags are firing and which are not.
You can quickly and easily get things running correctly.
***What are tags?***
For those of you not familiar with Google Tag Manager, tags are snippets of code you will be inserting into your site with GTM. Most commonly it is things like tracking pixels.
Tags tell GTM what to do.
Tags can have multiple triggers and variables.
Triggers are what tell GTM when to do what you want it to do. Common triggers in GTM include pageviews, clicks, form submissions, and custom events.
Variables can put limitations on your triggers and tags.
For example, you might create a tag to fire Universal Analytics tracking, the trigger would be a pageview (you can set this to all pages), and the variable would be your Analytics tracking ID number.
Another example, you might create a Universal Analytics event as a tag, the trigger might be a form submission, and it might have a variable identifying a specific form.
This is where you can start to get a little more refined in your tracking. Let's say you have a request a quote form on your homepage, but you also have one on a specific request a quote page. You can set up the same tag as mentioned above, but add a variable to the form submission trigger where it only fires on the homepage. Then set up a separate identical tag with a variable to only fire on the request a quote page.
Now you can set up separate goals for the events these tags will create and track where different traffic segments are converting.
There is a lot more you can do with Google Tag Manager. This is just scratching the surface of it. If you are just getting started with it, I highly, highly recommend the MeasureSchool YouTube channel. You will not find better tutorials on GTM anywhere.