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Google June 2021 core update finished rolling out June 12th

This was a ten day rollout, and it might be a good time to check to see how you were impacted by this update.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 12 minutes ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

As SEO changes, so do the tools that serve practitioners

The relentless pace of change in search challenges search engine optimization professionals, but tools are evolving to help.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 5 hours ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

Google page experience update now slowly rolling out

Top stories will stop using AMP as an eligibility factor starting Thursday.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 5 hours ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

Apple Starts Gathering Your Personal Data in the Name of “Privacy”

Last week, Apple unveiled new Mail app privacy features for the upcoming iOS 15 and MacOS Monterey releases expected in September.

Having been in the email world for 23 years, I see these changes as both good and bad. Apple’s public discussion around web privacy is good, and I applaud their efforts as an extensive user of Apple products both personally and professionally. 

On the surface, the privacy angle looks great to most people. However, this move further erodes privacy on the web and puts your data squarely in the hands of a very small number of large companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook

I’m not saying this as CEO of an email company, but as an end user of the web who is also very privacy conscious (More on this below).

Apple’s release indicates they are making these changes:

In the Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. The new feature helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email, and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.

Apple's new "Mail Privacy Protection" settings.
Image Source: Ryan Jones via Twitter

These changes will impact email senders in multiple ways:

  • Blocking a recipient’s IP address from being seen.
  • Making open rate tracking even more unreliable.

Blocking IP addresses

Your IP address is a computer address that points back to you and your activities when you browse the internet. That address might be used by just you, your family, or perhaps an entire school or business location. Apple will soon start loading images contained in emails via a proxy that hides your real IP address from the people that send you emails.

As an email sender, when someone blocks their IP address from view, it becomes more difficult to identify where someone might live in the world. This makes segmenting subscribers by geography for specific sales or sending in their local time zones less accurate. 

So, the only way to determine someone’s location then becomes either the IP address they used to sign up for your list or when they might click a link contained in one of your emails.

For context, Gmail has done this same image proxying since 2013, Yahoo since 2018, and Microsoft Outlook since ~2018. This change by Apple impacts more email recipients, but it’s really just about Apple catching up to what Gmail, Yahoo and Microsoft have been doing for years already.

Unreliable open rate tracking 

Many email experts are writing about how this change destroys open rate tracking as an audience measurement metric. 

Testing thus far has been unclear on whether Apple will be entirely blocking the loading of open rate tracking images. In fact, some media is reporting that Apple is just loading all images via their proxy. I believe that they will mostly just be loading images via proxy and are unlikely to reliably block open tracking pixels. Some tests have shown Apple is preloading email images before a recipient opens the message on their email client. 

But time and further tests will tell what Apple is actually doing as they release the feature into the wild.

But let’s take a step back and talk about open rates. 

Open rate tracking as a metric has never actually measured how many people open your emails. It simply measures how many people have downloaded the images in your emails. 

Many recipients turn images off in their email programs which prevent senders from measuring an email open. If I turn off image loading in my email client, you’ll never detect me “opening” one of your emails, regardless of how many times I actually open it.

Image loading turned off in Apple macOS Big Sur (6/2021)
Image loading turned off in Apple macOS Big Sur (6/2021)

The length of your message can also cause Gmail clipping that impacts whether some of your images are displayed at the end of a long email. 

As a professional email marketer, I view open rate metrics as a useful tool for:

  • Subject line testing.
    • Did “subject A” generally get more people to open than “subject B”?
  • Engagement tracking.
    • Not as an indicator of total audience engagement, but as an indicator of how engaged my audience is for this email vs. one I sent last week or a month or so ago. Comparing an open rate from today against one from several years ago is pretty useless as changes to how images are rendered in different email clients can have significant impacts on audience measurement. 
  • Reputation measurement.
    • Taken as a signal in a larger look at other email metrics, low open rates could be an indicator of spam folder issues, audience/content match issues or permission issues.

Does this hurt the email ecosystem?

Simple answer… No, it just changes it.

The benchmarks you use today today will need to be recalibrated, but it’s not the end of the world. Some senders may see an increase in opens due to Apple’s image prefetching algorithms, other senders might see open rates decline. 

Absolutely none of this means that actual people receiving your emails are interacting with those emails any differently than before. These changes affect the technical measure of how opens are detected, not the real human behavior of whether or not someone opened your email. That’s an incredibly important distinction and one that every business that sends email should remember. 

At the end of the day, you need to send email that people want, find valuable, and engage with. If you don’t, they will ignore, delete or mark it as spam — and over time, that will impact your ability to deliver email to others who do actually want your emails.

Using confirmed opt-in continues to be one of the best ways to ensure a high quality subscriber base.

What you need to know about user privacy

Apple is marketing these changes as an enhancement of user privacy. I’d argue it erodes user privacy.

Currently, when I use Apple Mail on desktop or iOS mobile, Apple has zero knowledge of who I’m receiving email from, when I read it or what that content is. Today, in order to protect my privacy from external senders, I disable images by default. That gives me 100% privacy. Senders don’t see me opening the email and loading images, and Apple isn’t scanning my emails and running my email content thru their proxy servers.

If I enable Apple’s new “Protect Mail Activity,” setting Apple goes from having zero knowledge of my email activity to having a view of everything that has images in it. Apple will see your email activity…

  • They’ll know you received and opened an email from your pharmacy.
  • They’ll know you received and opened an email from your doctor.
  • They’ll see your work email images.
  • They’ll see your personal email images, even if you use Gmail, Yahoo!, Outlook, or a personal email server but read those emails using Apples Mail app.

All of that data will be seen and controlled by Apple. 

So what does that mean for you?

It becomes trivial for law enforcement to subpoena a single organization like Apple and get a ton of information about you. This sort of law enforcement action has been misused many times in the past worldwide and has topped news headlines in the last week with the DOJ subpoenas for all email communications from members of Congress. This exposes significantly more private information with less effort than ever before. 

This isn’t just law enforcement that could expose this data, it becomes trivial to subpoena it for civil lawsuits as well such as messy divorces, business disagreements, and so on.

Real privacy comes from user education and knowledge about what options are available to end users. I fear that many users will check the Apple “privacy” box and think that no one can see what they are doing online. 

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Apple might be working from a place of good intentions now, but by using “Protect Mail Activity,” what we’re doing is trusting them to continue being responsible with your data when economic and governmental pressure arises.

Learn more about Apple’s privacy changes

There are many perspectives on this new release, and I’d encourage you to read what others have to say on the subject. I’ve gathered a few I found interesting.

The post Apple Starts Gathering Your Personal Data in the Name of “Privacy” appeared first on AWeber.



Reblogged 5 hours ago from blog.aweber.com

What Netflix Bingeing Taught Me About Digital Experience

Next time you open Netflix, I want you to try something.

When you see your tailored suggestions, as the platform starts the video right where you left off on your iPad, stop and take note of that experience.

How do these experiences actually make you feel?

Does the device handoff give you a rush of excitement and gratitude?

Probably not.

Start over. Imagine opening Netflix again.

Your recommendations are gone, replaced with an unfiltered list of content. The list feels random, but then you’d expect at least a couple of shows to be of random interest. They’re not. That episode you’re halfway through on your iPad? You’ll have to scroll back and forth to find your place. Ultimately, you’ll probably just rewatch parts of the episode “just to be safe”.  

If you’re like me (my apologies if you are), you’ll react more to this moment of friction than the moment of seamless performance. The seamless experience is largely invisible — it’s unfelt — while the bad experience is impossible to ignore. Based on how bad it is, it’ll haunt you and sometimes make you question your life choices.

It may even push you toward Hulu or Disney +, or another platform that you trust more.

The same dynamic is at play for the digital experiences you deliver to customers.

2020 and 2021 accelerated digital transformation across industries, creating a new set of expectations in your customers’ personal and professional lives.

For them, being delighted isn’t a capstone to their experience as your customer; it’s the cornerstone your relationship is built on. Today’s buyers have more options, and disruptors are acquiring — and retaining — new business through the experience they provide their customers.

These new expectations present huge opportunities for those who are willing to rethink their digital experiences and a huge risk for those who are not.

So, why are so many businesses failing to meet these expectations?

Is it because they just don’t care about the customers’ experience? Sometimes — but not usually. A vast majority of businesses would love to deliver a delightful experience.

The reason they don’t is mostly because cobbled-together point solutions can’t deliver a clear view of the customer.

After all, scaling companies are in a constant state of adaptation. As new needs and opportunities arise, companies introduce a network of individual solutions that solve discrete problems: a CRM to manage customer data, a CMS to build their website, and marketing automation to scale their efforts.

Over time, as you add more solutions, your company’s tech stack grows so unwieldy it becomes a barrier between you and your customers instead of a bridge. It keeps you from the agile reporting you need and makes automation way more complicated than it should be. It makes personalization unreliable and messaging fragmented.

Since the dawn of the digital age, the status quo has been to rely on a separate CRM, CMS and automation tool. It’s what many marketing leaders have accepted as a necessary evil — despite the friction it causes for customers.

So, how do today’s companies win?

By delivering a best-in-class, unified digital experience that exceeds customer expectations. Doing this requires two foundational elements.

1. Information

Any marketing based on assumptions is doomed to failure. To get the digital experience right for every individual customer at scale requires reliable, organized and actionable data.

Not just ‘who are your customers?’ but ‘who is this customer?’ How and where have they interacted with you digitally? What do they need from you right now, and more importantly, what will they need from you next?

At HubSpot, we built the Customer Code with this philosophy in mind: Use the data you have access to, don’t abuse it. But in order to leverage the data you gather to create better digital experiences, all of your customer-facing teams need a single source of truth for that data — a key ingredient that’s beyond the reach of companies that still use cobbled-together solutions. That’s where centralization comes in.

2. Centralization

Providing a seamless experience across touchpoints is really a matter of shifting from ad hoc point solutions to a crafted, unified platform that provides a single view of the customer. When a CMS sits alongside key sales, services, and marketing tools in a centralized system, every customer-facing team knows how customers are interacting with their business and — more importantly — how they can help.

And this is the key: if you want your marketing, sales and service teams to deliver a great experience, you have to give them a fighting chance. You do this by having the systems and data they use aligned and unified.

For example, consider a repeat visitor to your pricing page. If both marketing and sales can see this activity, the marketing team can send a discount code or helpful resources that contextualize your pricing while sales can reach out to offer guidance or a product demo.

With this centralized platform and toolset, you can see and anticipate customer needs and take action immediately. You can tailor digital experiences on an individual level, across touchpoints, using the most up-to-date insights on customer needs, questions or interests — just like they expect you to.

The CRM for Today’s Customer Expectations

The answer to these business challenges isn’t just to use a CRM. You probably already have one of those. If you’re really unlucky, maybe even two. It probably doesn’t allow you to easily do any of what I just described, and it likely can’t deliver the seamless experiences your customers expect.

Instead, you need a CRM platform that has been designed specifically to meet today’s sky-high customer expectations; one that you can adapt to changing customer expectations, align your teams around, and adopt without an uphill change management battle. (And no, there are no change management battles that are downhill).

To pull off this digital experience at scale, you need to rethink the underlying components of the experience itself.

The customer-facing pieces — your website, email content, advertising, member portals — are front and center. But only touchpoints that are powered by a modern, purpose-built CRM provide the personalization and timeliness that distinguish an average digital interaction from an elite one.

And whether it’s Netflix, HubSpot or your corner cafe, delivering elite customer experiences is the key to navigating uncertain times, thriving in the digital-first era, and ultimately, growing better.

digital experience

Reblogged 13 hours ago from blog.hubspot.com


Spinning Up Multiple WordPress Sites Locally With DevKinsta

When building themes and plugins for WordPress, we need to make sure they work well in all the different environments where they will be installed. We can sometimes control this environment when creating a theme for our own websites, but at other times we cannot, such as when distributing our plugins via the public WordPress repository for anyone to download and install it.

Concerning WordPress, the possible combinations of environments for us to worry about include:

  • Different versions of PHP,
  • Different versions of WordPress,
  • Different versions of the WordPress editor (aka the block editor),
  • HTTPS enabled/disabled,
  • Multisite enabled/disabled.

Let’s see how this is the case. PHP 8.0, which is the latest version of PHP, has introduced breaking changes from the previous versions. Since WordPress still officially supports PHP 5.6, our plugin may need to support 7 versions of PHP: PHP 5.6, plus PHP 7.0 to 7.4, plus PHP 8.0. If the plugin requires some specific feature of PHP, such as typed properties (introduced in PHP 7.4), then it will need to support that version of PHP onward (in this case, PHP 7.4 and PHP 8.0).

Concerning versioning in WordPress, this software itself may occasionally introduce breaking changes, such as the update to a newer version of jQuery in WordPress 5.6. In addition, every major release of WordPress introduces new features (such as the new Gutenberg editor, introduced in version 5.0), which could be required for our products.

The block editor it’s no exception. If our themes and plugins contain custom blocks, testing them for all different versions is imperative. At the very minimum, we need to worry about two versions of Gutenberg: the one shipped in WordPress core, and the one available as a standalone plugin.

Concerning both HTTPS and multisite, our themes and plugins could behave differently depending on these being enabled or not. For instance, we may want to disable access to a REST endpoint when not using HTTPS or provide extended capabilities to the super admin from the multisite.

This means there are many possible environments that we need to worry about. How do we handle it?

Figuring Out The Environments

Everything that can be automated, must be automated. For instance, to test the logic on our themes and plugins, we can create a continuous integration process that runs a set of tests on multiple environments. Automation takes a big chunk of the pain away.

However, we can’t just rely on having machines do all the work for us. We will also need to access some testing WordPress site to visualize if, after some software upgrade, our themes still look as intended. For instance, if Gutenberg updates its global styles system or how a core block behaves, we want to check that our products were not impacted by the change.

How many different environments do we need to support? Let’s say we are targeting 4 versions of PHP (7.2 to 8.0), 5 versions of WordPress (5.3 to 5.7), 2 versions of Gutenberg (core/plugin), HTTPS enabled/disabled, and multisite on/off. It all amounts to a total of 160 possible environments. That’s way too much to handle.

To simplify matters, instead of producing a site for each possible combination, we can reduce it to a handful of environments that, overall, comprise all the different properties.

For instance, we can produce these five environments:

  1. PHP 7.2 + WP 5.3 + Gutenberg core + HTTPS + multisite
  2. PHP 7.3 + WP 5.4 + Gutenberg plugin + HTTPS + multisite
  3. PHP 7.4 + WP 5.5 + Gutenberg plugin + no HTTPS + no multisite
  4. PHP 8.0 + WP 5.6 + Gutenberg core + HTTPS + no multisite
  5. PHP 8.0 + WP 5.7 + Gutenberg core + no HTTPS + no multisite

Spinning up 5 WordPress sites is manageable, but it is not easy since it involves technical challenges, particularly enabling different versions of PHP, and providing HTTPS certificates.

We want to spin up WordPress sites easily, even if we have limited knowledge of systems. And we want to do it quickly since we have our development and design work to do. How can we do it?

Managing Local WordPress Sites With DevKinsta

Fortunately, spinning up local WordPress sites is not difficult nowadays, since we can avoid the manual work, and instead rely on a tool that automates the process for us.

DevKinsta is exactly this kind of tool. It enables to launch a local WordPress site with minimum effort, for any desired configuration. The site will be created in less time it takes to drink a cup of coffee. And it certainly costs less than a cup of coffee: DevKinsta is 100% free and available for Windows, macOS, and Ubuntu users.

As its name suggests, DevKinsta was created by Kinsta, one of the leading hosting providers in the WordPress space. Their goal is to simplify the process of working with WordPress projects, whether for designers or developers, freelancers, or agencies. The easier we can set up our environment, the more we can focus on our own themes and plugins, the better our products will be.

The magic that powers DevKinsta is Docker, the software that enables to isolate an app from its environment via containers. However, we are not required to know about Docker or containers: DevKinsta hides the underlying complexity away, so we can just launch the WordPress site at the press of a button.

In this article, we will explore how to use DevKinsta to launch the 5 different local WordPress instances for testing a plugin, and what nice features we have at our disposal.

Launching A WordPress Site With DevKinsta

The images from above show DevKinsta when opening it for the first time. It presents 3 options for creating a new local WordPress site:

  1. New WordPress site
    It uses the default configuration, including the latest WordPress release and PHP 8.
  2. Import from Kinsta
    It clones the configuration from an existing site hosted at MyKinsta.
  3. Custom site
    It uses a custom configuration, provided by you.

Pressing on option #1 will literally produce a local WordPress site without even thinking about it. I could explain a bit further if only I could; there’s really not more to it than that.

If you happen to be a Kinsta user, then pressing on option #2 allows you to directly import a site from MyKinsta, including a dump of its database. (Btw, it works in the opposite direction too: local changes in DevKinsta can be pushed to a staging site in MyKinsta.)

Finally, when pressing on option #3, we can specify what custom configuration to use for the local WordPress site.

Let’s press the button for option #3. The configuration screen will look like this:

A few inputs are read-only. These are options that are currently fixed but will be made configurable sometime in the future. For instance, the webserver is currently set to Nginx, but work to add Apache is underway.

The options we can presently configure are the following:

  • The site’s name (from which the local URL is calculated),
  • PHP version,
  • Database name,
  • HTTPS enabled/disabled,
  • The WordPress site’s title,
  • WordPress version,
  • The admin’s email, username and password,
  • Multisite enabled/disabled.

After completing this information for my first local WordPress site, called “GraphQL API on PHP 80”, and clicking on “Create site”, all it took for DevKinsta to create the site was just 2 minutes. Then, I’m presented the info screen for the newly-created site:

The new WordPress site is available under its own local domain graphql-api-on-php80.local. Clicking on the “Open site” button, we can visualize our new site in the browser:

I repeated this process for all the different required environments, and voilà, my 5 local WordPress sites were up and running in no time. Now, DevKinsta’s initial screen list down all my sites:

Using WP-CLI

From the required configuration for my environments, I’ve so far satisfied all items except one: installing Gutenberg as a plugin.

Let’s do this next. We can install a plugin the usual via the WP admin, which we can access by clicking on the “WP admin” button from the site info screen, as seen in the image above.

Even better, DevKinsta ships with WP-CLI already installed, so we can interact with the WordPress site via the command-line interface.

In this case, we need to have a minimal knowledge of Docker. Executing a command within a container is done like this:

docker exec {containerName} /bin/bash -c '{command}'

The needed parameters are:

  • DevKinsta’s container is called devkinsta_fpm.
  • The WP-CLI command to install and activate a plugin is wp plugin install {pluginName} --activate --path={pathToSite} --allow-root
  • The path to the WordPress site, within the container, is /www/kinsta/public/{siteName}.

Putting everything together, the command to install and activate the Gutenberg plugin in the local WordPress site is this one:

docker exec devkinsta_fpm /bin/bash -c 'wp plugin install gutenberg --activate --path=/www/kinsta/public/MyLocalSite --allow-root'

Exploring Features

There are a couple of handy features available for our local WordPress sites.

The first one is the integration with Adminer, a tool similar to phpMyAdmin, to manage the database. With this tool, we can directly fetch and edit the data through a custom SQL query. Clicking on the “Database manager” button, on the site info screen, will open Adminer in a new browser tab:

The second noteworthy feature is the integration with Mailhog, the popular email testing tool. Thanks to this tool, any email sent from the local WordPress site is not actually sent out, but is captured, and displayed on the Email inbox:

Clicking on an email, we can see its contents:

Accessing The Local Installation Files

After installing the local WordPress site, its folder containing all of its files (including WordPress core, installed themes and plugins, and uploaded media items) will be publicly available:

  • Mac and Linux: under /Users/{username}/DevKinsta/public/{siteName}.
  • Windows: under C:\Users\{username}\DevKinsta\public\{siteName}.

(In other words: the local WordPress site’s files can be accessed not only through the Docker container, but also through the filesystem in our OS, such as using My PC on Windows, Finder in Mac, or any terminal.)

This is very convenient since it offers a shortcut for installing the themes and plugins we’re developing, speeding up our work.

For instance, to test a change in a plugin in all 5 local sites, we’d normally have to go to the WP admin on each site, and upload the new version of the plugin (or, alternatively, use WP-CLI).

By having access to the site’s folder, though, we can simply clone the plugin from its repo, directly under wp-content/plugins:

$ cd ~/DevKinsta/public/MyLocalSite/wp-content/plugins
$ git clone [email protected]:leoloso/MyAwesomePlugin.git

This way, we can just git pull to update our plugin to its latest version, making it immediately available in the local WordPress site:

$ cd MyAwesomePlugin
$ git pull

If we want to test the plugin under development on a different branch, we can similarly do a git checkout:

git checkout some-branch-with-new-feature

Since we may have several sites with different environments, we can automate this procedure by executing a bash script, which iterates the local WordPress sites and, for each, executes a git pull for the plugin installed within:

#!/bin/bash

iterateSitesAndGitPullPlugin(){
  cd ~/DevKinsta/public/
for file in * do if [ -d "$file" ]; then cd ~/DevKinsta/public/$file/wp-content/plugins/MyAwesomePlugin git pull fi done } iterateSitesAndGitPullPlugin

Conclusion

When designing and developing our WordPress themes and plugins, we want to be able to focus on our actual work, as much as possible. If we can automate setting up the working environment, we can then invest the extra time and energy into our product.

This is what DevKinsta makes possible. We can spin up a local WordPress site by just pressing a button, and create many sites with different environments in just a few minutes.

DevKinsta is being actively developed and supported. If you run into any issue or have some inquiry, you can browse through the documentation or head to the Community forum, where the creators of DevKinsta will help you out.

All of this, for free. Sounds good? If so, download DevKinsta and go spin up your local WordPress sites.

Reblogged 15 hours ago from smashingmagazine.com


The 100% Free Tech SEO (+ Beyond) Site Audit Checklist

For SEO agencies, consultants, and website owners

As an SEO consultant, I was always on the lookout for a good SEO audit checklist. One that I could use and present to my clients. One I could modify to my own needs. One that covered all the important SEO bases. One that was up-to-date. And importantly, one that I didn’t have to pay several hundred dollars for.

This, my SEO friends, is that checklist. And Moz is making it available to you.

One cool thing about this audit checklist is that you can perform it almost entirely 100% for free, or using free versions of SEO tools. This is important for SEO starting out on a budget, or small business owners who want to learn to audit a small site on their own.

That said, if you’re looking to audit medium/large sites or more than a few pages at a time, you likely want to look into more scalable solutions, such as our Moz Pro Site Crawl including our new Performance Metrics Beta.

Regardless, you’re probably ready to dive in…

Get The Audit Checklist

Admittedly, we’re big fans of a lot of good SEO audit checklists out there, including Annielytics Site Audit Checklist, Andy Drinkwater’s Checklist, and the audits available at SEOSLY.

We also like the audit checklist by Benjamin Estes over at BrainLabs, in particular, the pass/fail selector for each item. While our own audit is substantially different, we stole incorporated this feature into our own.

Site Audit Coverage

Originally, we set out to create a solid technical SEO audit checklist — one that covered all the important technical SEO areas which could have a significant impact on rankings/traffic and could be completed in a short amount of time.

As we created the audit, we realized that SEOs also want to check other traffic-impacting site issues that aren’t necessarily technical. Hence, we ended up with a more complete Technical SEO and beyond site audit — one that covers nearly every important SEO area with the potential to impact traffic and rankings.

Briefly, the audit checklist covers:

1. Basics

Here you take a few quick steps to set your audit up for success: making sure you have analytics installed, Search Console access set up, and optionally, running a site crawl. Go to Basics.

2. Crawling & Indexing

Covering the foundations of technical SEO, the crawling and indexing section of the audit makes sure that search engines can find, crawl, and index your content without challenge. Go to Crawling & Indexing.

3. Meta & Structured Data

Both metadata and structured data have become increasingly complex in SEO. Here we include 8 quick checks to ensure maximum visibility in all types of search results. Go to Meta & Structured Data.

4. Content

Content isn’t often considered “technical” SEO, but many technical issues with the content itself can impact indexing and rankings. Beyond the quality of the content itself, these technical issues need to be checked and addressed. Go to Content.

5. Links & Navigation

Links are the roads that hold your site together and connect it to the larger internet around the world. Google uses links in a variety of ways to rank content, so here we include 8 brief audits to make sure your links are optimized for crawling and ranking. Go to Links & Navigation.

6. Images

Images not only add relevance to web pages, but also improve engagement, and can help with rankings. Additionally, Google Images is one of the largest search engines by itself in the world. Here we include 5 quick checks to make sure your images are up to snuff. Go to Images.

7. Video

Videos play an increasingly important role on the web, but in truth, many sites pay no attention to video SEO. This is one area where Google simply won’t “figure it out” without solid, technical SEO. Here are 4 audit items to make sure your videos can rank. Go to Video.

8. Mobile

Google is now mobile-first! (Well, almost there.) Most SEO audits take place on desktop, but doing a few quick mobile checks can make the difference between ranking or not. Go to Mobile.

9. Speed

Ready for Core Web Vitals? In truth, page speed has been important to SEO for years, and now there’s more attention to it than ever. Go to Speed.

10. Security

Many SEOs often overlook security issues, but Google takes it very seriously. Beyond implementing HTTPS, there are a couple of areas you want to check if your site experiences problems. Go to Security.

11. International & Multilingual Sites

This optional section applies if your site targets multiple languages and/or regions. Implementing hreflang and international targeting is a technically tricky area, so you want to make sure you get it right. Go to International & Multilingual Sites.

12. Backlinks

While backlinks are only rarely included in a technical SEO audit, a lack of relevant backlinks is often the number one reason good, relevant content struggles to rank. While this doesn’t represent a complete link audit, we recommend a few quick link checks to make sure you aren’t leaving rankings behind. Go to Backlinks.

Screenshot of the Tech SEO Checklist spreadsheet.

Get The Audit Checklist

This is a living document. That means we’ll work to keep this audit checklist up-to-date as SEO changes, so be sure to check back for new updates. If you have any additions or suggestions, please let us know in the comments below.

To your SEO auditing success!

Reblogged 22 hours ago from feedproxy.google.com


How to Hire the Best Possible Local SEO Agency for Your Business

Local search marketing is a very strenuous hike. 

When you hire an agency to help with the varied tasks of local search engine optimization and offline-to-online marketing, you’re hoping to take an experienced guide along with you on the journey from trailhead, to setting up camp, to making the most of your company’s stay in your neck of the woods. 

Top of mind for your local business will certainly be increasing revenue. You know you’ll need better or broader local and localized organic rankings for this, perhaps more reviews, more clicks-to-call, more form submissions, more qualified website traffic, or an improved conversion rate to get there. But, I want to encourage you to start the search for a local SEO agency with a long-term relationship as the goal, rather than swift wins on specific metrics. 

The best agency for your local business will be the one that’s there for you when things go right and when they go wrong, for many years to come, because you’ve made a mutual commitment to traveling together and are both sharing the rewards success brings. This article will equip you with tips for finding that kind of agency, warn you of danger signs, and help you to take your local business on the best possible trek into the future.

Your responsibilities to the local SEO agency you hire

Fundamental: be sure you’re hiring a firm with local SEOs on board rather than just a general digital marketing agency. But, beyond this, you need to see that your partner is making a real commitment to your business in order for you to trust them and act on their advice. The other half of the relationship equation will be the commitments you are prepared to make. These five responsibilities belong in your backpack:

1. Know Google’s guidelines

Before you begin your search for an agency, mark out 30 minutes on your calendar for slowly reading through the Guidelines for representing your business on Google. It’s as fundamental to what you’re about to do as looking at a trail map would be before heading off into Yosemite. If you don’t read the guidelines, you’ll be in danger of asking your agency partners to do things that would get your business into trouble with Google. More alarming, without knowledge of what Google allows local brands to do on their platform, you will have no idea if an agency you hire is engaging in activities that violate the guidelines, putting your company at risk of suspension, listing removal, and reputation damage. 

Don’t skip this step. You don’t have to be an expert in all the minutiae of weird scenarios businesses encounter when seeking guideline-compliance, but you do need a rough understanding of what Google permits, so that you and your chosen agency start from the same entry point of making smart marketing decisions with business longevity in mind. 

2. Be honest about past mistakes

If, through past ignorance of Google’s guidelines, you come to realize that your business made mistakes in its marketing, tell your agency partners. This could include mistakes that resulted in actions on Google’s part, such as listing suspensions or review removal. Or, it could include mistakes that Google has not yet noticed, such as creating listings for ineligible entities like P.O. boxes, or having staff post positive reviews of your business.

Your agency will have the task of cleaning up, either before damage has occurred or after it’s already happened. It can be embarrassing to admit mistakes, but unless you make your marketers aware of any errors and problems you know of, they can’t help you with them, and they may cast a long shadow over your business if left unaddressed, undermining success. 

3. Do your best to deliver on your end

I’ve consulted with every type of local business from beekeepers to bookkeepers, and one of the most frustrating barriers to getting agency work completed is when clients fail to meet deadlines for deliverables. This widespread problem that can seriously strain business relationships because delays in delivery then delay expected successes. The client can end up blaming and quitting the agency for not meeting benchmarks, when failure is actually due to the local business missing deadlines. In fact, it’s a red flag to good agencies if a potential client has changed marketing firms repeatedly within a short timeframe, because enough time can’t have been given for the results of their local SEO work to bear fruit. 

If you or your staff have agreed to provide certain materials, such as spreadsheets of business information, content for new pages on the website, photos, or access permissions, do your best to deliver on time. 

Empathetic local SEOs understand that local business owners are some of the busiest people in the world, and an occasional delay is understandable, but if it becomes a pattern, it’s time to reassess the relationship. For example, if the business repeatedly fails to deliver text content to the agency, it may be that the business needs to expand the number of services for which it’s paying its marketers. Maybe the agency needs to provide a copywriter for the business so that work can begin moving ahead again at a good pace.

4. Base expectations on your expert’s appraisal of what’s possible

The internet is crowded, and unless your business model is unique in its geographic market, it’s going to take time to see maximum ROI from your agency partnership. Some local SEO tasks can literally provide same-day boosts, but for others, it will take many months to see your investments start to pay off. 

Every marketing relationship should begin with a realistic appraisal of what experts at the agency believe is possible for the unique business — within a rational timeframe. This is the opposite of expectations like, “I want to rank #1 within two weeks.” Rather, it’s the foundation of a strategy that could take multiple years to fully roll out, meeting important benchmarks on a monthly or quarterly basis along the way so that growth is measurable and meaningful. It’s your responsibility to ask the experts you hire to map out what you should expect, based on your business model, your market, your market competitors, and the agency’s past experience.

5. When dealing with Google, expect change

Your agency’s backpack contains all kinds of specialized knowledge, but they don’t control the forest. It’s Google, with their near-monopoly on local search, that rules their powerful platform, and they are continuously altering the terrain in both small and large ways. New rules, new features, emergent bugs, ongoing algorithmic updates, and new competitors setting up shop or upping their marketing games mean that you and your marketers can always expect change.

It can be extremely alarming when Google alters something and your business experiences a drop in phone calls, traffic, visibility, or reviews. Communicate with your agency, and then extend a little patience while your marketers investigate the change and develop a list of actions, if any, that need to be taken. 

Warning signs of an undesirable local SEO agency

As mentioned, local search marketing is a very strenuous hike, and what you don’t need in a traveling companion is an ill-equipped partner. There are three points of discovery at which you must assess whether an agency is a benefit or burden to your local business: before hiring, mid-relationship, and post-relationship. Watch out for these red flags:

Before hiring

Beware of any agency that cold-contacts you. You may receive phone calls or emails from marketing agencies claiming that something is wrong with your website or marketing that they can fix. You may be contacted by people claiming to have a special relationship with Google, or even to be from Google! People may follow you on social media and then try to sell you services. 

While good agencies do engage in legitimate advertising, the best local SEO agencies may get nearly all or all of their work via referrals from happy clients, industry peers, and the reputation they’ve built, preventing them from relying on cold contacts. Rather than responding to anyone reaching out to you out of the blue, it’s better for you to do the finding of your future marketing partners through your own research. 

A good way to start this process is to look up questions you have about local SEO in Google, see who has written answers that make sense to you, and then learn more about the author from their website, other articles, and social media profiles.

Beware of any agency that promises you any kind of results. “I can get you #1 rankings,” is a huge red flag of a shady firm, because honest SEOs know they can’t make promises about platforms (like Google) that they don’t directly control. 

Beware of any agency that doesn’t meet your standards of accessible, prompt, professional communication. If a marketing firm is hard to reach before you hire them, expect this to continue even when you’re paying them, and never begin a relationship with a partner who is dismissive of your communications, unclear to you in their communications so that you don’t understand what they’re offering, rude, or inconsistent in their claims.

Beware of agencies that only sell packages. While some services can be packaged up for general use by most local businesses, all local brands are unique, and good agencies should be offering you a customized strategy. 

Related to this, be cognizant of the size of the agency you’re considering. In my experience, small-to-medium local businesses are best served by small-to-medium agencies, rather than becoming just a number in an enormous client roster of a major brand. For example, a big website hosting company may offer a local SEO package, but you’re unlikely to have a unique identity to the people working at a brand this large, and shouldn’t expect to receive best-quality, personalized service when being fit into shoes thousands of others are wearing. 

Finally, and crucially, beware of any agency that indicates they will engage in a practice that you’ve learned violates Google’s guidelines. This is one reason it’s so important for you to equip yourself with that essential reading, so you can walk away from this headache before it begins.

Mid-relationship

It’s quite common for local businesses to have to work with more than one agency before finding an ideal fit. Sometimes, a relationship can start well, but changes in personnel at the digital marketing agency, changes in expectations, or growth of the business beyond the agency’s skill set can require reassessment of whether the partnership is still the best choice for the business. 

Take note if your agency becomes less communicative, fails to respond to emails or calls, or cancels meetings. If you notice a pattern, ask what has changed, give the agency the chance to correct course with you (including booking more of their time or offering you extra help to make up for past failures), but then consider moving on if dissatisfaction isn’t remedied. I’m personally such a local business fan that I’ve always considered it a tremendous honor to be brought into a good local business to advise them. Evaluate at regular intervals whether you feel like you and your business are being honored by your marketing partners.

Finally, pay attention if benchmarks are repeatedly missed. For example, if your marketing partners tell you that they typically expect investment in review outreach to have doubled the rate at which you’re receiving reviews within one quarter, and four months go by without any improvement, request an explanation and weigh it well. Local SEO is experimental and demands patience and leeway, but if stated goals are consistently not met, your agency may not be up to the task at hand.

Post-relationship

If changes on either side of the relationship make it necessary to part ways with your agency, the ideal scenario is a mutually-respectful adieu in which the marketers wish the client well on the next phase of their journey, and the client has done nothing that would make it awkward to potentially work with these partners again in future — if they’d like to.

I’ve seen from a distance some shockingly unprofessional business breakups, with accusations hurled on both sides, websites being held hostage, scathing reviews being left, foolhardy online revenge attempts, and even lawsuits. Unless something has happened to warrant legal action, it’s best to walk away with everyone’s dignity intact. There are many reasons why clients and agencies may be mismatched, but only edge cases warrant making a public scene that risks reputation damage to both houses.

When a top quality local SEO agency can’t fulfill a client’s expectations or needs, a respectful environment may prompt them to refer the business to another firm they know and trust. When a client grows beyond what an agency can provide but has been happy up to that point, polite openness can greatly ease the parting. Rather than burning a bridge, try to keep it open so that good feelings on both sides exist for any future potential work together. 

Almost any agency will be sorry to see you go. You can remain an all-time favorite client of theirs if you agree to write a testimonial about whatever was good for your business in working with them, and they will love you forever if you refer other local brands to them that you think would be a good match for their services. If you stay friends with your former marketers, they may CC you when they see an opportunity for your business, and it’s definitely a plus for your brand if your marketers tell their big circle of colleagues, friends, and family about the great things your business offers. I’ve personally become a loyal customer of some of my best clients!

7 questions to ask a local SEO agency before you hire them

Before inviting a marketer or marketing team to partner with your business, you’ll need to walk a mile or so with them. Conduct a thorough interview of one or more prospective agency reps, and document their answers to these seven questions, so that you can do a comparison to identify the best possible match for your needs.

1. Are your marketing practices consistent with all of Google’s guidelines?

A good agency should be expert in the Guidelines for representing your business on Google, Google’s guidelines for user-contributed content — including reviews, and Google’s search quality evaluator guidelines, and should agree to adhere to them to avoid negative outcomes for their client. If you’re not convinced that a marketer you’re interviewing is conversant with Google’s policies, present a hypothetical question to them and see if their solution matches the guidelines.

For example, if you ask the marketer whether you can get a Google My Business listing for a virtual office, they should tell you “no” and point you to the guidelines that forbid this. If a marketer knows the guidelines but suggests that you can get away with a violation because Google is asleep at the wheel, walk away. The marketer may be quite right, by the way, but they’re not a safe bet for your brand’s reputation.

2. Based on what you already know about my business and market, are my goals realistic?

Provide a clear, concrete list of goals to the interviewee. Be specific about how many more search terms you want to rank for, how many more reviews you want, how many more phone calls, form submissions, leads, sales, etc. you want within a set timeframe.

Before having an interview with you, a motivated agency will have conducted a modest amount of research on your business and its market. They may have run some reports. But don’t expect them to have done a full workup before being hired. What you want to hear at this stage is whether they feel your goals sound reasonable or are obviously unattainable, based on what they know so far. You want to hear them say that they will be able to provide a more reliable answer once they’ve put in the work as your hired partner. But also look out if they promise you everything off the bat — they could be overselling you just to get the job.

3. How much time will you invest in researching my market before creating my strategy?

You won’t be hiring a local SEO who is already marketing a direct competitor in your city, so this means your partner will need time to learn about the community you serve. And, unless you hire a specialty firm that only works with your category of business, the agency will need time to learn about your industry. Beyond this, they will need the time to study the specifics of your unique business: its goods and services, its staff (including any in-house staff that may be contributing to marketing), its policies, history, and more. 

Time for all of this must be built into the informal agreement or formal contract. You should expect to be billed for it, and need to know how much time the agency considers reasonable for an initial period of study, with the understanding that they will be continuing to evaluate your brand and your market opportunities across time in order to continuously create strategy.

At the bare minimum, unless you are hiring an agency solely for some small one-and-done service, your work with them should begin with a full business audit and a complete competitive audit so that strategy is based on data rather than guesses.

4. What will you need from me?

Give the interviewee the chance to set clear expectations about the deliverables they will need from you and the time they may need to speak with you and your staff. Within this framework, establish what types and amounts of communications will be involved.

Some local business owners want their marketers to take care of everything behind the scenes and only come to them with reports of problems or growth. They may be outsourcing this work due to genuine lack of time to learn about local search marketing. Other clients hire an agency to train them and their staff to become more self sufficient at many marketing tasks, in-house. These scenarios cover an extremely wide spectrum of communications needs.

Be upfront about whether you want bare minimum communication, a regular schedule of strategy sessions, or formal training, and have the interviewee explain to you what commitments you’ll need to make on your end to facilitate this.

And, of course, now is the time to request a full explanation of costs. Agency pricing structures differ tremendously, from itemized price sheets, to packages, to monthly retainers. Be realistic and firm about your budget, and see whether what you can invest is a good match for what the interviewee can provide in your joint pursuit of meeting goals.

5. May I see an anonymized client report?

Every local business will have different expectations and needs concerning the reports their marketers deliver, but across the board, all brands need to be sure they will receive reports that are intelligible rather than simply overwhelming. Before you hire a local SEO, ask to see one or more anonymized, real client reports. Look at them thoroughly. Now is the time to ask questions about anything that’s in the reports that you don’t understand. 

Some clients want exhaustive reports that capture every iota of traffic and every search language permutation on every day of the week. Others prefer to see only high-level data with action items for the agency or client. Whatever your needs, be sure the style of reporting the marketers offer is a good match, both in terms of content and frequency, and that customization is possible if you need something that isn’t being provided in the samples.

Feel free to ask the agency about the tools and software they use, and to do your own research of the quality of those products. You are also free to ask if the agency is white-labeling tools or has proprietary technologies. A good agency will be open and honest with their clients.

6. Can you show me the growth you’ve created for three other clients?

Due to NDAs and client privacy, this information may also need to be anonymized, but you want to see a convincing account of growth for more than one client. Be on the lookout for whether the agency reports on vague metrics like doubling traffic, or concrete ones like doubling leads and revenue. If there’s a particular type of growth your business is pursuing, you can ask the agency to show you wins they’ve gotten in this area.

If the agency keeps a public roster of their clients, ask if you can be put in touch with someone at a few of these businesses for a quick chat. Ideally, you’re hoping to hear a glowing recommendation from an existing client of the company you’re considering hiring.

7. What is your history and involvement in your own industry?

Consider it a fundamental part of your interview process to go online and research the reputation of any marketer you might hire. Look particularly at the degree to which they are involved in education in the local SEO industry, because you will be hiring this person or team to educate you

Deeply-invested local SEOs will have a history of writing about this marketing discipline. They may have a blog, or contribute to industry blogs, have a podcast or videos, and speak at or host conferences. Look at their website, their social media profiles, reviews if they have them, and note what their peers and clients are saying about them.

In addition to doing your own online research, now is a great time to ask the marketer a little about their own history. Why did they get into local SEO and what do they like about it? Do they have a philosophy that they can share succinctly and does it resonate with your company’s culture? Throughout the interview process, be keenly alert to how well any prospective partner communicates with you and the level of comfort they create, because it will set the tone of any future relationship. 

Mutual, sustained growth: so happy together

After a long hiring journey, you’ve chosen your agency and have now set up camp together. You’ve become sharers in one another’s fates, and that’s exciting! Unless your local business is taking a complete hands-off approach to marketing, you’re about to learn a lot about local SEO. There are three things you can do to get the most from this business investment:

1. Ask questions

I’m hoping that the agency you’ve engaged doesn’t communicate in jargon, but if they do, nip this unhelpful habit in the bud by being completely fearless about asking questions. Never, never be timid about this. If your marketer says, “We can increase CTR with a more compelling USP, but we need to focus on largest contentful paint first,” and you don’t hear the next three things they say because you got lost trying to parse this out, state clearly:

“I’d prefer you avoid acronyms and jargon as much as possible so that we’re speaking the same language, and I’ll try to do the same when explaining my industry to you.”

If there is anything your marketer says or sends you at any time that isn’t clear or contains words and phrases you don’t recognize, you’re the smart one for asking them to back up and explain until you’re completely comfortable with what’s being proposed, reported, or discussed.

2. Communicate dissatisfaction and satisfaction openly

Don’t let resentment quietly build over dissatisfactions you have with your agency. If something isn’t meeting your standards, please speak up early and often so that your marketers aren’t in the dark about how to best serve you. As a local SEO, I watch this silent curse fuel the majority of negative online reviews and think to myself how much distress could be avoided if customers politely voiced complaints at the time of service. In your relationship with your marketer, your frank feedback when something isn’t right is essential!

On the flip side, when a goal is met, take a moment to thoughtfully thank your local SEO. I’ve had lovely clients send me gifts as an extraordinary celebration for services rendered. That’s extremely kind, but a simple, “This really went well and I’m very happy with your work,” is an amazing psychological boost to the marketers who are working so hard for your brand’s success.

3. Grow your own local SEO knowledge

You’re paying your marketers for their expertise, but your business can only benefit if you develop a working acquaintance with local search marketing that enables you to brainstorm initiatives with a confident command of the terrain. 

The best local SEO firms will do all they can to study your consumer base and geography, but they will never know your business or community quite like you do. If you can pair your deep market intelligence with some study of what’s possible online, you will become a much stronger company leader. Don’t know how to get started? Read The Essential Local SEO Strategy Guide and excite your marketers at your next meeting!

To round up, hiring a local search marketing partner is the first step toward the business growth you desire, and you’re expecting to learn a lot. What you might not know is that your agency is likewise planning to learn a lot from you. Local SEO is one grand experiment, and smart agencies learn from every single client. It’s through working on your website, listings, reviews, social platforms, and other assets that marketers make thrilling discoveries, hone skills, and experience gratifying professional success. 

It’s this mutual hunt for success, in fact, that safeguards and inspires growth in the client-agency relationship. Teaming up can turn the very strenuous hike of local SEO into a navigable pathway strewn with exciting rewards. With commitments to earning trust over time, finding the right levels and styles of communication, learning together, and a basic grounding in reciprocal respect, this is a partnership you can build your local business on, and from, for years to come.

Image credits: Franck Michel, Nathan Gibbs, Lisa Pompeo, Paula Reedyk, and Jason Pratt.


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