In Search [Episode 47]: How to Do SEO for New Websites
November 12, 2019 |
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Summary of Episode 47: How to Do SEO for a New Site
joins the show, co-founder of LASSO
, to explore the wide world of SEO when building a new site:
- What technical and design considerations should be on your mind when creating a new site so that you rank well?
- How to take an abstract plan and turn it into a concrete content and branding strategy for your site!
- How to build links for a new site and rank for keywords when you’re the newest site on the block!
Plus, we explore BERT… Google’s new and super-advanced algorithm for understanding the words to, of, and for…. Well, it’s more complex than that… all in good time.
What Is Google’s BERT? A Simplified Explanation!
BERT, in case you didn't know stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, is Google’s latest machine learning property
which has been hailed as the biggest thing to hit Search in 5 years (per Google).
Our entire purpose today is to try to explain BERT in a way that would make sense to a 4th grader.
So, how does BERT work? BERT is "context clues.” What are context clues? Well, for those of you who have not taken 4th grade English in a bit, context clues go something like this. Take the sentence: "Paulie is a boozer who drinks vodka for breakfast, pours whiskey in his coffee, has a beer or two or three with his lunch and for dinner drinks a pint of Jack Daniels. What is a boozer?” Based on the sentence, can you figure out what a boozer is? Yes, you can, with the help of context clues. You use the context as your clue to determine that a ‘boozer’ is someone who has a drinking problem.
BERT does the same. It looks at the overall context of the language being used and "uses it as clues” much as a 4th grader can figure out that Paulie has a drinking problem.
This stands in contradistinction to other models that read content from left-to-right or right-to-left since those models don’t look at the entire phrase/keyword but build understanding based on the prior words within the phrase. Hence the B in BERT for bidirectional.
To learn to do this, BERT was fed information and trained to find content patterns (BERT began as an open-source project.) This is what we’re referring to when we say BERT relies on a neural network model. The process of this is called NLP, natural language processing, which is fancy talk for trying to understand language the way people do.
To summarize, BERT has been trained to look at the full phraseology and through training, the process is able to use context to predict what embedded into of the content really is.
Now, here’s where BERT really comes in:
- Prepositions… which is why in the intro says BERT is about understanding the words ‘to,’ ‘of,’ and ‘for'.
- BERT helps understand cases where a word or phrase has a double meaning.
If you take a look at the examples Google gave of how BERT improves query interpretation these are the two aspects of language that will pop out at you, but in fact, Google said "Particularly for longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like "for” and "to” matter a lot to the meaning
Let’s give two quick examples:
- Take the phrase: "Driving for the disabled.” "The ‘for’ is super important because depending on how you understand it you’ll either get results about how to be a driver for disabled people or how the disabled can get behind the wheel of a car themselves!
- Here’s a double meaning phrase: "How to turn right.” Do you mean how to make a right-hand turn or how to turn correctly? Google, in the Featured Snippet, understood it to mean the latter.
To sum up, BERT helps Google understand the emphasis created by prepositions and helps Google understand phraseology that has multiple meanings. And just like a 4th grader, Google uses context to help identify the true meaning.
It’s so simple, right?
Doing SEO For a New Site: A Conversation with Matt Giovanisci
[This is a general summary of the interview and not a word for word transcript. You can listen to the podcast for the full interview.]
Welcome to another In Search SEO Podcast interview session. Sitting with me via the ether that is the internet is the founder of moneylab.co
. He’s the host of the Money Lab podcast
& the CEO of Swim University
. He’s Matt Giovanisci!
Thanks for having me.
You’re from Jersey, right?
I’m from South Jersey. I tend to tell people that I’m from Philadelphia because I was born there and I’m 20 minutes over the bridge. When you say Jersey people think North Jersey, i.e., Jersey Shore.
Ah, so you’re from the nice part of Jersey where there are trees.
Yeah, farm country.
I heard you have a very interesting backstory in getting into this web thing. Do you mind sharing that?
Yeah, I worked in a pool store when I was 13. During that time I worked my way up in the pool industry. Then I was in a rock band and we needed to work on our website, but I didn’t have any money so I ended up teaching myself HTML and CSS. And then my boss at the pool company noticed that I built this website and he hired me to do the website for the company and then I became the marketing director for the entire business. And then in 2004, I had the idea of combining my passions together and I created Swim University. I was working on the website part-time for a few years and I was using black hat SEO techniques (not knowing they were "black hat”) until 2007 when Google created Panda and I had to change my entire SEO strategy. Now, 15 years later, I’ve been working on Swim University as well as other projects making me an SEO expert after reading lots of SEO books (SEO books is what we had back in the day).
So let’s do a run-through just as a way to make sure everyone listening is on the same page. You’re about to create a new site, what are you thinking about from an SEO perspective? What do you have to consider?
I take a really good look at the brand, at the name. People asked me about Swim University why I didn’t call it Pool University as I would have owned that keyword. I answer them by saying that 1) it’s old school thinking and 2) it would limit me to only talking about pools. I wanted my brand to have anything to do with water. There are a wide range of things that have to do with water and swimming.
So first, I’m going to pick a simple domain name. It doesn’t really matter so long as it’s catchy, simple to remember, and has a good brand feel to it. From there, if I’m starting a website from scratch (and this is coming from a web designer), my biggest concern nowadays is speed. Whenever I’m designing a website, I’m thinking of finding a way of not using images and if I am using images I will use SVGs because they’re super lightning fast. If I’m going to design it and I’m using WordPress the first page I design is single.php. The reason is because people are more often to see your homepage than any other page. I then try to make that page load as fast as humanly possible. And I know that I will have a ton of content on it. I will have videos, graphics, and all kinds of multimedia things. Those things really need to load fast.
I try to take a very branded approach to the way it looks without using things like parallax scrolling (which I know is probably not a thing anymore) or autoplay videos. All of those are cool and look great, but it doesn’t help with page speed which I believe is the most important SEO factor today. Not to mention that I design mobile-first with the screen shrunk down to 380 pixels and I then build up from there. I’ve also developed my own theme which I can reuse for projects. For someone who doesn’t do web design, I recommend finding a theme on WordPress as opposed to using Squarespace and Wix because you can’t know if they’re doing it right. Do you know of a Squarespace site that ranks?
At the top of my head, no. I know for Wix there have been problems. I’ve heard articles saying Wix is great and other articles saying they’re not so I don’t know.
And it’s not that I want the control, it’s that if I know I have the control or at least I can hire someone with that control we can focus more on the technical SEO parts like making sure the title is the only H1 tag on the page. Other things like making sure the H2 and H3s are right on the page.
I use Yoast as an SEO plugin. I also use WPRocket because I use WPEngine which has great caching, but it doesn’t work well with other caching plugins other than WPRocket. It does lazy loading for images which is great as well as lazy loading for videos which is one of its best features. It has heartbeat control. It has all of these tiny database cleaning things that really help micro speed your site. And on top of all that I have Cloudflare.
So you don’t go AMP?
I think Google is trying to force people to have faster websites with the use of AMP. They’re rewarding those who build fast websites and whoever doesn’t will suffer which forced everyone to go mobile-first. Google is then twisting your arm that if you don’t make your site faster then you will be forced to use AMP and Google will "own” your content.
My biggest theory about Google is that Google is smarter than everybody else and continuously getting smarter than everyone else. If you look at their AI for Optical Character Recognition and Natural Language, you can see they’re trying to read the profile of websites. In fact, last year I read this article on your site about the Medic update
and how Google is profiling sites. Google is basically using machines as human beings saying, "Yeah, this is a good site.”
The one thing that really hurt me in the early stages of my website building background was backlink building. I got hit multiple times because I wasn’t realizing I was building backlinks to bad websites. And then when I started writing articles for human beings, Google caught on and rewarded me with great rankings. Basically, nowadays when I start a new website I don’t focus on backlink building. Derek Halpern used to say that you should spend 20% of your time on content and 80% on promoting. I think it should not only be reversed but be 100% on content. Google will find you. That’s their job.
One of the tactics I will use when writing for an article is I will take the keyword I’m trying to rank for, Google it in incognito mode, and open up the top 20 articles that seem to be good. I’ll just scan and look for the H2s and see what topics they are talking about and distill that into an outline. Then I’ll use personal judgment to decide what sections are pointless and what can be covered in one sentence instead of a whole section. And then I distill it down and fill in the blocks. Fill in the H2s and really get in-depth. Then I’ll take one good swipe at it and edit it down even further. I want to say more in fewer words. It’s not about word count. It’s about information and relevancy. If you can make a good article for human beings and for Google then you will win at SEO.
When building a site it’s good to set up the framework of having these best practices in place. I alt-image every image on my website. I do the things that might not help. I stopped doing the whole anchor text thing. Now I do, "Here is an article for ‘x’” making sure when you click that you know where you’re about to go. I used to think that Google Analytics was taking that data and using it in their ranking algorithm until I was told otherwise which made more sense to me because that information can be completely inaccurate if you install the code wrong. Why would they trust that?
I have a feeling that things like bounce rate may not be used as a direct signal but you have to imagine indirectly Google is recognizing if people are going to a page and immediately leaving.
Right, you also have to think about bounce rates. It’s not just getting your page to load fast, you have to get to the point. A lot of people might say, "Hey! This is a 1200 word article!” They’re bragging that they wrote what’s like a book.
I want to hop back on what you said about naming your website Swim University instead of Pool University. As we said, when creating a website one of the first things you need to do is think of what’s your identity and what content do I want to write about. How do you take that rough idea and turn it into something really focused and tangible so you can actually create the site?
Yeah. I’ve actually done this four times in the past three years so I have a pretty good grasp on what to do so I’ll give you the step by step. The first step is you need to think of a big brand or keyword. For this example, let’s use ‘tech gear’. Think of something big and audacious. Start your brand from there. Think long term though. If you choose TV, in a couple of years there might not be TVs anymore. That doesn’t mean you can’t start writing about TVs but instead of calling yourself the TV Guru you can call yourself the Tech Guru. You can then start with TVs and then over time, you can switch to smartphones. Give yourself room to grow.
But before I buy a domain name or build a website I do keyword research. I look to see that there are enough keywords in the topic(s) that I want to write about that will be semi-easy to rank for. They don’t have to be low hanging fruit, there can just be an opportunity. You’ll be surprised how much opportunity there is. I look at keyword difficulty and search volume. If the keyword gets over 1,000 searches a month and the keyword difficulty is less than 50 or 40 then it has an opportunity. If you have 100 of these keywords, then you have a long term play.
Now you have all of these keywords and you will start organizing your keywords by priority. I will order them by the highest amount of searches per month with the lowest keyword difficulty. Then I get the site up (it personally takes me six hours to get a site up from scratch). I’ll use WordPress and use hosting like WPEngine that prioritizes speed and I will get a handful of plugins: Yoast, a redirection plugin, and WPRocket and Cloudflare for speed. That’s all I’ll start with.
Are you a fan of doing schema at the start?
Yeah. Why not? Yoast takes care of a lot of it. If you want to take the time to make schema it’s fine, but I want to make sure the big pieces are ready. Making sure you have your titles and H1, that Google can read your description, that you have legibility, and it’s mobile-friendly. Obviously, over time you can use a site audit tool
to check your website.
Something that I learned only later in life is you’re not going to do it in the first week. You have to get something up quickly and you have to start writing content starting on day one, otherwise, there’s nothing at that point. Just because you built a website doesn’t mean you have a website. Get the content out there and get indexed ASAP. That way, when you start to rank people will start to backlink to you automatically. People who rank in the top 3 positions of Google naturally get backlinks all the time. I will get to that point as fast as possible. From there, you have to be on a consistent non-burnout schedule of publishing at least once a week. I did this for a website called Roasted Coffee. I built the site in a day and immediately hired a writer, gave him 100 keywords, and asked him to start writing articles once a week. Within two years, we were getting 100,000 unique visitors a month.
How do you start though? You don’t have any authority or linking juice and the things you do want to rank for you probably can’t. So where do you start?
I don’t think that’s true. It’s just a matter of time until it builds up. I think Google got so much better at finding things. Obviously, I made Google very aware that I exist. You use Yoast, XML files… you give them what they want. Make it easy for them. Google will notice that your site is better than what’s on the SERP and will you put up in the rankings. It does take some time but it’s getting faster. Once you start getting traction it starts compounding on itself.
I consider my Swim University website as a giant textbook on everything you need to know about pool and hot tub repair. So when we want to rank for a new keyword, we might have an article that’s very related so instead of creating a brand new article that may only be 500 words because the topic is so small (but it has a lot of searches) we will update an older article that already has juice and add an entire section with those new keywords. All of a sudden, this older post ranks for those new keywords. We do this constantly. We look at Swim University as an ever-evolving series of chapters in a textbook. And all of my sites are created with this mindset where eventually the site will be a "complete” site. The same goes for when certain products don’t exist anymore where it is your job to delete or update those pages to the new product. The pages that exist have to have value. The website is like a big product as opposed to outdated magazines that have no true value.
I really think about site structure a lot. I try to simplify it. For example, if I can have four navigational links on top, then that’s all I want. If I have to do more I’ll put them in the footer. For a lot of my pages, the About page is probably in the footer. But on a brand new site I have no navigation bar because it’s all there. Instead of spending a week on building what you think the site structure is going to be for the rest of time, you’re building it as you need it. And obviously, if you’re paying a developer it will cost you way less money upfront then it would be down the road.
Accept it as truth that everyone is reading your content on mobile. For Swim University, 80% of our traffic is mobile and it makes sense that people are going out with their phones to the pool searching for what to do to fix their filter. So just assume that 100% of your visitors are on a mobile device. You don’t need a sidebar. All the things you think you need you really don’t.
What do you think about people throwing hamburger menus
to their desktop giving their desktop site a mobile feel. Does that work, not work, or you don’t care?
I think a lot of it has to do with ego. I remember that I, as a designer, would strive to get the coolest website, but with that you might sacrifice page speed or usability. Also, some people in my audience are widows, whose husbands passed away, who own a swimming pool, they don’t know what to do, they get on the internet, and they email me. They don’t know what a hamburger is. I’m trying to accommodate everyone.
If you create a domain name, but a year later you notice it’s not working out. Are you stuck forever? Why or why not?
You are not stuck. Google is smart. I have moved content from domain to domain (with the use of redirections) and have not lost rankings from doing that. In that case, I would just change the domain name in WordPress and you’ll be fine. You may have to do some redirection in your registrar. Keep that set up for a couple of months until everything has been indexed. Once that’s all done you can shut it off. Just remember if you got a lot of backlinks from other places then you’ll want it set up for a long time.
For Swim University, I don’t know how many times I’ve changed URLs which is why I bought Yoast Premium. You can hook it up to Search Console and Search Console will send you all the 404 pages it’s finding and then we have the built-in redirection which will redirect to the new thing.
Optimize It or Disavow It
You’re creating a commerce site and you can either focus on the desktop version of your new site at the expense of your mobile site… or you could focus on the mobile version of your site and the expense of your desktop site? Which would you pick?
This is very hard, but I’ll have to go with mobile because the reason I go to a website on my desktop is because I first saw it on my phone and it sucked so bad that I had to go over to my desktop because I felt safer. If you really focus on the mobile side of things I believe you will get a lot more sales.
Thank you so much, Matt, for coming on. I really appreciate it. Hope to have you again.
Yeah, this was super fun. I’m happy to come back on.
Bing Introducing New Spam Penalties: Bing says it will now be penalizing inorganic site structure
… PBNs, doorway content, etc. Ironically, this includes sub-domain leasing as a problem we discussed here a few weeks back… Mordy was wrong as he said Google would issue a penalty
for it at some point when in fact it was Bing who took the correct action here.
The Search Console Site Speed Report is Rolling Out: The Search Console Site Speed report
is now publicly available. Here you can see how many of your pages are fast, moderately fast, and just plain old slow!
Google’s Webmaster Conference: Google recently held its Webmaster Conference
. One takeaway per Barry Schwartz is that Google seems ready to continue its focus on structured data. Mordy has his own theory about this and is planning to write a blog post on it so stay tuned!
FUN SEO Send-Off Question
If Google were a country what would the first line of its national anthem be?
While Sapir did provide the question this week she could not find an answer. Mordy, on the other hand, reworded a lyric from the Sex Pistols to, "God save the Google. We mean it, man.”
Tune in next Tuesday for a new episode of The In Search SEO Podcast