Category Archives: SEO

How Search Queries Trigger Structured Information Cards (Knowledge Panels) via @bill_slawski

How might queries that trigger structured information cards change over time?

When does a search engine decide that it should show a knowledge panel in response to a query?

What words in a query will trigger that knowledge panel?

A knowledge panel is sometimes referred to as a structured information card by Google.

Other structured information cards contain information about things such as hotel reservations, flight arrivals, dinner reservations, movie tickets, and others.

If you’ve worked with knowledge panels, you’ve learned that different searches will trigger those to appear.

Often those include a mention of an entity, such as a business name, or a certain thing.

And queries that trigger structured information cards can change over time according to a recently granted patent.

Search queries can be used to return resources – such as web pages, images, text documents, electronic mail documents, multimedia content, etc. – relevant to a searcher’s needs and to present information about those resources in a way that is most useful to the searcher.

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Sometimes the best result may be a structured information card.

A computer system may:

  • Receive a search query.
  • Process the search query.
  • Identify results that are relevant to the search query.
  • Return a set of search results in response to a searcher submitted query.

The patent this post is about is from the start of November 2020, and it tells us about a card trigger-term identification unit that could identify additional trigger-terms that show a structured information card.

The card trigger-term identification unit allows the grammar of one or more structured information cards to be tuned, over time, by evaluating candidate terms in queries for potential inclusion in the grammar of a structured information card.

For example, assume the grammar for a “Movie” structured information card includes terms such as “movie time,” “movie ticket confirmation,” and “ticket confirmation number.”

The card trigger-term identification unit may:

  • Analyze terms associated with the grammar of the “Movie” structured information card and one or candidate queries.
  • Identify an additional trigger-term for the “Movie” structured information card such as the trigger-term “movie ticket.”

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Accordingly, follow-up queries that are received may include terms such as “movie time”, “movie ticket,” or both and will trigger the display of a “Movie” structured information card in response to such queries.

The subject matter of this patent may be used to identify additional trigger-terms that will show structured information cards.

The process behind the patent may include accessing data associated with a template for presenting structured information in response to a search query, wherein the accessed data references:

  1. One or more label terms that, when included in the search query, triggers a structured information card to be presented according to the template.
  2. For each of the one or more label terms, a value, obtaining a candidate label term that is not already associated with the template for presenting the structured information.

For each of the one or more label terms:

  • Identifying entities that are associated with the label term.
  • Identifying entities that are associated with the candidate label term.

For each of the entities associated with a candidate label term, a query may cause an association, with a candidate label term:

  • One or more of the label terms that are associated with the entity.
  • For each of the one or more of the label terms that are associated with the entity, the value associated with the label term, and after receiving a query that includes the candidate label term.
  • Using the one or more values associated with the candidate label term to determine whether to trigger the structured information to be presented according to the template.

These and other versions may optionally include one or more of the following features:

  • The label terms may correspond to parameters of a search query.
  • The value may be indicative of the number of times the query has been used to trigger the appearance of the structured information card.
  • Obtaining a candidate label term that is not already associated with the template for presenting the structured information card may involve identifying query terms from a query log.
  • Using the one or more values associated with the candidate label term to determine whether to trigger the structured information to be presented according to the template may include aggregating the one or more values that are associated with the candidate label term.
  • Determining whether the aggregated value satisfies a predetermined threshold, and in response to determining that the aggregated value satisfies the predetermined threshold.
  • Determining that the search query including the candidate label term will trigger the presentation of the structured information.

Triggering Structured Information Cards

Using the values associated with a candidate label term to trigger a structured information card to be presented according to the template may involve:

  • Aggregating the one or more values that are associated with the candidate label term.
  • Determining whether the aggregated value satisfies a predetermined threshold.
  • In response to determining that the aggregated value exceeds the predetermined threshold, determining that the search query including the candidate label term will not trigger the presentation of the structured information.

The method behind the patent may also include adjusting the values that are associated with candidate labels based on those candidate label’s similarity to the label terms.

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This structured information cards patent can be found at:

Search and retrieval of structured information cards

Inventors: Marc Alexander Najork, Sujith Ravi, Michael Bendersky, Peter Shao-sen Young, Timothy Youngjin Sohn, Mingyang Zhang, Thomas Nelson, and Xuanhui Wang
Assignee: Google LLC
US Patent: 10,824,630
Granted: November 3, 2020
Filed: October 26, 2016

Abstract

Methods, systems, apparatus, including computer programs encoded on a computer storage medium, to facilitate identification of additional trigger-terms for a structured information card. In one aspect, the method includes actions of accessing data associated with a template for presenting structured information, wherein the accessed data references:

(i) a label term and
(ii) a value.

Other actions may include obtaining a candidate label term, identifying one or more entities that are associated with the label term, identifying one or more of the entities that are associated with the candidate label term, and for each particular entity of the one or more entities that are associated with the candidate label term, associating, with the candidate label term, (i) a label term that is associated with the particular entity, and (ii) the value associated with the label term.

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A System for Identifying Additional Trigger – Terms for a Structured Information Card

The patent shows off some examples of information that might be used to create structured information cards in a drawing:

Structured Information Card Examples

Structured Information Card Examples

It provides an example of a structured information card involving flight information.

Assume a searcher is standing at an airport ticket counter before his or her flight #437 to Denver, Colorado.

To check their bags, and obtain a boarding pass, they need to provide a flight confirmation number for their upcoming flight.

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To respond to a request for a flight confirmation number from an airline employee, the searcher may look for a confirmation email from the airline that includes their flight confirmation number.

To obtain that confirmation email, the searcher may search for a query that includes the term “Flight Ticket” into a search box at the search engine.

After receiving a query, the search device may send the query to a server using a network.

The server may process the query, identify search results responsive to the query term “Flight Ticket,” and then return the search results to the search device.

The search results may be received by the search device and provided for display using the interface of the search device.

The search results may include references to email documents. The references may include a link that, when selected, provides an email document associated with the link to display on the search device.

Each respective email reference may include text such as the name of the email sender, the subject line of the email, the time the email was received, and the date the email was received.

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The search results identified based on the query “Flight Ticket” may include emails from a variety of different senders.

The search results may refer to an email from a movie theater “ABC Theatre” related to the searcher’s purchase of a movie ticket to see “Pilot’s First Flight.”

The search results may also refer to an email from a restaurant reservation service “Closed Table” for a reservation at the “Wine Flight Bar.”

The search results may also refer to an email of an order confirmation from “DC Outfitters” for the purchase of a “Flight Jacket.”

The search results may refer to emails associated with airline ticket purchase confirmations from an airline such as “NE Airlines,” “SE Airlines,” or the like.

One particular reference is for a confirmation email that the searcher received after purchasing an airline ticket from “NE Airlines” for “Flight 437.”

However, given the number of search results provided in response to the search query, it could be time-consuming to obtain the searcher’s flight confirmation number.

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This is because the searcher must read the sender and subject line of each reference to each respective email that is responsive to the search.

It may not be until the searcher reads the sender and subject line of each email that the searcher will even identify the correct email that includes the flight confirmation number.

Then, the searcher using the search device must request the email document associated with the reference.

Finally, after the email document is selected, the email document with the flight confirmation number for the searcher’s upcoming Flight #437 is returned.

Though the searcher was able to obtain the user’s confirmation number, the process was inefficient.

In addition, the process may not go smoothly for reasons below and the like, such as:

  • Pressure on the user because of a long line of passengers at the ticket counter.
  • Slow cellular data signals due to poor reception in the airport terminal.

This system may work to improve the searcher’s retrieval of information from the searcher’s email inbox.

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For instance, at stage A, the system provides multiple structured information cards stored in a structured information card storage unit.

Each structured information card includes a template and a grammar.

The template of the structured information card includes one or more predetermined fields that can be populated with information from an email document in response to a particular search query.

For example, the structured information storage unit may include a structured information card for “Flight” information.

The structured information card for “Flight” information may include:

  • A “To” field
  • A “From” field
  • A “Departs” field
  • A “Conf. #” field
  • A “Flight #” field

Trigger Terms Associated with Structured Information Cards

The grammar of structured information cards may include one or more trigger-terms that are associated with the card.

A trigger-term may include terms that, when detected by the server as being included in a search query, trigger the retrieval, population, and the display of the structured information card associated with the trigger-term.

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So, in response to a query that includes the term “flight reservation,” the “Flight” structured information card may be:

  • Obtained.
  • Populated with data from the most recent email that is associated with an upcoming flight.
  • Provided for display via a searcher interface.

However, the “Flight” structured information card may not have been triggered in response to a query including the term “Flight Ticket” because the search term “Flight Ticket” may not have been included in the “Flight” structured information card’s grammar at an initial stage A.

The search server may use the card trigger-term identification unit to identify additional terms that trigger the “Flight” structured information card.

Those additional terms may be based on queries received from a search box associated with a user interface displayed by a search device such as a search box.

The card trigger-term identification unit could:

  • Obtain a query term from a log of received query terms.
  • Determine if the query term is related to one or more other terms in a structured information card’s grammar.
  • Add the query term to the structured information card’s grammar.

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The card trigger-term identification unit may determine that the term “Flight Ticket” should be added to the grammar of the “Flight” structured information card.

Adding the term “Flight Ticket” to the grammar of the “Flight” structured information card results would be done in an updated structured information storage unit at stage B of the process.

At stage B, the searcher of the same search device can access a user interface at a later point in time.

The search interface may be the same searcher interface. The searcher may input a search query that includes the term “Flight Ticket” into the search box.

The search device may transmit the search query to a server.

The server may process the query, identify search results responsive to the search query “Flight Ticket,” and then return the search results to the search device.

The search results may be received by the search device and provided for display using the interface of the search device.

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The search results may refer to email documents.

At stage B the search interface includes a structured information card.

That structured information card may include a display with fields that are populated with data extracted from a resource that is responsive to the search query.

The structured information card may be obtained, populated, and provided for display through the search interface because the grammar of the structured information card now includes the term “Flight Ticket.”

The term “Flight Ticket” may have been added to the grammar of the “Flight” structured information card based on:

  • The card trigger-term identification unit’s analysis of the existing terms included within the grammar of the structured information card.
  • Identified relationships between existing terms included within the grammar of the structured information card.
  • Identified relationships between the aforementioned grammar terms and one or more queries previously submitted via the search box.

The particular structured information card obtained and displayed may be based on query terms submitted through the search box.

For example, the server may select a particular structured information card for display via the user interface based on a determination that the search query term such as “Flight Ticket” matches one or more grammar terms associated with the particular structured information card.

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The server may populate the obtained structured information card with the contents from the highest-ranked search result that includes information requested by the fields of the structured information card template.

Those highest-ranked search results might be from the most recent email document that includes information requested by the fields of the structured information card template.

Advantages of This Structured Information Card Approach

It can display relevant information related to the searcher’s upcoming flight without requiring the searcher to read the data associated with each reference returned as a search result by the server.

The structured information card displays:

  • The user’s flight destination (e.g., Denver, Co).
  • The user’s flight origin (e.g., Washington, D.C.).
  • The user’s flight departure time (e.g., 11:45 a.m. EST).
  • The user’s flight confirmation number (e.g., KP4EG).
  • The user’s flight number (e.g., 437).

The searcher does not need to open the email including information about the searcher’s upcoming flight because the necessary information associated with the user’s upcoming flight is within the structured information card.

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Because of this, the searcher using the search device who is standing at the ticket counter can:

  • Quickly search their email.
  • Obtain their flight confirmation number from the structured information card.
  • Provide the flight confirmation number to the airline representative in an efficient manner.

The patent description provides an example of a system that uses a card trigger-term identification unit to identify additional terms that can be added to the grammar of a structured information card is directed towards a “Flight” structured information card.

However, the description of the patent tells us that it should not be so limited.

The card trigger-term identification unit can be used to identify additional grammar terms for any type of structured information card such as:

  • Movie Ticket structured information cards.
  • Dinner Reservation structured information cards.
  • Hotel Reservation structured information cards.
  • Vehicle Rental structured information cards.
  • Device Rental structured information cards.
  • The like.

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The patent also tells us that any type of structured information card may be used where the structured information card can be uniquely identified using a set of one or more grammar terms.

Entities, Attributes, & Graph Structure Information Cards

Google identifies entities and associates labels and attributes with those entities, and described in the following flowchart drawing from the patent:

Structured Information Card Candidate Query Flowchart

Structured Information Card Candidate Query Flowchart

A card trigger-term identification unit analyzes existing terms associated with the grammar of one or more structured information cards.

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The terms associated with the grammar of one or more structured information cards include terms that, when received in a query, trigger the display of a particular structured information card.

Analyzing existing terms associated with the grammar of one or more information cards may include the generation of a graph structure.

This graph structure may include query nodes each associated with a particular grammar term that triggers the selection, population, and display of a particular structured information card.

Each query node may be associated with a respective label term.

One query node may be associated with the label term “Flight Reservation” and another query node may be associated with the label term “Ticket.”

Label terms used to build the graph may be obtained from the structured information card storage unit, a query log, or the like.

The graph structure may also include one or more entity nodes.

The entity nodes may include an item of data that is indicative of a relationship between the respective label terms of one or more nodes.

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The relationship may include a semantic relationship associated with the label terms.

By way of example, the card trigger-term identification unit may obtain the candidate query term “Flight Ticket” to evaluate the candidate query term “Flight Ticket” for potential inclusion in the grammar associated with a structured information card such the “Flight” structured information card.

The query term “Flight Ticket” may have been stored in a query log after the user of a user device such as user device submitted the query “Flight Ticket” to search one or more emails using an interface for an electronic mailbox such as interface before the inclusion of the term “Flight Ticket” in the grammar of the “Flight” structured information card.

A query node may be generated in the graph structure based on the candidate query term “Flight Ticket.”

The candidate query node is associated with a candidate label term “Flight Ticket.”

The information from the structured information card may be information that is in a graph structure.

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For instance, when an information card is about flight information, it contains key/value pairs that provide information about related entities and attributes of those entities (making it structured information).

Referring to it as a card means that it is using a display format with a related template for that format.

For flight information, you would have a departure city, a destination city, a departure time, and an arrival time, a departure airport and an arrival airport, a confirmation number, a flight number, and so on.

These related entities and attributes for them can be found in a template that has labels for each of the fields of information that it covers, and those labels can be used in a query to show an information card about a flight ticket.

They can be used for identifying an additional trigger-term for a structured information card.

This drawing from the patent shows how labels might be connected to entities and attributes:

graph information labels for structured information cards

graph information labels for structured information cards

Generally, the process may include:

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  • Accessing data associated with a template for presenting structured information.
  • Identifying the first set of one or more entities.
  • Associating one or more labels and one or more values with one or more entities in the first set of the identified entities.
  • Obtaining a candidate label term.
  • Identifying a subset of one or more entities from the first set of entities.
  • Associating one or more labels and one or more values with one or more candidate label terms
  • Receiving a search query.
  • Using values associated with each candidate label term to determine whether to trigger display of the structured information.

So these candidate labels may be chosen, when they appear in queries to display a structured information card.

For example, where an entity includes an email document, network address, URL, or the like, an entity may be associated with a candidate label term if the candidate label term would return the email document, network address, URL, or the like when a query that includes the candidate label term is executed.

The system may associate one or more labels and one or more values with each candidate label term.

For example, any label terms associated with a particular entity at stage may be associated with a candidate label term with which the entity is related.

Thus a label term that was propagated to a particular entity from a query node may be further propagated from the entity to a candidate label term with which the particular entity is related.

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One or more values associated with an entity may similarly be associated with one or more candidate label terms with which the entity is related.

Accordingly, a value that was propagated to a particular entity from a query node may be further propagated to a candidate label term.

This system may analyze each of the one or more values that are associated with a candidate label term to determine whether the candidate label term should be added to the grammar associated with a structured information card.

Determining whether a label term should be associated with a structured information card may include aggregating the values associated with the candidate label term, and evaluating the aggregated value against a predetermined threshold.

If it is determined that the aggregated value satisfies a predetermined threshold, the label term may be added to the grammar of the structured information card.

If the aggregated value does not satisfy a predetermined threshold, the label term is not added to the grammar of the structured information card.

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Triggering a Structured Information Card

The system may process the received search query, and use values associated with each identified candidate label term to determine whether to trigger the display of a structured information card.

Using the values associated with each candidate label term may include:

  • Aggregating the values associated with the candidate label term.
  • Evaluating the aggregated value against a predetermined threshold.
  • Determining that the aggregated value associated with the candidate label term satisfies the predetermined threshold, the system may let the search query including the candidate label term trigger a related structured information card.

Triggering Structured Information Cards Takeaways

A structured information card may appear in response to a query that is related to the grammar from the template for the different types of structured information cards.

It may be possible to anticipate which entities may be relevant for a structured information card, and which queries might trigger that card.

Structured information cards evolve in how they are triggered based on queries and the grammar of the information in the card.

More Resources:

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Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, December 2020

Google Web Story Strategies & SEO Best Practices [PODCAST]

On the new episode of Marketing O’Talk,  you’ll learn strategies that brands, publishers, and content creators can use to make engaging visual content with Google’s Web Stories.

We’re joined by three SEO experts to talk about how to build Web Stories, the best way to track them, and how to ensure users find them in the Google Search results or on Google Discover.

Meet our special guests:

  • Greg Finn: Partner/Digital Marketer at Cypress North and Marketing O’Clock cohost.
  • Glenn Gabe: SEO Consultant at G-Squared Interactive.
  • Samuel Schmitt: Digital Solutions Expert.

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Catch the episode on the Search Engine Journal YouTube Channel.

Give our experts one hour of your time and they’ll turn you into a Web Stories pro.

Bring Google Discover Traffic to Your Site With Web Stories

Finn explained why anyone who’s trying to get more organic traffic from Google Discover should be investing in Web Stories.

“When you’re using Google Discover, you do see that these stories are bigger and bolder than content that you typically find on Discover.

There is a story icon that shows up there, and I’d say it’s roughly 1.5x the size of a normal Discover article.

They’re grouped in sort of the same category (for example, recipes) and you can then swipe horizontally to go through different stories.”

Google Web Story Strategies & SEO Best Practices [PODCAST]

Google Web Story Strategies & SEO Best Practices [PODCAST]

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Web Story Creation Tools

Schmitt tells listeners how Web Story building tools can help during the creation process.

“First you can start with templates. You can select a template and drag and drop images, text, and video. So you know Glenn and myself, we code Web Stories by hand.

You can do that, but a lot of people don’t code, so these kinds of tools are really great. In 15 minutes you can create a nice Web Story and publish it on your website.” 

Tracking Web Stories

On the show, Gabe walks listeners through how to track Web Story traffic in Google Analytics

“My recommendation would be to get basic tracking up and running first. Web Stories are going to register in GA just like any other page on your website.

You’ll quickly want to know what’s going on inside your Web Story because again it’s a series of pages, right?

So that’s when I dug deeper with the documentation because there wasn’t really good documentation on how to track what’s going on within Web Stories.

It ends up there is lots of functionality there that’s pretty easy to implement that would enable you to track a number of things.

You can actually see how far someone is getting in.

You can label those pages however you want as well so you can see where the dropoff is.

Is everybody dropping off at page 4 for some reason? Why is that?

Maybe there is a glitch there, maybe there’s a problem, maybe the content isn’t engaging, whatever it may be.

You could also track how many people get to the end of your Web Story, and then how many people get to the book end.”

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If you want all the Web Story insights from the episode, you can watch the full discussion on the Search Engine Journal YouTube channel or wherever you listen to podcasts.

And, don’t forget to subscribe to Marketing O’Clock. We release new podcast episodes every Friday with the digital marketing news of the week.

More Resources:


Featured Image Credit: Cypress North

Search Visibility Then & Now: What’s the Reliable Way to Measure Your SEO Efforts? via @seomonitor

Keyword Stacks – Number of Keywords in top 1-3, 4-10, 11+

Another stop in the SEO industry’s quest of performance metrics: the keyword stacks, grouping them by the number of keywords in positions 1-3, 4-10, 11-20, etc.

Calculated as such, it is meant to showcase how a website is faring in search visibility based on the number of keywords in each “stack” – is it more on the top 1-3 side or on the 4-10 side?

So you will know the number of keywords generating a certain visibility number or percentage.

But there’s a catch.

Search Visibility Then & Now: What’s the Reliable Way to Measure Your SEO Efforts?

Search Visibility Then & Now: What’s the Reliable Way to Measure Your SEO Efforts?

What are the keyword stacks’ limitations?

Let’s say you have 50 keywords in top 3 and 150 keywords in 4-10. That can mean anything if the search volumes for each keyword are not considered, because there can be huge differences in how they impact your traffic. Maybe only 10 are relevant in terms of high search volumes for your chosen timeframe.

How do you know which ones to improve?

Also, there can be significant differences between the keywords in position 1, 2, and 3, so how do you know whether they’ve reached their best performance yet?

Visibility Metrics in the Industry

From average positions to keyword stacks, average click-through rates (CTRs) determined by all targeted keywords or based on rankings, the visibility metric is now a constant in the industry.

Yet, although they may go under the same generic name of “visibility”, these metrics differ quite a lot and have many flaws, as you’ll see below – being either iterations of the old metrics without necessarily solving their limitations or the same old metrics disguised with a new visibility name.

Let’s take a few existing visibility metrics under more careful scrutiny:

  • The visibility calculated as an average of positions with different scores based on rankings is, at the end of the day, still an average position. So it suffers from the same limitations – changes based on adding or deleting keywords that can be misleading, scores that don’t necessarily explain room for growth, etc.
  • The visibility calculated as estimated clicks based on rankings may give you a percentage that seems viable, but it’s still not reliable in showing you what those estimates mean for growth potential.
  • The visibility calculated as average CTR (determined by all targeted keywords) – the organic clicks are still an estimation based on the top 10 positions and beyond, so, once again, you don’t know the growth potential. Plus, SERP features are included which makes the estimation more complex and fluctuant.

To conclude: all of them suffer from historical volatility and are unreliable, as they change not just based on performance, but based on your keywords list (adding/deleting keywords).

SEOmonitor’s Solution for the Visibility Metric

It’s clear that the need to identify a visibility metric that includes keywords and rankings and makes the connection with potential business outcomes is as strong as ever.

We believe that one formula of calculation helps determine the benchmark for success, without introducing too much complexity – an impression share in the organic results, which takes into account the rankings and monthly search volumes for every keyword in your list.

Expressed as a percentage, SEOmonitor’s Visibility is an impression share weighted against search volumes, making it a more accurate representation of how well the client’s website ranks in Google at a particular time for a list of keywords.

Plus, being an impression share, you have a clear, objective scale that doesn’t fluctuate in itself – from 0% to 100% (all targeted keywords in position 1), you know the reality of the website’s status and potential (no estimation-based guesses).

Why does it work in telling you the truth about your SEO performance better than other metrics of its kind?

  • Because it includes search volumes, it helps you correlate your traffic data with seasonality and search trends. Also, due to our split of brand and non-brand organic traffic, focusing on the latter, you’ll know how search trends and seasonality impact your visibility. So it’s a performance-related metric which you can explain, optimize etc.
  • We include automatic annotations on the Visibility graph every time there is a non-performance change, like including or excluding keywords from the campaign – while excluding the “false impact” from your performance.
  • The explainer for enhanced transparency that shows you why you have certain visibility trends – we show you how rank changes and search trends affected the visibility for each keyword group in your campaign, and highlight the most impactful keywords.

Search Visibility Then & Now: What’s the Reliable Way to Measure Your SEO Efforts?

Search Visibility Then & Now: What’s the Reliable Way to Measure Your SEO Efforts?

If you need a metric that tells you the truth about your keyword groups fast, look no further!

SEOmonitor’s visibility is for groups like the rank is for the individual keyword, making it a good “compass” that shows you where you are and where you can go from here.

What Are Its Limitations?

This connection with search trends can be tricky sometimes and, in order to understand changes in the Visibility, you need to look at year over year search data and see how search volumes changed.

SERP features are also a prickly matter – as they take their share from the total search volume of a keyword, a calibration is required to paint the whole picture regarding the Visibility metric. This is actually something we’re currently developing at SEOmonitor for this quarter – so you’ll know the percentage from the total searches that actually end up clicking on your targeted site.

How Do SEO Agencies Use Seomonitor’s Visibility Metric?

The Strategy

The main idea behind “How visible your website/business actually is?” can be “translated” as follows:

  • Looking at the total shares potential and the competitors’ status.
  • Defining how much “room for growth” you have for your client.

That’s the first critical way for agencies to use our Visibility. Used as a “market share” indicator when applied to competitors, Visibility points at opportunities or as Erald Krasniqi, SEO specialist and SEOmonitor’s Business Development Manager, puts it:

“You measure potential first. The question SEOs are challenged to answer is – How much space does client X have to grow? That’s how you identify opportunities.”

Being expressed as an impressions share percentage, SEOmonitor’s Visibility will set the benchmark for the SEO strategy and further performance to achieve.

Let’s take an example for clarity purposes.

Say you’re in a highly competitive niche like the gaming or betting industries. If your main competitor has a Visibility of 75%, based on your prior keyword research and targeting, then you have a good opportunity to grow there and, even, surpass that business. That means that improving the rankings for a top 3 keywords group, for instance, would have a dramatic impact on business results.

Using the initial Visibility as a performance metric, you can then go and:

  • Explain how this Visibility can directly connect to more sessions and conversions. Something that the client will want to know before approving the SEO strategy.
  • Monitor the changes in Visibility compared to the initial version and how it impacts your SEO objectives.

The Monitoring & Reporting

As we’ve just mentioned, the initial Visibility is a good performance metric to start from. There are multiple ways an agency uses it to measure their SEO efforts and impact – with insights from Maria Cernatescu, Customer Service Manager at SEOmonitor:

  • The desktop/mobile split: Depending on the business’ profile, one Visibility or the other can be in focus, so it’s important to know both. Plus, a blended version for your monthly reporting. This is also a great way to understand if both devices perform well, or one of them is falling behind and needs some technical help.
  • The overall Visibility Trend: The agency can compare one day to another, one week to another, one month to another, or even YoY. Something simple, but important as you still compare the same thing, so there’s nothing misleading muddling your insights.
  • The Visibility Trend on specific keyword groups: Maybe the overall visibility trend is good, but having it on different groups helps you spot where there’s a drop that pulls down the overall visibility. Or the overall visibility could be still, but “beneath the hood” there are groups that sink and others that improve. You can explain every level of detail to your clients.

These are just some examples of this metric’s relevance and how many purposes it can serve.

What’s important to acknowledge here is that when reporting, agencies can trust SEOmonitor’s Visibility metric values, as they’re not changing historically when some of the keywords are deleted.

In a Nutshell

SEO agencies need to check daily statuses of multiple SEO campaigns, which means thousands of keywords to analyze – a problem that had different solutions as search metrics evolved:

  • The average position and visibility on keyword stacks appeared in the history of SEO as performance metrics, but they were both limited because they didn’t represent the whole status: Not making a direct connection between rankings and keyword quality attributes, these metrics introduced confusion and could be misleading.
  • The visibility metrics that appeared in the search industry so far suffer from two important limitations. The performance is affected by changes of adding/deleting keywords, which shouldn’t be taken into account. And they’re based on estimates, so you don’t know for sure how much space there is to grow for your keywords.

As a reliable performance metric, SEOmonitor’s Visibility helps agencies:

  • Create a “market share” snapshot in comparison to the client’s competitors and evaluate the client’s potential for growth.
  • Establish the truth of the client’s SEO performance fast. The agency knows what keyword groups performed or changed, why they changed, and how that affected the client’s business.
  • Monitor and report the monthly Visibility and correlate it with sessions, conversions, and business results.

Google Combines Hreflang Signals from HTML & Sitemaps via @MattGSouthern

Google’s John Mueller discusses how hreflang signals are handled when directives appear in a sitemap as well as on-page HTML.

The topic of potentially conflicting hreflang signals is discussed in the Google Search Central live stream from November 27.

Specifically, the following question is addressed:

“Let’s say we’ve implemented the correct hreflang using sitemaps, but because of some reason the web pages also have another set of hreflang in there, even though they’re not the most correct version.

I know that we have to try to minimize conflicting hreflang like this, so my question for you is how does Google actually treat conflicting hreflang?

Does Google prioritize the sitemaps over the on-page hreflang, or vice versa?”

Mueller first responds with a question of his own, asking what is meant by “conflicting” signals.

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The person says the hreflang signals are conflicting in the sense that the directive is correct in the sitemap for US English users, but the source code for the same page has hreflang signals for US French.

Here’s how Google handles that type of situation.

Mueller on Conflicting Hreflang Signals

In cases where hreflang directives are included in the sitemap and the source code of web pages, Google will combine the signals.

“What would happen there is we would combine those. From our point of view hreflang is not something where we say you can only have one language or country version on one page, but rather you can have multiple country versions on the same page.

And you can have multiple different levels. So you could say this is the page for English in Singapore, English in US, English in UK, and you have a different page for English in Australia, for example.

You can have one page with multiple country/regional targeting on them. So if you have some hreflang in the HTML, and some in the sitemap, then we would try to combine that and add that together.

That means that if you have multiple different country versions across those different things we would just combine that into one setup.”

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There is one exception to this rule, and that’s if the signals are not in sync with each other.

Meaning one country version of an hreflang directive appears on the page, but that same directive is assigned to a different page in the sitemap.

Here’s how Mueller puts it:

“The one place where it would get confusing, or where we would see it as conflicting is if you have one country language version on the page and you use the same country language version for a different page in the sitemap file. That’s one situation where our systems would probably have to guess.”

As far as which directives are more important between hreflang in HTML and hreflang in a sitemap, Mueller adds that Google does not prioritize one over the other.

If conflicting signals are discovered in the way Mueller describes in the above quote, then Google will drop the signals rather than taking one over the other.

“As far as I know we don’t have any prioritization where we say sitemaps are better than HTML, or better than the headers. But rather we would see this doesn’t work and we would probably drop that pair [of conflicting signals].”

Hear the full question and answer in the video below:

3 Effective SEO Strategies to Beat Competitors in a Competitive Market via @jasonhennessey

Trying to squeeze into a competitive market – let alone trying to rise above larger, more established competitors – isn’t easy.

Chances are the businesses currently dominating your market know a thing or two about search engine optimization (SEO), marketing in general, and the essentials of reputation management.

So, simply having a basic knowledge of SEO won’t cut it.

You need a competitive SEO strategy that’s well-equipped to help your business gain visibility even in the most saturated of markets.

Here are three SEO strategies to help your business outrank your top-performing competitors, put your business on the map, and attract more customers.

1. Pair Up Consumer & Industry Marketing

In a competitive market, your business needs to gain visibility among consumers as well as in your industry.

Brand name recognition at the consumer level becomes more important, as does your brand’s reputation within your niche.

In terms of SEO, this means targeting informative and transactional keywords as well as commercial keywords.

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Informative vs. Transactional vs. Commercial Keywords

Most businesses know to target informative and transactional keywords because these are the terms that draw in potential customers.

These are terms like “what is…” and “where to buy…” where the search intent is to:

  • Find more information about a service.
  • Compare costs.
  • Discover new brands.

But commercial keywords are those that involve some degree of brand recognition.

In a competitive niche, you’re likely to have at least household name brands holding a place in the search results.

So how do you position your brand against those big names?

Branded Content

One option is to target keywords that allow you to compare your brand to a well-known brand.

Think review-style keywords like “[Brand A] vs [Brand B],” “Shopify vs alternatives,” or “is [Brand X] the best…”

Even if you don’t have brand recognition yet, you can create content that targets the keywords and position your brand against the competition.

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At the same time, you can bank on whatever brand recognition you do have by creating content around these terms.

This ensures that it’s your site that’s ranking for your brand name, not your competitors by association.

For example, here we can see how Shopify is targeting the keyword “shopify vs” and is the top-ranking option.

So even though the search intent may be for users to compare Shopify to other ecommerce platforms, Shopify is able to control the narrative by publishing their own content.

3 Effective SEO Strategies to Beat Competitors in a Competitive Market

3 Effective SEO Strategies to Beat Competitors in a Competitive Market

Tap Into Sub Markets

Another option is to tap into submarkets in your industry where the competition may be a little less stark.

That way, you can drum up some brand recognition among niche groups and gain momentum in your industry that way.

Using the example above, if you are a new ecommerce platform in an already crowded market, you might choose to target a specific type of ecommerce business, like dropshipping businesses.

If you dominate that market (by hypothetically targeting keywords like “best ecommerce platforms for dropshipping”), you can get business owners buzzing about your platform and can then expand to other niches over time.

3 Effective SEO Strategies to Beat Competitors in a Competitive Market

3 Effective SEO Strategies to Beat Competitors in a Competitive Market

2. Run a Competitive Assessment at the Macro & Micro Level

Competitor analysis is another important component of any successful SEO strategy but becomes especially important for competitive niches.

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That’s because your strategy is highly dependent on what is and is not working for your competitors.

In running a competitive assessment for a competitive niche, you should look for ranking signals at both the macro and micro levels.

Macro because these will likely be the primary ranking signals and micro because these could end up being the competitive difference makers.

Macro vs. Micro Signals

At the macro level, look at what all of the top-performing websites are doing so you can set a baseline of what your site needs to do in order to rank.

These top-ranking signals might include:

At the micro-level, you’ll be looking for less obvious factors that might be affecting your competitors’ rankings.

These micro factors might include:

  • How their webpage and blog content is structured (number of H2s, Featured Snippet optimization, etc.).
  • Internal linking structure (which pages and anchor text used).
  • Where their links are coming from (anchor text, site authority, etc.).
  • What their off-site marketing strategy looks like.
  • Whether they have partnerships with local companies.
  • Which marketing channels they do or don’t utilize.
  • Voice search optimization.
  • Whether they’ve submitted local listings, optimized their Google My Business, etc.
  • The number and types of reviews they have.

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When it comes to increasing your visibility in a competitive niche, you can’t leave any stone left unturned.

So, it’s important to look at the “best practices” ranking factors as well as the micro signals that could be affecting your competitors’ rankings.

Tools like SEMrush, Surfer SEO, and Ahrefs can help you analyze these macro and micro factors and determine a strategy that helps you tick all the boxes – and then some.

3. Create & Control Your Online Reputation

Things move quickly in competitive niches.

One day you are #1 and the next day you might be #3.

That’s because you and your competitors may be neck-and-neck when it comes to your SEO and digital marketing.

That means you can’t afford to wait for Google to take notice of your site and rank it accordingly.

You should be taking multiple steps to circulate your content to multiple channels and actively build your online reputation.

Reviews & Reputation Management

Keep track of your reviews on sites like Google My Business, Yelp, Bing Places, Yellow Pages, and other top-tier directories.

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Be proactive about responding to negative reviews and actively generating positive ones.

This includes monitoring reviews and follower engagement on social media.

Respond to negative comments promptly, have a consistent online presence, and make sure you – not other brands – are controlling the narrative.

If you neglect your reviews and reputation and leave it up to chances, your competitors will see these weaknesses and eat you alive.

It’s on you to diligently generate more reviews, take control of your PR, and control the conversation about your brand.

Multi-Channel Marketing

Finally, your SEO strategy doesn’t exist in a bubble.

Social signals can certainly influence your online visibility as well as the amount of traffic that’s being sent to your site.

Again, don’t wait for Google to take notice of your website.

Adopt a multi-channel marketing approach to circulate your content across platforms so consumers and other brands have multiple chances to interact with your organization.

Social media marketing, email marketing, content marketing, and paid search marketing are all channels you can utilize on a regular basis to:

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  • Funnel traffic to your site.
  • Drum up brand name recognition.
  • Generate reviews.
  • Influence your online presence.

These factors can give you a competitive advantage even if you see your search engine rankings fluctuate.

Stand Out in a Competitive Market

Go beyond the basics of SEO by implementing advanced search strategies to stand out in even the most competitive of niches.

Stay laser-focused on what your competitors are doing right, find holes in their marketing, and fill those gaps with your own competitive SEO methods.

By taking a multi-level, multidimensional approach, you can reach consumers across multiple niches and platforms as well as control your brand’s reputation within your industry.

That way, you aren’t relying on a singular approach or platform to drive traffic or influence your search engine rankings.

More Resources:

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Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, November 2020

H1 Headings For SEO – Why They Matter via @martinibuster

The use of headings for ranking better on search engines has a long history. It’s one of the earliest known Google ranking factors. Because search engines algorithms evolve, it’s important to understand how why headings remain important and how to use them for modern search engines.

This article links to research papers, patents and statements from Google that shows the best way to use the H1 element for SEO ranking purposes.

Original Google Algorithm and Headings

The original Google algorithm was described in the 1998 “Anatomy of a Search Engine” research paper. That document provided the foundation of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices appropriate for modern search engines.

Screenshot of the Anatomy of a Search Engine Paper

Screenshot of anatomy of a search engine research paper

Screenshot of anatomy of a search engine research paper

The document was widely read by search marketers in the early days and some of the insights remain with us today.

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In it is found statements that make it clear that specific kinds of on-page elements were in fact ranking factors.

For example, it states that the title element (title tag) was an important ranking factor. This document from 1998 can be considered responsible for the SEO practice of adding keywords to specific web page elements (headings, title, etc.) for ranking purposes.

Here is an example of how the title tag and the PageRank score was enough to accurately rank a web page:

“For most popular subjects, a simple text matching search that is restricted to web page titles performs admirably when PageRank prioritizes the results.”

Other ranking signals are word position within a document (keywords near the top of the page were more important), font size used, and even capitalization.

The paper describes algorithmically “weighting” the fonts.

That means assigning ranking signal importance to them. When something has more weight, that means it has more importance as a ranking factor.

The founders of Google explained how keyword “hits” (matching query keywords to on-page keywords) were influenced by Weighting and then tallied up as a score.

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(IR means Information Retrieval and the IR Score is a measurement of how relevant a page is to a search query.)

This is how the original version of Google’s ranking process is described:

“Google considers each hit to be one of several different types (title, anchor, URL, plain text large font, plain text small font, …), each of which has its own type-weight.

…Google counts the number of hits of each type… Then every count is converted into a count-weight.

Count-weights increase linearly with counts at first but quickly taper off so that more than a certain count will not help. We take the dot product of the vector of count-weights with the vector of type-weights to compute an IR score for the document.

Finally, the IR score is combined with PageRank to give a final rank to the document.”

As you can see, on-page factors were very important, including the size of the fonts. The size of the fonts is a reference to the HTML sizing of the fonts, which is a reference to the headings used and possibly the font size attribute.

By 2003, using the font size HTML attribute was not considered a ranking factor. In terms of ranking factors related to font size, only the heading element (H1, H2, etc.) was considered a ranking factor.

Google Patents Related to Headings

Bill Slawski (@bill_slawski) of GoFishDigital (@gofishdigital), is commonly acknowledged as the leading expert on search engine patents. So I asked him about patents related to heading elements.

Bill responded with two interesting patents.

Screenshot of Bill Slawski speaking with Search Engine Journal

Screenshot from a video of Bill Slawski speaking with Search Engine JournalBill Slawski speaking with Search Engine Journal

The first patent was filed in 2004, which he describes in the article, Google Defines Semantic Closeness as a Ranking Signal

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The article explains what the algorithm is trying to do:

“One part of the process behind this approach involves a search engine analyzing the HTML structures on a page, looking for elements such as titles and headings on a page…

In other words, the search engine is attempting to locate and understand visual structures on a page that might be semantically meaningful, such as a list of items associated with a heading.”

Bill explains how the algorithm is figuring out semantic relatedness:

“The patent gives us the following rules about headings and list items when it comes to the distance between words appearing within them:

If both terms appear in the same list item, the terms are considered close to one another;

If one term appears in a list item and the other term appears in the header, this pair of terms may be considered to be approximately equally distant to another pair of terms that appear in the header and another of the list items;

Pairs of terms appearing in different list items may be considered to be farther apart than the pairs of terms falling under 1 and 2.”

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Headings and Featured Snippets

Another more recent patent involves the importance of headings in the selection of featured snippets. The algorithm uses the headings on a page as part of the process of selecting passages to be used in a featured snippet.

Bill related that this is what the algorithm is about:

“This answer passages patent uses a page title and main headings to adjust scores for answer passages, by giving them context.”

The article is titled, Adjusting Featured Snippet Answers by Context.

Bill’s article uses the words “heading or headings” 127 times, which shows just how important headings are to this patent.

The article quotes this from the patent, which shows just how important headings were for this patent:

Receiving a query that is a question query seeking an answer response

Receiving candidate answer passages, each passage made of text selected from a text section subordinate to a heading on a resource, with a corresponding answer score

Determining a hierarchy of headings on a page, with two or more heading levels hierarchically arranged in parent-child relationships, where each heading level has one or more headings, a subheading of a respective heading is a child heading in a parent-child relationship and the respective heading is a parent heading in that relationship, and the heading hierarchy includes a root level corresponding to a root heading (for each candidate answer passage)

Determining a heading vector describing a path in the hierarchy of headings from the root heading to the respective heading to which the candidate answer passage is subordinate, determining a context score based, at least in part, on the heading vector, adjusting the answer score of the candidate answer passage at least in part by the context score to form an adjusted answer score.”

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What Google Says About H1 and Headings in General

Google’s John Mueller has fielded many questions about headings. The reason why there’s so much interest is because headings continue to be perceived by the SEO community as having more weighting, a higher level of influence as a ranking factor.

Algorithms Evolve

While the heading element may have had a stronger weight as a ranking factor in the past, that influence may have evolved.

Bill Slawski’s example about how headings might be used in the process of selecting featured snippets is an example on how the influence of heading elements has evolved.

In the featured snippets patent, the heading elements are used for understanding context. They are not used to give more ranking power to a passage of content.

In other words, instead of influencing a ranking score, the headings are being used to influence how an algorithm understands what a passage of content is about.

Statements by Google’s John Mueller on H1 Headings

That patent aligns with the most recent statements that Google’s John Mueller has made about H1 headings and headings in general.

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Screenshot of John Mueller Explaining How Google Uses H1 Headings for Search

Screenshot of John Mueller discussing H1 headings and SEO

Screenshot of John Mueller discussing H1 headings and SEO

John Mueller Discusses How to Use Headings

Search Engine Journal published an article titled, John Mueller on How to Use Headings. The article notes Mueller’s answer on how to use headings for SEO.

John confirmed that Google still uses headings for search. He said that Google uses them to understand content.

“We do use headings when it comes to search. But we use them to better understand the content on the pages.”

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H1 Headings and Order of Headings

In what may be shocking to some in the SEO industry, Mueller asserted that the order of the headings doesn’t matter to Google.

According to Mueller, the importance of the heading elements is to communicate what the following text passage or image is about.

How Mueller explained heading elements:

“So… this question of… how should I order my H1, H2, H3, headings and what should the content be, that’s something from my point of view isn’t really that relevant.

But rather, what we use these headings for is well we have this big chunk of text or we have this big image and there’s a heading above that, therefore maybe this heading applies to this chunk of text or to this image.

So it’s not so much like there are five keywords in these headings, therefore this page will rank for these keywords but more, here’s some more information about that piece of text or about that image on that page.

And that helps us to better understand how to… frame that piece of text, how to frame the images that you have within those blocks. And with that it’s a lot easier to find… the right queries that lead us to these pages.

So it’s not so much that suddenly your page ranks higher because you have those keywords there.

But suddenly it’s more well, Google understands my content a little bit better and therefore it can send users who are explicitly looking for my content a little bit more towards my page.”

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Google and Using Multiple H1 Elements

John Mueller has discussed the use of multiple H1 elements. In the past it was understood that the H1 element sent a more powerful signal than an H2 element.

Some in the SEO industry may reason that if the H1 element is stronger than an H2, H3 element, that using H1 elements through a web page may send a stronger keyword signal. But that is incorrect, that’s not how ranking works.

As we can see from Mueller’s comment above and even in the Google patent that Bill Slawski wrote about, that is no longer be the case.

John Mueller recently dispelled all doubts about this point when he debunked the strategy of using multiple H1 elements for ranking purposes.

This point about using multiple H1 elements was documented in an article titled, John Mueller on Multiple Use of H1 Headings.

Mueller explained:

“You can use H1 tags as often as you want on a page. There’s no limit, neither upper or lower bound.

Your site is going to rank perfectly fine with no H1 tags or with five H1 tags.”

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Heading Elements Give Structure to a Page

Mueller next reiterated the importance of heading elements as a way to give structure to a web page.

“H1 elements are a great way to give more structure to a page so that users and search engines can understand which parts of a page are kind of under different headings.

So I would use them in the proper way on a page. And especially with HTML5 having multiple H1 elements on a page is completely normal and kind of expected.

Some SEO tools flag this as an issue and say like Oh you don’t have any H1 tag or you have two H1 tags… from our point of view that’s not a critical issue.”

Heading Tags Continue to be Important

In the answer documented above, Mueller said that a web page can rank without the use of headings. This is true.

But that does not diminish the importance of the use of headings in a web page. Headings continue to be a useful way to make it clear what a web page is about.

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The importance of heading tags was documented in the article titled, Heading Tags are a Strong Signal

Google’s Mueller explained why headings are important:

“So, headings on a page help us to better understand the content on the page.

Headings on the page are not the only ranking factor that we have.

We look at the content on its own as well.

But sometimes having a clear heading on a page gives us a little bit more information on what that section is about.”

Headings For Image SEO

Mueller also discussed how the textual context of headings helps Google to understand what images are about.

“So in particular when it comes to images, that’s something where headings and the context of that image helps us a lot to understand where we should be showing that image in search.

…images are not text. We don’t automatically know what we should be showing it for.

And that combination of the image plus the landing page is something that depends quite a bit on the text of the page.”

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Headings are a Strong Signal

Mueller next reaffirmed that headings are a strong signal.

“And when it comes to text on a page, a heading is a really strong signal telling us this part of the page is about this topic.

…whether you put that into an H1 tag or an H2 tag or H5 or whatever, that doesn’t matter so much.

But rather kind of this general signal that you give us that says… this part of the page is about this topic. And this other part of the page is maybe about a different topic.”

Headings Communicate Semantic Meaning

The original Google algorithm research paper from 1998 demonstrates without question that text reproduced in larger fonts were interpreted as being important for ranking purposes.  More recently, patents that mention heading elements discuss them as a way for understanding context and not so much for generating a ranking score.

A further indication of the evolution of how headings are used come from statements by Google’s John Mueller that indicate that the way heading tags are used may have indeed changed since 1998.

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Heading tags continue to be important. But because Google’s algorithm has changed in the past twenty two years, it may be useful to pay close attention to what Google’s patents and Googlers have to say about headings and update one’s search strategy accordingly.

Google’s John Mueller: Long Anchor Text Gives Us More Context via @MattGSouthern

There is one key difference between using many words in anchor text compared to using fewer words, according to Google’s John Mueller.

The topic of anchor text is discussed in the latest SEO office-hours live stream (formerly Webmaster Central office-hours) from November 27.

Specifically, Meuller addresses the following question:

“Do you treat anchor text that contains many words differently in comparison to anchor text that contains 2 words only?

I mean do you assign more value to those two words when you compare it to anchor text that has like 7 or 8 words?

For example – 2 words anchor text like “cheap shoes” and the 7 word anchor text is “you can buy cheap shoes here.”

Can you elaborate on that?”

Here is Mueller’s response.

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Mueller Discusses Anchor Text

Google doesn’t necessarily treat longer or shorter anchor text any different when it comes to rankings.

However, using more words in anchor text provides more context to Google about the page being linked to. And more context can indirectly impact rankings.

The more context Google has about a page, the more effectively it can rank said page for relevant queries.

So what’s most important to understand here is Google reads and processes all anchor text, and uses that information to understand what the page is about.

Here is Mueller’s response to the question in full:

“I don’t think we do anything special to the length of words in the anchor text. But rather, we use this anchor text as a way to provide extra context for the individual pages.

Sometimes if you have a longer anchor text that gives us a little bit more information. Sometimes it’s kind of like just a collection of different keywords.

So, from that point of view, I wouldn’t see any of these as being better or worse. And it’s something where, especially for internal linking, you want to probably focus more on things like how can you make it clearer for your users that if they click on this like this is what they’ll find.

So that’s kind of the way that I would look at it here. I wouldn’t say that shorter anchor text is better or shorter anchor text is worse, it’s just different context.”

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What Does This Mean For Site Owners?

Site owners should keep this information in mind and make anchor text a tool rather than an afterthought. It’s an easy way to help Google understand more about about important pages.

That doesn’t mean write detailed anchor text for every page, but do consider long anchor text for URLs that are particularly important.

Examples of such URLs are:

  • High value pages on your own website.
  • Content you’ve contributed to other sites.
  • Pages that contain links back to your website.
  • Pages that contain mentions of you or your brand/business.
  • And so on.

Again, anchor text is not a ranking factor in and of itself. Though it can be used to help Google learn what types of queries to rank a page for.

Hear the full question and answer in the video below:

Google Updates Search Console Crawl Stats Report via @martinibuster

Google announced the launch of an updated version of the Google Search Console Crawl Stats report. The new Crawl Stats report has new features that offer more granular insights into how Google is crawling your website.

Google Search Console Crawl Stats Report

Google’s Crawl Stats Report offers a 90 day accounting of all files that Googlebot has downloaded, including CSS, JavaScript, PDFs and images.

Crawl Rates Over-time ChartThe Over-time” charts report on the total requests, total download size and average response time.

The Crawl Stats Report is useful for tracking changes in crawling patterns. Changes in crawl patterns can often be strong signals that something wrong (or right!) is happening.

For example, if the crawl rate suddenly drops this could be an indication of a server misconfiguration, a DDOS attack, an update that went wrong or any number of other issues.

If the crawl rate begins to drop it could also be a signal that there is a problem with with the content quality as well.

An increase in crawling may indicate that you’re doing something right, like adding useful content.

But an increase in crawl rate could also indicate a misconfiguration that’s causing the site to auto-generate duplicate or thin web pages.

New Crawl Stats Report Features

The updated Crawl Stats Report has the following new features:

  • “Total number of requests grouped by response code, crawled file type, crawl purpose, and Googlebot type.
  • Detailed information on host status
  • URL examples to show where in your site requests occurred
  • Comprehensive summary for properties with multiple hosts and support for domain properties”

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Google’s announcement highlights updates to Over-time Charts, Grouped Crawl Data, and High Level & Detailed Information on Host Status Issues reports.

The updated Grouped Crawl Data report features more granular details.

“…provides data on crawl requests broken down by response, file type of the fetched URL, purpose of the crawl request, and Googlebot agent.”

Google summarizes the improvements as:

  • “See Google’s crawling history in the overtime charts
  • See the file types and file sizes returned by your site
  • See crawl requests details in the example lists
  • Track your site’s availability issues in the host status view”

This is a welcome update to the Search Console that will be useful to helping monitor websites for any issues that might come up. All publishers will benefit from making the Crawl Stats Report a part of monitoring sites for search performance.

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Citation

Read Google’s official announcement:

New and Improved Crawl Stats for Your Site

WordPress 5.6 Guidance on PHP 8 Compatibility via @martinibuster

WordPress is updating soon to version 5.6 which aims to be compatible with PHP 8. However, WordPress cautioned that it should be considered “beta-compatible” and explained why upgrading to PHP 8 should at this time be done with care.

Background on PHP

PHP is a programming language that is run on a server to generate a web page. WordPress itself is created with the PHP language.

The current version of PHP is PHP 7x. The “x” is a reference to the different versions of PHP 7, which currently represent 7.2, 7.3 and 7.4.

Versions prior to 7.2 have reached their “end of life” (EOL) and are longer being updated with security patches.

The oldest version, 7.2, is due to reach EOL on November 30, 2020. That means it will no longer receive security updates and because of that it will become a potential security liability for any site still using it, should a vulnerability be discovered in the future.

Version 7.3 is scheduled to reach EOL on December 6, 2021.

Publishers Have Until 2022 to Update to PHP 8?

The current and most up to date version of PHP 7.x is version 7.4. PHP 7.4 reaches EOL on November 8, 2022.

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What that means is that technically, WordPress publishers have two years to decide on when to update their PHP version to PHP 8. In practice however, most WordPress publishers should be able to update to PHP 8 well before that time.

Why WordPress 5.6 is Beta Compatible

WordPress announced that the latest WordPress version due in December 2020 should be compatible with PHP 8. However, WordPress cautioned that it is still possible that undiscovered incompatibilities may still exist.

That is an acknowledgement of the reality that while the core WordPress install may be compatible with PHP 8, there still exists the possibility that something was overlooked.

This is how the WordPress 5.6 PHP 8 guidance phrased it:

“WordPress Core aims to be compatible with PHP 8.0 in the 5.6 release (currently scheduled for December 8, 2020).

…Significant effort has been put towards making WordPress 5.6 compatible with PHP 8 on its own, but it is very likely that there are still undiscovered issues remaining.”

The fact of there being “undiscovered issues remaining” is not a negative statement about the WordPress 5.6 release. It’s a pragmatic acknowledgement that in programming, as in many engineering activities, there is almost always the possibility that unforeseen mistakes or oversights exist.

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Perhaps a more important consideration is the uncertainty of when themes and plugins will become PHP 8 compatible. This more than anything else, could contribute to holding WordPress back from being considered fully PHP 8 compatible.

The official WordPress 5.6 guidance advised:

“It also should be acknowledged that WordPress is never used in isolation (without any theme or plugins), so WordPress itself being able to run on PHP 8 does not indicate “full” compatibility.

The state of PHP 8 support within the broader ecosystem (plugins, themes, etc.) is impossible to know. For that reason, WordPress 5.6 should be considered “beta compatible” with PHP 8.”

WordPress 5.6 is “Beta Compatible” with PHP 8

In software development there are generally two final release versions. There’s an Alpha version and then a Beta version. The beta version is usually considered as maybe almost ready for release. The beta version of software is what comes before the final version of a software.

So when WordPress says that version 5.6 should be considered as “beta-compatible” that means there may be bugs and errors that haven’t yet been discovered.

Because themes and plugins may not yet be PHP 8 compatible, it’s probably prudent to not update until all plugins and themes have been verified to be PHP 8 compatible.

But even after themes and plugins are PHP 8 compatible, it may still be wise to wait at least a few more months to upgrade.

The reason is because PHP 8 is a major update. While themes and plugins may be considered PHP 8 compatible, it’s almost inevitable that bugs and other issues will be discovered in the PHP 8 compatible themes and plugins that are installed on a site.

Will Updating to PHP 8 Break WordPress Sites?

There are many old PHP functions from 7.x that are removed from PHP 8, which means that themes and plugins that still use them will break in PHP 8.

Wordfence recently estimated that for just one of the functions there are currently over 5,500 plugins installed in millions of sites. While the use of these functions in some cases are for backward compatibility, it’s not so on all of them.

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Wordfence cautions:

“…we have identified that create_function is still used in over 5,500 WordPress plugins, including extremely popular plugins with millions of installations. In some cases use of these deprecated functions may be intended for backwards compatibility with older versions of PHP.

Many plugins, however, will need extensive refactoring as PHP 8 becomes more utilized.”

Yoast recently published a study about the PHP 8 readiness of plugins and themes within the WordPress ecosystem.

Breaking Changes in PHP 8

In the section of their report dealing with testing plugins and themes, Yoast concluded:

“Only a small percentage of the available plugins, the more popular and professionally developed ones, have automated tests in place. This is worrisome as generally speaking, the average WordPress site runs about 19 or 20 plugins.

…However, more than anything, the plugins/themes which have tests are likely the ones where the least amount of PHP 8.0 problems can be expected as they use a professional development model.

The multitude of plugins and themes without tests are much more cause for concern as these will more likely to be problematic when run on PHP 8.”

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The Yoast report concludes:

“PHP 8 is going to contain a lot of breaking changes.”

“Breaking changes” is a reference to changes that  result in an error when a theme or plugin uses code that is no longer supported in PHP 8.

PHP 8 and WordPress

PHP 8 represents an important step forward for the publishing world, particularly for users of WordPress. One of the benefits is that it will be more security.

The guidance from WordPress regarding updating to PHP 8 is to recommend caution:

“…it is highly recommended that you thoroughly test your site before upgrading to PHP 8.”

The fact that WordPress itself calls WordPress 5.6 “beta-compatible” with PHP 8 tells you all you need to know regarding whether you should update to PHP 8 or not.

How to Leverage Keyword Mapping for SEO Success

Keyword mapping is the hidden art of meeting search intent.

Search intent is the reason why someone is searching on Google.

The keyword phrase is what they enter into the search bar.

If you are the best answer to their search intent, Google will find you most relevant and reward you with the rankings and traffic that you desire.

What Is Keyword Mapping?

Keyword mapping is the process of assigning each page to a target keyword cluster.

Google ranks on the basis of specific URLs.

Each URL needs to be optimized and relevant for the target keywords in order to rank.

Today’s target keyword cluster normally consists of the main keyword (focus keyword) that clearly describes the topic of the page as well as a series of keyword variations and supporting keywords.

Why Keyword Mapping Matters

Now, what has changed recently and why is keyword mapping relevant to your 2021 SEO success?

The caveat is the second part of the last sentence: as well as a series of keyword variations and supporting keywords.

A software client of mine recently won Page 1 with one of our Q4 target pages. The article was published in August 2020.

The main keyword is now, November, ranking in position 2 and organic traffic is starting to pick up.

How to Leverage Keyword Mapping for SEO Success

How to Leverage Keyword Mapping for SEO Success

How to Leverage Keyword Mapping for SEO Success

How to Leverage Keyword Mapping for SEO Success

What do you think: How many supporting keywords and variations are ranking?

In short: There could be hundreds of supporting keywords ranking for your page.

How to Leverage Keyword Mapping for SEO Success

How to Leverage Keyword Mapping for SEO Success

Mapping Sub-Topics & Supporting Keywords

This is a reason to celebrate.

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But this is also why keyword mapping matters so much.

Why?

This blog post is an educational blog post about a topic (business, management).

The supporting keywords that are ranking today include variations like:

  • What is [topic]
  • Define [topic]
  • [Topic] definition
  • Goal of [topic]
  • [Topic] management
  • [Topic] examples
  • [Topic] principles
  • [Topic] strategy
  • [Topic] systems
  • [Topic] best practices

In short: The article covers every question that someone new to the topic would have.

A similar example is this article about time management tips by Toggl (not affiliated with them). Check them in your SEO tool. It ranks for 1.600 keywords, more than 400 keywords on Page 1.

Would you have been tempted to cover these subtopics in a series of articles instead of one long-form guide?

And if, so would you possibly have missed search intent and a powerful rankings opportunity?

Or, even worse, would you have created keyword cannibalization where a bunch of your articles fighting for the same keywords, so that no article ends up ranking or rankings always switch?

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Keyword cannibalization looks like this:

How to Leverage Keyword Mapping for SEO Success

How to Leverage Keyword Mapping for SEO Success

On the left side, you can see the ranking position. 100 at the bottom and the best position (1) on the top.

Each line is one page on the same website. The line is the ranking development of that page over time.

In this chart, the ranking page is constantly switching. Google simply can not decide which page is most relevant.

So pages keep coming in and out of the index without ever sticking.

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This hurts your ranking changes and organic performance.

Don’t play hard to get.

Work on your keyword mapping and make it clear to Google which page they should be ranking for a target keyword.

Lastly, keyword mapping matters because Google is getting better and better at understanding search intent and the relevant subtopics needed to meet search intent.

Page 1 for “time management tips” is full of long-form, Wikipedia-esk articles covering all the subtopics in one guide.

How to Leverage Keyword Mapping for SEO Success

How to Leverage Keyword Mapping for SEO Success

“The goal … is to understand the type of content that Google is looking to serve to users based upon what Google knows about the user’s intent,” says Kane Jamison from Content Harmony – and I couldn’t agree more.

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Mapping your target keyword alone is not enough for SEO.

Take the time to dive into Page 1 to get a sense of the supporting keywords needed to fully cover the topic and meet search intent.

Avoid spreading the keywords across many pages and creating competing articles and put your efforts into great, evergreen content that really satisfies search intent and the needs of the person searching.

How to Avoid Keyword Cannibalization

So, what if you have a bunch of similar keywords and subtopics and you are unsure whether they should be mapped to the same page or different ones?

The qualitative way (without tools) to figure this out is to review Page 1.

Go into Incognito mode in your browser and compare the search results pages for the different keyword variations.

If you find the same or very similar search results, it means that you should be mapping the keyword to the same page.

If the search results look radically different and your competitors have clearly distinct pages that cover the different keyword variations, that indicates to you that they should be mapped to different URLs.

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You can also do this by using an SEO tool like Ahrefs.

Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer has a function named “Traffic Share By Pages”.

Let’s enter two very similar target keywords into Keyword Explorer:

  • “time management”
  • “time management tips”

You can see that 8 of the first 10 search results target these two keywords on the same page – as should you.

How to Leverage Keyword Mapping for SEO Success

How to Leverage Keyword Mapping for SEO Success

Now, let’s check for:

  • “time management hacks”
  • “time management skills”

How to Leverage Keyword Mapping for SEO Success

How to Leverage Keyword Mapping for SEO Success

You can see that pages about “time management skills” do not tend to rank for “time management hacks.”

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This indicates that you should be creating two pages for the two topics.

Probably the people looking for hacks and shortcuts are different, with different needs and search intent from the people looking to master the skill.

In short:

Meeting search intent + great keyword mapping = targeted pages with the best chances of ranking success.

Summary: Using Keyword Mapping for SEO

Now, it is your turn.

Enter some of your best-performing pages into your SEO tool to see the number of keywords they are ranking for. I bet that it will be hundreds.

Then get into a habit of checking for keyword cannibalization when content planning to make sure that your keyword mapping is super tight.

Happy ranking!

More Resources:


Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, November 2020