Categories
SEO

Can Some Words Stop You From Ranking?

In 2002, I wrote about how words can change the meaning of a sentence. In it, I explained that choosing certain words, including formatting, can help give a sentence more impact and even change its meaning completely.

I titled the article: “It's not what you say but how you say it.”

At the time, I wrote it as a copywriter and from the perspective that words give meaning, and that your choice of words can change that meaning.

But since I've shifted from copywriting to SEO as my primary focus, I applied much of what I know about copywriting to SEO. They share a same goal: know your audience, the questions they're asking, and how to answer them.

The reason I'm bringing this up is that this morning an interested thread on Twitter started by some very respected SEOs regarding the use of “stop words.” Stop words are words like “in,” “at,” “the,” “this,” “and,” “ever,” “more,” “only,” etc.

For years, many SEO experts advocated the reduction in stop words to help rankings, such as their removal from URLs. And for while, this was true.

But with today's algorithms, I'm not so sure anymore.

Stop Words Impact Retrieval, Not Understanding

First, writing for SEO is simply writing for your user. SEO is no longer about stuffing keywords into your content, but about understanding your audience and writing for them. By giving them what they want (in the way they want it), you give Google what they want, too. SEO expert Alan Bleiweiss said it well:

Removing stop words can trim excess words and highlights keywords. But removing stop words can also make your content feel robotic, unreadable, disjointed, keyword-stuffed, and annoying.

Back then, the SEO reasoning made sense: search engines look for keywords and use information retrieval processes that look for and pay attention to them, such as TF-IDF or “term frequency and inverse document frequency.”

Without getting too technical (I may be a geek but I'm far from being a technical engineer), it means the number of times a keyword appears on the page, and how important it is in relation to all the other keywords on the page (and across a set of pages, such as the rest of the blog, for example).

That's where things like “keyword density” have become common practice.

TF-IDF is still important (to help in the extraction of keywords, for example). But it doesn't help to understand their meaning. The growing popularity of machine learning (or “artificial intelligence,” although that's misleading) has helped to improve the search experience by understanding keywords.

I've mentioned before that stop words are important for SEO. They give adjacent keywords context and therefore the sentence (or phrase) meaning. Sometimes, a stop word can completely alter the meaning of a keyword.

It's All In The (Search) Intent

Remember, SEO is about matching the reader's search. But while writing content that informs the reader is one thing, doing it in a way that specifically satisfies their search and provides value is another.

That is what SEO is becoming.

It's about matching the intent behind your patient's query and not just the query itself. It's what Google wants and the way Google is growing, as we see with its increasing sophistication in information retrieval and processing using natural language and machine-learning algorithms.

In plain language, it simply means that Google is getting better at reading and understanding information like a human being. Therefore, it makes sense to write for human beings, too, and forget all the search-engine trickery.

So, are stop words important in SEO? They should be, because we, as humans, use them all the time in natural speech. Will it help your rankings? Not directly.

But they likely have some influence.

The greater the match with the user's intent is, the greater the relevance given to a result will be. To determine this, Google pays attention to “implicit user feedback” such as user clicks and dwell times. This feedback helps feed machine learning, which, according to Google, influences ranking factors.

In short, we went from keyword-driven SEO to intent-driven SEO.

Use Natural Language. Naturally.

Back when the web was young, people were slowly adopting the Internet (and computers, too). It made sense to type in keywords into search forms because a) people were learning how to type and b) machines were rudimentary. Searches were entirely keyword-driven for this reason.

But today, we live in an Internet-connected, mobile-first world. We use smart devices, type in complete sentences, use auto-complete suggestions, or dictate queries using voice search into Google, Alexa, or Siri.

So stop words are now more important than they've ever been.

This is where search is going: retrieving content not based on keywords but based on user intent. Since stop words can alter the meaning (and therefore, the intent) of the query, it goes to reason that stop words have a role to play.

Here's an outstanding example.

Similar to my article about how formatting can change the meaning of a sentence, my favourite writing tool, ProWritingAid, just tweeted this example of the way stop words can completely alter the meaning of a sentence.

Can Some Words Stop You From Ranking? 1 | stop words
How stop words can alter the meaning of a sentence.

Provide great content that satisfies your patients' search and user intent, and you also provide a great user experience. In fact, creating keyword-stuffed gibberish you think Google wants will only kill the user experience.

So don't let stop words stop you from writing good, meaningful content for your users. Most times, they're more like “start words.”

Categories
SEO

How Will Video SEO Help Ranking?

One of my SEO clients, a plastic surgeon who specializes in facial cosmetic surgery, wants to increase traffic to his website with video seo. His site has something that most plastic surgeons and medical aesthetic practitioners have…

Videos. Lots of them.

We all know that visuals are essential in plastic surgery. Images are effective, but videos are more effective and credible. They engage more senses and dimensionalize the experience as opposed to an otherwise static image.

This plastic surgeon has multiple procedure pages with videos. But some pages contain many videos, such as before-and-after clips from hundreds of patients.

He doesn't host any of his videos and has them all up on YouTube. However, he doesn't embed them on his page or link to them directly. Instead, his page has thumbnail images of each video with “play button” overlays. When people click on a thumbnail, the video opens up in a fixed Lightbox popup window.

(Lightbox is a script that opens an image, audio, or video in a popup. It often dims the background and shows controls such as a close button in a corner.)

This is a good practice to a degree. The issue is that most videos in Lightbox popups are hard to use, especially on a mobile device. Texts and video controls are tiny and hard to click. If you accidentally click outside the tap area, you risk closing the popup and having to restart the video from the beginning.

This can become a user experience (UX) issue.

To Host or Not To Host (Videos)?

Lightbox may be helpful on a desktop. But it may not be as helpful on a mobile device. Google is looking at UX as a ranking factor and has recently moved to mobile-only. So if a piece of content is unusable on a mobile device or creates more issues, it may be wise to avoid them.

I told him to embed his videos directly on his pages. However, for a page with many videos, using thumbnails that link to them is a good practice. But using Lightbox (this one in particular as there are many types), for mobile, is not.

So when I told this plastic surgeon to avoid using Lightbox windows and embed videos on the page, he wondered if it would be better to host the videos directly on his server instead of YouTube.

A popular opinion among SEOs is that it's better to host your own videos. That may have been the case before (that self-hosted videos are better for SEO). But I'm uncertain that it is true now. In fact, with many of my clients, I'm seeing that it's becoming less and less true.

It is better to have videos hosted elsewhere.

Even if you hosted your own videos, chances are you're using a content distribution network (CDN), which caches your videos at multiple locations around the world for faster loading. (If you don't use one, you should.) Using a third-party platform to host your videos does not differ from using a CDN.

Entirely hosting and embedding your own videos will hurt your pagespeed. With UX soon becoming a ranking factor, slow loading times will hurt your SEO, too.

Embedding Videos Helps Improve SEO

Hosting your videos on an external platform such as YouTube, Wistia, Vimeo, Vidyard, and so on, and then re-embedding them on your website, is like a CDN. Embedding your videos will also boost your rankings for four reasons:

  1. You engage viewers and therefore increase dwell times, lower bounce rates, and reduce pogosticking (i.e., when users bounce back to Google, which tells Google that your content did not satisfy the user's query, which may affect your ranking for that query in the future).
  2. The video provides additional content and adds context (and vice versa, meaning that the surrounding content gives the video with additional context, too), which will both help SEO indirectly.
  3. Aside from YouTube SEO or video SEO (which is a topic deserving its own article for another time), a properly optimized video will include keywords, brand mentions, and links back to your site in the video's description.
  4. By having backlinks and brand mentions from wherever you host the video, and embedding the same video on your site, it will give you relevancy and an SEO boost to your brand.

Third-Party Platforms Help UX

Also, an added benefit is that external platforms have sensors that can detect a viewer's device, browser (or app), and connection speed, and will autoselect the appropriate video size and quality, thus improving the experience.

However, if you have a page with a lot of videos, embedding them will slow the page loading time, even if they're externally hosted. So it might be best to use thumbnail images, just as my client has done, and link the images to the videos.

On a desktop, Lightbox is fine. But on a mobile device, skip the Lightbox and open the video in it's own window, or have the Lightbox open the video as a fullscreen window. This way, the video is bigger, easier to see and manipulate, and prevents any accidental closures.

But one best practice is to embed just one video on that page and link the rest. Embedding is important for the reasons I expressed earlier. But also, Google only shows one video per page in the SERPs. So choose your best video and embed it on the page, and you can use linked video thumbnails for the rest.

Incorporate Additional SEO Signals

Add a video transcript to the page. Not only does it provide an additional modality for those who prefer to read, but also it creates additional content, context for the video, and keywords that may rank for more queries.

Also, add links within the transcript to other pages on your site.

Transcripts provide an opportunity to increase Internal linking and SEO signals. When linking, choose anchor texts that connect with their related pages. This will create topical relationships and pass on equity to those pages.

Speaking of transcripts, to increase your videos' visibility and help Google better understand them, add video schema markup to your page's HTML. It's a snippet of code that will contain all the important data about your videos, including the titles, descriptions, and transcripts, as well as URLs:

  • The embed URL (the externally hosted video such as YouTube);
  • The content URL (the locally hosted video file, such as an MP4);
  • The thumbnail URL (the image, whether or not you host locally).

Create a Map To Your Videos, Too

Finally, create an XML sitemap file to all your videos.

Just like a typical sitemap file that lists all the URLs of all your pages (with WordPress, most SEO plugins will create one for you automatically), create a sitemap of all your videos. This will help Google find your videos faster.

Coincidentally, last week Google has just clarified their position about videos: “Videos embedded from other sources have the same SEO value as videos natively hosted on a website,” according to Google’s John Mueller.

So if you were wondering if hosting your own videos may provide some SEO benefit, now you know it doesn't matter. I would add that the added UX benefits and SEO signals you get from hosting them elsewhere (e.g., more engagement, lower bounces, less pogosticking, etc) will more than likely help your SEO.

Categories
SEO

Silos and Bios: Two Key Expertise SEO Signals

Does your site communicate expertise? Expert content does, of course. But other times, certain key expertise SEO signals that have nothing to do with content are just as important, particularly in the eyes of the search engines.

I recently completed an SEO Audit for an SEO consulting client who suffered from a precipitous drop in traffic last year, particularly around May 2020. A look at this site's Google Search Console revealed that the drop occurred around May 5th, with average daily search impressions being cut in half.

This coincided with a major Google Core Update on May 4th, 2020.

Google updates its core algorithm a few times a year. This major update specifically targeted websites or content related to a person’s health, wealth, or welfare, often referred to as YMYL pages (i.e., “your money or your life”). Aside from travel, health websites were among the hardest hit.

According to Google and engineers in the SEO community, this update was largely in response to the COVID pandemic. Specifically, Google targeted websites offering medical and financial advice, products, and services in an effort to fight disinformation and exploitative/predatory practices.

Many sites were affected. However, Google’s May 2020 algorithm update had very little impact on medical websites with strong E-A-T signals (i.e., expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness). Some even received significant boosts in rankings and saw their search traffic doubling almost overnight.

After completing a deeper investigation, I concluded that this client's significant drop most likely was caused by poor E-A-T signals.

In fact, as a cosmetic medicine and SEO consultant and advisor, I've found that strengthening E-A-T is the greatest priority with regards to SEO, and the one aspect that can create the greatest impact for doctors.

So I offered my client some recommendations to improve the quality of their content and E-A-T signals. There are quite a few. But let me list two of them in this article, which are signals I encourage you to add to your website, too.

(Please note that some of these are personal opinions and preferences, and not absolutes based on actual ranking factors. But they have been proven to help. One client with whom I've applied this strategy enjoyed a 400% traffic increase.)

1. Content Architecture

During my audit, I noticed that the site had a “flat” architecture. That is, all the pages seemed to be on a single tier (under the root domain). Depending on the situation, this allows for shorter URLs and can be an effective SEO practice.

However, while I did find a blog index page, there is no discernible blog section. Blog posts reside at the same level with the all the main pages. They all seem to blend together. While this is not bad, it makes it difficult to identify which URLs are blog posts and which ones are pages.

So I recommended creating a separate blog section and a second tier. Having a distinct blog provides a number of benefits, from isolating blog posts from the rest of the site (which is helpful in tracking and analytics) to improving the user experience. Some have reported that this change alone improved traffic.

There are two ways to accomplish this.

Create a Blog Subdirectory

My client's site uses WordPress as its CMS. Therefore, accomplishing this is relatively simple. Set your WordPress permalinks from /%postname%/ to custom with /blog/%postname%/. Here’s how the site structure would look like:

michelfortin.com/
michelfortin.com/page1/
michelfortin.com/page2/
michelfortin.com/page3/
michelfortin.com/blog/
michelfortin.com/blog/post1/
michelfortin.com/blog/post2/
michelfortin.com/blog/post3/

Although not essential, the blog directory can be renamed to something helpful to the user, such as “tips,” “resources,” “content,” “articles,” “education,” etc (except for “news,” which should be reserved for news, press releases, and media mentions). It can also contain keywords, like “plastic surgery tips.”

Set a Category as The Base

If you choose this option, first make sure you don't have a category name that conflicts with plugins, scripts, or other directory names. For example, if you have a category named “liposuction” and you have a page named “liposuction,” you might want to change the category to “liposuction surgery.”

If there are no conflicts, then set your permalinks from /%postname%/ to /%category%/%postname%/. This will make blog posts appear under their primary (or single) category folder. For example, the structure would then look like this:

michelfortin.com/blog/
michelfortin.com/category/post/

Single blog posts would look something like this:

michelfortin.com/category1/post1/
michelfortin.com/category1/post2/
michelfortin.com/category2/post3/
michelfortin.com/category2/post4/
michelfortin.com/category3/post5/
michelfortin.com/category3/post6/

Since categories contain keywords, this will help add some additional keywords to the URLs. Granted, the jury is still out on whether this is a ranking signal, but it does provide search engines with better context, which does help.

If you have a post assigned to multiple categories, only one will be used. WordPress by default sets the primary category as the one with the lowest ID number. But you can also specify another category with the help of plugins. There are some category plugins and SEO plugins like Yoast and Rank Math.

Content Siloing For SEO

This is part of an SEO philosophy called a “silo site architecture.” Content silos provide a better user experience and give Google more context. Silos organise the content into groups; make navigation more logical and orderly; and reduce the time it takes for visitors to learn how to navigate the site.

Here’s an example of what a blog post would look like:

domain.com/blog/are-breast-implants-permanent/

If the above has “breast augmentation” as its primary category, it will become:

domain.com/breast-augmentation/are-breast-implants-permanent/

The blog is not the only section that can be organized into silos. The website may have multiple pages that fall under a certain category, too.

For example, many plastic surgeons have a series of pages organized around a certain criteria, such as the “conditions” they treat, the “treatments” they offer, and/or the “areas” of the body they focus on. So if “facelift” was a master topic as a procedure, child pages might look like this:

example.com/facelifts/facelift-surgery/
example.com/facelifts/facelift-recovery/
example.com/facelifts/facelift-cost/
example.com/facelifts/facelift-photos/

However, this should be done with care. I recommend first mapping all the URLs and then properly redirecting old URLs (i.e., via 301 redirects) to prevent losing any page authority. Then, search and replace internal links to their new destinations, and a final crawl to check for broken links.

2. Author Credentials

Google's raters are people who gauge the quality of a site's content to help confirm if Google's algorithms are doing a good job. They do so by looking at a website's level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.

Any information that can affect a person’s health or welfare has to be written or reviewed by someone with medical expertise. According to Google:

“Medical advice or information should be written or reviewed by people with appropriate medical expertise or accreditation.” “Specific medical information and advice (rather than descriptions of life experiences) should come from doctors or other health professionals.”

Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines

After Google's 2018 core algorithm update (i.e., the “medic update”), medical and health websites showing no proven expertise have lost considerable rankings because of their lack of E-A-T. With COVID and Google's attempt to fight disinformation, the core update of May 2020 went even further.

A key signal is the author information as it helps Google identify a) the author of the content and b) the author’s credentials. To do this, there are two important things you must have to a web page that Google specifically looks for.

  1. First, include something that describes the author and their credentials. Either have the name of the author at the top linked to a bio (e.g., an “about” page containing all the credentials, such as education, degrees, accreditations, certifications, years of experience, etc), or have an “about the author” section at the end of the article.
  2. Second, add schema markup code that identifies the page (i.e., article), the person who wrote it (or reviewed it), and their level of expertise. There are several schema markup properties to include, such as “physician” and “plastic surgery,” among others. I'll come back to this.

Be Conspicuously Credentialed

To help Google’s crawler find and identify the author information on the page, make the name and bio easily findable by conspicuously pointing it out.

Add the article’s byline and link near the top and close to the article’s title. Or add an “about the author” box at the bottom of the article that's clearly distinct, such as wrap it with a border, place it in a coloured background, or separate it by a divider to set it apart from the rest of the article.

For example, I Googled “best plastic surgeon Toronto” and this page came up. Scroll to the bottom of the post, and you will see this:

Silos and Bios: Two Key Expertise SEO Signals 3 | expertise seo
Dr. Mulholland's bio at SpaMedica.com.

The above example clearly identifies the author and their credentials, and a bio separated by a divider. It includes links to this doctor’s Google Scholar and Wikipedia pages, which offer a an extra level of authority and expertise SEO.

If the article is written by a staff member with expertise, such as a certified cosmetic nurse injector, the same applies: add a bio with (or linked to) their credentials, including the nurse's education, experience, accreditation, etc.

Articles can be written by someone else with no medical or related expertise, such as a reporter or freelance writer, as long as they have been reviewed by a credentialed professional and indicated as such.

For example, if you have an article that was written by a staff member and they claim authorship, Google prefers that the content be reviewed by a person with medical expertise. For example, add something like “this article was reviewed by Dr. Smith” near the article, with a link to their bio just like the author.

E-A-T Supported By Schema Markup

Finally, schema markup code is a piece of JSON-LD code you can add to the page HTML. It’s a language meant to identify and describe the content and its author. Schema is not a ranking factor but by providing additional context it helps Google more accurately assess the content's level of expertise.

A WordPress plugin such as Schema Pro, Yoast SEO, or Rank Math can do this automatically for you. Or you can (and should) add some manually.

Plugins are helpful but limiting. So adding extra schema markup manually can help. Use Google’s markup helper tool. Then, test the markup (either the code or the page it’s on once published) with Google's rich results tester.

Reason is this: plugins will add “local business,” “organization,” or “person” schema. But there are different types of local businesses, such as “medical business” and “plastic surgery” as well as “physician.” I also recommend adding the following snippets as part of “person” schema:

  • “reviewedBy” (if written by someone else),
  • “sameAs” (other bios on social or authoritative sites),
  • “affiliation” (such as memberships in associations),
  • “award” (such as any industry-related awards),
  • And “alumniOf” (their education).

Adding these extra pieces of data may seem simple or unnecessary. But they provide extra signals that Google needs to identify the site's level of expertise.

If you're a plastic surgeon, cosmetic surgeon, or medical aesthetic practitioner, these signals are not just important but also vital. Competitors who may have less content than you but more clout and authority will likely outrank you.

Categories
SEO

Content Creation or Content Expansion? SEO Experts Confirm

Last week I was very busy completing a few 360° SEO Audits for two plastic surgeons, and one of them asked a very good question. After I recommended content creation on a weekly basis (about three times a week), he asked: “That's a lot of content, can I add it all to the same web page?”

In essence, what the client was asking is if it's possible to add to existing content instead of creating three new pieces each week.

Here's what I said.


Creating Doesn't Mean “From Scratch”

To clarify, when I suggested creating three new content assets each week as a best practice, it was a recommendation and not an obligation. Moreover, an asset doesn't always have to be a blog post or textual content. It can be a long-form video, an infographic, a podcast episode, etc.

With every long-form video or audio you produce, including those of which you were a part (such as an interview or a podcast on which you were a guest), you can add it to your blog as an embed.

(If they turned off the ability to embed the recording, or if the recording is hidden or walled in some way, you might want to ask permission first.)

But don’t just add the recordings. Transcribe them, polish up the transcripts, add them to the page, and insert internal links to other content in your blog as you would normally do with other content.

A transcript creates additional content you can use as captions for your videos or for creating additional standalone content pieces. I personally use a tool called Otter (relatively cheap). You can also use Descript or Screechpad.

Secondly, “new” content creation doesn’t have to be new content.

It can be a refresh of an existing piece of content. You take an older piece and rewrite it, expand it, update it (e.g., add or update any references, statistics, citations, and supporting images), and add new internal links to existing content (particularly if you have new posts since its original publication).

Finally, redate the piece to the current date so that it brings it back to the top of your blog index and signals Google that your content is updated.

Add New? Or Expand The Old?

Now, as far as the question about whether it's best to add to existing content or create new ones, the answer is that it depend from an SEO perspective.

If it’s the same topic and it makes sense to the reader and improves the user experience, that’s acceptable and even recommended. You are, to a degree, doing the “refresh” that I indicated earlier.

But if they’re widely diverse subtopics, I don’t recommend it — unless you are creating a pillar page and making it as comprehensive as possible.

If the search intent for a subtopic is different from the intent for the main topic, then you risk cannibalizing your content. (Although, that might change with the upcoming passages ranking algorithm.)

With the hub-and-spoke content model, the spokes are pieces of content that help to support the main pillar content, creating a topical cluster. If subtopics are too different, you’re likely confusing the reader (and Google), and you might be diluting the other subtopics on the same page.

The question to ask is, is the topic for the additional content a subtopic of a main/parent topic? If so, you can add it to the main piece. If it can stand on its own (the subtopic can be its own topic), or if it can have more than one search intent, then it might be better off as a separate piece.

Search Intent is The Key

Remember, there are four types of search intents: 1) informational, 2) investigational, 3) transactional, and 4) navigational.

Navigational intent is when people are looking for you, your business, or your website. For the sake of this example, I'll refer to the first three as your aim is to build content that drives people to the site who may not know you.

For example, take “facelift surgery” as a topic. The search intent is likely informational. (I could have used the term “facelift” by itself, but it's a little misleading. “Facelift” is often used in a non-surgical context, such as “giving your website a facelift.” So let's say “facelift surgery.”)

People who search using this term likely want more information about facelift surgery. Any subtopic that falls under both the same topic and search intent can be added to the same page, like “how long does a facelift take to heal?”

However, if someone searches for “top facelift surgeon near me” or “best facelift surgery [city],” that’s investigational search intent. The person is now past the information stage and they’re thinking about having it done.

Since the intent is different, adding a piece around that subtopic to the main page would be confusing and possibly counterproductive. It may better to write a separate piece, either about an award or survey where you were voted as the best, or about tips on how to find the best surgeon for one's situation.


What Other Expert SEOs Say

I believe this is the best approach. To be sure, I conferred with other SEO experts for their input. I'm a member of an SEO mastermind community called Traffic Think Tank, which is frequented by some of the world's top SEOs, including SEO directors from companies like Shopify, HubSpot, LendingTree, Moz, and others.

Their thinking seems to be in alignment with mine.

Even some SEOs on Twitter responded, and this is what they said:

As they said, cannibalization is less of an issue if the two or more pieces, vying for the same keyword, target different search intents.

And then, Britney Muller, someone I've been following for a long time who is a senior SEO data scientist and worked at Moz, added this:

Finally, one thing to keep in mind.

Is Long Content a Ranking Factor?

There’s a lot of debate about content length with SEO. Some say longer pieces rank better. But Google has expressly stated that word count is not a ranking factor. Any benefits are typically correlational and not causal, because long-form content will likely increase the incidence of keywords, tags, links, etc.

Not only that, but also long-form content tends to offer “more substantial, comprehensive, and complete information on the topic,” which is what Google looks for according to its Quality Raters Guidelines.

So from a user experience perspective, the argument can be made that sticking with existing content can provide more comprehensiveness to the article.

I also surmise that the upcoming passages ranking, where parts of a page (such as subtopics) will rank differently than the page itself, is going to make it easier for a long-form piece of content to serve multiple intents.

We will have to wait and see.

For now, the point remains: when it comes to content creation, it is always better to provide comprehensive information on a topic — whether it's in one long piece or it's in multiple pieces that are properly interlinked to indicate a relationship (i.e., a topical cluster).

Either way, more content, and better content, will always serve you well.

Categories
SEO

When Moving Your Site, Don’t Leave Your SEO Behind

A recent client has hired me to audit their SEO. The main issue was pretty clear from the start: they had recently undergone a rebrand and moved their site to a new domain. But they failed to redirect the old site properly to the new one. In short, the SEO site migration was poorly executed.

The result is a significant loss in rankings and traffic.

Often, moving to a new domain is perfectly fine, provided you do it carefully and plan it properly. The reason is to ensure there's no loss of traffic, authority, and rankings. Otherwise, it can lead to irrecoverable losses — not to mention the loss of your audience's trust and goodwill.

If you're planning on redesigning or rebranding your site, particularly if the purpose is to improve your SEO, here are some things to consider.

First, the simplest way to move your site is to do a domain-to-domain redirect. It will carry over any URL parameters to the new site automatically. If someone tries to reach domainone.com/page for example, they will easily go to the same page on the new domain, i.e., domaintwo.com/page.

But sometimes, it's better to do a page-by-page redirect, simply because you may wish to keep parts of the old domain active, reuse the domain in the future, keep certain functions (such as mail servers), or move to a new architecture where you plan to rearrange and/or rename pages.

In the latter's case, however, I don't recommend doing it all together.

Migrate Your Site in Stages

Some plastic surgeons prefer to do it all in one fell swoop: they want to move to a new domain, do a rebrand (and redesign the site to match the rebrand), and switch to a new content architecture — particularly if it's recommended for SEO purposes. They want to get it all done.

However, in my experience, it's better to first move to a new domain that maintains an identical architecture, and then launch the new site.

There are several reasons for this:

  1. It's easier to do a bulk domain-to-domain redirect, which reduces server load. You can do this with regular expressions (RegEx) that simply tell the server to redirect and load the same folder/file on the new domain.
  2. If there are too many redirects that point to different pages, and/or if there are too many new pages appearing at once, Google may interpret that as a completely new site, and you might lose rankings and traffic.
  3. Above all, if you move to a new domain and revamp the architecture simultaneously, it will be difficult to determine the reason for the losses in traffic (i.e., whether it was the migration or the change in architecture).

If you absolutely must, then do so. But I recommend you do any changes to the architecture after the move. This way, you can start by pointing the old domain to the new one first, and then do internal redirects to new pages on the new domain either after the move or once you relaunched the site.

Thus, if someone tries to access a certain page on your old domain, they will go to the same page on the new domain first, and then the internal redirect will load the new page based on the revamped architecture.

But if you can do it in stages, do so. It will be more effective, more manageable, and less risky. In fact, I suggest you either clone the site to its new domain or switch the domain name. Then activate a domain-to-domain redirect.

This way, should anything go awry, switching back is easy.

(I typically use Cloudflare for this process. Adding all domains to Cloudflare, I can do a site-to-site switch within the DNS records as easily as flipping a switch. Plus, I do bulk domain redirects using Cloudflare's “page rules.”)

Of course, once you're done, do a search-and-replace sitewide and within the database to ensure to canonicalize the URLs with the new domain. (Go back to my SEO migration checklist for more details. A post-move crawl can identify any old remaining URLs that you need to switch.)

Telling Google You're Moving

If a site moves and no redirects are in place, this creates several issues. When Google notices 404 errors, at first it will do nothing. It suspects that this may be temporary. It will wait for a few days to see:

  • If the cause of the missing pages was a glitch;
  • If the site owner submits a change of address; or,
  • If the site eventually redirects the missing pages.

Over time, if Google doesn't encounter any redirects, it will consider your pages as dropped, which will lose your rankings and any momentum you've gained.

So after putting the proper redirects in place, I also recommend submitting a change of address to Google to make sure there are no losses. You can do this by registering both domains with Google Search Console. Once the move is complete, start the process under “change of address” in settings.

GSC also gives you a list of all the external incoming links (i.e., backlinks) you will need to update. It's above “settings” on the left sidebar in the above screenshot.

Often, an incoming link points to a page that has been long switched, renamed, or moved, and, unbeknownst to you, leads to a 404 (“page not found” error). Therefore, GSC will allow you to create any additional redirects you may need.

Change-of-Address Benefits

Doing a site move signals Google that the site is now on a new domain. Not only does GSC offer tools and reports that help you track your move and measure its performance, but also it helps to identify and fix issues that may occur.

A site move is much like an insurance policy. It will preserve several things:

  • The integrity of backlinks;
  • The site’s current rankings;
  • Any potential domain authority;
  • And the user experience (UX).

With domain authority, the age of the domain (i.e., how long the domain existed and remained with the same owner) is an important ranking factor. You will lose some of that when moving to a new domain.

As for UX, if someone searches for your old brand name (i.e., a navigational search intent, such as someone searching you to find your site), Google will list the new domain in its search results instead of the old one.

Speaking of ranking factors, Google ranks sites based on several factors. Key signals influence some of these factors, including E-A-T signals (i.e., expertise, authority, and trust). EAT is not a ranking factor per se. But it can influence your rankings as it influences the perception of the site's experience and quality.

  • Expertise mostly comes down to the content and its quality — the quality of your content, your knowledge, your credentials, and so forth.
  • Trust mostly relates to user experience (UX), such as site security, page load speed, navigation, user journey, and so on (i.e., signaling that the site is trustworthy and not a scam).
  • But authority comes from signals outside the site, such as backlinks, brand mentions, and other external signals that prove authoritativeness (such as links from social media, Google Maps, industry and business listings, reviews and reputation signals, and more).

Backlinks are vital to SEO and page errors are bad for UX. So preserving those links and the integrity of your site is important. There are also brand mentions, also called “implied links,” which include your brand name and even unlinked domain names. Site moves will help preserve those, too.

Remember that moving a site requires planning. There's no one perfect way to migrate a site. But there are plenty of ways to screw it up. Just remember that Google is also there to help you. So use them to your advantage.

Categories
SEO

Visual Content Marketing Starts With SEO

When it comes to creating content about plastic surgery, writing blog posts (i.e., articles) is the easiest way. But visual content is just as important, if not more so. In addition to written content marketing, visual content marketing is a critical component to a medical aesthetic professional's online success.

Any content is important. As a plastic surgeon, you're an expert in your field, and prospective patients want to make an informed decision. When it comes to SEO, as it should be with the content itself, the fundamental goal of written content is to help the people you're targeting.

However, most plastic surgeons or their staff create visual content, such as videos, photos, and graphics. And they should. Most of them post these on visual channels (like Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, etc.) instead of their own blogs.

So how do can you do SEO when your content is not text-based and it's published outside your blog or website?

1. Metadata is Your Friend

Every piece of non-textual content you create (or better said, capture) has metadata attached to it, such as time, date, location, equipment used, etc. Most digital recording devices nowadays automatically add metadata to your captures, whether it's a $3,000 camera or a $500 smartphone.

But many recordings today can have additional metadata added. Most of the time, it's done when the recordings are added to another medium — such as when it's uploaded to Google Photos or YouTube, for example.

Incidentally, if you turned off metadata (such as location) for privacy purposes, you should turn it back on. Some people hate being tracked, and I understand that. But this information is ideal for SEO.

For example, when uploading it to Google My Business or Facebook (Business), it adds more pseudo-content for local SEO purposes. When people type “plastic surgeon near me” into Google, your photos may appear (or your listing with a lot of geotagged photos may appear) more often as a result.

Nevertheless, you can add more metadata. On a blog, those things include alternate text (called “alt-tags”), titles (or “title tags”), captions, and even the filename itself. For instance, when adding content to a website, rather than uploading it directly, save it, rename it, and upload it with its new filename.

It's not about stuffing keywords in either the metatags or filenames. It's about including descriptive information for accessibility so that search engines know what the file is all about. So include keywords in the graphic, photo, or video, both in their filenames and tag data.

But don't force them. Just be descriptive. Be helpful, not robotic.

Like all forms of SEO, metadata comes down to helping your audience and giving them what they're looking for. You want to describe your visuals in order to help — not outsmart the search engines.

Remember, metadata is about the user and aims to make the visuals better understood by users. Yes, they're for search engines, too. But search engines aim to help users (your users) by giving them better information — and therefore, a better experience. Stuffed text will only work against you.

2. Channel-Based SEO

The second-largest search engine in the world is YouTube. Just like Google, YouTube has its own search queries, topics, keywords, rankings, velocity (i.e, based on how much traffic, engagements, and likes a video gets), and of course, audiences. So it needs its own SEO, too.

In fact, almost every content sharing platform is a search engine itself. So whether you're uploading photos, videos, clips, graphics, or stories (like Reels, LinkedIn Stories, Twitter Fleets, TikTok, or any visual asset you upload to the web), you will also need to optimize those, too.

Optimize their descriptions, tags, labels, comments, and more. So be descriptive, add keywords, insert links, use hashtags, and so on.

Every channel needs its own form of SEO, from Twitter to Google My Business. Pay attention to the content you add, from the bio of your channel's profile to each asset you upload. Include keywords and links (especially links back to the website) to double your amplification (I'll come back to this).

Create new content with SEO in mind, whether it's the title, the description, the filename, or the surrounding content (including headers, copy, links, additional keywords, etc). In fact, there are three things to keep in mind:

  1. Keywords don't have to be broad or popular with high search volumes. They can be long-tail, indirectly related, or ultra-specific keywords.
  2. Focus on the user, not the search engines. Don't stuff your content with keywords. Focus on topics and what users want, and describe it to them.
  3. Include your name and brand names (such as proprietary names of your services, products, or processes, which is my number-one SEO tip).

Incidentally, content in proximity is just as important as metadata or descriptive data. For example, when uploading content to a visual platform, remember that you have the ability to add descriptions, comments, even tags and related content — such as linking suggested videos or other related posts.

This information also helps to expand your visibility, too.

On YouTube, your videos will show up as related videos on other people's videos. On Instagram, it will be recommended as part of the “Explore” page. On Google, your Web Stories will be suggested in “Discover” (i.e., the personalized content feed on Android devices, Google pages, and Google apps).

For videos, one tool I recommend is TubeBuddy, which allows you to do keyword and tag research, on the fly, as you upload your videos. On Instagram, make sure your photos are properly described, tagged, and captioned with keywords — and don't forget the advanced settings (hidden alt text), too.

3. Bring it Back Home

Finally, remember that your goal is to get people back to your website (or at least to come forward and book an appointment with you). But for SEO purposes, it's to attract qualified patients to your practice or clinic.

While your goal is to use other platforms as a way to share and amplify content from your website in order to increase signals back to your website (and hopefully earn authoritative backlinks), you can also do the converse — i.e., amplify your third-party platform content through your website.

In other words, you can bring content back to your website. You don't need to duplicate everything. Many of these websites allow you to embed their content, which allows you to add a piece of code and incorporate content from their platform back on your website.

However, some may offer you the ability to embed carousels or galleries. That's not what I mean. Embed either one or a few select pieces on a blog post, but add surrounding, descriptive content. Offer deeper, richer content — perhaps a story behind the visuals. Above all, include links to other pages.

For example, one plastic surgeon often posts on Instagram. He uploads videos that are either before-and-after clips, patient testimonials, or videos of actual surgical procedures. He then takes a video from IG, embeds it on his website, and describes the procedure in depth with additional content around it.

He turns it into a case study to describe that specific patient's situation (e.g., what was their issue, what makes them a candidate, what results to expect, etc). He also links anchor texts back to his main service page — the one that describes the procedure (like “breast augmentation,” for example).

This process creates strategic internal links, signals to his key procedure pages, and topical clusters, which all help SEO — including the social media signals.

If you do this with videos, transcribe your videos (using a tool like Descript, Otter, or Screechpad), which will then fill your blog post (and therefore, your website) with keyword-rich and/or topic-focused content that will add SEO as well as bring more context to the visuals (and vice versa).

Ultimately, these are some ideas that will help use non-text-based content and third-party content for SEO purposes that will enhance your visibility, drive traffic, and increase traction with ideal patients.

So with visuals and third-party platforms, don't forget metadata, keywords, and links to each other for bilateral amplification and stronger SEO signals.

Categories
SEO

How to Come Up With Great Ideas for SEO Content

When it comes to plastic surgery or medical aesthetic SEO, the best SEO content is content that answers the questions people ask — people who are within your market. It will generate the most qualified traffic, in other words.

The more you know your market, the less you will have writer's block. Because knowing your market well enough will always provide you with many content ideas — such as commonly asked questions you regularly answer.

Questions are great for FAQs. But they're also tremendously valuable for developing content that search engines (and its users) will love.

If you've been a plastic surgeon or clinic owner for some time, chances are you will have a good grasp of the types of questions your patients and prospective patients ask. But sometimes, even with the best of us, writer's block can happen. Maybe we have an idea but we don't know how to express it.

That's where content ideation can help.

Content ideation exercises may provide you with actual content ideas to write with, or they can provide you with the inspiration you can draw from. In my experience, especially from when I worked as an SEO director at a local agency for a few years, there are three methods that I've resorted to with success.

  1. Question words;
  2. Numbers and lists;
  3. And idea generators.

Question Words

The easiest way to uncover questions you can answer is by looking for those based on question words. They're questions that start with “who,” “when,” “where,” “what,” “why,” “how,” “how long,” and “how much,” as well as with verbs such as “can,” “does/do,” “am I,” “is/are,” “will/would,” and “shall/should.”

For example (and these are actual questions people ask):

  • When does eyelid surgery bruising go away?
  • What are breast implants made of?
  • Why are botox injections better than surgery?
  • Which nose job should I get?
  • Where are facelift scars located?
  • Who is the best plastic surgeon in Chicago?
  • How effective is laser skin resurfacing?
  • How long does it take to recover from surgery?
  • How much does it cost to have a butt lift?
  • Can a facelift help with acne scars?
  • Am I a good candidate for liposuction?
  • Are hair transplants permanent?
  • Will a facelift get rid of wrinkles?
  • Would a breast reduction help back pain?
  • Should I get a chin implant?

You can search Google by typing in a question word along with a topic, such as “why facelift” or “does breast implant.” You will get a list of results — either in the search results themselves, in the search suggestions (before hitting “enter”), or under the “people also asked” panel further down the search results page.

You can also use a keyword tool, like AnswerThePublic.com, AlsoAsked.com, or KeywordTool.io. With the latter, type in the topic (e.g., breast implants), and click on the “questions” tab to get a list of questions people ask. I also use tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs, which I've mentioned several times before.

Numbers and Lists in SEO Content

People love numbers and lists. I suspect it's because numbers are specific and allow the reader to know, beforehand, what they're about to read. Plus, lists are great as they help simplify the content by arranging them in bite-sized chunks.

You can simply type in a number, a list type qualifier, and the topic into Google, and you will get a ton of ideas. For example, “15 questions,” “16 things to know,” “Top 5,” “8 trends,” etc, followed by the topic. For example, when I typed in “top 5 facelifts,” I get the following results:

  • Top 5 reasons to get a facelift
  • Top 5 cosmetic surgery procedures
  • Top 10 most common plastic surgeries
  • Top 5 advantages of a minilift
  • 5 best plastic surgeons in the USA
  • Top 5 most common myths about facelifts
  • 5 top things you need to know when choosing a surgeon

You can change either the number or the qualifier (or both) to get more results, like “20 questions,” “8 things,” “7 best,” “11 trends,” etc. You even drop the number to see what comes up, like “questions facelift” or “trends lip injections.”

However, the problem is that it might be too generic and the results might be all over the place. So, qualify it more, like “questions to ask doctor,” “common questions about facelifts,” or “questions people need to ask.”

Either these will give you a brainstorm of ideas to write about, or you can use the same idea but outrank it by using the skyscraper technique. In other words, write something similar but add more content, more research, more insights, more photos, more tips, etc. By doing so, your article might rank better.

Idea Generators

Third but not least, you can also use idea generators. There are quite a few of them out there, and they're mostly free to use. For example, there's:

Now, these are not idea generators specifically, but they are idea goldmines. For example, look at question-and-answer sites like Quora.com, Answers.com, reddit.com, and social media in general.

There are plenty of niche-specific forums and groups on social media where people can join, ask questions, and provide answers. While the objective in many cases is to become a helpful participant and gain exposure, I like to use them to get ideas. Just sitting on the sidelines can become a goldmine.

Let's not forget the comments section on social media public pages, especially those of your competitors, where people ask questions either from one another, from the page owner, or from the original post author.

The most popular medium for plastic surgeons is currently Instagram. It's relatively easy to follow plastic surgeons, look at their posts, and read the comments. Sometimes, it can become a goldmine of content ideas.

For example, I follow (and tell my clients to follow) hashtags related to their field — such as #plasticsurgeon, #plasticsurgery, #medicalaesthetics, #facelifts, #breastaugmention, and so on. Look at posts that use these hashtags and read the comments. They will give you a wealth of ideas.

Categories
SEO

SEO Content Creation Strategy For Plastic Surgeons

When creating a content strategy, the most common process is to brainstorm a list of possible ideas to blog about and to create an editorial calendar around them. And for some plastic surgeons, that's perfectly fine.

Some content is better than no content. Right?

But when I work with doctors who have a lot of content but a lackluster online presence with very little organic traffic, the issue comes down to the fact that they don't have a strategy in the first place. Plastic surgeons who know and value the potency of SEO will have a strategy they follow.

I've written about creating a high-level content strategy before. However, one thing I failed to stress in my content strategy article is the process of defining the goal before strategizing content.

Since the success of any content strategy is determined by how well it reaches specific goals, setting goals should be the first step. For example, what is the content supposed to do? Is it to build traffic? Grow an audience? Increase awareness? Generate leads? Qualify those leads? Produce sales?

I know this sounds simplistic. But in reality, the lack of a clear goal is often why even the most effectively constructed content fails.

More importantly, the reason that answering this question first is essential is that it will drive the rest of the strategy. In other words, it will not only allow you to measure your content's effectiveness but it will also drive a variety of key elements that need to be taken into consideration in the process.

Specifically, there are five critical elements to keep in mind:

  • The audience;
  • The intent;
  • The awareness;
  • The topic; and,
  • The format.

The Audience

Knowing who you're writing for is pivotal — not just in general but with every piece of content. Are you offering information about facelifts to a 55-year old C-level executive woman? A hair transplant to a 35-year old divorced man? Or laser skin resurfacing to a 21-year old with acne-prone skin?

Defining the audience with each piece of content will determine how to present the topic and how to better align the idea with their intent. Your audience may vary greatly — and for each procedure type, too. Therefore, each content will need an intended audience and appeal to that audience, too.

This doesn't mean that each piece will have a different language or style. Each piece needs to maintain a consistent brand and voice. Your voice will develop an affinity with your chosen audience, and consistency is key when it comes to building authoritativeness and trustworthiness. (More on this later.)

The Intent

Are you creating content to help a person make a decision about a certain procedure? Or are you simply providing basic information to someone at the beginning stages of their research? Either way, you can find out what they want or need by knowing what and how they search.

There are three types of search intent:

  1. To go (navigational intent).
  2. To know (informational intent).
  3. To do (transactional intent).

For example:

  1. “Dr. Smith plastic surgeon Toronto.”
  2. “How long do breast reductions last?”
  3. “Dr. Smith consultation phone number.”

Some SEOs will also include a fourth, “to buy,” which is “commercial intent.” But they can be transactional or investigational (or a combination of both), such as, “Dr. Smith breast implant reviews.” Searchers are either looking to buy or conducting an investigation before going ahead.

Search intent is important to know so that your content can satisfy that intent. The more it does, not only the greater the traction (and the greater the quality of the traffic you generate) will be, but also the greater the chances your SEO Content Creation ““““““““““““benefits will spill over because it's meeting Google's quality guidelines.

The Awareness

Sometimes, knowing the search intent is not enough. A search term may not necessarily reveal the reason behind it. So it's also important to know the user's intent — i.e., not just what information the user wants but also for what purpose. In other words, why they want it or what they intend to do with it.

The best way to know is either to do one of three things:

  1. Research the questions they're asking.
  2. Look at long-tail keywords or phrases.
  3. See what Google thinks (i.e., SERP analysis).

(In the case of the latter, you simply use the search term and see what Google thinks the search intent is. If the types of results are scattered or don't fit, choose a newer or more specific search term.)

User intent will vary depending on the stage of awareness your audience happens to be in. I usually put them in one of four, which I call “OATH” (i.e., oblivious, apathetic, thinking, and hurting), such as:

  • Are they aware of the problem? The real problem?
  • Do they know all the options available to solve it?
  • Are they aware of your solution to the problem?
  • Do they know what makes your solution the best?

For example, take the search term “breast augmentation.” Alone, it doesn't say much. The search intent may be informational. But to what end? Is it to learn about the procedure? Is it to find out who offers them? Is it to compare alternatives? Or are they shopping around for prices?

But a search for “What size of breast implants is right for me?” The search intent is the same (informational), but now we have a bit more of an understanding of why they want to know more about breast implants.

So never just focus on what they're searching for. Learn why, too.

The Topic

Remember, if your information can impact a person's wealth or welfare, it's what Google calls YMYL, or “your money or your life” pages, such as medical content. As such, it needs to demonstrate, above everything else, a certain level of E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness).

Choosing a topic your audience is looking for is not just for SEO purposes. Expertise is a form of topical authority. Your knowledge on the topic shows that you know what you're talking about, and the extent of your knowledge shows that what you're talking about is authoritative.

Your credentials are important signals. But demonstrate your expertise by covering the topic in depth. Your authority is implied in this case and therefore more effective. As I always say, implication is more powerful than specification.

You don't have to cover it all in one fell swoop. That's what creating a content strategy is about — you can cover the topic gradually, over time.

In the hub-and-spoke model, your pillar content is the hub, and supporting content pieces are the spokes around the hub — creating what is often called a topical cluster. Therefore, when you do create a content strategy, you will be able to interlink the subtopics together in an intuitive and logical way.

Using the previous example, i.e., “What size of breast implants is right for me,” Google will likely determine that this person is looking for advice on the topic of “breast augmentation.” Some subtopics might be “breast surgery candidacy criteria” or “breast implant cup sizes.” You get the idea.

To learn about topics that interest your audience, you need to do topical research and not just keyword research. Queries are often conversational phrases and questions. That's why questions are so powerful.

Use SEO tools like Ahrefs (Keywords Explorer) or SEMrush (Keyword Magic Tool) to learn about the questions people ask around a topic. Or use a website like AlsoAsked.com and AnswerThePublic.com, or a Q&A site like Quora.com, Reddit.com (there's a plastic surgery subreddit), and Answers.com.

Clusters are important. For the more in-depth the coverage on the topic is, the greater the chances your content will rank well — and the greater the chances that the content will capture related searches, too.

The Format

Format has two components: the modality and the methodology.

  1. Modality is the way the content is consumed. For some it's a blog post, for others it's a downloadable app. For some it's photos, for others it's videos. For some it's podcasts, for others it's a slide presentation.
  2. Methodology is the way you present your content. You may, for example, decide on writing a simple blog post. But how will address the content in that post? Will you present it as an interview? As a story? As a tutorial?

“Modality” comes from “mode of communication.” Some people prefer to consume their information by reading it, while others prefer watching it, listening to it, or applying it.

“Method” comes from the “method of presentation.” Here are some examples of presentation methods you may choose from to create content with:

  • Answers to questions
  • Patient success stories
  • Common myths debunked
  • Formulas and templates
  • Case studies to learn from
  • Bad examples to avoid
  • Competitive comparisons
  • Explainer videos and demos
  • Webinars and livestreams
  • Resource roundups
  • How-to tutorials
  • Graphs and charts
  • Ebooks and whitepapers
  • Editorial commentaries
  • Expert/client interviews
  • Original research findings
  • Glossaries and terms

And so on. This list not exhaustive, but as you can see there are a variety of methods you can present information. You might offer content that your audience is used to, or you might offer content in a different and better way. You might even offer the same content but using different methods.

Understand what your market wants or how they best consume information is helpful to the degree that it will increase engagement with your content, great visibility, natural backlinks, and more qualified traffic to your website.

Putting it All Together

When you add all of these up, you get a much clearer understanding of:

  1. Who you're targeting (audience),
  2. What they're looking for (intent),
  3. Why they want it (awareness),
  4. What to give them (topic), and
  5. How to give it to them (format).

Here's an example:

  1. Middle-aged mothers with stretch marks.
  2. Searching for possible “mommy makeover”.
  3. Knows options, interested in tummy tucks.
  4. Wants to know about tummy tuck scarring.
  5. A blog post with pictures of possible scars.

Therefore, the goal, in this case, is to create a blog post that targets women looking for a “mommy makeover” to reduce loose skin left after a recent pregnancy. But they're concerned about scarring related to tummy tucks (after all, they want to get rid of stretch marks), and they want some reassurance.

The goal is to get them to book an initial consultation.

Therefore, the content may discuss how scarring is minimal but only with the right candidates and in the right situations, which can only be determined with an initial consultation (or a virtual one, which is common in this era of COVID).

Obviously, a lot of this information will be implied and come naturally for doctors who write their own content. But when developing a content strategy where other team players are involved, or if the content is being outsourced to outside writers, it may be wise to go through this exercise for their sake.

When doctors outsource their content, sometimes they either get poorly written articles or well-written ones that miss the mark. Often it's because the writer wasn't aware of these five critical elements.

If you're using an SEO content template like this one, adding a few lines to describe these will go a long way in getting content creators to understand what you're looking for — and above all, what your audience is looking for.

Categories
SEO

How to Do Site Migrations Without Losing Traffic

I've recently landed a new client. He's a plastic surgeon in Europe who has split his main website into two: one surgical and one non-surgical. His concern was that the new site (which is now several months old) is not capturing anywhere near the same levels of traffic it used to have on the old site.

When I did the quick audit, I realized (and told him) that the site migration may not have been done well.

Migrations are often simple, but they are also the most tricky. They need to be properly planned and carried out. Otherwise, they can cause a lot of damage or losses that are irrecoverable.

Here's how I do site migrations. It may not be the best method, but it is the way I've successfully done them. And I've done quite a few.

Google Search Console

First, claim the site in Google Search Console (GSC). If the secondary domain already exists, claim that, too. If the site is either new or never claimed before, it might take a while for the site to appear in GSC. So the earlier the better.

The reason to claim sites in GSC is critical: you can “move” to a new domain via GSC, which tells Google where the new site is now residing. However, this is only when it's a whole site move. It does not apply to partial site migrations or splits.

However, if the new domain exists and it is a split, claiming the sites in GSC is still important as it places the site on Google's radar and allows you to see any crawl issues from their standpoint. But another benefit is backlinks, as you can export all external backlinks from GSC. (I'll come back to this.)

Create a URL Inventory

Next, do a complete inventory of the site. You can do it in three ways: crawl the site with Screaming Frog. When done, you can export the list of URLs it found. It will export it in a CSV file, which you can open in Excel or upload to Google Sheets. Google Sheets is my preferred spreadsheet software.

The second way is to visit the source site's sitemap.xml file and extract all the URLs. Simply visit the source domain and add “sitemap.xml” at the end, like this:

https://michelfortin.com/sitemap.xml

(Some complex sites may have multiple sitemaps or sectional sitemaps, so be careful when doing this. Make sure to locate all of them.)

Then, copy and paste the sitemap into a URL extractor, which will give you a CSV file. You can add it to Excel or upload it to Google Sheets (or simply copy and paste it into a new tab of the same sheet used previously).

The third method is to visit Google directly and type in “site:michelfortin.com” into the search form. This will give you a list of all the URLs currently indexed in Google. Extract the URLs from the search engine results pages (SERPs) using a plugin or a tool, like Google SERPs Extractor.

Why all three? It's just a safety measure.

You don't need to do it for small sites. Just one is fine. But for larger sites, you want to make sure to capture everything. For instance:

  • Sitemaps will give you a list of all currently visible URLs. This is the easiest way. But it won't show you all the URLs if some are excluded.
  • Screaming Frog will give you a list of all files, including images, as well as a list of all internal and external links. But it will also give you a list of any redirects, which will need to be moved or updated. (I'll return to this.)
  • SERP extractor ensures you get all URLs in Google, which may include recently deleted or moved URLs that Screaming Frog will have missed.

301s and 404s

If the source site has 301 redirects at the server level, even if all the internal links are updated, it will be important to keep a note of these as they will need to be moved, removed, or updated once the site (or a portion of it) has migrated.

For example, say you have a deleted URL “A” that's redirected to URL “B”. But then URL “B” will be part of the move to the new domain. Therefore, once the site has moved, the initial redirect from URL “A” as well as URL “B” will both need to be modified to point to URL “C” on the new domain.

This is the reason why it is important to update any internal links within the site the moment a URL changes. Too many redirect chains (or long ones) not only cause havoc from an SEO standpoint, but they can also become a nightmare when migrating to a new domain.

In fact, this is critical: I would definitely fix all redirects showing up in the Screaming Frog crawl, any broken links, and any 404s (i.e., page not found errors) first before doing any site migration. Because if you migrate a page with errors, you will now compound those errors. And the headaches.

Backlinks Profile

It's the same with backlinks. You want to take an inventory of all the backlinks pointing to your site. If they're old and already redirected at the site level, that's fine. But remember that these redirects will need to be updated once the site has migrated to make sure you don't lose any backlinks.

You can use Google Search Console or any SEO tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs, which will provide you with a list of backlinks. What you want are the URLs to which these backlinks are pointing. Whether they are pages or files (like images), add these URLs into a new tab in the Google Sheet created earlier.

Now, here's something important: what if the URLs are old? Perhaps they're broken, moved, or dead already. This is the perfect time to double-check and see if they're still good before doing the site migration.

Use a bulk URL redirect checker. I use Screaming Frog by uploading a list of URLs to manually check. There are several other tools like HEADMasterSEO. The purpose is to see if any of the URLs that the backlinks are pointing are alive, redirected, or broken/dead.

You will get response codes like 200 (good), 301 (redirected), or 404 (dead). Again, the best-case scenario would be to have the URLs all properly redirected already. But if not, either create the necessary redirects now or add them to your inventory to properly redirect once you migrate.

Map and Migrate

Then, when all the above is done and ready, time to migrate. But first, you need to map your old or soon-to-be-moved URLs from your Google Sheets inventory to the new URLs. Add them in a second column. You will need to redirect them to the new site once migrated.

You want to ensure all pages that have moved are properly redirected to the new ones. If the new site is already developed and live, you can redirect the old URLs from the old site (and update any previous redirects) to point to the new URLs on the new domain.

(If you're doing a domain-to-domain move, typically a redirect at the server level will do. Page A on domain one will go to Page A on domain two.)

Once migrated, make sure all the new URLs are self-canonicalized properly to the new domain. A canonical tag is a piece of HTML code that lets Google know what the real URL is for the page it's visiting, and therefore the one to index and pay attention to. Most SEO plugins will do this for you.

Recrawl and Update

Whether it's a full site migration or a portion, update all internal links on both sites. If you use WordPress, chances are the “permalinks” feature will do this. But if your links are absolute and not relative (i.e., pointing to the full URL path), then they're still pointing to the previous domain.

So you will need to carefully do a search and replace to update all the links. In fact, complete a new crawl of both the old and new sites, and fix anything that's not working. It will also give you the proper canonical URLs.

And finally, you can go back to GSC, submit the new sitemap for the new domain, and submit a change of address for the old (if it's a complete move).

It goes without saying that you also need to update any external assets or tools to point to the new domain, such as links inside PDFs, Google Analytics (always create a new property), social media profiles, etc.

Some Final Notes

You may also want to reach out to your most prominent backlinks, those coming from the most authoritative sites, and ask them to update their links to point to the new URLs. Until then, make sure you have all the redirects in place, even if the URLs or files no longer exist.

Keep your old domain indefinitely to make sure the redirects stay alive. Unless you've sold the old domain, you should keep it. Even if you're sure all URLs have been updated, including any backlinks, you don't want to lose any physical (like in print ads) or non-textual (like on YouTube) mentions of your old domain.

Finally, keep an eye on things. Use a position ranking tracker (many SEO tools like SEMrush offer this) to monitor your target keywords, and monitor traffic to make sure there are no dips or any sudden 404s. For example, some new backlinks may be unaware of the move and point to old URLs down the road.

Finally, remember that moving sites is relatively easy. But if a site migration is not properly planned and done correctly, it can cause a lot of problems — problems from which your site may not recover.