Categories
SEO

What SEO Tools Do I Use With Plastic Surgery?

When it comes to plastic surgery SEO tools, I use tools that help improve E-A-T signals (i.e., expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) from Google's Quality Raters Guidelines. These SEO signals are vital when it comes to the content offering expert advice from a professional.

My industry is definitely targeted. As a medical SEO consultant specializing in plastic surgery, search engines highly scrutinize my clients' websites because many of them contain medical information.

A good example of this is May 2020's algorithm update, where Google's attempt to fight disinformation after COVID started had created some havoc with some medical information websites that lacked E-A-T.

Many cosmetic surgeons and plastic surgeons were affected. In fact, I'm currently working with a new client who saw a drop in traffic after that update.

What I Do to Help E-A-T Signals

There are many ways to improve EAT signals.

For one, I add structured data to my clients' websites. Structured data, supplied by code called “schema markup,” is data that only Google (and Bing) can read. It offers additional information about the page beyond the content users see.

Google wants to make sure medical content is written or reviewed by someone with authority and expertise — not some tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy blogger dispensing home remedies to fight life-threatening diseases transmitted by alien lizard people bent on population control. 😉

I use TechnicalSEO.com’s schema generator to create custom structured data — data that helps identify the site owner, content author, and/or medical information reviewer (using the “reviewed by” schema, for example).

I also use schema code to highlight:

Moreover, structured data is more than just adding “local business” schema. I use advanced and custom structured data to include review schema, how-to schema, and local citations, such as BrightLocal.com, as there are many.

All of these help create and amplify E-A-T signals.

Content and Intent Alignment

Above all, the key to SEO is to align content with search intent and user intent (i.e., how people search and why they need the information they're searching for). So I focus on creating and marketing higher quality content that more closely matches the user’s wants and needs.

Search intent is about what the searcher wants. They either want “to know” (informational), “to go” (navigational), or “to do” (transactional). Some SEOs consider another one, “to buy” (commercial), but that's another type of transactional intent and more applicable to ecommerce SEO situations.

Search intent is less about the user and more about what Google thinks the user is searching for. Why is this important? Because Google may think a user's query has informational intent. But if you're optimizing for transactional intent, it's like trying to swim against a raging current. You'll never get any traction.

The way to align your content is by doing two things:

  1. Create content that solves your audience's pain points.
  2. Or create content that answers your audience's questions.

To find ideas for these, I start by learning what kinds of questions people ask. I often refer back to my friend and copywriting coach David Garfinkel, who said that the key to success in copywriting is to ask:

  • Who is your market?
  • What is their problem?
  • How are they talking about it?

These three questions apply to SEO (or, more specifically, content writing) as they do to copywriting. As a plastic surgeon, you certainly know who your market is and what their problems are. But you want to know why they want to solve it. To do that, the key is to learn how they talk about it.

So I pay attention to discussion forums and Q&A sites — like Reddit, Quora, Answers.com, and social media groups. I then use question aggregators like AnswerThePublic.com and AlsoAsked.com. They curate questions people ask, categorize them, and drill them down further.

The types of questions are clues to the user's intent. For example (and this is not meant to be exhaustive), the purpose may be for:

  1. Education (“To Know”)
    • “Who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “which,” “how to,” or “how much.”
    • “For,” “by, “to,” “from,” “at,” or “in” (followed by an adverb above).
    • (Contains) “near me,” “nearby,” “here/there,” or “close to/by.”
    • “In,” “on,” “at,” “around,” “through,” or “under/over” (location).
  2. Comprehension (“To Understand”)
    • “How is,” “how will,” “how are,” “how can,” or “how do/does.”
    • “Why is,” “why will,” “why are,” “why can,” or “why do/does.”
    • (Contains) “for example,” “so that,” “perhaps,” or “maybe.”
  3. Confirmation (“To Verify/Validate”)
    • “Were,” “will,” “might,” “may,” “is,” “did,” “am,” or “can.”
    • (Verb followed by) “with,” “without,” “for,” “not,” or “since.”
    • (Contains) “about,” “regarding,” “quite,” “just,” or “indeed.”
    • (Adverbs like) “really,” “exactly,” “precisely,” or “absolutely.”
  4. Evaluation (“To Assess/Consider”)
    • “Describe,” “show,” “list,” “explain,” “compare,” or “tell me about.”
    • (Contains) “like/or,” “between/and,” “versus,” or “as opposed to.”
    • (Contains) “best,” “top,” “rated,” “review,” “most,” or “proven.”

Remember, “search” intent is based on what they're searching for (or, better said, what Google thinks they're searching for). But “user” intent is based on understanding why users want what they're looking for.

Knowing this provides some great insights into their level of awareness.

Look Beyond The SERPs to Dig Deeper

Finding questions is only a starting point. They give me ideas about content the audience is interested in. But now I need to know how Google interprets the query, which will help me choose specific topics (and not keywords).

This is a bit of a backward way of doing keyword research. Rather than looking for keywords to write content around, I find out their pain points or questions first. Next, I create a content plan that meets those needs. And then, I match the content with specific queries. Let's call it user-focused SEO.

So before I create the content, I type those questions directly into Google or use search engine results (SERP) analysis tools like Ahrefs.com. I want to see what top results come up. Those are my competitors — they may or may not be direct competitors, but they occupy positions I'm aiming for.

It also shows search intent. This is critical because you don't want to swim against the current. Google's results may be for a different query, aimed at a different awareness stage, or filled with fierce competition.

For example, the term “facelift” is also used in home renovations and car engineering. It would be utterly useless trying to optimize for such a broad term.

Another example: larger educational sites (like WebMD, Mayo Clinic, and Wikipedia) may dominate the top results. If so, the competition will be tough to outrank. Granted, it may be a viable query to optimize for, but it will also be extremely challenging to outrank these highly authoritative competitors.

Instead, I look for variations of the same question (or a longer-tail question) and repeat the process until I find a question that has potential. Often, the SERPs provide a ton of clues that go beyond the traditional blue links.

Using Google I can see, at a glance:

  • Search suggestions (e.g., autocomplete suggestions in the search form, “related searches” at the bottom, “people also asked” near the top, and “people also searched for” below the right knowledge panel); and,
  • Search features (e.g., ads, featured snippets, image carousels, videos, maps, knowledge panels, podcast episodes, news stories, product showcases, business listings, reviews, and so on).

Reverse-Engineering and Skyscraping

Google offers a good indication of what they think the search intent is. If the query is viable, the competition is easy, and the intent is right, Google will guide you in what type of content to create and the format to create it in.

By looking at the top results, I review their content length, style, and format, which can be a number of things (e.g., videos, visuals, documents, listicles, checklists, Q&As, tutorials, guides, roundups, and so on).

I also want to see what makes my competitors rank and try to outrank them. It's called the “skyscraper technique,” as if you're adding on to a skyscraper or building a new one that's taller than your competitors.

But I also use the term “skyscraping” to mean building better content or user experiences (UX). It makes sense: what if the competitor's content is quite long already? Studies show that length is not as important as you think.

I also want to see why a certain competitor is getting a lot of traffic. By using SEO tools, I can see all the keywords for which a competitor's site is ranking and all the other pages that are performing well.

This is where I do a gap analysis. I want to see if there are any content gaps in my client's site or gaps in the competitor's site my client can exploit and build content with. Are they ranking for any keywords that my client is not?

Don't Forget Your Own Backyard

Finally, one of the most important steps in SEO is to look at what you already have. Outranking competitors is the goal, but you don't necessarily need to create new content. You can see if your existing content is good enough or underperforming by conducting a content audit.

I use Ahref's plugin to determine what I need to refresh, consolidate, or prune. For example, with each piece of existing content, it tells me if I need to update it, merge it with another (to reduce keyword cannibalization, among others), or outright delete it (i.e., it's deadweight and diluting SEO signals).

Finally, I use my favorite WordPress plugin, RankMath.com. It helps me to add schema code to each page I create (both automatically and custom), suggests internal linking opportunities to build content relationships, creates sitemaps (including video and location sitemaps), and so much more.

But the driving feature of this plugin is its content SEO scoring system. It guides me in optimizing content by offering a checklist of items to optimize for.

I don't follow the score too strictly. It's only arbitrary, and doing so can make your content feel robotic or unusable. I'd rather focus on my audience and on delivering good content.

But it's a great reminder of on-page SEO elements I can optimize beyond the content itself. For example, it reminds me to add alt-text in images, insert internal links, write better meta-descriptions, add a table of contents for longer posts, use short paragraphs to help readability, and so on.

Bottom line, I use many tools to help me, but they are only tools and not meant to be exact processes to follow. In fact, some of the best SEOs out there who have a history of producing astonishing results tend to have their own set of practices and processes using a combination of SEO tools.

In the end, this Tweet from Dave Gerhart sums it up pretty nicely:

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.

Categories
Copywriting

Copywriting Productivity Tools to Boost Your Writing

These days, I do a lot of SEO consulting and content strategy work. But a big part of my career was in copywriting. And when I write copy, some tools help me tremendously. Whether it's doing research, writing the copy itself, or working with my clients, there are certain resources that help.

I previously shared tools I use for SEO work. I use some of them for copywriting, too. Below are some extras that I specifically use. You don't need to be a copywriter. But these resources may help you either write your own copy or, when you outsource it, know what to look for or how to fix it.

Before I dive in, a caveat. These are my tools. They don't have to be your tools. By all means, use whatever you're comfortable with.

Google Docs

I use Google for pretty much everything. I used to do most of my copy work with Microsoft Word, but when Google came out with their online version (MS wasn't there, yet), I switched. It's not just for writing. It's great for sharing and collaborating, especially with clients, editors, associates, etc.

Google Sheets

Same thing with Google Sheets. With Excel, emailing files back and forth was a nightmare. Which version is correct? Where did I save it? Did I email a copy? Instead, I prefer to use one document in one central location. Plus, the beauty is that it can also import and export in a variety of popular formats.

Google Keep

Research is a critical part of copywriting — or of any marketing endeavour for that matter. I often come across a ton of passages, sources, citations, images, etc I want to use or reference in my copy. With my browser plugin, I can select and save as I go, and add comments and notes to them.

Google Drive

I used to use multiple tools for online storage. The problem was that things got scattered. I prefer sticking everything in one place. And since I use Google for everything (I use Google Workspace for my practice), Google Drive makes it easy to save, share, collaborate on, and associate files with.

Slack

I admit that, for the longest time (particularly when I ran my own agency), I used Basecamp to manage my projects. But as an advisor, I don't need it as much. Slack is simpler. Communication is the key benefit, with the ability to share, connect with Google assets, other apps like Zoom, etc.

Loom

Loom records my desktop and allows me to do copy critiques, project walkthroughs, demos, etc. It's a great tool to communicate questions to clients, staff, suppliers, etc. But it's also a great way to keep personal notes and record ideas. The fact that it integrates with Slack makes it a no-brainer.

CleanShot

Quite simply, CleanSot takes screenshots. But it's quite effective at that job. It allows me to annotate, edit, and store clippings to the cloud. It also makes it easy to add copy elements such as social proof, create GIFs, and even has a timer if I need to use my mouse during recordings (such as mouseovers).

Q&A Sites

I visit question-and-answer websites for my research all the time. They're rich sources of information for market research and ideas, too. To write compelling copy that connects with your audience, you need to know the questions people ask and how people talk about the problem you solve. My favorites include:

Grammarly

This is my favorite writing tool. I prefer it over Google Docs' built-in grammar and spellchecking tools. I occasionally use Hemingway App when I want to check my writing, or when I need to express something with more clarity and conviction. If I do use it, it's usually with the finished writing.

Headline Analyzer

Offered by CoSchedule, a marketing and editorial calendar, this tool provides a number of scores on your headlines, including readability, sentiment, skimmability, and engagement level. It also counts characters, which is good for headlines in ads and subject lines. I use it all the time.

RhymeZone

I've been using RhymeZone for ages. It's helpful to find rhymes, related words, poems, quotations, literary references, and word variations. With Google Doc, I use several add-ons like PowerThesaurus.org to find synonyms. But when I need to find a related word, a variation, or a descriptive word, I use RhymeZone.

Descript

This is the newest tool in my arsenal. Often, I need to transcribe recordings to use as content for my copy. I often use Otter.ai for my transcriptions, but Descript takes it to whole new level. Its machine-learning capabilities are truly revolutionary, like cutting out all the “ums” and “ahs” in one click.

(I wish I used Descript more. But since upgrading to Mac's Big Sur, it's not working anymore. They have said they're working on an update, so I'm patiently waiting. In the meantime, visit Descript and watch the video. It's impressive.)

There you have some of my most commonly used tools. I have more, but hopefully this will get things started. What are yours? Let me know.

Categories
SEO

How to Do an SEO Competitive Analysis

Yesterday, I completed several SEO audits. I really love doing them because they fire both sides of my brain: the analytical and artistic sides.

Some have said that it's the ADHD brain. Others, the marketer's brain. Either way, one client was specifically looking to get a leg up on its competitors who seem to be doing well organically. So I conducted an SEO competitive analysis.

I want to share it with you as it might be useful to you.

An SEO audit analyzes a number of factors to see if a website is properly optimized. It looks at a number of ranking signals, both internal and external, to help determine if the content is visible, relevant, and desirable.

There are three levels to my SEO audits:

  1. Behind the site (technical SEO)
  2. On the site itself (on-page SEO)
  3. Outside the site (off-page SEO)

I call them the “three Cs” of SEO audits: code, content, and conversation.

But to be more specific, here's a summary of each:

  1. Technical SEO looks at what's behind the site and includes any technical process meant to improve visibility. It reviews the site’s hosting, coding, speed, security, navigation, and user experience. In other words, it makes sure that Google can easily find, crawl, index, and use the content.
  2. On-page SEO looks at what's on the page and includes any internal signals meant to improve relevancy. It reviews the site's content and various page elements that support it (i.e., metadata, images, HTML, etc). It provides Google with enough information about the content to help it decide if it matches their users' queries.
  3. Off-page SEO looks at what's outside the site and includes any external signals meant to improve desirability. It reviews outside activities related to the website, such as conversations, brand mentions, and of course, backlinks. It helps Google to determine if the content is authoritative, valuable, and beneficial to searchers.

I'll save the audit process for another time, but one part of the audit looks at the content's performance, its competitors (and their performance), and any gaps that exist and can be capitalized on.

A gap analysis tries to reverse engineer a website’s competitive environment by scanning the topmost competitors in various SERPs (i.e., search engine result pages), and it identifies any opportunities for improvement, underexploited content ideas, and potential backlinks.

A scan looks at several things.

First, I look at what Google suggests are competitors. Also called “people also search for,” they are usually found after the first three results, at the bottom of the page, or under the site's Google My Business listing on the right.

While Google's machine-learning is getting more intelligent, it may still be wrong or misleading. For example, it provides a list of competitors based on other people's searches, and within my specific geographical area.

They may be alternatives to what Google thinks the searcher is looking for, and may not be true competitors. By “true competitors,” I don't mean competitors in the offline world. I mean those vying for the same traffic you want.

So to find true competitors, I identify companies by looking at:

  • Existing topics from my client's current website content;
  • Keywords Google suggests the site should aim for; and,
  • Actual queries people have used to find my client.

To accomplish this, I do a few things.

First, I use a few tools to help extract the information I need. I look at Google's keyword planning tool (from Google Ads), which suggests keywords for the site based on its existing content. I also use a few other keyword suggestion tools, such as UberSuggest and KeywordTool.

With Google Search Console, I identify what keywords people have used to find my client's website. I look at both the volume and the performance (i.e., how many impressions and how many clicks did a certain search query get).

Then, I put it all into a spreadsheet and review the list to see if it makes sense. Sometimes, some keywords are either too generic, have the wrong search intent, or are just wrong altogether. So I delete them.

Once I have a good list of keywords, I take the top 10 in terms of search volume (depending the size of the project, I try to stay around the top 10-20 keywords). Then, I use them to find competitors.

Please note that this is not keyword research. It's only meant to find true competitors. These keywords may not be worth ranking for, anyway.

Finally, using the queries I list, I look for the top 3-5 competitors that are:

  • Ranking the highest organically for the same queries;
  • Appearing in the local three-pack (Google Maps); and,
  • Buying Google Ads that appear under the same queries.

Once done, I list the URLs of my competitors and check them out. I want to know if they are viable competitors. Do they make sense? To do that, I check the site manually, and punch them into a site audit tool like SEM Rush.

In my spreadsheet and with each competitor, I add their estimated monthly traffic from SEM Rush (only organic traffic, not paid), number of keywords they are ranking for, number of backlinks, and domain authority score.

Competitors with little traffic and keywords, I dump. Those with comparable amounts of traffic or keywords to my client, I keep. And those that are higher, I highlight. I then sort the list from highest to lowest traffic numbers.

Next, I look at the top 10 competitors.

These are my true SEO competitors.

From that point, I do a number of analyses, such as a content gap analysis, a backlinks gap analysis, and a crawl of each individual competitor to look at their site architecture and anything the “pops out” at me.

What's a gap analysis? For backlinks, a tool like Ahrefs can tell me all the backlinks that point to my client's competitors that are not linking to my client.

Now, I'm a big believer in earning backlinks naturally, not doing outreach trying to convince others to link to me (or my clients). I know some SEO agencies do this and it's a major part of their practices. Some even do it in very tasteful ways.

But to me, it's still icky. I don't like it. It may also be influenced by my fear of rejection, but I always preferred earning backlinks than spamming people to get them to link to me. But I digress.

The point of doing a backlink gap analysis is to see if there are any industry or common links that can be easily acquired. For example, most of my client's competitors had backlinks from the BBB, industry associations, and vertical-specific business directories.

As for content gaps, I look at what keywords each of the competitors' are ranking for. This will offer many clues as to what content ideas and topics my client should tackle. But more importantly, a gap analysis looks at topics that competitors are ranking for that my client isn't.

Finally, I use Google itself to see what it thinks.

Backlinks are actual links, but brand mentions are implied links. So I'll type in the competitor's name into Google and see what comes up. I want to see what kinds of conversations people are having about my client's competitors.

I also peek at “related searches” at the bottom of the page, which are Google's predictive list of searches based on what people have also searched for. They may offer a few ideas and additional insights.

This is list is not exhaustive.

Conducting a competitive scan varies and may have some additional steps that I'm not listing here. It depends on the nature of the project.

For example, what if a client doesn't have a website yet? Or what if the client has topics they want to rank for but that their current website doesn't cover well? A keyword extraction tool or Google Search Console won't help in these cases.

Sometimes, I may start by conducting some keyword research before doing a competitive scan. Other times, I may get suggestions from my client or my client's clients, to push me in the right direction.

Hopefully, this has been helpful.

Categories
SEO

6 Important, Useful, and Free SEO Tools

When it comes to managing your SEO, there are hundreds if not thousands of free SEO tools out there. Many of them are free, many are not. Some of them are easy to use, others require a PhD-level education.

But it doesn't have to be that complicated.

If you want to know what you need for your website and to improve your SEO, it's not much. Here's a list of six must-haves and should-haves that I recommend.

1 – Google Analytics – Necessary

Of course, you need some kind of analytics. I prefer Google simply because Google is the largest search engine and it makes sense to use the same tools they use to track and measure certain SEO signals.

Plus, GA version 4.0 just launched, and I'm amazed by how many new features and functionalities are available. The additional insights were only previously available after considerable customizations and third-party tools. Now, it's much easier to measure user interactions.

If you currently use GA, you might want to upgrade now.

2 – Google Search Console – Necessary

To understand how your website is performing in Google (such as how many times your site came up in searches, was clicked on, under which keyword, and for which page), you need GSC. It's also a vital tool to learn about any issues Google finds on your website so you can address them.

Through GSC, you can submit sitemaps, track errors, fix penalties, and disavow toxic links among others. There's also Bing Webmaster Tools, but now they can easily pull in domain information from GSC.

3 – PageSpeed Insights – Necessary

One of the most important ranking factors is page speed. It also affects your conversions. Due to the preponderance of mobile device usage (and Google is now 100% mobile), load times are critical to SEO. PSI scores your page speed, and gives you a list of issues you need to fix or improve.

You also need to test every page, too. In fact, this week Google made it clear that one page can actually affect your entire site. In other words, your website's weakest link can hurt your overall rankings and not just that page. So if only one page is slow, Google might derank your fast pages, too.

4 – Google My Business – Important

You want to manage how your business appears in Google Search and Maps, and how people find you, call you, and discover your services. So claiming and optimizing your GMB profile is important for regular SEO and local SEO.

Also, remember that claiming your profile also creates a conduit between you and Google. So if any issues come up, such as responding to reviews and reporting fake reviews, your GMB account will help.

5 – Google Add-Ons – Optional

Although not entirely necessary, Google offers a variety of useful tools to help you in your efforts to increase your rankings and your traffic.

  • Google Tag Manager – GTM simply centralizes your external scripts from third-party tools, concatenates them, and makes them easier to load and manage. I manage all my analytics, conversion tracking, paid advertising tools, and more from one simple location.
  • Google Rich Results – Google often uses metadata either to understand what your page is about or for different types of search results — and not just links. This tool tests to see if your site is eligible for rich snippets and tells you what kinds it finds. Schema markup code is one of them.
  • Google Site Kit – I use WordPress. GSK adds all the necessary Google scripts and tools I need (including Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, AdSense, Google PageSpeed Insights, etc) with a few clicks. Plus, you get a search funnel snapshot of each page, which will give you an overview of that page's performance — including traffic sources, search impressions, bounce rates, and top queries.

6 – Third-Party Technical Tools – Helpful

There are several tools that I use and highly recommend. One of them is Screaming Frog‘s SEO spider tool. With it, you can find crawl errors, broken links, 404 errors, bad redirects, duplicate content, missing tags, even spelling and grammar errors, and so much more.

This single tool can do a variety of things in one fell swoop, which saves me time and money. Also, by connecting it with your Google assets (GA, GSC, and PSI), it can do a deeper dive and offer better insights.

Of course, the above tools are not for SEO research. (If you want to know more, I've written about them here, here, here, and here.) But they are important if not essential to properly track, measure, and improve your SEO.

Do you have a preferred free SEO tool? Let me know what it is and why.

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SEO

How to Create Awareness With Your Content Funnel

In marketing, there are different levels of buyer awareness or “marketing awareness stages.” They go from one end of the spectrum where buyers are unaware of the problem they're experiencing (or will experience), to the other end where they are fully aware and intend to solve that problem.

It is critically important to know and understand this about your market so you may build brand awareness. That's why I created an acronym called OATH, which means the buyers are:

  1. Oblivious about the problem.
  2. Apathetic about the problem (i.e., they're aware but don't care).
  3. Thinking about the problem (i.e., they're considering solutions).
  4. Hurting (i.e., they want the problem solved).

When I teach the OATH formula, I tell my students to think of it as, “How prepared is your market to take an oath?” It's a simple way to remember.

In fact, I use mnemonics often. And since learning that I have ADHD and that it affects short-term memory, I now know why I love using acronyms and mnemonics so much. They're tremendously useful tools.

I came up with the acronym to help me remember. But I got this idea after reading Eugene Schwartz' magnum opus Breakthrough Advertising, in which he discusses the five levels of market sophistication. In short, they are:

  1. The Claim
  2. Amplify The Claim
  3. The Mechanism
  4. Amplify The Mechanism
  5. Market Identification

Here's a summary (also, this video explains it well)…

At the first level, the consumer is completely unaware of the product. So when marketing to them, you're going to be making a claim.

The second level is where they're aware of your claim. But they're also aware of your competitors' claims, too. So now you need to elevate your claim and make it better than the competition.

At the third level, you need to more than just better. You need to differentiate and make your claim stand out. You need to educate your market about your “unique mechanism,” according to Schwartz, or your USP.

Level four is where competitors are all doing the same. Everyone has a USP or unique mechanism. So now your goal is to prove the superiority of your mechanism and elevate it over others.

At the fifth and final level, this where a saturated market becomes skeptical, jaded, and numb. Your goal is to identify with your market, to create relationships with them, so they buy, remain loyal, and even evangelize for you.

These five levels are essentially the stages through which new products and services enter the market and become adopted.

But I prefer to be problem-centric than product-centric.

The reason I specifically created my personal formula was not just for helping me remember but also for helping me strategize how to approach, educate, and persuade audiences based on their awareness stage.

Not to boast (well, maybe I am a little), but I created this formula back when I taught marketing management in college, circa 1999-2000. The concept of “marketing funnels” wasn't as popular back then.

But I can't take credit for the idea. Remember, Schwartz wrote about it in 1966. Some even contend that the AIDA formula predates it when Elias Lewis first mentioned it in 1898 (i.e., Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action).

Whether it's AIDA, sophistication levels, OATH, levels of buyer awareness, or marketing awareness stages, or whether it's marketing funnels, content funnels, customer journeys, or sales pipelines, it's all essentially the same.

You're breaking down the buying journey into distinct stages and moving the buyer through them. It doesn't matter what you call them.

Today, the common marketing lingo, especially in SaaS circles, is “top of funnel” or TOFU (not the soybean curd kind), “middle of funnel” or MOFU, and “bottom of the funnel” or, you guessed it, BOFU.

(I'm French-Canadian. “BOFU” sounds like a clown's name to me.)

I like this explanation a little more because funnel sections often describe the four types of content that will serve as catalysts throughout the buyer's journey.

Before people hit the funnel — let's call them “out of funnel” or OOFU (I'm creative, I know) — they are oblivious, completely unaware of the problem. At TOFU, they are now aware of it. At MOFU, they are aware of the solution, too. And at BOFU, they are now product or service aware.

Therefore, the goal of your content should be to take your audience from being unaware of the problem (i.e., they're oblivious) to being fully aware and in need of the solution (i.e., they're hurting). To take them from unaware, to problem aware, to solution aware, and eventually to product aware.

What does this mean to you?

It means that, when you're creating a content marketing strategy, particularly thought leadership, remember that each piece of content has a goal and serves a purpose, which is to raise awareness and, ultimately, drive actions.

If you have funnelized your marketing, which you should, then you know what content you need. If not, here's an example to give you an idea.

OOFU (Oblivious) Content

This is content that invites your audience to come forward and enter your funnel. They want to know more about the problem they're experiencing.

By now, if they're not aware of the problem (the real problem), it makes no sense to hit them over the head with your solution right away. They're not hurting yet — or better said, they're not aware they're hurting.

For example, if you want to specifically target people with hairloss, saying you're the best surgeon will fall on deaf ears — particularly if they're not interested in doing something about their hairloss. (Remember, hairloss is not the problem.)

When I wrote ads for these doctors, the best headlines were not the ones that said, “we offer advanced hair transplant procedures” or “the most natural-looking results.” The best ones more often than not said, “Do you have hairloss?” Or better yet, “Are you suffering from hairloss?”

As a doctor, I would recommend writing articles about the causes of hairloss and helpful tips on how to treat it — including all the solutions possible. The goal is to get those who are interested to raise their hands and ask for more information (i.e., to enter your funnel).

TOFU (Apathetic) Content

This is content that, once inside your funnel, teaches your audience about why they need to do something about their problem. You're exploring the problem in depth, the risks involved, and the gravity of the problem (or of ignoring it).

You can write an article such as:

  • “10 reasons to consider hair restoration,”
  • “7 factors that make you a candidate for surgery,”
  • “The risks and costs of hair transplant procedures.”

Remember, hairloss is a problem but not the real problem. In this scenario, they've entered your funnel so they've admitted their hairloss bothers them. Outdated procedures with less-than-desirable results are the problem.

The goal is to get them to care about it. It's to take them to the next level where they're aware your solution, which is more advanced, more natural-looking, less risky, etc than the alternatives.

MOFU (Thinking) Content

Your content introduces the solution, makes them aware of the benefits, and motivates them to consider solving their problem.

Essentially, they want to do something. While they're considering the solutions, the goal is to get them to think about your solution. Therefore, your content needs to point out what makes your solution the ideal solution for them.

Using the same example above, you can educate them about your procedure, what makes it better than others on the market, and what are the specific results it produces. This is your “unique mechanism,” a la Schwartz.

For example, if you use powerful microscopes to transplant microscopic follicles instead of traditional, unsightly plugs, this is where you can discuss it and offer more detail in order to differentiate yourself.

BOFU (Hurting) Content

They're hurting and want to solve their problem. So your goal is to move them into action. You want to provide them with enough information to help them decide (e.g., case studies, social proof, ROI, etc).

For example, that doctor can explain pricing, share before-and-after photos, answer objections, describe what to expect, offer financing options, and discuss next steps — such as how to book the surgery.

A final point and a caveat.

In the end, remember that these are just examples and not the example. Plus, these stages are not perfect. The lines between them often blur, and they're not meant to fit people into neat little boxes or put labels on them.

A common objection I get is, “Where does my client fit in?” Or, “What if [this] or [that] puts them in one category when they should be in another?”

The thing to remember is, knowing your audience's different marketing awareness stages does not mean you must define your audience according to one specific stage or to fit them neatly into one stage more than any other.

It's to understand what they need in terms of information to help them get to the next level and eventually solve their problem — and to give it to them.