Analytics & Insights, Digital Marketing, Strategy & Planning

SEO has changed! Learn the latest about modern SEO and the tactics and tips that will help you drive qualified traffic to your website. Learn how to write compelling content written with the “EAT” method (we’ll explain what that is in our webinar). Find out how long your content should typically be, and get many more tips to optimize your website for 2020!


I want to go ahead and introduce myself. My name is Jen Boland. I work at Allegiance Group. I’m the senior SEO and content strategist and I will be talking today about the state of modern SEO. So I wanted to start with this image that, which is one of the major SEO tools out in the SEO space produced.

Because I think if you take one thing away from this presentation, it is understanding what is important about how to create content to rank well, in search. And you can see that there are multiple steps, and the two most important things are making sure that your site is crawlable and that you have compelling content.

So we’re going to start by talking about crawling and then we’ll go into the remainder of the hierarchy of SEO needs. So the very most important thing when it comes to SEO is making sure that your site is crawlable. So typically what can happen when you launch a new website or you make some sort of configuration changes to your server.

Sometimes you can accidentally block your site from being indexed by Google. So if you’re having major issues with not ranking well in search, the very first thing you want to check is to make sure that your site is crawlable. If you log into Google Search Console, hopefully you’re at least seeing that you have pages indexed in Search Console.

You want to make sure that your robot’s TXT file is not blocking your website. And then finally the best practice is to make sure that you’re allowing your CSS and JavaScript files to be crawled by Google. You can do this by adding this entry where the user agent is Google bot and allowing JS and CFS files. This ensures that Google is able to crawl your site, not just the text that’s in the view source, but the fully rendered page of your site. This gives Google a better view of your website. But once this is done and your site is crawlable, not to say that there’s never any other technical issues, but this is the main thing that you need to make sure to rank well in search.

The next is of course creating compelling content. And that’s where we’re going to spend the majority of this talk. So the most important thing in today’s world of search engine optimization is this concept of meeting the search intent of the user. And the one thing that’s really important about meeting the search intent of the user is not only are you meeting the search intents of your users when you’re ranking well in search, but you’re also meeting the needs of people who are getting to your content in other way.

So one of the things I like to tell people is that if your pages are ranking well in search, they’re probably also doing a really good job of meeting the needs of your users. And so, by focusing on ranking and SEO, you can be sure that you’re creating the best content to meet your user’s needs. And sometimes search intent can be a little bit different.

And so one of the things that we have done, we’ve actually created a script that allows us to see what page is brought up in the, search results for each search term? So in this example I have below, one of our clients, the American Kidney Fund, they actually had a page about kidney failure.

And what was really interesting is that they actually also have a page dedicated to kidney disease, but Google is showing the kidney failure page for people who are searching for kidney disease. And the idea is this is helping you understand the search intent of the user. So in this case, most people who were searching for kidney disease were actually looking for content related to kidney failure, which is why Google’s algorithm had decided that the kidney failure page was a better page to promote the search results than the kidney disease page.

And so, by using the script, we’re able to help you understand what search terms are bringing up each page and help you understand what Google thinks your page is about or should be about.   You can get to this data and Search Console, but you can only do it one keyword at a time.

And that’s the advantage of running it through the script is that you can see all of the keywords at the same time for each page.

One of the big ways that SEO has also changed is the soft death of keywords and the rise of content. And back in the old days of SEO, and this was probably five years ago, definitely 10 years ago, we were all told that you wanted to have one page for every single keyword. And we would write this content that’s 2, 3, 4, 5 hundred words long, and it was focused on a single keyword.

But SEO has really changed. And now Google is really looking for more thorough content. And so what I like to think is that in a lot of cases, we all have this content that’s spread over multiple pages. And a lot of us just need to be consolidating and combining this content. So we have one thorough page that goes through that topic in great detail.

Now that doesn’t mean that you’ll never link off to more detailed content, but the idea is that every single page on your website is a complete answer to a question.

And we know that Google likes this longer content. Because when SEOs analyzed the data, what we’re seeing is that in the top 10 results for most searches, we’re seeing that most pages have a word count of over 2000 words with the top three pages hovering right around 2,400 words. And again, it’s not a hard and fast rule that all your content needs to be at least 2,400 words long.

But the idea is that this longer content does tend to rank better in search. And it comes back to the idea that you need to have a really thorough overview of the topic that you’re covering rather than a very, very narrow view of the topic.

And I have an example of a client. We had a client again, this is American Kidney Fund, and they have this page on kidney stones. And initially when they published this page, it had just a couple sentences about kidney stones and then it deep linked to three pages about the causes of symptoms and the treatment for kidney stones and each of these three pages had about 3 to 5 hundred words of content. I actually had them take that content and basically paste it all into one single page. And when they made that update, you can see how their search impressions have grown for this page once they consolidated all of that content to a single page. So it was less than an hour of work for them.

And they were able to almost double the traffic to the page because of this one change. So again, making sure that you have a really thorough overview of the topic that you’re trying to present rather than dispersing that content over multiple pages. Similarly. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation had about three or four pages about the menhaden fish.

Again, I had them consolidate that content into a single page and you can see that as soon as they made that change, their search position increased from being on the second page of Google to the first page of Google, really helping improve the traffic to that page.

So we talked about making sure that you have really thorough content on a particular topic. The next really important thing is this concept of expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. And now this is particularly important. If your website covers either medical information or financial information, however, this is becoming more and more important in all different types of content.

Google wants to know that the content you’re providing is going to help people and is not going to hurt people. And they want to see signals that your content is written by people who they’re not quacks, they’re not selling coins, but that your content is written by somebody who is going to help people improve their medical situation, their financial situation, or whatever you’re talking about.

And so making sure that your pages have an author and that author probably has a bio page on your website or at a minimum, a LinkedIn page, that shows that their credentials and that they’re qualified to write about the topic. So really just sending signals to Google that you have the expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness to talk about that topic.

The next thing that is really important with how we write all of this content is the concept of pyramid writing. What we want to make sure that we’re doing is that we’re front-loading our articles with the most important sentence. And I’m going to talk a little bit more about this when I talk about features snippets, because this is where it can come into play even more, but what we’re trying to do as we move to this longer content, we’re trying to create what’s called an information scent.

So that if somebody scans the page, I mean, we all heard nobody reads content on the web and that’s sort of true because I think what we all do is we scan first to make sure that the information that we want is available on the page. And then we go back and we read either the whole page or parts of the page that are related to the content that we’re looking for.

When we write, we should be front-loading our article with the summary are the most important information and front loading every paragraph and every headline so that everything is really easy to read.

The next thing that is really important is the idea of keywords. So back in the day, some of us probably remember using meta keywords. We probably also remember stuffing keywords into our footers and so forth to try to have the keyword appear on the page as many times as possible. Well, we definitely don’t promote doing that anymore.

You still need to be weaving in the keywords that people are searching for that are related to the topic. So this is when doing some keyword research can be really important to understand Oh, people might be talking about my topic and this way versus this other way. And just making sure that we’re using the right words that people are looking for when they’re searching, you can also start to figure this out by trying to understand how other people are ranking for their keywords and looking at what words they’re using in their content.

So back in the day, there used to be a battle between SEO and UX people. And this was when having as much content on the page, stuffing keywords was really popular. And these were all tactics that worked really well in search. And this is why there were always differences between what the SEOs wanted and what the UX people wanted. But as Google has become more sophisticated with natural language processing, it’s become all about great content and a great experience and having great content and a great user experience is really how you win it search.

So one of the really important aspects of having a great user experience is making sure that your pages load really quickly. One way that you can check page load speed is by using the Lighthouse Audit. When you’re in the Chrome developer tools, if you go to the audit tab, you can run this audit and get these scores for your pages.

Now, I do want to warn you that  getting into the 90 to 100 for your performance or speed can be quite difficult. So don’t be shocked if you’re on the lower range. So I would definitely say strive to be at least within the 50 to 89, if you can be.  You really probably do need to work on your performance if you’re below 50.

But then also check and see how your competitors are doing to get a ballpark for where you need to be in order to rank on the terms that you want to rank on. Now, the other thing I will say is that you can have a very fast loading site, but not have great content. And you’re not going to win in share.

But if you have great content in a slightly slower website, you will still rank well. So again, taking this with a grain of salt, we want to make sure that we spend time making sure that our pages load quickly. But content is going to be more important than how fast loading your pages are.

You just want to make sure that they’re not really, really slow because that will hurt you. And just to kind of understand this, this is part of when Google rolled out the Panda update, I believe in 2016.  They started looking at how users behave when they clicked on the listings, in the search results.

And when people click on a listing and then go back really quickly, and a lot of times it’s because the page doesn’t load in a reasonable amount of time. That sends a signal to Google that this isn’t a good page. And so this is why having a page that loads quickly and then having the right content is critical to ranking well in search.

And then good UX is also very important. Really what UX is about is helping the right people find the right content at the right time. People want to find the information they’re looking for. They’re not coming to your site just to visit for no reason. They’re looking to either read about something, learn about something, understand something, or they’re looking to complete a task such as making a donation.

But if they’re looking to complete a task such as making a donation, they may also need information that tells them that you’re trustworthy and you’re worthy of a donation, that your money goes to a good cause and a good impact. So making sure that everything is presented in a way that users can find this information to support what the user is trying to do and what your organization is trying to do is very important.

And that really is all part of content strategy and SEO.

We also want to make sure the content we create is share worthy. If you’re at all familiar with how search engine optimization works, one important factor that Google uses in determining who to rank is how many backlinks does your page have? So how many, has the New York times referenced your page?

Are there bloggers out there who are talking about what you’re doing? So making sure that other people are linking back to your website and also making sure that people are sharing your content on social media. So a high number of backlinks, which you can see in any of the SEO tools or in Search Console, as well as how many visits are you getting from social media? So looking in your Google Analytics and looking at referrals from Facebook or LinkedIn or Reddit, or any of the other social media applications, just to see are you getting a lot of traffic from these places. You will want to make sure that you’re not just looking at paid traffic, that you’re looking at the organic traffic that people were clicking through.

So it’s also really important as we create our content that every page has a unique title. I have seen many an organization use just the name of the organization as the title for every single page on your website. If you are going to use your name of your organization, what you want to do is append that at the end of the title of the page and not at the beginning of the page. You also want your title to be between 50 and 60 characters because Google will cut it off after somewhere between 50 and 60 characters.

So, again, this kind of comes back to that concept of front-loading your content, even if your title needs to be a little bit longer than 60 characters, making sure that when people only read the first 50 or 60 characters, that they can get the gist of the page, and then finally making sure that the title matches the search intent of the page.

So making sure that the primary topic that the page is about is expressed in the title of the page. Now this is just another note. The title of the page, which is in the title tag in the HTML, does not need to match the headline of the page. So if you really have to have a shorter title and the title tag and then a longer headline of the page that is completely fine.

And that can work really well in search because the idea is that someone’s getting the gist of it when they’re looking at your page in the search results. And then when they clicked through, yeah, this is a detailed page about so-and-so and then they want to read it.

URLs. Back in the day, we all talked about this concept of search-friendly URLs, and everybody went to great pains to update their websites and make sure that URLs had solid structure. They weren’t just like content ID equals one, two, three. But URLs are actually becoming less and less important in search.

And the new school of thought with respect to URLs is that you shouldn’t change your URLs unless you absolutely have to. And so if you are really undergoing a massive, IA reorganization of your site it’s completely fine to change URLs so that they make sense and they show an information scent on your website, but from the perspective of search alone, having more friendly URLs or trying to game your URL so that they contain the right keywords is probably not worth your time. If you’re optimizing for a really good title or headline and that’s in your URL, that’s great, but don’t spend time just thinking about your URL because they really don’t matter anymore from the perspective of search.

The next step leads me to your meta description. A meta description is like an advertisement for your page. Like the title, you want it to be unique, it should be up to 160 characters long. Now, one thing that’s really important to understand is that Google rewrites your meta descriptions, pulling content from your page, approximately 70% of the time.

So while, your top pages it makes sense to work on writing really strong, compelling meta descriptions that are going to entice click through, the meta description itself actually doesn’t help improve where you are in search. It only helps improve your click through rate. And this is where the pyramid writing really comes in handy because if you have a page that really is in depth and covers the topic, if somebody searches for a subtopic that is within your page and  you write your content in such a way that uses pyramid writing so that it’s concise and to the point and that the most important information is in the top sentence under your headline, sometimes Google will actually take that content and use that estimate a description. So in some ways you may have one page that you’re, trying to target for a master keyword and several sub keywords. So writing that content so that those are almost thought of as additional meta descriptions really help you improve the performance of your page.

Similarly, featured snippets are when you search in Google for something, and Google shows an answer box. So I have here an example of where I searched for “what is a feature snippet”. And of course we get a feature snippet about “what is a featured snippet”. So you can see that Google has pulled two sentences about the featured snippet and listed it here.

But it’s also really interesting, that when there’s a feature snippet, Google does not always pull the image from the page that they pulled the content from. So in this case, you’ll see that they pulled how to Optimize for Google Feature Snippets to Build More Traffic, but the image came from smart insights.

So don’t be surprised if you see another image linked to in the feature snippet alongside your own content. This isn’t actually something that you can tell Google to change. It’s just what it is. So just be aware that this can happen. But if you are doing really strong pyramid writing, that’s going to help you get featured in a feature snippet, likewise lists and simple tables that answer questions.

And just having simple list markup and table markup on your page can really help you rank well for featured snippets on a page.

The last thing that we want to talk about is the concept of schema. Schema is markup on the page that helps Google better understand what the page is about. There are thousands of different schemas out there. The most common ones are for books, movies, and recipes, probably recipes is the one most of us are the most familiar with. But when you’re using schema, you’re basically telling Google this is a book and the book has a name and the book has an author and it really helps give a lot of information about the page, or about the content to Google so that it can digest what the page is about.

So depending on what your website is about, there may be some schemas that are really applicable to your topic. And if so, you should try to use them on the page.

So, just to recap what we talked about here, step one is let’s make sure that the site is crawlable and that you haven’t unintentionally blocked anything on your site.

Step two is: create compelling content. Again, this is the most important part of SEO.  It’s making sure that we have the content that helps meet the needs of the users who are searching for our content. And again, it’s not just making sure that we have that keyword over and over again in the content, it’s making sure that we have the right content.

And one of the easiest ways to make sure that you have the right content is looking at who is ranking in search for the search terms that you want to rank for. So I recommend reading those pages making sure that you’re covering all of the sub-headlines that those people are covering and having as much information about the topic, but also making sure that you’re framing it in such a way so that it is important to your organization and that it’s not just the same information that other people have. You want to make sure that you have woven in the various keywords that you want to rank for in the content.

But again, don’t do keyword stuffing, just make sure that you use them naturally in the language. Having a good user experience, pages that load quickly and sites that are easy to use on all devices, including mobile, as well as desktop, and helping expose the right content at the right time to people. Having as much share-worthy content on your site as you can, again, to attract backlinks, or if you’re more in the scholarly space, citations. And just get more people seeing your content that will also actually help with your brand because there’s more people see your content and see who you are, you should also start to see more direct visits to your website as well as organic searches for your organization’s name.

And then making sure that we have the very best presentation in the search results by focusing on our page titles and our meta descriptions, and to a lesser extent. URLs and last but not least going through and utilizing schema markup, where we can, to try to rank for things as well as using our pyramid writing kind of back to the compelling content piece, to see if we can get some featured snippets by having really concise information about a topic so we can answer something really quickly, but also provide the detailed information that a user might be looking for.   With that, I thank you very much for your time. And if you would like to reach out to us, you can reach us at sales at allegiance fundraising, or give us a call or please visit our website. I thank you very much for your time.