Google Explains How to Use Headings for SEO

Headings help readers who scan through to know what to expect when reading an article. Headings also play a heavy role in SEO presence, but not necessarily for the reason you may think. Google uses H1, H2, and other HTML headings in a specific way for displaying articles in searches on its platform. When Google speaks, we listen, because we want to make sure to incorporate its advice into our SEO strategy.

A Bit Of History On Headers

In the early 2000s, heading elements were among the ranking factors Google used to determine where to rank a page for a particular keyword or phrase. If you wanted to rank, one of the most important things to do was to use your keywords throughout the headings. For the past few years, this hasn’t been the case, but it’s still a common SEO practice today. It’s a habit for many, though if you look at top-ranked sites, you’ll likely see headings that don’t include keywords.

Google’s Thoughts on Headers and Keywords

John Mueller was recently asked about Google’s thoughts on the use of keywords in a heading and their ranking ability.

Mueller responded: I think in general, headings are a bit overrated in the sense that it’s very easy to… get pulled into lots of theoretical discussions on what the optimal headings should be.

Google no longer ranks by keyword but rather the heading and the following contents. They examine the heading to ensure the subsequent information matches. The way that headings should be.

H1 Headings Do Not Outrank H2 Headings

In the past, it was understood that headings were hierarchy based.  H1 was more important than H2 and H2 was more important than H3. The most important keywords would be placed in the highest level of heading. The lesser important keywords were in lower-level headings. Though this may have been the case 15 years ago – it doesn’t apply today – despite the fact that many people still approach using headings this way.

Google explains that headings are irrelevant to rank. Should they still be used? Yes! They are essential for accessibility and for user experience.

What Is The Proper Use For Heading Tags?

Google stands by the idea that the best use of heading tags is for the reader. They indicate the information to follow, introduce a video, or an image. Google doesn’t look for the keyword but the quality of the text. They want to rank a site because the information is relevant to the heading and they can draw the reader to look at more information. The right searches will find your information, not the keywords in the header.

Heading Tags Aren’t Ranked

Headings tags used to make the top lists of ranking factors for decades, even though Google has made changes and has been transparent about them. If you do your own search and really study the results, you will notice the results don’t include the headers with a keyword. Google stands by providing search results with information about the content and that is all.

John Mueller has said: So it’s not so much that suddenly your page ranks higher because you have those keywords there. But suddenly it’s more well Google understands my content a little bit better and therefore it can send users who are explicitly looking for my content a little bit more towards my page.

Mueller also took the time to explain the proper use of heading tags: So obviously there’s a little bit of overlap there with regards to… Google understanding my content better and me ranking better for the queries that I care about. Because if you write about content that you want to rank for which probably you’re doing, then being able to understand that content better does help us a little bit. But it’s not that suddenly your page will rank number one for competitive queries just because you’re making it very easy for Google to understand your content. So with that said, I think it’s useful to… look at the individual headings on a page but… don’t get too dug down into all of these details and variations and instead try to find a way to make it easy for people and for scripts to understand the content and kind of the context of things on your pages.

What This Means For Websites

The great thing about understanding the way Google uses headings is that it encourages more quality content than keyword stuffing we saw for several years. Quality content is much more beneficial to your audience than keyword-stuffed fluff, and Google wants to make its users happy. If people can’t find what they’re looking for in Google, then Google risks losing them to other search engines.

By worrying less about keywords in your content headings, you can ensure your content comes across with more authenticity. You’re less likely to be hit with penalties for keyword stuffing, and more likely to rank ahead of any competitors who are still relying on the old school tactics. Ultimately, you’ll earn a reputation for quality, which helps to build and strengthen relationships with your consumers.


January 2020 Google Core Update

On January 13th, 2020, Google announced that its first core update of the year would be rolling out that day. It’s important to remember that as with any other core update, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the pages that drop in rankings after week or update. They are just being reassessed against content that has been published since the last update or content that was overlooked previously.

Widely noticeable effects are to be expected, which may include gains or drops, so start paying attention to your rankings in the days and weeks following core updates is important. If you found that your rankings dropped, look at what is ranking ahead of your content and consider how you can create an even more comprehensive solution for searchers.

Compared to previous core updates, this one does seem fairly substantial based on some of the early signals and chatter. The core update we saw in September 2019 was slow to roll out and wasn’t very upsetting. The January 2020 core update, however, seems much larger than the September update according to what’s going on in the SEO community.

The core updates usually take a few days, it can take up to two weeks to fully complete so that’s why it’s important to keep an eye on your analytics and traffic in the days and weeks after Google makes an announcement about the core update.

Part of the core update included an update to the search engine results page layout which displays company favicon in the desktop search results.

How Big are the Changes?

It may be a few more weeks before we can truly determine the scope of all of the changes, but it is safe to assume that Google is adjusting its trust in entire domains based on machine learning for the score updates. The more credibility and trust a domain has from its industry, the bigger the potential change is when Google adjusts the value internally. We can see it well in the health and finance sectors which at the start of the core update processes have seen changes that are proportionately greater than others.

With the latest score update, Google has widened the circle of affected domains and the trend continues. In the daily visibility index data for mobile search results from Sistrix,  you can see the first reactions begin on the 15th to the 16th of January.

Who Won as a Result of This Core Update?

This update focused on domain-wide recalculation of Google trust, there are both winners and losers. Either all of the content ranks better than before or the domain drops a few positions. So far, the winners include the following domains:


Though many expected the movements in the health sector because there are rumors that Google is planning something in this area, there is a wide range of sectors and content types.

Which Domains Lost?

With winners, also come losers. The top losers so far are:

● BoxOfficeMojo

A lot of the focus in the past core updates seems to mostly impact the “Your Money, Your Life” domains, but what’s surprising about this round is the number of sites related to car buying. This may be related to the amount of finance-related information on the site, such as pricing, financing, and insurance. The computerized, data-based quality evaluation is behind the changes, and that could differ greatly from a human evaluation.

Domains that relate to YMYL topics have been re-evaluated by the algorithm, and are either gaining or losing visibility as a whole. Domains previously affected by core updates are more likely to be affected again in the future. The good news is, the absolute fluctuations seem to be declining with each update, as Google is becoming more certain of its assessment and doesn’t deviate much from the previous one.

We’ll have to wait and see what comes of the April 2020 Core Update. Though it hasn’t been announced because the focus is all on the January update, it’s reasonable to expect them on an almost quarterly basis – since we saw one in June 2019, September 2019, and November 2019 (though the November one wasn’t announced, but confirmed by Google.)

Digital Marketing

Want to Win Over the Search Engines? Focus on Topics, Not Keywords

If you’ve been in search engine optimization for any length of time, you know how important keywords are when it comes to ranking content. That’s why you hear so much about keyword research and selecting the right keywords based on user intent.

Of course, keywords are important for measuring how successful your site is, but it’s time to move away from the keyword-focused mindset to shifting toward a topic-focused mindset to get even better results.

Topics vs. Keywords

What’s the difference between a topic and a keyword? Topics offer a more holistic approach to keyword research.

A topic consists of several relevant terms and searches queries that can fall into various areas of the buyer’s journey. The types of content you create around any given topic is a bit dependent on the vertical your site falls into.

For instance, you may need content that covers early stages where clients and potential customers need to learn more about a topic. You may also need content from the business point of view on a subject. You may also need content that covers your product offering that solves a problem.

Smaller sites, however, may only require a small piece of the early funnel content that also points to content that outlines products or services offered to solve problems for consumers.

Begin with a Topic Strategy

The most crucial thing you can do for your site when building it from the beginning or rethinking its structure is to strategize the topics you must focus on. By examining the broader aspects of your offerings and identifying a top-level topic, you’ll have a better understanding of what you need.

Once you have an idea of what your main topic focuses need to be, you can go through the standard keyword research process.

The main idea is that you want to expand your keyword research to encompass more semantically relevant terms related to the topic itself rather than just the main keyword. Answer the Public is a great place to start with this.

By looking at the areas surrounding the topic that need to be covered to satisfy a searcher’s various needs, you can provide a better experience. Ask yourself what questions someone may ask about the topic and then do research on those terms.

If you can, talk to people within your target demographic to learn more about them and what they may search for or questions they may have.

Research Your Competition

After you have a basic understanding of what content you will need, start looking into who is already ranking well in those areas. If they are ranking high in the space already, it’s safe to assume they are doing something correctly. As such, it’s important to make sure you continue monitoring your competition in the spaces that you are targeting.

Once you identify your competitors, run their site through tools to see how they have performed for relevant terms over an extended period of time. This helps you see if the results are long-term or if it is a recent jump to let you know whether it’s worth researching them further. Once you know what your competitors in the space are targeting, pay closer attention to how they structure their content.

Look at how they are delivering their content and what their site structure looks like surrounding they’re topics. This gives you a baseline structure when working on building your site.

That doesn’t mean to copy your competitor’s content. You can use it as a guide but plagiarizing doesn’t do anything but hurt you. You want to see what your competition is doing well and find ways to do it better.

Focus on Matching User Intent

Search engines continue to grow smarter, it’s important to go beyond the keywords themselves to understand the intent behind the queries so you can create content that matches the intent. This is what will serve your prospects best and keep the search engines happy.

Take some time to search your keywords in an incognito window. This is one of the quickest and easiest ways to find the intent around a particular keyword or phrase. Based on what the search results are returning, you can determine what content you need to create or edit to fit the needs of the search.

Site Structure Matters, Too

The content creation isn’t the only thing that matters. For the best results and usability, you must organize your content in such a way that it makes sense to the robots that are crawling and indexing your site. It must also indicate that you are an authority on the subject. If the search engine see you create more relevant content around any particular subject, you should see better results around those terms.

One of these easiest ways to demonstrate authority is to use breadcrumbs to show the information flow across your website. This provides an additional layer of navigation for users and also help crawlers understand how you get from one point to another on your website. Breadcrumbs also allow you to change the structure of your site without having to make major changes to URLs which can be dangerous when it comes to search engine optimization.

Domination Begins

Once you have identified your topics and built your road map, it’s time to get started implementing your plan. Sit down with the team that will create the content and review the strategy with them. This keeps your writers in line with your end goal and makes it easier for them to produce high impact content fit your website visitors’ needs.

Long gone are the days where you can focus on hitting a particular word count because today’s search engines want to deliver content that ultimately helps users regardless of word count. Answer questions efficiently and keep the focus on quality over quantity.

I’ve been in the SEO business for a long time, and know how frustrating it can be for businesses who don’t understand the intricacies. That’s why my agency exists. We’ve got everything you need to be successful online, and we’ll help you develop a strategy to reach search engine results page domination.

Contact me today to learn more about how we can work together.


Google Has Changed How Local Search Results are Generated

Until recently, searches for local businesses needed to have a business name and location included, which isn’t very helpful if you don’t know the exact business name. If you misspelled the name or completely butchered it, it was likely to not show up at all. This led to a lot of frustration for users that Google has finally addressed. Earlier in the year, Google announced some changes to searches. In November, Google rolled out a tweak for local searches and we think it’s a big relief for many.

November 2019 Local Search Update

It took the entire month to roll out the new update and so far, it’s working well. Many contribute it to the neural matching, but what is it? Google calls it a super-synonym system, we call it smart. Neural matching gives Google the chance to understand the meaning behind searches and match them to local businesses that are most relevant to the search. This gives some businesses a chance to be found when they may not have shown up previously. This also means that some businesses that dominated a keyword will show up less.

Artificial Intelligence Behind The Searches

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been used for a lot of different things and Google has been in the game for a while. Google Analytics is a perfect example of AI and its abilities.  It knows a person’s browser, location, what websites they visit the most, and how much time is spent on those websites. Google Maps is also using AI to help with travel. It gives you an ETA, alerts you of detours, and traffic jams. Maps even will give you the option of a new route to compensate for missing a turn or needing to avoid a traffic jam. The next step was to use AI in searches to simplify and streamline the user’s experience just as Google has always strived to do.

No More Multiple Listings For One Site

How many of us have typed in our search and seen six listings for Pinterest in the results? Or maybe we want to shop and we get a whole page of Amazon links. Annoying, isn’t it? Well, that was one of the reasons why the November 2019 Local Search Update was implemented. Many businesses weren’t getting the chance to be seen because other websites took up most of the first page. The likelihood of people making it to the second page isn’t very high. Users also don’t want to see just one business listed, they want the smorgasbord. Trust us, if they wanted to shop at Walmart or visit Pinterest, they would’ve gone straight to that site instead of Google. While the businesses that appear the most may not enjoy the shift, they will still be seen after the local businesses. We live in a society that is striving to go back to supporting local businesses. Google jumped on board and seems to support the very idea.

The Algorithm Effect

Many have wondered how this new update affects our usual searches. We all know that Google caters to the individual user. Searches are based on past searches and they show you what they think the user wants to see. But the update is now promoting more localized businesses, so how does that affect your future searches? Google says that searches will shift a bit but only to match the user’s new activity.

When these searches now show new information they haven’t seen before, they shift the algorithm when they investigate new pages. Let’s say you are searching for an old cookie recipe that your Grandma used to make. While a recipe site will appear, other local businesses relating to cookies and baking will appear. If you fall down the rabbit hole of looking at baking supplies from a store and the new bakery opening down the street, your algorithm will shift a bit. The more this happens with your searches, the more your algorithms shift to fit you as a user. So what does this mean for a business who is no longer appearing as much in searches? It means engagement could slow down or be lost.

Good For The User, Bad For Business?

Google has always been about the user and not so much the business. While the user will now see businesses they hadn’t seen before, this means that some businesses won’t be seen. So what does a business do if suddenly they see a drop in numbers? The same as they always have. They adjust their social media interactions and tweak their marketing plans. They look for new and innovative ways to bring people to their sites.

It isn’t a bad thing for business when Google rolls out these updates. The users have been asking for this change for a while and Google listened.  It can be frustrating for the business but it’s a situation you have to roll with. It helps to also re-think who you are interacting with. Maybe you need to refocus and market more towards your local audience. While Google is streamlining the experience for the user, it is also working to get the best matches for business as well. If you don’t want to lose that fabulous market you have built on the other side of the world, you can still work to keep them on board.

These updates are barely a month old and there will be a lot to witness over time. So far, the changes have had a positive response from the users. As algorithms shift and AI gets smarter, that will be when we really see how well the updates do. We believe it will make business with users better. Change is always a frustrating hurdle for businesses but fortunately, Google has been talking about this one a while. Hopefully, businesses have made flexible plans to keep their engagement and continue to grow.



Using Schema to Create Google Actions

Recently, Google announced that publishers can now create Google Actions from web content with schema markup.

Google Actions are a great way for brands to get more mileage out of their SEO strategy while offering another chance to reach searchers organically. Optimizing your website for newer SEO features such as Google Actions and Rich Results is becoming increasingly critical to keeping the Google algorithm happy.

Though the option is not available for every content type, this new capability is huge for those of us who are less technical.

What Are Google Actions?

Google Actions are apps that are designed for Google Assistant. They range from apps like the Domino’s delivery action to health and fitness apps, ride-hailing services, and even personality tests.

Actions work when the user prompts Google Assistant with a phrase like “OK Google, [Action].

All actions take place inside the cloud even though users can access them on any device with the Google Assistant enabled. Each ActionAction is tied to a specific intent and is programmed with the corresponding fulfillment process to complete the request.

Google Actions and Schema

Schema refers to a type of microdata that provides Google with more context about the intent of any piece of content.

Adding schema markup to a web page creates a rich result or an enhanced description that appears on the front page of Google. Rich Results include everything from book now buttons for local businesses to recipe instructions, events, and contact information.

Search engines need to match content to search inquiries, and part of determining the quality of a search result depends on user intent.

Schema is a way for websites to alert search engines about the intent behind the content. It’s also required for websites that want to be eligible for Google’s Rich Results, which increasingly accounts for the biggest part of the first page in the search results.

Adding schema markup alone, of course, will not guarantee you land at position 0. You’ll have to follow Google’s recommendations perfectly and choose the right schema for the page you’re targeting. Your content must also be useful, engaging, and credible.

Google’s latest announcement brings schema to Google Actions, which offers another channel for you to earn some of your SEO share back.

For content creators, this means they now have the ability to create Google Actions, whether or not they know their way around Dialogflow or the Google Actions Console. Instead, Google will automatically generate an action when users add specific mark up to the eligible content types.

Content Types for Google Actions Schema

Using schema for content actions provides an opportunity for you to increase brand awareness in a format that has limited advertising opportunities. With schema markup, Google can create a variety of actions based on five types of content that you may publish on the web.


Google’s guidelines that you can apply the FAQ schema to any site that features a list of questions and answers on nearly any subject. This means the option isn’t limited to an official FAQ page included on your website. Instead, you can create FAQ Pages for any resource or topic relevant to your business.

The FAQ schema, whether it’s linked to an action or not, allows brands that aren’t in position 0 to take up a ton of real estate on the search engine results pages.

As with other types of schema, your FAQ content needs to match what’s on your website 100%. Otherwise, Google may slap you with a manual action. It’s also worth noting that FAQ content is purely informational and intent, and as such, you should not use markup as a free advertising Channel.

By converting your FAQ pages into Google actions, the Google Assistant reads your answers out loud when searchers enter a related voice query.


With recipe markup, users can promote their content through which cards presented in the Google Assistant and learn about your content in the assistant directory. You can use it to highlight nutritional information, ingredients list and prep time, and images to get searchers interested in your food.

You can also use the recipe schema together with the guidance markup to give consumers a way to follow along with audio instructions for your recipes.

You’ll need to fill out a Google Form to get started with the feature. It requires only your name, company name, email, and domain.

You’ll need to be sure that your page features both the recipe and guidance markup to be eligible for the rich search results and as a Google action. You’ll also need to make sure that you’ve set up your structured data correctly.


Google announced last May that they would be adding podcasts to the search results screen with a new structured markup option.

For podcasters who were reliant on search features on Stitcher or Apple podcast, the option to improve discoverability in the Google search results is huge.

With this markup, podcasters can improve their showing in the search results and on Google podcast with individual episode descriptions and an embedded player for each on the first page. An additional new feature, Deeper Podcast search, allows users to search for actual audio directly inside the podcast with Google transcription.

Connecting podcasts to a Google action elevates things to the next level because it makes it easy for users to find your podcast in the assistant directory and play episodes from their smart speaker, Google home display, or their phone.

All you have to do is sign into the Google Play portal, click “add podcast” from the menu at the top right corner, add your RSS feed and apply required tags, then follow Google’s podcast markup guidelines to ensure you create an automatic action.


Adding mark up to your news content helps increase your visibility and allows users the option to consume your content via Google Assistant.

You can apply this schema to blog content, news articles, and articles, though you will need to be registered as a publisher on Google News to take advantage of this option.

The news markup makes stories visually stand out in the search results pages. Features like the top story carousel, the host carousel, visual stories, & headlines allow users the opportunity to attract more organic traffic to their sites by giving them a larger piece of real estate to share their content.

To add voice compatibility to the list of features, you’ll have to choose between AMP and non-AMP formatting.

To turn your news content into a Google action, you must sign up with Google Publisher. You must also have a dedicated news site that uses static, unique URLs with original content. Keep your ads, sponsored content, and affiliate links to a minimum. Also, consider using news specific XML sitemaps for easier crawling.

How-To Guides

You can use the how-to schema to mark up articles that contain instructional information that show readers how to do something new.

According to Google Developers, how to markup applies to content where the main focus of that page is the how-to. In other words, it doesn’t count if your long-form article includes the short how she section along with several other elements. The content has to be read sequentially as a series of steps.

You cannot markup offensive, violent, or explicit content. You must mark up each step and its entirety. You are not allowed to use this kind of markup for advertising purposes. This markup does not apply to recipes because of the fact they have their own schema. If applicable, include a list of materials and tools to complete the task along with images.

As voice search and smart devices become increasingly popular, they are valuable to the SEO landscape. Google actions offer a new point of entry for Brands who are looking to increase their visibility and the organic search results. This update makes Google actions accessible to a greater range of marketers who may not otherwise be able to build an action from scratch.


Image Link Building: Earning More Links with Visual Content

A strong headline will draw someone in. A hook will entice someone to keep reading. And a well-placed visual keeps you focused and will help you remember the content long after you forgotten the words you read.

The images will captivate your audience but using video visual content goes beyond this. You can also use it as a practical approach to building more backlinks to your site.

A Skyword study showed that content containing related images performs better across all content categories. Google is continually working to include more imagery and videos in their search changing the way the information is presented on a search results page.

Because of this, you need to change the way you present your website’s information to Google and to other search engines.

You know the visual content is a valid way to build links, but how do you make it work?

Types of Visual Content to Build Links

It’s important to understand the various kinds of visual content you can work with. Here I’ll cover 6 of the main types of content you can use for link building purposes.


Infographics are a way to take a lot of data and make it easier to understand and more interesting to read. While there are plenty of people who believe infographics are overused, there are still plenty of people out there championing for them.

Using eye-catching infographics combined with useful information that readers can digest is a wonderful way to earn links, especially when you do the promotion work,  whether you are for or against infographics.

You don’t have to hire a professional designer to build your infographics either, since there are several tools you can use to build your own, including Piktochart, Venngage, and Canva. The image you see to the left is nothing more than a basic template from Canva, and there are hundreds to choose from to help you get started, with plenty of niches to choose from as well.


Your logo is visual content too. You already have it on several places on your website, and it may even be on other websites if you’ve written guest posts, contributed to any kind of community pages, or been featured as part of a podcast or other content.

It’s a good idea to keep track of the places where your logo shows up on the web so you can make sure the image links back to your site.

Product Photos or Brand Photoshoots

This one is for all the online shops and ecommerce sites out there – it’s easy to build links with your product images.

Just be sure you’re using high-quality original photos that have been optimized for SEO.

If you don’t have products to take photos of, then you can hire a professional photographer to do a brand photoshoot as it relates to what you do.

Employee or Company Photos

Have photos of your last company retreat? Feature employee photos on your team page? These are great for link building, too. Keep the images high-quality and make sure everyone’s names are spelled correctly.

Charts, Maps, and Graphs

Data visualization is a fantastic way to generate links. As long as the information is useful and easy for people to understand, you can put it to good use. You don’t even need to create an original map, graph, or chart!

Instead, you can run a report from a third-party site, take a screenshot of the results and share it as an image in your content. It’s important to share the source of the report but the image itself can be attributed to you.

For example, if I wanted to show data about the number of websites online that use the WordPress CMS to operate, I could visit BuiltWith to get the data, Screenshot and include it in my blog post. This is exactly what I’ve done here.

Memes and GIFs

Memes and gifs have taken the Internet by storm and they aren’t going anywhere. If for any reason you’re not using them in your content already, now is a great time to give it a try.

Use them well and use them Tastefully because people love to share good means which means plenty of inbound links for you. There are plenty of memes out there you can use, but if you want to keep things original, you can make your own memes for free using a variety of tools such as Meme Generator.

Above I mentioned the importance of image optimization and link to a post on the blog about it. Though it gives you an in-depth look at what you should do to make sure your images are optimized for the search engines, I thought it would be ideal to end this post with a few quick and dirty tips for those of you who are in a hurry and can’t take the time to read the full post.

  • Include ALT text for all the images. The ALT text appears in place of an image when it can’t be shown for whatever reason. Your ALT should be similar to the filename and provide a short relevant description of the image including keywords. Adding ALT text to your images can boost your site’s rankings by associating your images and therefore your site with the keywords and descriptions you’ve used. ALT text is also important for accessibility standards so that people using screen readers can understand the images on the page.
  • Optimize your file names. Use keywords in your image file names. This helps describe the content to the search engines. You should keep your file name short, relevant to the image and include both primary and secondary keywords.
  • Add descriptive captions. Wildcat options are often overlooked, data shows that captions get 16% more readership than text. An image caption differs from the filename are all text because it is the text that appears below the image that briefly explains the picture. The majority of relevant images are understood without captions but it’s best to never assume that yours will be, too. You can use captions to add additional context to your images, helping both readers and search engines process the information on your page.

The most of your image backlink building efforts, use reverse image searches such as Google Images and TinEye to help you locate images that have been shared on another site without linking back to your site or images that have been shared with the wrong link.  With these tools, if you find an image that doesn’t link back to you as the source or links incorrectly, contact the publication that’s using it and request that they link back to your site as the source.

Digital Marketing

Annotations to Add Context to Google Analytics

Taking a periodic look at data inside Google Analytics is vital to understanding how well you are meeting your goals and objectives. However, as you look at the data, it can be challenging to remember exactly what was going on on certain days.

You may see a spike in traffic related to a specific campaign, or a decrease in traffic as a result of a local holiday or even a temporary server outage. Though it may be possible to open your calendar and match various dates to activity, it’s not very likely you have all of the dates of every single campaign stored in a central location that it’s easy to access and review.

When you see something happening right now, you can quickly determine why it’s happening and what’s going on. As time passes, however, it’s easy to lose track of what was going on, and when it comes to analyzing your website, not readily having this information can present quite a problem. If we want to measure the impact of a circumstance on our site, we have to know what happened and when to make the proper analysis.

That’s where using annotations inside Google Analytics offers a wonderful benefit. Creating annotations will provide the context you need when it comes to data analysis. Over time, the annotations become more valuable because, as the data gets older, you are less likely to remember the circumstances of that particular campaign.

What are Annotations in Google Analytics?

An often-overlooked feature of Google Analytics is the ability to annotate your reports by date. You can click the arrow tab below the overtime graph on any reports to display the annotations panel.

Annotations are small notes that allow you to record information about what was going on on a particular day and your Google Analytics dashboard.

You can create private annotations that are only visible to you when you log into your Google Analytics account. However, if you have collaborate access to Google Analytics for other accounts, you can create shared annotations that can be seen by anyone with access to the reporting view.

If you have annotations that you consider crucial or of higher importance, it is possible to star them, so they stand out a bit more. It is easy to keep up with who created what annotations as each annotation is associated with the email address that was used to create it. It is also possible to edit and delete annotations.

All you need to create annotations in a Google Analytics view is basic read and analyze access. Anyone who can access a view can annotate it.

The default visibility setting for annotations is shared. If you do not want anyone else to be able to see The annotation you are creating, select private.

Annotations are replicated among reports with the same view to help save time. For instance, if you create an annotation in the landing pages report, you’ll see the caption icon appear in the all referrals report.

Annotations, however, are not replicated among views. If you and your team work with multiple views for the same Google Analytics property or website, make sure you’re clear about which view will house all of the shared annotations.

How to Add Annotations

  1. Look for the tab below the time graph on the report you wish to annotate.
  2.  Click “+ Create new annotation”
  3.  Select the date for the annotation.
  4.  Enter your note.
  5. Choose the visibility of the annotation. If you only have “Read and Analyze” access, you will only be able to create private annotations.
  6. Click “Save.”

Once the annotation has been saved, you will see a small icon on the timeline. This allows you to see that there is a note attached to that date.

How You Can Use Annotations

You can, and should, use annotations to keep track of anything that could influence website activity – either positively or negatively, including:

  • Marketing campaigns
  • Major website design and content changes
  • Industry developments such as Google algorithm updates
  • Website outages
  • Competitor activity
  • Weather
  • General news
  • Other time-specific factors that may affect website behavior

What Google Analytics Annotations Can’t Do (Yet!)

It’s worth noting that Google Analytics annotations could use a few improvements. We hope to see them come at some point in the future.

Annotations are not included when you export your reports. If you select the PDF export option, you can see the icon, but you do not see the details of the annotation.

It is only possible to create annotations for specific dates. There is not an option to include a time or create an annotation for a month, week, or custom date range.

There is no option to import annotations from a Google Calendar automatically; however, this would be an excellent option for those of us who are keeping an external timeline of all of our website and marketing activities.

Beyond creating a timeline directly within your Google Analytics, you may want to record events in a separate spreadsheet or calendar so you can color code and categorize and add additional notes about status and follow-up.

For instance, you may want to know that two months after you have modified your website’s navigation bar, you will check specifically for changes to the conversion rate and page visits along with other relevant metrics.

The advantage of keeping annotations within Google Analytics is that they provide context with the caption icons appearing directly in the reports. It may be easier for you to connect your data with the occurrences that you have recorded.

To make your Google Analytics even more powerful, set up custom Intelligence Alerts by email when a metric threshold is reached for a specific period.

For instance, after you feature a product on your homepage, you can create an intelligence alert that will generate an email if your traffic to your product page increases by more than 10% compared to the previous week.

If you choose to use intelligence alerts to complement your annotations, the alert will remain active until you delete it, so any factor may trigger it, rather than the one you annotated. They aim to work independently of annotations to provide a quick and easy way to monitor key metrics on your website actively.

Content Marketing

Structuring Your Content for Accessibility

Structuring your content for accessibility requires some formatting and technical adjustments to your text-based, audio, and video content. On your website or social media, accessible content means people with visual and other impairments are able to access your content and understand it.

Additionally, Google and other search engines love accessibly structured content and may prioritize it in the search results, which can help you get more views and engagement on your content.

Text Accessibility Tips

If you’re creating a blog post or website content, the text is usually the bread and butter of your message. Here are some fast and simple tips to ensure your text is accessible.

Write in Short Paragraphs

When writing for the web, consider using short paragraphs to make it easier for the reader. A good guideline: imagine you’re reading your text on your phone. If the paragraph runs longer than your mobile phone screen, it’s probably too long to be accessible. While you’re at it, make sure you break up your text with a compressed image every 250 words or so.

You can find a royalty-free image for use on sites like Pixabay and Pexels, or at many other locations.

Utilize Headings

To make your content more accessible to all readers and search engines, use headings. Top-level headings, or H1s, indicate the main topic (or title) of your content. Those go in <H1> tags. Sub-headings should be scannable to the reader and go under <H2> headings. Need to break it down beyond that? Consider <H3> headings.

If all this code sounds confusing, don’t worry. Most word processing programs and CMSes (content management systems, like WordPress or Drupal) have WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) header editing options. To use them, highlight the text and then select the correct heading option. Here’s how to do that in WordPress, GoogleDocs, and Microsoft Word.

In addition to creating accessible content for users with screen readers, most people prefer to scan articles in this fashion to find relevant information. Proper headings make the text more accessible for everyone.

Use Accessible Font Choices

Users with visual impairments, as well as screen readers and other helpful AI (artificial intelligence) can best read accessible fonts. While you might think default or sans serif fonts are boring, they’re the defaults for a reason: they’re accessible and generally easier to read.

Accessible fonts include Helvetica, Calibri, and Arial. These are especially helpful to users with low vision.

Static Image Accessibility Tips

Are you using pictures in the body of your text, or as the content itself? You might think images are completely inaccessible to those using screen readers, but that’s not so. Some folks who use screen readers have low vision, meaning they can magnify and consume visual content using special tools.

Additionally, search engines and users with accessibility needs often prefer images with alt-tags. Alt-tags are short descriptions that describe the content. Let’s say you have a photo of two dogs playing. Your alt-tag might read “two medium-sized poodle dogs playing.” This description gives the user a decent image in their mind. Even if they’ve only touched a poodle, they can imagine the texture when the dog is described.

If you’re posting memes or other text-heavy content on a website or social media, make sure to include the text in the image description. On Facebook, for example, post the meme, but along with the image, include what the text says.

Video Content Accessibility Tips

Do you regularly post video content? If so, make your videos more accessible to those with hearing impairments by including video captions on your video. Here are some things to think about:

  • 28 million adult Americans can’t hear your video—they have hearing impairments.
  • 85% of Facebook videos get played with no sound.
  • Want people to watch your video to the end? Chances of them completing it increases significantly with video captions.

It may also help to include more information about the video in its description, including a transcript, a few bullet points about the content, and the video length.

When you include a transcript, make sure to use the words “video transcript” to aid users in searching specifically for the transcript. Remember: this also signals to Google and other search engines that you’re including a transcript, and that can increase your search engine ranking and visibility.

Accessibility Goes Beyond Hearing and Visual Impairments

Creating accessible content also means considering those who have cognitive disabilities, physical disabilities, and learning disabilities. Plus, according to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), businesses must comply with accessibility needs. That doesn’t only refer to brick-and-mortar establishments, but to websites, social media platforms, and other online real estate as well.

What can you do to make the most accessible content? Consider presenting data in logical, easy-to-digest formats. While complex infographics look nice, simple data might work best in a small table. Those with cognitive impairments may be able to more easily understand the information.

Consider Other Definitions of Accessibility

Beyond visual accessibility, think about the people who might want to access your content and otherwise could not. Do you offer a product or service that appeals to children as well as adults? If so, you’ll need content (or maybe even your own app) that is child-friendly and accessible to kids—that means considering kids’ reading levels, interests, and colors that engage them.

While a parent considering a toy might want to know more about the safety, price, and educational value of it, a child will want to know when it’s available and what type of features it might have. A discerning grandparent might simply want to know how or where to order it so it arrives before the holidays. Can they get it in one click with Amazon? Even better.

Other accessibility considerations include:

  • Broadband internet accessibility: Many internet users around the world rely partially or totally on mobile devices. Make sure your content is mobile-friendly (also essential for search engine ranking) and navigable on your phone.
  • Financial accessibility: Is your content behind a paywall? If so, it may not be financially accessible to everyone.

With the right structure and accessibility considerations, your content has the potential to not only rank better but to impress and serve all the users you’re hoping to reach.


Google Quality Raters Guidelines Updated

Google recently published new Quality Raters Guidelines. Within it you’ll find significant changes to the “Quality Raters Guidelines” section and additional new areas of focus. In this blog post, we’ll track the changes and how they may influence search engine optimization trends.

Something that’s important to notice that many people use these guidelines for tips on how Google search algorithm works but this is not the right approach.

The guidelines are there for quality raters to focus on certain signals and page properties for the purpose of judging the quality of the pages. They are not instructed to look for Quality Raters Guidelines. Google uses quality raters to see if the content the algorithm is ranking meets quality standards and that’s it.

The guidelines are written to assist third-party Quality Raters Guidelines to rate the web pages. They do not contain hints as to what the ranking signals are within the algorithm. The guidelines however do provide hints as to what kind of quality issues the algorithm may be focusing on.

So far, the quality guidelines have been incredibly accurate for predicting trends in the algorithm. For example, the increased instruction on how to rate medical and financial sites coincided with algorithms designed to improve the relevance of those kinds of websites.

The last few Google core Quality Raters Guidelines strongly affected news websites. We see a new news section was added to the quality rater guidelines and it shows how the quality rater guidelines can reflect we’re past or future algorithms are focused. Even though there may not be hints about ranking signals in the quality rater guides, it may be possible to deduce algorithm trends.

What’s Changed

Though a lot of the guidelines have changed overall, an important section to pay attention to is the guidelines that appear in section 2.3.

Section 2.3 handles your money or your life topics. This change affects Quality Raters Guidelines and government related topics. Before this update, the news topic section was grouped in with public and official information pages.

Now the news topic is its own section providing guidance about how to judge and rate news pages. This is likely in response to the fact that Google has gotten a lot of negative attention from politicians and government pundits who Quality Raters Guidelines. It may not be coincidental that the news and government/civics section has been given greater emphasis within the new guidelines.

Topics are Now Emphasized Over Pages

Though it may seem minor, Google has emphasized the topic of a page over the word page itself. The word Pages has been removed in many places throughout the new guidelines whereas the word “topic” has been added in many places.

Removing emphasis from the word “pages” refocuses the sentence on the newly added instances of the word topic. Take a look at this change at the YMYL  section.

Old Version

“Some types of pages could potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users. We call such pages “Your Money or Your Life” pages, or YMYL. The following are examples of YMYL pages:”

New Version, with additions added:

“Some types of pages or topics could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety. We call such pages “Your Money or Your Life” pages, or YMYL. The following are examples of YMYL topics:”

This change may appear minor but it has the effect of emphasizing the topicality of a page as something to focus on.

“Some types of pages or topics…”

YLML Rewritten

Section 2.3 that deals with YMYL has been rewritten almost in its entirety. In previous versions, Financial, medical, and shopping topics were in the top three of that section. Now we see the top topics are News and Current Events and Civics, Government and Law.

Those topics are followed by Finance, Shopping, Health and Safety, the new Groups and People and Other. The Other category has also been revised with this new series of update.

It’s worth noting that the Medical section has been demoted from third to fifth place but it has been renamed to Health and Safety.

New YLML Content

The changes to the YLML content are as follows:

  • News and current events: news about important topics such as international events, business, politics, science, technology, etc. Keep in mind that not all news articles are necessarily considered YMYL (e.g., sports, entertainment, and everyday lifestyle topics are generally not YMYL). Please use your judgment and knowledge of your locale.
  • Civics, government, and law: information important to maintaining an informed citizenry, such as information about voting, government agencies, public institutions, social services, and legal issues (e.g., divorce, child custody, adoption, creating a will, etc.).”

These are the newly revised sections, including the new Health and Safety section:

  • “Finance: financial advice or information regarding investments, taxes, retirement planning, loans, banking, or insurance, particularly webpages that allow people to make purchases or transfer money online.
  • Shopping: information about or services related to research or purchase of goods/services, particularly webpages that allow people to make purchases online.
  • Health and safety: advice or information about medical issues, drugs, hospitals, emergency preparedness, how dangerous an activity is, etc.
  • Groups of people: information about or claims related to groups of people, including but not limited to those grouped on the basis of race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity.
  • Other: there are many other topics related to big decisions or important aspects of people’s lives which thus may be considered YMYL, such as fitness and nutrition, housing information, choosing a college, finding a job, etc. Please use your judgment.”

“Other” Topic Expanded

As shown above, the other section has been expanded. I specifically calling out Fitness and Nutrition, College search and job search, which are big topics in the affiliate marketing room, it’s possible they may receive additional scrutiny and emphasis in a future round of core algorithm updates.

It’s also a reasonable assumption that quality raters just hadn’t been focusing enough on these topics. The fact that Google includes them by name in the new guidelines suggests that these are areas Google is paying special attention to.

Housing information could relate to anything from real estate and home loans to home improvement. These niches are also among big money in the affiliate area. Because that topic of housing information itself is vague, it will be interesting to see if housing-related niches will be impacted in future broad core updates.

Section on Identifying Content Updated

Google added information to this section to include new guidance on news and shopping pages.

“News website homepage: the purpose is to inform users about recent or important events. (MC – News Homepage)

News article page: the purpose is to communicate information about an event or news topic. (MC – News Article)

Store product page: the purpose is to sell or give information about the product.

  • Content behind the Reviews, Shipping, and Safety Information tabs are considered to be part of the MC. (MC – Shopping Page)”

Author Information Section Updated

In section 2.5.2, they cover information about finding out who is responsible for a website and Quality Raters Guidelines. The section remains intact but has one addition:

“Websites want users to be able to distinguish between content created by themselves versus content that was added by other users.”

This change relates to news magazines as well as any sites that accept guest articles or allows Quality Raters Guidelines question-and-answer content.

This could mean that Google is reviewing guest posts and authors and it may indicate that Google is focusing on identifying low-quality sites and excluding them. Sites like Quality Raters Guidelines are full of spam links so this may be one reason why Google is considering paying closer attention to them.

Very High Quality Content Section Expanded

In section 5.1 where very high-quality main content is addressed, the section has been expanded to address the uniqueness and originality of the content. This section has a new focus on news sites but it isn’t limited to sites in that niche. The standards of high-quality also apply to all sites, but in particular YMYL sites.

The new section goes beyond the quality of the text content encouraging quality readers to judge the quality in the originality of artistic content that includes photography, images, and videos.

“A factor that often distinguishes very high quality MC is the creation of unique and original content for the specific website.

While what constitutes original content may be very different depending on the type of website, here are some examples:

  • For news: very high quality MC is original reporting that provides information that would not otherwise have been known had the article not revealed it. Original, in-depth, and investigative reporting requires a high degree of skill, time, and effort. Often very high quality news content will include a description of primary sources and other original reporting referenced during the content creation process. Very high quality news content must be accurate and should meet professional journalistic standards.
  • For artistic content (videos, images, photography, writing, etc.): very high quality MC is unique and original content created by highly skilled and talented artists or content creators. Such artistic content requires a high degree of skill/talent, time, and effort. If the artistic content is related to a YMYL topic (e.g., artistic content with the purpose of informing or swaying opinion about YMYL topics), YMYL standards should apply.
  • For informational content: very high quality MC is original, accurate, comprehensive, clearly communicated, professionally presented, and should reflect expert consensus as appropriate. Expectations for different types of information may vary. For example, scientific papers have a different set of standards than information about a hobby such as stamp collecting. However, all types of very high quality informational content share common attributes of accuracy, comprehensiveness, and clear communication, in addition to meeting standards appropriate to the topic or field.”

Very Positive Reputation Section Expanded

Section 5.2.3 referencing very positive reputation also got an update. The new content reads:

For YMYL topics especially, careful checks for reputation are required. YMYL reputation should be based on evidence from experts, professional societies, awards, etc. For shopping pages, experts could include people who have used the store’s website to make purchases; whereas for medical advice pages, experts should be people or organizations with appropriate medical expertise or accreditation. Please review section 2.3 for a summary of types of YMYL pages/topics.”

We know that website reputation has been a part of the quality raters guidelines for a long time. This doesn’t mean you should go out and then join as many associations as possible and seek testimonials from your customers. But if you are creating YMYL content it should be expert and focus on quality.

Big Changes: Are More on the Horizon?

With this Google quality raters is guideline update, we see a number of significant changes. It’ll be interesting to see how  sites are affected by it’s your garage for updates. If you want to read more of the guidelines and see the changes for yourself, you can download the Quality Raters Guidelines here.


Rank and Rent Lead Generation

Rank and rent refers to a digital marketing strategy that involves building a site and nurturing it until it becomes visible to the search engines. When it achieves a high local rank, you then rent it out to a business who is interested in acquiring new leads. You collect profits from all the business leads the website generates.

This approach is something that local SEO veterans are running to because it is simple and easy to scale while being incredibly lucrative.

What is Lead Generation?

Lead generation is the practice of ranking a web page for a search phrase and then selling leads from that page. Companies such as HomeAdvisor and Yelp are examples of lead generation businesses.

HomeAdvisor and Yelp rank web pages for local search related keywords. Their business model depends on ranking for search phrases and then selling them leads from the Google local search traffic or paid advertising.

Rank and Rent Business Model

The rank and rent business model is a variation of this approach. Rank and rent rents the entire website along with all of the keywords that it ranks for to a single business.

This is an alternative to taking an existing site-built and working to get it rank within the search engine. The new websites are built, are tailored to a niche rather than a specific business. It’s still necessary to perform all the tasks that go into helping that website rank with the search engines. He must create content, do on page optimization, build a backlink profile, and so on.

For instance, someone in St. Petersburg, Florida could build a website for pool cleaning in the area with a domain like Keeping the domain name generic not only helps make it easier to rank for those local search keyword phrases but allows you to rent it to any pool cleaning business that services the St. Petersburg area.

The hard part is understanding how to setup call forwarding and call tracking to properly send the leads to the business. You aren’t a pool cleaner or a plumber and the people are calling you for those services, so you need to send them directly to the person who can help.

Rank and rent websites are easy to recognize because the site is incredibly generic with the information it provides. It can also be difficult in some industries where licenses are required. Generally, once the SEO has found the business to take the leads, they include their license number and information on the website.

This variation on the standard lead generation model is good for the business because the business can benefit from the rank and rent website as well as rankings from their own website. This variation is ideal for the SEO expert  because in the event that a business stops paying for the leads or decides they no longer want them, they can take the website and rent it to another business in the area. Oftentimes, local business owners don’t want those leads going to the competition so they jump on the opportunity to continue paying for leads from the property.

An alternative to this style of the rank and rent method is for the marketer to sell the warm leads to local businesses rather than renting out the entire website.

Businesses get the benefit of a pre-built website that’s already ranking and bringing in leads while the marketer gets money from the websites rental. Service companies  love the arrangement because it is a risk-free way to get into an SEO property.

For the marketer, rank and rent provides the promise of steady money without having to deal with day to day client work. The SEO marketer gets to create and optimize the website based on their own ideas of best practices instead of having to work within a client’s request and still gets income. While you are in the process of ranking the website, you have complete and total freedom to make decisions without having to report to a client every day. This can also be a good way for them to demonstrate skills to prospective clients when they are just getting started in the industry.

On the other side of things, the business renting the website or buying the leads has all of the benefits of the established website without having to wait for the results. Investing in a good SEO professional can be expensive which makes the cost of renting an already optimized website attractive.

Local Search Keyword Ranking

HomeAdvisor and  Yelp use their own sites to rank for search queries to sell ads and leads. An expose was recently published revealing the GrubHub buys domain names that match business names to sell leads from the unofficial website. The screenshot below shows that Google is ranking GrubHub for the name of the Mushers Deli Restaurant and the website, also owned by GrubHub is ranking below it.

The expose reported that ranking a business name is a way to attract users to the  GrubHub own site and when they click a button to place the order GrubHub gets a referral fee. Big brands like GrubHub rank domains other than its own in Google to generate leads. Though GrubHub is not practicing Rank and rent, it is ranking websites other than its own for lead generation purposes.

The rank and rent variation of this tactic involves ranking a website for the purpose of generating leads. The difference is that with the rank and rent model the search marketer isn’t selling the weeds but renting the website itself.

Is it Easy to Exploit Local Search Ranking?

In early 2019, website created almost entirely with Latin language filler content was able to ranked number one in the Google local search. Nearly all of the content was written in an extinct language and it’s still managed to rank at the top of local search.

The site ranked for months. Google didn’t remove the Latin language site until an article was published about it. The fact that his sight written almost entirely in an extinct language can rank in me Google local search exposes a weak spot in the local search algorithms.

The concept of rank and rent is not new. Domain brokers have been renting their domains for over 15 years now. The practice of ranking in renting domains for lucrative keywords has been around even longer as I’m aware of many people who rented or sold domains that ranked.

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