When five top SEO experts answer 10 challenging, in-depth questions about SEO best practices on a panel, the result is an outpouring of SEO wisdom in a concise package. Guidance on what works in SEO today—not five years ago. And tips about which old, dodgy, or just plain ineffective tactics are best avoided.
The team at Designhill recently brought together five search engine optimization (SEO) experts (well, at least four plus me :-)) for a one hour, deep dive webcast into the most pressing SEO issues of today.
The panel included Barry Schwartz of RustyBrick, AJ Ghergich of Brado, Dixon Jones of inLinks, Mark Traphagen of SEO Clarity, and me. You can find the full webcast replay here.
The group answered questions about how to build high-quality backlinks, how to identify high-authority websites, mobile/local/voice SEO, common SEO mistakes to avoid, and more.
Here are actionable answers to 10 tough SEO questions that matter today. Note this is not a transcript of the webcast, but rather my notes from before and during the panel discussion.
1. What are some actionable tips on how to scale up a high-impact link building program while lowering the risks of getting penalized?
- Conduct a competitive backlink analysis: identify strategies of the highest-rated sites for your key target keywords.
- Do influencer marketing (the right way; not spammy “spray and pray” guest blogger outreach).
- Use tools like Klear, Respona, or Buzzstream to find high-influence people on social media who are talking about your topics. Once you’ve identified your influencers, personalize your outreach. If you absolutely must use automation, do it very carefully—pitches that are obviously automated can damage your brand image, email deliverability, and ultimately your SEO efforts as well.
- Use a tool like Similar Site Search to find potential sites for requesting backlinks.
- THE SINGLE BIGGEST THING: Create authoritative, high-quality content that people will want to link to.
2. What website elements need to be evaluated in order to determine “site quality” for link building?
- Check domain authority using free tools like ahrefs and Moz.
- Manually evaluate the content quality on the site. Does it seem to be well-written and authoritative?
- Can you find contact info on the site, and does that person have any authority or industry influence?
- Check the backlink profile for the site; is site getting links from high DR sites?
- Use a tool like Majestic to look at site attributes like Trust Flow and Citation Flow.
3. Google is enabling mobile-first indexing in early 2021 for all sites. So what about sites that are not meant for accessing on mobile devices, such as online graphic design tools. Such tools are obviously designed to be used on bigger screens to create designs accurately. Will MFI impact such online tools?
No one but Google knows for sure, but it makes sense Google would not rank these highly. So, here are three strategies:
- Write helpful blog posts on a regular basis that point to your tool. Your blog should still rank well.
- Solicit lots of reviews, on high-quality sites. These will rank well and point back to your tool.
- Don’t overly rely on SEO; use paid search, social media, influencer marketing, and other lead generation tactics.
4. How do you optimize a site that uses iFrames in most of the webpage area, given that iFrames are not easy to crawl and can cause problems for search engines?
- Generally speaking… don’t use iFrames!
- Not only are iFrames a problem from content crawling standpoint, they can also slow down page loading time.
- If you must, use them sparingly (e.g., to display a video, form, or button). Google can still evaluate the page based on the surrounding content, and Google does partially crawl and index content within iFrames.
5. For local businesses like bars, restaurants, and shops, what are the best ways to do SEO? And how is this different from businesses that have a global audience?
- Claim all your business listings in local directories—tools like Moz Local, BrightLocal, or SEMrush can help you find these.
- Complete and keep up to date your Google My Business information.
- Add location information in your content, meta tags, and all elements of on-page SEO.
- Ask your customers for reviews.
- Explore local link-building opportunities with, for example, non-competitive businesses, associations, local media, and community websites.
- Volunteer in the community. This gets your name out there, creates positive associations with your brand, and gets backlinks. And it helps others in need.
- Check and optimize your mobile page load speed, as local searches are frequently done on mobile devices.
- Be active on social media, especially Facebook and Instagram.
- Create “local content,” e.g. what you are doing with your volunteering or tying your site to local festivals and happenings. Quick local example from here in the Twin Cities: the St. Paul Winter Carnival provides all sorts of ways for businesses to sponsor and be involved.
6. With the increase in voice search, is there anything specific that needs to be done on SEO for that?
- Voice search is often done on mobile devices, so do the same things you’d do for mobile optimization, like optimizing page load speed and using the Google Mobile Friendly Test tool.
- Voice search is also often local (e.g., “near me” searches) so the same techniques you’d use for local optimization are helpful: keep your Google My Business listing complete and current, use locations in content and meta tags, etc..
- Understand what questions people are asking; use tools like Answer The Public, QuestionDB, and Quora, or a paid tool like StoryBase.
- Write conversationally, as if you are answering questions in person: what, who, when, why, and most importantly—how. Good content should answer these questions anyway.
- If you’re technically inclined, use schema rich snippets. If your site is on WordPress, check out plugins like “Schema – All In One Schema Rich Snippets” that make this a bit easier.
7. How do you get results with SEO in a crowded market with strong/big-spending competitors?
- There was a quote that used to get thrown around a lot in business meetings, (attributed to Bill Gates, I think): “If you want to beat Bobby Fischer, don’t play chess.” In other words, you can’t win against bigger competitors with brute force, going at them head using the same tactics they utilize. You have to be creative; change the game.
- Write conversationally. Big companies often lapse into corporate speak because of layers of editing and approval. Anticipating questions and answering them naturally can help you stand out. The best answer wins.
- Engage with influencers. What makes you different? For example, SendSquared, a small email service startup competing against established industry titans like Mailchimp and AWeber, uses two key attributes to set itself apart: flat-rate pricing and AI-powered send time and subject line recommendations.
- Use video. It’s a great equalizer.
- Focus on long-tail searches. Again, use tools like Quora, QuestionDB, and Answer The Public to find questions to answer. Also do competitive research on terms your big competitors rank poorly for, using a tool like SEMrush—these may be opportunities.
- Google likes to see long visits and low bounce rates. Keep visitors on your site longer by making it obvious what to do next. Big companies often overwhelm website visitors with excessive content and confusing navigation.
- Optimize your meta description tags. These don’t affect ranking directly, but can help “sell the click” once your site does pop up in searches.
- Allocate a budget. While you can’t match the big guys on spending, quality SEO isn’t free. Most experts suggest somewhere in the range of $500-$2,500 per month.
- Get your technical SEO right first. Invest in an audit.
- Build your site on a solid, established, professional platform like WordPress or HubSpot. Be wary of “free website builders” or low-end tools like Wix or Squarespace that limit your flexibility, make it hard to move your content, and may not be SEO-friendly.
- Make sure your site is fast and mobile friendly; these are low-cost tactics that at least remove barriers to your SEO success.
- Take advantage of free SEO tools, like Keyword Hero, Screaming Frog, Xenu, Broken Link Check, UberSuggest, Baclink Checker, Google’s Page Speed and Mobile Friendly Test tools…there are lots.
- KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS. Out-focus the big guys. Large companies try to appeal to a broad range of prospects. Outmaneuver them by being the best answer for a very specific set or type of buyers.
- Do guest posting—the right way. Avoid bad guest blogging outreach that will lead to more headaches than help.
- Get backlinks in local and industry directories.
- Work with partners (e.g., vendors who sell to the same market but non-competitive products) to expand your audience and get relevant backlinks.
8. Let’s assume all SEO best practices are in place, and still your website isn’t ranking well. What could have gone wrong? What should be the first few things to check?
- First off, you should be monitoring your site with a tool like Pingdom, Uptime Robot, or Nixstats. Otherwise, you could be blind to hosting issues that are hurting you like downtime or poor performance.
- Eliminate any obvious issues, such as malware or manual actions by Google, first: check your site with Google Search Console for any security issues or manual actions.
- Check your robots.txt file to make sure the page(s) hasn’t somehow been excluded from search.
- Check for duplicate content; did someone accidentally replicate the page?
- Check your backlink profile to make sure you aren’t being harmed by toxic links. It’s best to use a tool like SEMrush, Moz, or cognitiveSEO to help identify these.
- Use a tool like SEMrush or Serpstat to check for any page-specific issues you might be overlooking.
9. What are five things nobody tells you about SEO—the professional secrets?
First, no SEO professional would ever give up five secrets. 🙂 But second, the days of cheap SEO tricks are long gone. There are no shortcuts. SEO success requires effort and working on the right things. That said, here are five bits of SEO wisdom beyond the standard, obvious guidance.
- SEO is not a silo. Strategy and tactics should be coordinated with search engine marketing (SEM), social media, lead gen programs, even brand marketing.
- It may not qualify as a secret, but SEO used to be mainly about two things: relevance and authority. Now, with more competition, it’s five: those two plus quality, technical issues, and user experience (UX).
- SEO audits aren’t a one-time thing—they should be conducted regularly, especially on sites that are large, change frequently, and have multiple people touching the site.
- It’s not ultimately just about driving organic search visits to a page, but about what you want visitors to do once they arrive. Do you have a clear call to action (CTA)? Is it relevant to the page content? Is it timely and current (e.g., not a three-year old white paper)? Is it prominent and compelling? Have you tested it?
- Focus on users first, Google second.
10. What are the most absolute no-no’s to implement an SEO strategy? What are some of the most common mistakes SEO professionals make?
- Never buy links. Never even contact a webmaster or blogger asking if you can buy a link. (Some popular sites may have requirements for contributed content, including editing fees, but in that case you are paying for a professional’s time and expertise—not a link.)
- Don’t use yesterday’s tactics (e.g., link directories, keyword stuffing, white text, etc.).
- NEVER hire a “cheap link building” service. (Many actual SEO professionals can tell stories of how they’ve been hired to clean up messes created by these charlatans.)
- Generally, stay away from any tactic that is manipulative. You aren’t going to trick or outsmart Google’s engineers.
- Don’t ignore video.
- Going back to the previous question and comment about silos, don’t view SEO in isolation from other marketing campaigns, initiatives, and channels.
Got any other tough SEO questions? Leave a comment below or reach out.
As a content producer starting a new role in a SEO firm, would like the experts to throw some light on timing of back linking process? is there a recommended timeline or calendar one can create to increase any website presence using SEO?
Really appreciate your response on this question:)
Tom Pick says
Hi Mark. Not sure there’s an actual timeline, but backlinks tend to grow incrementally over time. If you have five backlinks one day and 100 the next, Google is likely to look at that with suspicion. The best content is that which earns backlinks. Promotion is essential, but manipulation is a bad idea. Hope that helps!
Jonathan Bennett says
I agree with Tom that now search engines, and especially Google, are very careful about checking backlinks that lead to your site. Therefore, you should be as careful as possible and think over the most effective and accurate strategy at the same time, which will allow you not to get into Google’s blacklist. If you find it difficult to understand and analyze the situation right away, you can use the backlink analysis tool, for me it’s SE Ranking. In this way, you can check the dynamics of new and lost backlinks to websites and referring domains, understand which regions the majority of links are coming from (based on referring IP addresses and subnets), and analyze the distribution of anchor text across referring domains and backlinks.
Tom Pick says
Thank you Jonathan — well said, all true. While there is some evidence that Google won’t penalize a site for certain types of “toxic” backlinks (particularly old ones), it’s still vital to understand a site’s link profile and try to build or earn more high-quality links.