Mobile-first indexing in 2018: 3 things SEO professionals should do right now

As an SEO expert or agency, you’ve spent years attempting to navigate the murky waters of helping your clients find customers online using algorithms, link building hacks, on-page and off-page technique.

And when you thought you were finally making good progress, BOOM! Paradigm shift and the game changes.

The mobile revolution happens.

Google announces its interest in improving user experience and making search results more useful by making its index mobile-first.

According to the Google Webmasters Blog: 

To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we’re going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.

What this big paragraph means is pretty simple:

Henceforth, Google will use the mobile version of your site to rank it on Google (for both mobile and desktop search).

That means if you have a site optimized for mobile, you’ll rank well on both mobile and desktop. But, if your site doesn’t perform well on mobile, it will tank your rankings on both mobile and desktop.

While a definite timeline for the roll-out of the mobile-first index has not been fixed, a lot has been said about its implementation happening early this year. At SMX Advanced last June, Google’s Gary Illyes pinpointed 2018 as the likely deployment year for the mobile-first index.

And seeing as 2018 is now upon us, there is a need to prepare for the upcoming update (if you have yet to do so). Here are three things you need to do immediately to prepare for a mobile-first index and help your site, or your clients’ sites, weather the storm.

1. Responsive design

This is one of the most important things you would need to do to rank well on the mobile-first index. Responsive websites that change based on the needs of the users and the device that they’re viewing it on are mandatory.

Responsive sites not only offer an optimized browsing experience, they are also offering a two-for-one value. They rank well on both mobile and desktop because the design changes to fit the size of the user’s screen.

Before I talk about some of the steps involved in turning a static website into a responsive one, let’s go over the basics of a responsive design which includes:

  • Fluid site grid with proportionate instead of fixed measures
  • Flexible texts and images
  • Implementing design changes to ensure usability for non-desktop devices
  • Using CSS media queries to define breakpoints for design changes

I’ll give some standard tips on how to turn a static website into a responsive masterpiece, but please note that while the principles stay the same, your theme might be built differently, so consider these only as broad strokes. You might have to do some custom work for your own site.

  • Define default zoom
  • Set fluid element widths and heights
  • Resize website images to make sure our images are automatically scaled according to screen size
  • Implement breakpoints that are more design (than device) specific
  • Create a mobile menu
  • Adapt font sizes and style

Now because responsive design is not about making things fit on a screen, it’s also about keeping your site usable. As a last step, it’s a good idea to test your site in terms of usability on different devices and also test in multiple browsers to make sure your content renders properly.

2: Invest in a mobile-optimized website builder

Think of it as investing in accessibility for your customers. Unless you live under a rock, it is common knowledge that digital screens are getting smaller and more mobile.

Isn’t it then wise to ensure your full website is enjoyed irrespective of the gadget being used? Ensuring your clients’ customers get the best experience is all you’re here for as an SEO practitioner.

A mobile optimized website builder makes your website responsive to mobile gadgets: i.e., it detects what your visitor is using (a smartphone or a tablet) and automatically adjusts the layout of your website to fit the size of the gadget being used.

Unsure of where to begin your search for a website builder? Consider using a Google Preferred website builder – website builders which adhere to Google’s best practices for creating lightning-fast web experiences. Specifically, I want to highlight one noteworthy option if you want to prioritize speed: Duda, which bills itself as the only Google Preferred builder fully optimized for PageSpeed.

Having a well-designed and responsive website isn’t the only goal of mobile optimization. Speed is also crucial – even on mobile, visitors expect pixel-perfect images coupled with split-second rendering time.

A fast website encourages more sessions online, more customer conversions, lower bounce rate, and higher engagement. Usefully, Duda’s widget builder also allows web developers to add elements that are not native to its platform.

Don’t be caught waiting till the algorithm updates to start making big moves. If your website isn’t optimized for mobile, take that step today.

3: Mobile-optimized content

Mobile devices follow you everywhere, which has made them a first-class cure for boredom. But it takes more than a responsive design to make your website mobile-ready.

To ensure your content is as responsive and mobile-friendly as the rest of your optimized website, you have to understand user behavior and preferences as well as available solutions.

Although most mobile users have a short attention span, if you serve valuable content, no matter the length, your visitors will consume it voraciously as long as your content is engaging.

Articles, movies, TV shows will be read and watched on mobile. Follow the following tips to ensure your content is optimized for mobile:

  • Take advantage of mobile applications to encourage engagement beyond your website. An interesting article or an amazing deal on an item will probably go far if your visitors share it on Facebook or Twitter. Use it!
  • Develop high-quality content that tells stories. As long as your content is great, mobile users are willing to spend long sessions on your website. How many times have you opened a link and spent longer time than you intended to on a website? Great content will do that to you.
  • There are various forms of contents; GIF, infographics, Meme’s, articles, high-quality images, videos, use them all. Your business/website caters to visitors of various interests, to avoid ostracizing any of them, ensure that you cover every angle.
  • Shorter headlines get users reading faster. Yes, a strong headline is important but you must also remember that you have only about 5 seconds to convince your visitor to keep reading. Do you really want to waste it on an overly long headline? Keep it strong and short.

Lastly, regardless of the amount of work you have put into your content, feedback is key. You need to know which of your content your visitors engage with the most. Stay on top of it all.

Related reading

5 tools for a mobile seo strategy
Google Stamp

Preparing your SEO strategy for the year ahead: 5 key checks

The New Year is upon us, full of personal plans made with the best intentions.

It also represents a time for businesses and teams to take stock and plan for the coming year; the difference being that unlike personal plans, business plans cannot remain unfulfilled.

Many of you will be looking to 2018 with a renewed vigor for your SEO strategy. Strategies will vary depending on a number of factors including the complexity of the campaign, the length that your team has been working on it and the work completed thus far.

However, there is a fundamental checklist that we have here at Yellowball that is applicable to all campaigns:

1. Review the previous year

Blue sky thinking and creative ideas for the year ahead are fantastic; fear not, they will come. In the meantime, it is critical that we learn from previous actions by reviewing 2017.

If you set goals at the beginning of the year, you can use these as benchmarks to understand your successes, and also pinpoint where the campaign experienced hurdles.

Break the campaign down into major component parts and be self critical about the outputs from your team within these components. The results (rankings, traffic, conversions) are the obvious end goals; remember that these results come as a consequence of actions and this review should be focused on learning points that will influence the SEO strategy for 2018.

Agencies should speak to their clients to get input from their perspective. These feedback sessions are essential in understanding where processes and communication can be improved to create a more efficient campaign.

Finally, from experience it is valuable to keep these reviews as objective as possible. On one hand a review can get overly optimistic celebrating successes of the previous year, brushing over the hurdles. On the other hand, make note of hurdles, learning points and subsequent actions for 2018 but avoid an overly pessimistic outlook.

SEO is a mid to long term investment – if your processes and actions are in line with strategy, then trust in these; the results will come. 

2. Revisit your research

Do not underestimate the value in revisiting your research and initial strategy. Not only are markets and behavior in a constant state of flux, but with another year under their belts, your team will have additional insight that may influence future strategy.

Go further than just keyword research; reassess your buyer personas and inbound funnel. Loop in individuals that are not at the coal face of the project. They are often able to give a fresh perspective on items that can be invaluable to the ongoing success of the campaign.

You may well find that everything checks out, but it is worth the exercise just to refresh your memory on the strategy. You may even uncover some gems!

3. Set targets

Targets and KPIs. In a world where results can seem like a mirage in a baking desert, it is all too easy to bypass targets in favor of a more output oriented strategy when in fact the two go hand in hand. Don’t be afraid to set targets – the numbers should be available to you.

If it is traffic-related, this can be targeted through average search volumes vs current and target positions. If it is conversions you can utilize traffic in conjunction with present conversion rates.

These targets will give you clarity and focus on the actual day to day planning of your SEO strategy in 2018. For example, if you wanted to increase your conversions by x% in 2018, this target could result in:

  • An assessment of minimum rankings required to achieve the traffic (and therefore conversions) using your current conversion rate.
  • Highlighting that conversion rates need to be improved and that the web design and UX/UI team need to be more involved in the campaign.
  • A realization that your content may not be aligned with the sharper end of your sales funnel, indicating that the content strategy needs revisiting.
  • An analysis that dictates your user acquisition strategy needs to expand, according to rankings, potential traffic and desired conversion rate.

Once you have your targets identified, don’t just file them away on your desktop. Share them.

For in-house teams, share targets with any team member that will be involved in the project and the powers that be. For agencies, build your client relationships by delivering these targets face to face with detailed explanation and any requirements from their side. Everyone should be aligned to their responsibilities in achieving these goals.

4. Brainstorm

We’ve all been there. The relative grace period at the beginning of the year is short-lived, as the never ending pile of daily tasks rears its head again. Teams can find it difficult to set aside the time to get together and have extended brainstorming sessions (over and above the regular ones that should be occurring), so make the most of your time now.

Fresh off the back of your analysis (and hopefully a relaxing Christmas break), teams have had time to take a step back and look at the campaign from a slightly different point of view. Again, a larger brainstorming session may kick up new ideas compared to the last one conducted.

5. Planning

As a result of your actions in steps 1-4, you should have a clearer idea of the campaign’s framework for the coming year. Itemizing and scheduling every single granular detail of a campaign for an entire year is highly unlikely, so schedule key milestones and any major items.

It is important that you allow the flexibility to remain agile in your processes without facilitating a campaign requiring more structure.

What you should be able to plan is your resourcing. With your goals and overarching strategy identified, you should have a plan of action for your implementation – implementation that will most likely require man hours and/or budget.

Resourcing additional hands, whether that be via recruitment or freelancer networks, should be planned well in advance. For those that have internal structures requiring sign-off on budgets, present them and gain sign-off before that budget is reassigned!

Hopefully these 5 steps will provide an overarching structure for your preparation of a refreshed (or brand new) SEO campaign for 2018. The nuances and minutiae are dependent on your own style, business set-up, resources and strategy.

Related reading

SPI 298: Before Your New Year Begins . . .

Today’s episode is a very special one, and it’s just you and me. We’re closing in on the end of the year, and there’s a lot to talk about. This time is a great opportunity to reflect on the past year and what’s to come for the year ahead. Hopefully you’re already thinking about 2018 and the things you’re going to try, what you’re going to experiment with—but hopefully this episode inspires you to go even further, to be vulnerable, and to be courageous.

This episode is a little bit of an experiment (because that’s what I do here)—I really wanted to switch up the normal episode format with this one. And experimentation is one of the big takeaways: It isn’t easy, and often we don’t know what the results are going to be. A lot of what we do is very public these days, because of social media, etc., and that can often lead to us retreating from the limelight. But change happens outside of the things we normally do, and to do those things we need to be vulnerable. If you’re expecting different results by doing what you’re already doing—stop!

I want you to commit to being vulnerable next year, and that’s what this episode is all about. It’s all about setting you up for what’s to come in the year ahead. Of course, no matter when you’re listening to this, these strategies and this mindset will always apply to you moving forward. Experience has always been my teacher, but sometimes you can learn from someone else’s experience too, and that’s where I come in.

So here we go. Let’s get started. Get comfortable, grab a cup of coffee (or beverage of choice), and let’s get our heads in the right place for 2018—now.

Thanks for Listening!

To share your thoughts:

To help out the show:

  • Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one.
  • Subscribe on iTunes or download our mobile app.

SPI 297: Looking Back at 2017—What Went Well, What Did Not

This episode is all about learning from mistakes. Last week we talked about my plans for 2018—well, a lot of the lessons I learned this year resulted in those plans. Today, I’m sharing those lessons with you, not just as an example of what not to do, but to reveal what decisions I made for 2018 because of those experiences.

Today I’m talking about the big picture, looking back at 2017. I’ll be discussing my struggles with time management, specifically how saying “yes” too much got me to a point of being overworked. I’ll be talking about the physical product launch that didn’t go according to plan, the two habits I let slip mid-year, and a target that I set for myself that I did not hit.

As always I’m being fully transparent—it’s all out on the table for you. That’s because this week’s episode isn’t just about what didn’t go according to plan. It’s also about what’s going on in my brain, why these things happened in the first place, and what you can learn from them. Everyone makes mistakes—it’s part of the process and it’s how you grow. I know that what I learned this year can help you with your own business journey too. Today’s episode is full of great takeaways that will help you with your business approach going forward—maybe even help you get results quicker. Grab a pen or a note-taking app and let’s get started!

Thanks for Listening!

To share your thoughts:

To help out the show:

  • Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one.
  • Subscribe on iTunes or download our mobile app.

14 Great Resources to Create Quick and Beautiful Images for Social Media

Hundreds of millions of images are shared on social media every day, but chances are only a few actually make you stop scrolling and pay attention. What do they have in common? They’re high-quality, visually appealing, and shareable.

Building a library of eye-catching images doesn’t have to be difficult and costly. Here are 14 resources you can use to create beautiful, share-worthy images for social media.

14 of the best resources for social media images

Full service image creations tools


For a social marketer, the biggest value Canva provides is simplicity: create striking imagery by just dragging and dropping elements into place.

No design experience? No problem. Plug text or photos into their ready-made layouts or produce something from scratch. It’s free to get started, but you can access more features and services with Canva’s midsize and enterprise offerings.

social media images


Much like Canva, BeFunky is a one-stop-shop for graphic creation and collages. You can choose a layout based on function: social media headers, blogger resources, and small business templates, for example. The user-friendly interface makes customization quick and easy (not to mention, beautiful). BeFunky offers 125 digital effects for free, or you can pay a monthly fee and get access to higher resolution output and premium effects and templates.

Design assets

Creative Market

For those who delve deeper into the design world, Creative Market has a massive catalog of ready-to-use fonts, templates, mockups, and stock photos produced by incredible talents. And if your creative flow is running dry, Made with Creative Market has infinite inspiration.

Not sure where to get started? Creative Market gives out six free products every week to start a collection of assets with.

social media image

Stock photos

Adobe Stock

Not only does Adobe Stock have over 90 million high-quality creative assets you can use in your social campaigns, you can license them directly within the Hootsuite dashboard. That means once you’ve found the perfect image, you can download it, attach it to your posts, and share it across your social channels—all from one place.

social media images

Data visualization


Including data in your social posts is an effective way of engaging your audience and building credibility—but it has to look nice.

Data visualization can be tricky, but Infogram makes repacking data and information a painless process. Whether you want to create a simple chart or a complex infographic, you’ll find a multitude of options and designs to choose from.

It’s free to get started, but Infogram also offers a wide range of monthly plans that include additional features and services.

social media images
14 Great Resources to Create Quick and Beautiful Images for Social Media | Hootsuite Blog

Creating an infographic from scratch doesn’t have to be an arduous task. If you’re up for the challenge, you can make your own using Choose from a slew of ready-to-use templates or create your own. The real value is in the drag-and-drop interface and the ease of plugging in your own data. offers two pricing plans, free and pro.

Photo editor/enhancer

Hootsuite Enhance

Trying to remember the optimal image sizes for each social network is, quite frankly, a pain in the butt. Use Hootsuite Enhance, our free photo editing app, to ensure your images are cropped and sized perfectly for each social network.

You can make your images more exciting by adding filters, borders, stickers, text, or a watermark of your company’s logo. And if you run out of ideas or images to post, you can find a selection of stock photos that are free for commercial use.

Share images from Enhance straight to the social networks of your choice—including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more—or schedule them for later using the Hootsuite mobile app.

social media images

Adobe Creative Tools for Hootsuite

Adobe Creative Tools gives you an easy way to edit and enhance images for social directly within the Hootsuite dashboard. Whether you want to brighten up a photo from an event, or add some playful text to a product shot—use Adobe’s tools to make your images perfect and then add them directly to your social posts.

Photo overlays


It’s probably best known as a tool for adding text to images—but the Over app can do so much more than that.

It also allows for blending, taking color samples, adding image overlays, and offers striking ready-made artwork. Thanks to an integration with Unsplash, a free stock photo site, Over is a creative graphic powerhouse.


Phonto, an app that allows you to add creative text to images, is a minute-marketer’s dream: import image, add text, style it, and share. Of course, the real art is selecting the right font and impeccably placing your design.

The best part? Phonto won’t cost you a dime.

Visual quotes


Sharing quotes is an effective method for garnering engagement on social, and Recite offers a free and effortless solution for making it happen. Just type your quote into the text box, choose from a handful of templates below it, click ‘Create,’ and it’s done.

You can then download the image or share straight to one of your social pages.



Skitch is an Evernote product that provides all the tools necessary to add visual commentary to any image. Use arrows, text, stickers, and a handful of other tools to get your message across on a screenshot or any image of choice. It’s a free and helpful app for support or community teams that have to answer complicated technical user questions.



Mockups galore! Sometimes you just need an image of your website or app and a screenshot just won’t cut it. Placeit offers a wide variety of mockups to showcase the image of your choosing. Upload it right into a template and voila! Download a free low-res version or buy it in a higher resolution.

social media images

Screen captures


Trying to explain a technical issue over the phone or email can be a frustrating process. Instead, use CloudApp to capture screenshots, webcam recordings, or GIFs, and then share those with your customers on social.

You’ll be able to resolve issues faster while bringing your product to life through eye-catching graphics. And, you can start capturing, recording, and uploading for free.

Once you’ve got your images ready, use Hootsuite to share them with the world. From within the dashboard you can easily upload an image, add a caption, and share it or schedule it for later.

Get Started Now

Best of 2017: Our top 5 search industry articles

As we come to the end of 2017, we’ve decided to take a look back at some of our most-read articles throughout the year. For the rest of this week, we’ll be highlighting the top five most popular articles in various categories across the site.

So far this week, we’ve rounded up our top five articles on SEO and top five articles on PPC. To wrap up the week, we’re taking a look at our top five most-read articles about the search industry.

Our Industry category on Search Engine Watch covers any developments in the wider search industry, such as new search engines, the evolution of Web 3.0, or major changes to search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. It also covers articles about strategy and how marketers should approach SEO, PPC and SEM in their day-to-day jobs: such as how to get execs excited about SEO, or how much SEO should really cost.

To the surprise of no-one, our most popular articles in this category tend to be things that Google is doing. So here is our very Google-centric list of the top 5 most popular Industry articles published in 2017.

#1: The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

Who doesn’t love a good Google Doodle? The creative and inventive Google Doodle, which we’re now accustomed to seeing on the Google homepage with regularity, actually began life in 1998 as a quirky out-of-office message to notify users that Sergey Brin and Larry Page, co-founders of Google, had gone to Burning Man festival.

Soon afterwards, Google began experimenting with Doodles to mark historical events, and the Doodle’s popularity was so great that it has become a regular fixture on Google’s homepage, with a dedicated team of around 10 staff members.

In our most-read Industry article of 2017, Clark Boyd looks back over nearly 20 years of Google Doodles to pick the 10 best Doodles of all time.

The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

#2: Google just released verified customer reviews: 3 ways to come out on top

Customer reviews are important for SEO and brand reputation, particularly in the new age of linkless link-building. But they aren’t always reliable. As such, Google’s introduction of Verified Customer Reviews, a method of leaving feedback in which you can guarantee that the reviewer is a genuine customer – was a big development.

Amanda DiSilvestro looked at how business owners can sign up for verified customer reviews, as well as three ways to make sure you come out on top.

Google just released verified customer reviews: 3 ways to come out on top

#3: A visual history of Google SERPS: 1996-2017

Over the past 20 years, Google has revolutionized how we source information, how we buy products, and how advertisers sell those products to us. And yet, one fact remains stubbornly true: the shop-front for brands on Google is still the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

Since Google began as a college project named Backrub in 1996, those “ten blue links” which make up the Google SERP have undergone all kinds of evolutions, from the advent of local results in 2004 to the introduction of Google Suggest in 2008, to the more recent removal of the right-hand rail of search ads in 2016.

It can be easy to lose sight of just how much the SERPS have changed as a whole, over the years. This brilliant infographic by Clark Boyd, Safiya Lawrence and Chelsea Herbert looks back over how far Google has come, and considers the trends that predominantly define the SERPs today.

A visual history of Google SERPs: 1996 to 2017

#4: What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

And speaking of changes to Google… Without a doubt, the biggest change to come to the internet’s most popular search engine this year has been the launch of its new, feed-based mobile homepage in July.

Perhaps the most drastic update of the homepage since Google’s creation in 1996, the new homepage allows users to customize a news feed that updates based on their interests, location, and past search behaviors.

On the heels of the new homepage’s US launch, Clark Boyd looked at what we knew so far about the homepage, why Google chose to launch it when they did, and the potential new opportunities for marketers.

What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

#5: Google Chrome SSL certificate proposal could affect millions of websites

In another major piece of news this year, potential millions of websites that use SSL certificates issued by Symantec and affiliated resellers faced finding out that their certificates were effectively worthless as far as Google Chrome was concerned, after a member of the Chrome team published a proposal that would make them untrusted over the next 12 months.

According to the Google Chrome team, Symantec had not properly validated thousands of certificates. In fact, the Chrome team claimed that “an initial set of reportedly 127 [misissued] certificates has expanded to include at least 30,000 [misissued] certificates, issued over a period spanning several years.”

Al Roberts looked at the news for Search Engine Watch and its potential impact for website owners

Google Chrome SSL certificate proposal could affect millions of websites

And that’s it for us in 2017! We hope you enjoy revisiting the best of our published content over the past 12 months, and we’ll see you in the new year!

Related reading

The home page for Kiddle search engine

Best of 2017: Our top 5 articles in PPC

As we come to the end of 2017, we’ve decided to take a look back at some of our most-read articles throughout the year. For the rest of this week, we’ll be highlighting the top five most popular articles in various categories across the site.

Yesterday, we kicked things off with a look at our top 5 articles about SEO, and if you missed that one, it’s definitely worth a read. Today, we’ll be turning our attention to the other great staple of Search Engine Watch content: PPC.

We covered some fun ground with our PPC articles this year, from emoji in AdWords ad titles to the psychology of ad copy, to the impact of Google’s new ‘Ad’ label on marketers. Let’s not waste any more time – here are our top 5 articles from 2017 about PPC.

#1: Emoji appear in Google AdWords ad titles

This was an interesting one. Just a couple of weeks after we wrote about Google’s decision to bring emoji back to the SERPs, emoji were spotted in the wild in AdWords ad titles, suggesting that Google had decided to go the whole hog in embracing emoji in both organic search and paid search ads.

Sadly, the test doesn’t seem to have lasted in the case of paid search, as Google’s official stance is still that emoji are “invalid characters” – but there have also been recent reports of people being able to bid on emoji in AdWords. Either way, the combination of fun emoji news with a potential big change for search marketers makes it no surprise that this was our most-read article about PPC in 2017.

Emoji appear in Google AdWords ads titles

#2: The psychology of language for paid search

When it comes to PPC best practice, there’s a vast amount of ground you can cover, from keyword bidding to demographic targeting, AdWords reports, landing page optimization and everything in between. But how often do we talk about the actual copy of the ads that are supposed to get consumers’ attention?

According to Sophie Turton, Head of Content and PR at Bozboz, people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. In her presentation at Brighton SEO in April 2017, she explained how search marketers can use psychology to make their paid search ads more effective. Tereza Litsa sums up the key highlights in an informative piece for Search Engine Watch.

The psychology of language for paid search

#3: 10 online marketing strategies to make you a unicorn [infographic]

It’s hard to go wrong with a good infographic, and Larry Kim of Wordstream has a great one which brings together 10 online marketing strategies to make you a unicorn – one of those magical campaigns that’s so effective, it performs in the top 1-3% of all marketing campaigns.

Sound like a dream come true? Check out Larry’s infographic, whose points he expands on in further detail in his post, and find out why you need to forget everything you know about Conversion Rate Optimization.

10 online marketing strategies to make you a unicorn [infographic]

#4: How to target high-income consumers with AdWords

There are many industries in which being able to target high net worth individuals with your paid search campaigns is extremely useful. If you think that AdWords doesn’t have this function, you might want to think again.

Wesley Parker reveals the secret behind a “deeply hidden gem within AdWords”, currently available for U.S. locations only, which allows you to target people based on their household income. With step-by-step instructions and screenshots, he explains exactly how to set this up, as well as how you can use layered targeting to pull in multiple different demographics.

How to target high-income consumers with AdWords

#5: How will Google’s new ‘Ad’ label impact marketers?

In a major development for PPC, Google began testing a new look for its ad labels in January of this year, and in late February confirmed that this would be rolled out globally.

The new white label with green text and a green outline replaced the green label that was launched in June 2016, and blends much more seamlessly with the rest of the ad placement, perhaps creating less of a contrast between organic and paid search results. Clark Boyd considered Google’s motivation for the change, and the possible impact on search marketers.

How will Google’s new ‘Ad’ label impact marketers?

Related reading

Best of 2017: Our top 5 articles in SEO

As we come to the end of 2017, we’ve decided to take a look back at some of our most-read articles throughout the year. For the rest of this week, we’ll be highlighting the top five most popular articles in various categories across the site.

First up is, of course, the bread and butter of Search Engine Watch: SEO. Several of our most-read articles in SEO were list articles (hard to go wrong with a good list), and they often dealt with how to prepare for the year ahead: how to plan your strategy for 2017, tips to boost your SEO in 2017, trends to watch in 2018.

If you missed any of these excellent articles when they were published, now’s your chance to check them out. And if you’ve already read them, well, it never hurts to refresh your knowledge.

#1: Five quick tips to boost your SEO in 2017

Everyone loves quick tips for SEO, and Tereza Litsa has some great ones to get your SEO off to a strong start in the new year. These might be tips for 2017, but they stand the test of time – there’s no reason why you shouldn’t apply these to your SEO going into 2018, if you haven’t already.

Five quick tips to boost your SEO in 2017

#2: Seven SEO trends to watch in 2018

What does the year ahead hold for SEO? While it’s hard to say exactly what will unfold in 2018, based on the events of this year and the prevailing winds in the industry, we can make a pretty good guess as to what the major trends will be. Tereza Litsa outlines seven you need to watch and account for in your search strategy next year.

Seven SEO trends to watch in 2018

After you’ve clued up on the trends ahead, don’t miss our follow-up article on how to optimize for them: How to future-proof your SEO for 2018.

#3: The 15 best Google Chrome extensions for SEO

Google Chrome dominates as the world’s favorite desktop browser, and its thousands of extensions give it an almost daunting level of customization. You can do just about anything with Google Chrome extensions, including – no, especially – SEO. But which are the best extensions to use?

Clark Boyd rounds up 15 Chrome extensions to aid you in your SEO efforts, from a quick site review to on-site content analysis, technical SEO and backlink analysis.

The 15 best Google Chrome extensions for SEO

#4: Building your SEO strategy in 2017: What’s most important?

In another enduring piece about SEO strategy for 2017, Marcela de Vivo looks at the areas you should be focusing on for SEO amid hundreds of possible ranking factors and points of optimization. Again, it’s still highly relevant as we come to the end of the year and well worth a revisit. How many of these areas did you nail in 2017?

Building your SEO strategy in 2017: what’s most important?

#5: How to create SEO-friendly content

The increasing merging of content and SEO, once thought of as separate disciplines, has been one of the enduring themes of the past couple of years. By now, if your content strategy and SEO aren’t at least on the same page, if not working hand-in-glove, then you’re definitely taking the wrong approach to both.

If you need a primer or a refresher on creating the best content to rank well in search, Tereza Litsa has you covered with her guide on how to create SEO-friendly content.

How to create SEO-friendly content

Check back tomorrow for our next set of highlights – the top 5 most popular articles in PPC.

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Best practices for anchor text optimization in 2018

Doing SEO for any client is intimately associated with getting the most out of every link.

Anchor text is an important element that “unlocks” every link’s potential — to the extent that Google had to roll out its first Penguin update in 2012, cutting tried-and-true anchor text over-optimization methods out of the picture.

Over the past five years, the best practices of anchor text optimization have considerably evolved. It is time to learn how anchor text best practices can allow you to get the most out of links in 2018.

Anchor text and Google Penguin

The release of Penguin 1.0 in April, 2012 shook up the SERPs, affecting around 3% of all search queries in English, German, Chinese, Arabic, and other popular languages. Since then, there have been at least five major Google Penguin updates:

Since Google releases its Penguin updates periodically, some SEO professionals and marketers take advantage of the gaps, pushing up SERPs with gray-hat anchor text practices (e.g. targeted anchor texts, lower-quality link-building), and then get penalized for doing so.

When it comes to the relationship between anchor texts and Google Penguin updates, the rule of thumb is simple: Follow Google’s guidelines and avoid trying to hack the system by using overly aggressive anchor text practices. Sooner or later, Google will come up with a new update, which will negatively affect SERPs.

Major anchor text categories

Before providing specific tips on anchor text optimization, let’s recap the major categories of anchor text:

  • Branded — your brand name with a link placed on it (e.g. Search Engine Watch)
  • Naked URL — your site’s URL with the link it is pointing to (e.g.
  • Website Name — your site’s URL with the anchor text written as “” (e.g.
  • Page/Blog Post Title — a page’s title anchor text with a link on it (e.g. How to future-proof your SEO for 2018)
  • Exact-match Keywords — a targeted keyword with a link on it (e.g. Tips for entrepreneurs)
  • Partial-match Keywords — a targeted keyword plus some other text with a link on it (e.g. Beginner tips for entrepreneurs, tips for entrepreneurs guide)
  • LSI Keywords — a keyword anchor text that is related to a targeted keyword (e.g. entrepreneurship tips, business tips for entrepreneurs, startup business success stories)
  • No Text — an image with a link on it
  • Generic (e.g. Click this link, Read more, Check this out)

Best practices for anchor text optimization

Keep it natural… and versatile

According to Google, every part of any website, including links and their associated anchor text, needs to provide real value to users. Links must be put only where users expect to see them, so they can get informed about something valuable to them.

With Google’s algorithms getting smarter every year, you should avoid multiple repetitive and keyword-based anchors in your site’s anchor text cloud. Failure to do so will definitely result in a penalty.

To quote Neil Patel:

“I like building natural links, because that’s what Google wants. You can’t be smarter than the engineers who spend their workdays making the algorithm work smarter. So, stay off Google’s radar, focus on high-quality content and avoid a penalty on Google and other search engines.”

Of course, you need to link to high-quality, relevant pages and disavow all links from low-quality, non-relevant web pages. Getting links from sites with high Domain Authority, Page Authority, and Trust Flow is also a must.

Avoid over-optimization

Google does not appreciate overly-rich anchor text. A spammy, keyword-based anchor text cloud is a big red flag to Google. It indicates blunt manipulation with backlinks, which, obviously, results in penalties.

Instead, try to keep your anchor text natural by spreading it across your inbound links in the right proportions (more about this below). For instance, instead of placing “Software development company” in every guest post, try using something like “companies that develop software” or “the most reliable software development firms,” etc.

Keep anchors relevant to content

As time goes on, Google will only improve its algorithms responsible for understanding the actual meaning of a web page’s content. Since 2015, it has been testing DeepMind, a natural language processing technology that allows artificial intelligence to learn just as humans would.

Provided Google knows what is put on a concrete web page, it will not have any problems figuring out if a specific anchor text or link is relevant to a web page’s content.

If you place an internal link with irrelevant anchor text on your own website, this is likely to harm your search ranking. The is true for backlinks with irrelevant anchor text.

Google is obsessed with improving user experiences. It tries its best to provide relevant content in the most convenient manner. Clearly, non-relevant anchors with non-relevant links behind them lead users to non-relevant content, which Google does not appreciate.

Engage in relevant guest blogging

The relevance of the anchor text is one of key factors of a successful, cost-efficient guest blogging campaign, or of any healthy anchor text cloud for that matter.

What it comes down to is this: If you are guest posting with the intention of pushing up your “Digital marketing tips” keyword, place links to pages that include information about digital marketing, with exact-match, partial-match, and LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) keywords featuring the topic of discussion. Obviously, your “Digital marketing tips” anchor text, with an associated link, should not be put on websites that have nothing to do with digital marketing.

Note: Do your best to use LSI and partial-match anchors in your guest post. In this way, you will achieve a more natural-looking anchor text cloud and satisfy the Google gods.

Avoid links from and linking to spammy sites

While the first part of this one is self-descriptive (you should never build links from low-quality websites), it is not common knowledge that Google pays close attention to websites you link to as well. Actually, since the release of Google’s Hummingbird update, this type of co-citation can play a key role in calculating your site’s SERP placement.

Check your outbound links to make sure you steer clear of low-quality sites. Even though you can get paid or rewarded with a couple of reciprocal links, linking to a toxic website has the potential to ruin your site’s authority and rank in the long run.

Distribute anchors in the right proportions

While the “right proportions” part is always up for debate, it is pretty much indisputable that you should:

  • Avoid stuffing your anchor text cloud with exact-match and partial-match keywords by all means
  • Rely on branded and website name anchor texts (as they are allowed by Google and other search engines)
  • Sparsely use Page Title/Blog Post Title anchor texts (Adam White of Search Engine Journal claims that this is the single best anchor text for SEO)

So, what are the right proportions?

While the safe answer is, “It depends,” — some recommendations do exist. According to at least a couple of anchor text case studies, the golden formula is:

  • 50% — Branded anchor texts
  • 15% —
  • 10-20% — Naked URL
  • 10-15% — Page Title/Blog Post Title
  • 1-5% — Generic anchor texts
  • 1-5% — Exact- and partial match keywords
  • Other

But, once again, make sure that you do a thorough analysis of your niche and competitors. Your first priority is to reverse-engineer the anchor text cloud of websites ranked at the top, and only then can you start adjusting your website’s anchor text cloud.

Focus anchors on deep-level pages

One of the most common mistakes that beginner SEO professionals make is focusing the anchors they build on top-level pages, mainly placing links to a homepage, landing pages, or even concrete product pages.

An anchor text cloud that is purely built around these shallow pages does not look natural to Google and other search engines, simply because people do not naturally place links in that way. As a rule, they link to worthy shareable content like blog posts.

What you should do is focus your anchors on relevant, deep-level pages. Not only will you create a natural, versatile anchor text cloud, but you will also allow visitors to navigate to top-level pages.

Place anchors where users pay the most attention

This is more of a psychology-type tip.

Since users often do not read but rather skim pages, a page’s first few paragraphs, its headings, subheadings, and imagery become focal points — people pay more attention there. Thus, it makes sense to put your anchor texts next to these “hot” parts of a page in order to increase click-through rates and engagement.

Do not be overly obsessed with this one, though. If users find concrete anchor text to be descriptive and potentially valuable, they will click the link to check out what’s inside, one way or another.


Anchor text optimization practices evolve over time. As most of them get adjusted in line with the Penguin updates, pay close attention to keeping your anchor text cloud natural and versatile, which is the first point of interest to Google.

“Organic” anchor text distribution influenced by averages for a targeted niche, and specifically for your competitor’s websites, plays a huge role, but keep low-quality links in mind. If your anchor texts are up to snuff, do a complete audit of incoming links to sift out and disavow those coming from untrustworthy, non-relevant websites.

To sum it up, you need to remain on the right side of Google, one way or another. Specifically, do not try to game the system — it will not work in the long run. Instead, make sure that your anchor text is natural (avoid over-optimization, use relevant anchors, do not link to low-quality websites), and use keyword-rich links once in a while to help you rank.

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How to highlight search opportunity and create a keyword difficulty metric

One key element of a search strategy we often see fail is prioritization.

Whether working client-side or for an agency, being able to prioritize a link-building campaign, a content refresh or a technical fix on a site is essential to ensure you are making the most use of the limited resources you are given.

Within this post we’ll run through a few different ways to show how to highlight opportunity across a keyword set and introduce a keyword difficulty metric you can use to take prioritizing work to the next level.

Individual keyword opportunity

With a basic approach, opportunity can be found by merely completing keyword research, identifying those keywords with the highest search volume and targeting those.

Clustering keywords

By being a little more advanced, we could try clustering (or grouping) related keywords and then look at the collated volume of each cluster. After you have that information, you can then focus on the category of keywords which attracts the most search volume.

Some different ways of grouping your keywords could be:

  • By word operators, e.g. how, what, where, when, why

  • By topic, e.g. fridges, microwaves, recipes

  • By the intent of the keyword, e.g. transactional (looking to buy) informational (looking for information), navigational (branded keywords, looking to browse a specific site)

  • By the length of the keyword, e.g. head (one word, high volume), body (2-3 words medium to high volume) or long tail (4+ words, low to medium volume).

  • By how commercial the keyword is. I typically do this based on CPC (cost per click) data and put it into low, medium and high categories. A high CPC means that more people are bidding on the keyword, which usually implies that it converts better and is more commercial.

Introducing Traffic Estimations

If you want to take this a step further, you could look at the incremental traffic to be gained from each keyword. This is based upon your current position, how many times it is searched per month, the estimated click-through rate (CTR) and the maximum traffic you can get from ranking in position one.

To break that down:

You can then assess the incremental traffic in relation to the ways in which you have clustered your keywords, and highlight any gaps in which you can gain traffic.

The graphs for these would like the same as the ones above, except with incremental traffic, max traffic or estimated traffic plotted instead of volume. At this stage, you could even do an analysis of how much market share you have captured for each topic:

Is this really highlighting opportunity?

These methods of highlighting opportunity work, and the latter methods in particular are much better than just looking at search volume in isolation.

However, none of these methods tells you how difficult it is going to be to attain the traffic figures you are highlighting.

Opportunity is defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary as:

‘An occasion or situation that makes it possible to do something that you want to do or have to do, or the possibility of doing something.’

With both methods, we are only really showing where the volume is, we are not saying how possible it is for us to achieve those incremental traffic figures. So, are we truly highlighting opportunity?

This is where we can introduce a keyword difficulty metric so that you can look at address both the opportunity and the difficulty in terms of your traffic figures.

Once you have created such a metric, your opportunity analysis begins to look a bit more like this:

Now, we are no longer just highlighting where the traffic is, we are also showing how difficult it is to get, which means we are now really showing the opportunity.

From the above chart, we can now see that, while fridges have lots of opportunity for additional traffic, it makes far more sense to concentrate on microwaves and kettles as they both still have a large number of searches but the difficulty to rank well for these terms is far lower.

Creating a keyword difficulty metric

Before we begin, here are some features of the keyword difficulty metric:

  • It works on a logarithmic scale from 0 – 100
  • 75% of the metric is based upon referring domains to the URL, the remaining 25% is based upon domain level referring domains
  • When we show the metric by category, a weighted average is taken. The weight is the search volume of each keyword within the category. This means high volume keywords contribute to the difficulty of the category more than the low volume ones.

Rather than going into more detail on how the metric is created, first I’ll run through what you need to do so you can go ahead and start creating it yourself. Use our template from the next section and if you want to learn more about its creation , skip ahead to the end of the article.

To start building this metric, you will first need to do some data collection. You will need to find:

  • The top 10 results for each keyword you have from your research
  • The number of referring domains to each URL in the top 10
  • The number of referring domains to each domain in the top 10

Before we collect these, do some keyword research and enter your results into the keyword difficulty metric template we have created for you. Make sure to click ‘File’, and ‘Make a copy…’ to save your own version of the template.

To start with, just fill out the ‘Keyword Research’ sheet with your list of keywords, categories and search volumes.

Scrape the top 10 results

To get the top 10 results, I have access to our in-house rank tracker at Zazzle Media. You can, however, get this information from various tools such as:

Add the URLs for your top 10 results, along with the associated keyword, into the ‘Keyword Difficulty’ tab of the template. The sheet should now look like this:

Once you have added all this information to your sheet, you need to collect the number of referring domains to both the URL and the domain. To do this, I usually use Majestic and URL Profiler to quickly pull data via the API. Both Majestic and URL Profiler are paid tools, but they are worth spending the money on given the data they provide.

Copy the URLs from your keyword difficulty sheet and paste them into URL Profiler. Select the URL Level Data and Domain Level Data tick boxes for Majestic; you may need to link up to the Majestic API when you do this. After, select ‘Run Profiler’ in the bottom right.

Once you have the export, copy and paste the URL, domain referring domains and URL referring domains over to the ‘Keyword Difficulty URLs’ tab. The ‘Keyword Difficulty’ sheet will now create the difficulty metric for each URL ranking in positions 1 – 10 and will look like the below.

Of course, we want results for each keyword, rather than for each URL ranking in the search result. If you go back to the ‘Keyword Research’ sheet that you originally put all your keywords and data into, you will see that the keyword difficulty metric has been averaged across all sites ranking within the top 10 for that keyword.

Opportunity Charts

Now, when you go into the ‘Category Opportunity’ tab, you will be able to see the ‘volume against keyword difficulty’ charts shown earlier as well as ‘traffic captured vs overall’ and ‘incremental traffic by category’.

Along with these, I have also added a difficulty distribution bubble charts in the ‘Category Difficulty Distribution’ and ‘Keyword Difficulty Distribution’ tabs.

Here is what a category difficulty distribution chart looks like:

Here is a keyword difficulty distribution chart:

When you have inputted your data, you will see actual keywords and categories rather than the dummy data I’ve currently inputted. To give you a bit more of an idea what you can gain from these charts, here are some descriptions of how you should target keywords or categories depending on their location on the chart:

Upper Left: High Difficulty, low opportunity. These are usually not worth the investment in link building activity.

Bottom Left: Low difficulty, low opportunity. We should target some of these keywords, especially the ones in the right side of the bottom left quarter.

Upper Right: High difficulty, high opportunity. It will take a lot of work to rank for these, but we will see a large return in traffic from doing so.

Bottom Right: Low difficulty, high opportunity. We can rank for these keywords with a smaller link building campaign and we will see a high return in traffic.

These charts can be handy if you are struggling to see category opportunity from just analysing the bar and area chart in the ‘Category Opportunity’ tab.

More about the metric

Correlation studies all state near enough the same thing, namely that links to your site are still the most influential factor when it comes to ranking a page. Here is a recent example of this from Ahrefs (which also has its own Keyword Difficulty metric if you don’t mind paying for it):

Because the data says links still correlate the most, it makes sense to base the keyword difficulty metric on this.

The Ahrefs study above states that referring domains correlate with rankings less than referring domains to an individual URL.

Because of this, it also makes sense for our metric to put more weight on the number of referring domains to the URLs, rather than the number of referring domains to each domain on the search result.

Here’s how the difficulty scales for links to the URL (making up 75% of the score):

Here is the scale for domains referring domains (making up 25% of the score):


If you’ve read through this and managed to calculate keyword difficulty, you should now be able to increase the quality of your opportunity analysis tenfold and be able to highlight whether or not targeting a topic/niche for traffic is viable for you.

Moving forward, you should be able to target queries and users based upon whether ranking for a term is achievable, not solely on whether or not people are searching for it.

If you have any questions feel free to tweet me at @SamUnderwoodUK.

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