One of the biggest challenges in SEO is measuring impact — we know what matters (or doesn’t matter) until the rules of the game have changed. And when they do, we’re all scrambling to find a baseline again.
I decided to put together a list of what I consider to be steadfast SEO recommendations. This list has yielded wins for a number of my clients — they had an impact that we were able to identify and quantify — and might be useful to you and your clients. While not all of them may be applicable (they should ultimately be tailored to your site’s specific needs) I will provide further details and examples of what I mean within each.
Here are the five SEO recommendations that I’ve consistently seen make a positive impact in SEO’s ever-changing world.
1. Structured data matters
The short explanation of why structured data is helpful is that it tells crawlers what there is within your page. If you are not familiar with this you can follow this helpful Structured Data guide to get you quickly up and running.
This is a clear example of tailoring the advice to your site’s needs and industry — I have consistently seen structured data making a positive impact for clients in different industries, but different structured data will be required for different sites and pages within the site.
Below, I show the increase in impressions that occurred after we updated the information included on structured data of product pages. In this case, the correct type of structured data was already selected, but the information given to it was incomplete or inconsistent with what was on page:
Above is an anonymized graph of a client’s impression performance during a month after the structured data update.
Here are the industries where I’ve seen structured data being useful:
- Beauty services
Structured data makes it faster and easier for crawlers to understand the information within the page, making it a powerful (but often misused) tool. If applied correctly, it will make quite a positive impact on your pages.
Here are a few additional steps to help you get started:
- Follow Google’s recommendations on SD
- Test things out
- Check your competitor’s page’s structured data
2. Page freshness
Your page’s freshness is determined by multiple factors, but simply having a date on a page is one of the easiest ways to indicate to Google how fresh your page is. This applies to blogs and news, but it’s also relevant for product pages related to dates, such as event sites.
If you think about page freshness from a user perspective, it’s easier to understand why it matters so much. When you obtain search results that have an old date, such as articles, depending on the subject, you might consider them less relevant than if they had a recent date. Crawlers know this too and have the ability to differentiate between fresh and old content whether it has a date or not.
For one of our clients in the event industry, an old date took a toll on their rankings. After updating their page’s content to ensure it was search relevant, we went through and made sure no content within the page (i.e. page copy or text at the bottom of the page) was referring to older dates. We also updated the date on structured data to match the new date.
After the update, we observed improved ranking on SERP results, which doubled impressions and CTR.
Page freshness matters for any industry, and while dates are helpful, your content freshness should always reflect and target what users are searching. Here are a few other things to consider if you think you may need to refresh your pages:
- How often have you conducted keyword research in the last 18 months and updated your page’s content based on keywords results?
- Are you featured on SERP results with dates and if so how old are these dates?
3. Internal linking (still matters)
The right balance of internal linking is never a straightforward answer, so I am not here to advise you on the absolute right way to do it. However, I am here to tell you that not having too many links on one page can make a positive impact.
For example, linking to all categories from your homepage could be the best user experience or the fastest way for crawlers to discover your pages but it will also impact the amount of equity the page is sending to all the pages it links to.
If all of your category pages are crawled and indexed, as was the case for my client, you can decide to link from the homepage only to specific categories or services. There are many factors to consider when changing how you internally link from the homepage, some of which are:
- Likelihood of these pages to better compete
- Revenue that comes from these pages
When we recommended a change in internal linking to one of our clients in the personal beauty service industry, we saw an overall 21 percent increase in sessions from the previous month for the site as a whole. About half of these came from the category pages we kept a link to, which offset any loss in session from the category pages we excluded.
Balancing internal linking is definitely an important ranking factor because it will dictate how users and crawlers discover your pages. If you are revisiting your site’s internal linking, or think that your client should, my colleague Shannon wrote this helpful guide on the subject that covers all the various aspects of balancing internal linking for SEO.
4. Title tags
Changing your title tags and finding out if they made a positive impact can be quite difficult to prove. At Distilled, our ODN clients can easily test and measure how a different title made a positive or negative impact. I’ve tested this many times for clients in different industries, and changing a title has always changed (positively or negatively) the amount of session variant pages were getting.
How you change your title will depend on your page type, so there is no absolute rule on what to change a title to. In my client’s case, we’ve positively tested the following changes:
Include the year in the title, which also signals freshness.
Here is an example I made up:
Original title: “Book a Trip to Hawaii Now | [brand name]”
Changed title: “Hawaii Trips 2019/2010 | Book Now | [brand name]”
Include the lowest product price of the page, for example:
Original title: “Cheap Flights to Hawaii – [brand name]”
Changed title: “Cheap Flight to Hawaii from $400 – [brand name]”
We also tested these following changes, which had a negative result in terms of the number of sessions:
- Adding the number of products for sale on the page to the title tag
- Adding emojis to the title tag
The successful tests were measured in the travel industry particularly, while the negative tests occurred in the fast fashion industry. Specifically, through the ODN platform, we measured a 7 percent increase in sessions for pages with a year or price in the title.
What you change your title to will depend on many factors, so a year or price might not help in your case. However, if some of your category pages have seasonal products or your industry competes heavily on prices, adding the year — or date, if applicable — or a price in the title could be quite beneficial.
5. Obtain backlinks
One thing that consistently helped my clients to obtain external links is creative pages — not shocking, I know. These are usually interesting articles or campaigns related to the business, not commercial pages (pages that are just trying to sell something), and they end up obtaining quite a lot of coverage from different sources and, subsequently, external links.
Building successful creative pages are not easy and won’t guarantee that an increase in any specific amount of backlinks, but it’s one of the safest ways to obtain organic backlinks. The process can also be quite expensive for big pieces but we’ve also experienced a positive impact with more lightweight pieces on a smaller budget.
If your budget or your client’s budget is on the modest side, you can still create a great piece. Here are a few tips to achieve that:
- Think about the data you have collected and what insights it might have for users who do not have access to it: can you spot trends and patterns that could be interesting for a wider audience?
- Surveys: you can certainly reach an audience to ask questions on a topic you want to create a piece of content for. If you can’t reach an audience for free, you can do this cheaply through paid surveys and collect your data this way.
- Hire freelancers: there is a lot of great talent you can scout on sites like Upwork to help you create a visually enticing piece
One of the best examples I have is a Distilled client who increased traffic by 70 percent (yes — really!) thanks to creative content. While this client’s budget was not small, the traffic obtained paid off the initial investment. My colleague, Leonie, who led and worked on the project, does a great job detailing what they achieved after publishing creative content for this client. I would summarize the main takeaways of her post with these reminders:
- Know your primary campaign goal
- Do not expect short term — focus on the long term strategy
- Measure results with multiple tools
Wrapping it up
Measuring the impact of SEO changes is a consistent challenge and not every SEO technique you throw at content will work. My hope is that this short list can provide you with some ideas and directions on things to consider when helping your site or your clients. As I mentioned above, these are not hard written rules, but they are the ones worth their weight and are certainly worth analyzing for the sites you are working on.
If you’ve you been able to measure an impactful SEO change that consistently helped your clients, please share your experience in a comment below.