The Best SEO Tools and Strategies for 2018 – Interview with Sean Hecking
By Chris Karel
In this interview, I dive into website health and the best SEO tools you can use to improve Search Engine Optimization. I sat down with Sean Hecking of Interactive Cleveland to get his expert insights on the topics. Sean is an experienced digital marketing consultant that helps companies build and execute successful Internet marketing strategies. He primarily focuses on search engine optimization (SEO) strategy and Google AdWords pay-per-click search marketing.
Chris: Let’s jump into Search Engine Optimization or SEO concepts and see if we can deliver a helpful read for folks looking for insights or tools. The goal is to give a preview of the Digital Marketing SIG workshop, and offer a quick view of the SEO topic for those who cannot attend the SIG.
Sean: Sounds good Chris! I’m on board. (laughs).
Chris: Do you read reddit?
Sean: I do a little bit, but I’m not an avid reader.
Chris: One of the best subreddits that I’ve found is Explain Like I’m 5 (ELI5). It is a great way to get information on topics in language that can be more approachable than a Google search will reveal. So, in the ELI5 spirit, explain SEO.
Sean: I think a lot of people think of SEO as getting their page to rank on the first page of Google results, or the top of Google for their high traffic keywords. SEO has really evolved past focusing on ranking for a handful of very competitive keywords. We see the best results from SEO when companies focus on the quality and health of their website. For example, how well does your site convert visitors to customers? Related to that, you should look at the user experience – specifically the mobile experience – and look at how fast it loads. Google is really looking at all of those things right now.
Chris: OK. So let’s unpack a few things you said there. What do you mean by “converting”?
Sean: When people go to a website, they can do a variety of things like read a blog article or look at your products or services. Ultimately, there is a goal. When people go to your site, you want to lead them through a process that you have designed. In the end, you want them to buy a product, pick up the phone, or subscribe to your email list. When a visitor to your site follows the process and that leads to them buying your product or service, they have converted from a visitor to a customer. When companies can marry the process of engaging visitors to SEO they see the best results.
Increasing Web Traffic
Chris: When you’re looking to increase website visitors, what is the first thing you should be reviewing?
Sean: What I like to do before I start to build a strategy is look into current performance. So this means looking into analytics by running some tools to see what the website returns in searches right now. I try to ask questions: Am I mainly in search results for my branding? Am I in the search results for some non-brand keywords? Before I suggest doing anything, I like to establish benchmarks. For example, you want to look into how you are ranking compared to your top two or three competitors and learn what they are doing in the SEO space.
Chris: That leads me right into the next question. What are the SEO or digital marketing tools you use almost every day?
Sean: Moz and SEMrush are the two that I use pretty frequently. I also dig deep into Google Analytics, and Google just released a new Search Console. This is a great tool to monitor website health. It used to be called Webmaster Tools. So if you are getting started, I would start with Google Analytics and Search Console and then move into the other two I mentioned (Moz and SEMrush) to help crawl pages and monitor performance.
Chris: In one sentence or two, please tell me what each of those tools does: What does Moz do? What does SEMrush do? What does Search Console do? Tell me, what purpose does each of them serve?
Sean: Sure. Moz and SEMrush are similar. Each of them is used to monitor your website’s health and look at keyword performance of both brand and non-brand keywords. They give you a way to measure the progress of your keywords and your competitors’ keywords over a period of time, day to day, week to week, month to month.
Pay Attention to the Mobile Experience
Chris: So what would you say is the number one thing companies neglect with their websites?
Sean: Mobile experience. Most importantly, I see a lot of companies that have been focused on the desktop for so long and they are trying to make the transition to mobile. Consequently, I see a lot of user experience issues out there. The other thing companies neglect is technical SEO like crawl errors on their website. By using Search Console to find errors, you can save a lot of pain later. Over time this neglect snowballs into greater SEO issues.
Chris: How frequently should companies be looking at site health?
Sean: I would say at least once a month. If you have someone paid to manage SEO, they should probably be looking at site health reports every few weeks. They should be checking on algorithm updates from Google to stay ahead of things. What’s great about the tools I mentioned is that they have alerts that if something is going on with your site, they will let you know. I would even suggest scheduling a routine crawl to ensure good site health.
50 Best Digital Marketing Tools & Resources
Chris: I’ve heard that you have a list of the 50 Best Digital Marketing Tools & Resources. Can you share your top 5 with me? I’m guessing Moz and SEMrush are on the list.
Sean: Yes! Over the years, I’ve compiled a list of bookmarks that I use to solve a lot of problems for companies. If you are going to pick five, then I’d look to select tools that allow you to do a little bit of everything. Find the right tools that cover what you need. First, I would start with either Moz or SEMrush. If you are looking to monitor social engagement and content promotion, then you should look at Buzzsumo; it will tell you how your content is performing related to your SEO. I mentioned Search Console – that’s a must have! It helps you understand changes to Google and offers you a view of any problems that may exist. Screaming Frog is another great one for crawling your website.
Chris: Screaming Frog?
Sean: (laughs) Screaming Frog does a deep dive into your site. It’s perfect for a content audit or technical audit. It crawls pretty much everything, PDFs, images, or any resource on your site. It gives you insight into errors or problems anywhere in your site. For content, I would suggest Browseo. If you are a content writer and you want to know what your content looks like in search engines, then Browseo is great. You can plug a page in and see what a search engine sees.
Chris: Thanks for the list Sean! Now, I’d like to flip the switch a bit and talk about video specifically. How does video affect SEO these days?
SEO for Video Posts
Sean: We are seeing more people searching for answers to questions. Specifically, people are searching for solutions or answers instead of just short keyword queries. I see video show up embedded in Google search results when people look for an answer. For example, if you do a search for “How to get started with selling on Amazon” you’ll get a video in the top five results. Google is integrating video right into results now. You don’t really have to go to YouTube to find a video anymore. If you are doing video optimization properly, then you will rank for the questions you are looking to answer. Conversely, if it’s more of a long form video, then you can create video snippets that are meant to rank for the keywords that you want to rank for. By rank, I mean the position in the results page. (The higher the rank, the easier your website is to find in search results for that keyword)
Chris: Do you think it is intentional on Google’s part?
Sean: I think so. Google is trying to reduce clicks to improve the search experience. As a result, they are also trying to keep most of the eyeballs their paid ads. This practice tends to upset marketers as people do not have to click through to a website anymore. The search result is pulling directly from a site and showing a snippet result that best answers the question.
Optimizing Video Content
Chris: To optimize video content, what is most important: title, description, keywords, tags, or location on the site or multiple sites?
Sean: All of those things are going to help, but I would say that it would be better to come up with a target audience: Who are you trying to reach? What questions are you trying to answer? I would start with what we call long-tail keyword research. Look for things that people are searching for and see if you can address those questions. Also, you can look to see what competition is out there answering those questions. Look for some keywords or questions that don’t have that much competition.
Use Customer Questions to Identify Content Need
Chris: OK. That’s good stuff. What are some things that marketers and companies can do to their video content that results in better SEO?
Sean: I would go back to the research. Figure out, in your space, what are the questions people are asking? SEMrush or Google’s auto-suggestions offer you what people are searching for. By looking for those underserved questions or keywords, you can find gaps or unfilled needs that you can go after.
Chris: Last question, what advice do you have for marketers in 2018?
Sean: I would say look at mobile. Google is pushing out a mobile-first update in early 2018. For any company that hasn’t yet updated for mobile, this is where you should start immediately. Some customers I monitor have over 60% traffic on mobile versus desktop. I suggest looking to take a mobile-first mentality in your marketing program. I’d say people should look at the differences in the call to action on mobile. Most of all, if you don’t have things like click tracking and click to call, then you’ll want to look at those things and make sure you have those in place.
Chris: What tool do you suggest for click tracking?
Sean: There are a variety of tools out there. We use CrazyEgg. The tool gives you a better understanding of the click and scroll activity on mobile. Also, they have more advanced tagging if you want to segment visitors.
Chris: Any final words Sean?
Sean: There really is no one solution that works for everyone. There are major differences from B2B to B2C. The key is using analytics and research to figure out what works best.
Chris: Thanks Sean. I really appreciate you taking the time to offer some SEO insights .
Sean: Thanks for your time. I enjoyed it as well.