Which is Best For SEO: Subdomains or Subfolders?

What’s better for SEO using a subdomain or subfolder? Is there a reason why?

This is an age-old debate when it comes to SEO. If you ask Google they’ll say they don’t really care if you use a subfolder or subdomain. You have to use what’s best for you.

Sound wishy washy? Maybe a little bit.

In the video below John Mueller explains Google’s view.

Ok now we have Google’s statement. They rank, crawl and index directories the same as they subdomains, which means you have the same chance to get either setup to rank.

But Wait, Why Don’t SEO Experts Agree?

If you talk to the SEO pros, you’ll find they don’t agree with this broad explanation. Here’s why.

EFFORT

It often takes a lot more effort to get a subdomain to rank.

First let’s look at how domains work:

  • First you have to register a top-level domain (yourdomain.com) with a registrar. Notice there is no “www”.
  • Then you need to set up hosting so you have access to a server that is online where you keep your website.

This is a relatively simple example.

Once you point the domain to the server you have to make a decision for how you want your website address to look:

  • Should it use a subdomain: i.e. www.yourdomain.com?
  • Or use the top-level domain: i.e. yourdomain.com

It’s very common to use www but this is technically a subdomain. As we saw in the video Google will rank either way the same. This is good. However, this also means each way will be rank individually. More on this later.

A Case For Why To Use Subdomains Instead of Subfolders:

Using subdomains is a great way to separate sections of you site that may be related but you want them to rank separately.

We can actually use Google itself as an example.

Google has many services and products.

  • There’s normal search which can be found under google.com
  • The Google Store: store.google.com
  • The app store, Google Play: play.google.com
  • Google My Business: business.google.com
  • Google Ads: ads.google.com

I could go on, but the point is these are all separate parts of the business that need to stand on their own and be found as individual entities, while still being connected to Google.

Need help optimizing your site? Talk to our SEO experts.

So here it makes sense to keep them on separate subdomains.

Why Use Subfolders Instead of Subdomains?

Let’s look at a different scenario which probably comes closer to what your company is facing.

Search engines love fresh useful informative content. And hey, so do people too. A great way to develop this content is to create a blog of a news section of you site and start posting content that is useful and relevant to your company, products and services and industry.

Subdomains divide your SEO strength

If you use the subdomain model it might look like this:

Google will look at these as three separate sites. If you were hoping to use you blog to support your main site and drive ranking for you products and services you’ll have to be very diligent in linking from your blog to the products and hope that some of the ranking authority passes from the blog to the main site.

If that seems a bit to abstract he’s a visualization that might help.

I’ll simplify the explanation using backlinks to your sites. Links are one of many factors that search engines use to rank sites, but limiting the discussion to backlinks will help clarify things.

If each one of your subdomains has the following number of backlinks.

  • Main site: www.yourdomain.com = 30
  • Blog: blog.yourdomain.com = 35
  • News: news.yourdomain.com = 10
  • Total = 75

This is what it looks like visually:

subdomains and links

You might think, “Great, we have 75 links!” But, since Google looks at each site separately they do not add up. They are links to each individual “site” or subdomain. If you are very diligent in cross-linking then some of the authority will pass to the other subdomains, but only a fraction of the full strength.

But if you use subfolders, and acquire links to the pages within the subfolders they are all part of the same site. Therefor your site www.yourdomain.com truly has 75 links pointing to the same subdomain or domain.

subdomains and links combined

Pro tip: Use the top-level domain whenever possible.

Meaning if not properly configured, your site could be ranking as two separate sits. For example:

Summary

It’s up to you to decide which option to use.  Both subfolders and subdomains have their merits and while Google will gives you the opportunity to rank subdomains and top-level domains equally this can also be a bad thing.

Our recommendation is to us subfolders or directories unless there is a good reason to separate sections of your site. This will help you save time and effort because using subdomains means you essentially have to do the same work for every subdomain individually, but with subfolders you only have one site that you need to work with.

How to Improve Google Ads Quality Score

I’m often asked things like the following about Quality Score in Google Ads.

  • Can you SEO our landing page so it improves the quality score in Google Ads?
  • We optimized our site, so why isn’t our quality score better?

SEO Does Not Fix Quality Scores

While optimizing a page for organic search can have the side effect of improving the quality score for specific keywords it does not necessarily mean it will be good for all keywords. Or that it will help at all.

Many people seem to get this confused, but SEO or search engine optimization and Google Ads Quality Score are different things. I guess people are actually confused with the idea of optimization.

optimization (noun)

op·​ti·​mi·​za·​tion | \ ˌäp-tə-mə-ˈzā-shən: an act, process, or methodology of making something (such as a design, system, or decision) as fully perfect, functional, or effective as possible

To be truly masterful at Paid Search management and improving Quality Score, you need to optimize the whole system. Landing page optimization is only one part of the system. There are several factors that need to be taken into account when looking at the Paid Search campaigns.

Optimize the Whole System

  • Keywords – Choosing the best keywords and match types for the thing or topic you are promoting.
  • Keyword organization – I.e. Adgroups with similar keywords. This means you need to careful group keywords so that they are very similar in theme.
  • Ad Text – Is the ad relevant. If someone is searching for cat food, does your ad copy provide a solution or answer the question that the searcher has.
  • Page Relevance – The page is relevant to what the person searched for and it provides a good experience. The copy is clear it helps them accomplish what they are looking to do.
  • Metrics are talked about less and are often less clear
    • Click through rate – What is the ration of views of your ads and the number of people that clicked?
    • Overall account quality – Do you have a bunch of bad campaigns and ads in your account? Or do you have hi quality campaigns that perform well?
    • Historical performance – Has your account performed well in the past of do you have a history of bad campaigns/

Quality Score is About the System as a Whole

In the end, optimizing Quality Score is really about optimizing your Paid Search campaigns as a system. Not just a quick fix to your landing pages.

Does the path from keyword -> to Ad copy -> to the Landing Page all line up an create a good experience for searchers? The better you can align this, the better your Quality Score will be.

How Much Should We Pay for SEO Services? SEO Pricing

seo pricing

As an SEO services agency, we are often faced with the question “How much should I really be paying for SEO services?”

That is often a loaded question. It usually depends on the industry and the state of the companies findability when we talk to them.

Look at it this way for industries that are more digitally savvy getting found online is more competitive. An obvious example is the SEO industry itself. Since we are all experts in the field it becomes very competitive. Whereas industries such as fitness, sports, travel or even metal fabrication may not have as many players that are fully leveraging digital marketing.

With that said though there have been a few studies that have gone down the rabbit hole and developed some real pricing to answer this question.

One of the most notable studies was performed by ahrefs. Ahrefs is a tool for evaluating SEO that is very popular among SEO consultants. The data from their SEO Pricing Report is what I will reference in much my discussion.

First, let me breakdown how the study was conducted. They surveyed Agencies, Consultants, and Freelancers to see how much they charged for SEO services in 2018. As you would expect the most expensive of the three was Freelancers and Agencies commanded the highest rates. Consultants sit somewhere in between.

Just as we do at Blackbird e-Solutions, most SEOs offer a variety of pricing models.

  • Monthly retainers
  • Project based
  • Hourly rates

How Much Should We Pay for SEO Per Month?

It depends on who you work with. Agencies, Consultants or Freelancers

seo pricing per month by business type

On average if we take the upper level of the pricing tier we see the following averages, with Agencies at the highest level:

  • Agencies: $2,819.87/month
  • Consultancies: $1,906.48/month
  • Freelancers: $1,364/month

Does experience play a role in SEO Pricing?

Yes

SEO Monthly Rates by time in business

You’ll notice that there is a pretty steep upward slope from 1 month to 2-4 years. Pricing does level off after that. Probably partly because once an SEO gets to a certain level they become more efficient which means they spend less time to do research and implementation.

How Much Do SEO Projects Cost?

This one is a bit more nuanced because the report doesn’t include exactly what type of projects were included in the data. For example, a one-off project could be optimizing a page for one keyword or a full website redesign with 10,000s of pages. Obviously the second would be much more expensive. But I don’t know for sure if that type of project is included in the pricing per project data. Also, typically larger projects are handled by large agencies, which might skew the pricing averages.

With that said, here’s the breakdown:

  • Agencies: $5,222.06 per project, on average.
  • Consultancies: $4,481.94 per project, on average.
  • Freelancers: $1,530.85 per project, on average.

Does Experience Play a Role in SEO Project Based Pricing?

This is an interesting case because, yes it does and by a lot!

SEO project rates by time in business

As you can see in the graph above. Things are pretty level until you reach 1 year. Then there is a big jump from $1,234.60 to $4,629.59 for professionals that have been in the business for more than 2 years. Then once you get to 10+ years the average is almost $6,000.

Quick Thoughts and Summary

As you probably expected there are a lot of different variables that come into play when considering pricing, but basically, it breaks down to these key things.

  • You’ll pay more for experienced professionals.
  • Freelancers are your most inexpensive option, but they may not be your best because they often have full-time jobs or other commitments that will mean that they may have time restraints.
  • Agencies while the most expensive are more readily available and typically have more people that can service your account.
  • One thing I didn’t mention is outsourcing. You can get a better rate if you work with an SEOs or agencies in places such as India. However, I always caution outsourcing anything that has to do with marketing or language because even if they speak the same language as your market, unless live and breath in the market that you are targetting they can never be an expert. But that’s a whole different discussion.

Hopefully, this helps answer the question of how much you should expect to pay for SEO. If you have any questions or insights, please leave a note in the comments.


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SEO is no Longer About Keywords

(SEO) Search Engine Optimization is no longer just about Keywords, it is about “searcher intent”.search intent or user intent

Searcher intent (also known as “user intent”) is the reason a person has for entering a query through a search engine.

It used to be you just had to find the keywords people searched for and add them to your copy and you were golden. However, Google has become much better at understanding why people search not just what they search. Understanding and optimizing for YOUR customers’ intent is critical for SEO and getting found online. There 4 types of intent:

  • Informational Intent
    • Info about the weather, info about educating kids, yoga classes near me, your business’ hours. They have a specific question or topic for which they are looking for answers.
  • Navigational Intent
    • People with the intent to get to a particular website. People who search “Planet Fitness” or “Target” are typically looking for the company’s site.
  • Transactional Intent
    • This is a search with the intent to buy: Samsung phone prices, deal, buy, discount.
  • Research Intent or Commercial Investigation
    • This is when people are researching for a purchase or for the best gym. Sort of the midway between Informational and Transactional

So yes, you do need to think about keywords, but you need to think about what “intention” you are trying to fulfill before you can determine what your content should be about or how to best optimize for your target.

Need help with your SEO strategy? We can help? Contact us and let us know you need help.


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SEO is a Strategy NOT a Tactic: Part 3 in a 3 Part Series

seo is a strategy not a tactic

This is the third installment of a three-part series about how SEO needs to be thought of as a strategy, not just a tactic.

SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate, compared to 1.7% for outbound leads (Imforza)

For any content that you put online, it is critical that it is optimized. Otherwise, you end up with the old adage, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there, did it make a sound?”

I know I sound like a broken record, but I’ll say it again, Your SEO team should be involved from the very beginning! Otherwise, it’s like throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping it sticks.

Search engine optimization, the thing that many people like to call a mythical, magical thing, really is not so magical if you know where to look for clues.

And that brings us to our third reason why SEO needs to be included at the beginning of a project.

3. The results don’t lie! Analyze the SERPs to see Google’s real ranking priorities

Think about it. Digging into the search results to see what types of content is ranking will lead to a better understanding of what is important to Google’s algorithm. This understanding is the only way your content will earn a high ranking. Marketers need to understand what is important for their vertical, niche, demographic so that their content has a chance of ranking well. Otherwise, we’re back to the spaghetti analogy.

By comparing what types of content that rank including, factors such as, backlinks, load time, post date, types of visualizations or content form marketers can understand what is most important for a solid search ranking. For example:

  • If the results page for your keyword is filled with images, infographics, videos, and diagrams, then searchers for that term prefer visual content.
  • If the results are dominated by comprehensive case studies, text with 2,000+ words, then users are looking for in-depth long-form content.
  • If the majority of results are videos, then, you guessed it, searchers prefer video.
  • If maps are the first result then users are really looking for a location.

I could go on, but I’ll leave it at that. The point is your SEO team can provide this information to you at the beginning of the project so that you don’t waste valuable time and effort trying to rank for content in forms that people aren’t interested in seeing.

Hopefully, after reading all three tips you better understand why SEO needs to be included at the beginning of a project rather than later. So for your next content project invite your SEO team to the initial strategy meetings this will make sure you are heading in the right direction right from the start.


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SEO is a Strategy NOT a Tactic: Part 2 in a 3 Part Series

seo is a strategy not a tactic

This is the second installment of a three-part series about how SEO needs to be thought of as a strategy, not just a tactic.

73% of in-house marketers and 76% of US agencies said SEO provided excellent or good return on investment (ROI). (eMarketer)

How do you create an SEO strategy that achieves “excellent or good ROI”? By building SEO into the beginning of every content project, not at in the middle or even worse at the end of the project.

As I said last time, Your SEO team should be involved from the very beginning! This is the only way you will be able to create remarkable content marketing campaigns.

Here is the second reason why SEO and keyword research are so important.

2. Keyword research defines what content to use

Search engines have become much better at understanding user intent. What this means is they can better assess what it is that the searcher is really looking for. Marketers can use keyword research to understand where searchers are in their purchasing journey, what information they need, and what type of information they want to see.

  • Where are searchers in their buyer’s journey?
    Broad keywords that give searchers an intro to a high-level category of results are often used for searchers that fall into the “awareness” stage. Think “shoes.” This a stage where they may not really need shoes, but they are thinking about what is out there. Where more specific keywords typically fall into a stage that is later in the journey. Searchers know they have a problem and they are looking for a solution. Or in this case they know they need new shoes and they know what type of shoe they want. For example, “brown leather hiking boots.”  
  • What information do searchers need?
    Keywords that produce results the include how-tos or basic understanding of a topic are typically being used for a learn intent. Or to gain knowledge. However, if the search results offer product comparisons, branded pages or pricing, then the usually the goal of the search falls into purchase intent.  
  • Who is searching for the information?
    Understanding who needs the information will help marketers build a search strategy for content marketing around personas that match the way people search. For keywords that produce in-depth, highly technical search results, then the audience is most likely people who are working with the products or data. If the search results are a higher level strategy or business ideas, the audience is likely executives or business owners. For example, “specs for Windows laptops” compared to “profitability Windows laptops.”

Doing this kind of keyword research up front will help develop a content marketing calendar that is detailed, is aligned with your business goals and provides direction for content before it is written. Content will then include the relevant information, target the right audience at the right point of their journey and remove the wasted time and effort it takes to fix content after it has been produced.

Next time we’ll talk about how combing through search results pages reveals ranking priority and the most popular ways people are digesting content.


return on investment roi

SEO is a Strategy NOT a Tactic: Part 1 in a 3 Part Series

seo is a strategy not a tactic

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is often thought of as a strangely mystical practice that many people, including marketers, don’t understand. It then becomes an afterthought. The thing is though it is just a strategy that starts with the question, “what are people searching for online?

Keyword research is instrumental in answering this question. It can help determine who your real audience is, where they are in their buyer’s journey, help you discover what information people are really searching for and what formats they like the best. This will help you develop a better more effective content strategy.

SEO is the number one lead-generating source reported by inbound marketing professionals. You should be thinking about search every time you create content! 

Once you understand that the next question you might ask yourself is when do I need to start the process. There’s an easy answer to this too. As soon as possible!

Too often companies wait until too late to get their SEO team involved in content projects. Then it either creates more work because copy needs to be rewritten or it is not effective because not enough consideration was taken when creating content and campaigns. Your SEO team should be involved from the very beginning.

I’ll say it again. Your SEO team should be involved from the very beginning! And here is the first of 3 reasons why. We’ll talk about the other two later in the series.

1. SEO should drive content not be a fluffy decoration that is nice to have.

When you wait until a campaign is developed or a new page is created to consider SEO, it becomes a decoration, not a driver.

When you’re looking for ideas for your content calendar you want to answer questions that your visitors ask. Yes, questions or issues that come from support or your sales team may be good topics to address, but are they really what people are looking for digitally? Online content that has SEO value needs to be developed based on the questions that people are asking, you guessed it, online.

Developing an effective content strategy starts with keyword research. This will give you insight into what your audience wants, needs and questions for which they are searching for answers. The keyword research process helps marketers brainstorm to come up with content ideas, create effective copy the first time and find plenty of ideas to fill their content calendar.

There is, however, one caveat to this one. You do need some direction from your business objectives before starting. Your SEO team will need to understand what you would like to accomplish. Are you trying to sell more product, teach people a new process, etc. For example, if you sell carpet and your keyword research shows that a lot of people are searching for “chairs” is this really helpful to your content strategy? A better scenario would be if you have a new product coming out that is great for offices and if the SEO team is up to speed they will know to look for what office managers are searching for when they think about flooring.

Make sure to involve your SEO team in the very beginning when you are building your marketing strategy. This will keep them close to the business objectives and provide deep insight into what people are looking for online.

Next, we’ll talk about how keyword research should define your content.


Need help with your keyword research and content strategy? We can help!

Resist Putting Your Digital Ads on Cruise Control

Everyone gets busy and one of the great things about technology is that it can automate a lot of things. Here are some great examples of automation:

  • The Nest thermostat.
  • Home automation, setting up your lights to automatically come on at night or when you are away.
  • Making your morning coffee. I need this one!

In marketing there are a lot of great automations examples as well:

  • Reporting, so you don’t have to spend hours pulling data and can concentrate on analysis.
  • Email campaigns. Campaigns that start when someone on your site fills out a form. So you don’t have to start a new campaign each time someone signs up.
  • Even automated bidding for digital campaigns is very helpful. This way your bids are automatically optimized so you don’t have to spend hours checking and rechecking them.

Today I was reminded that there are definitely things as marketers we need to remember to not set on cruise control. Automation ok, but you can’t just set it and forget it. Check out the ad from Volkswagen I saw on LinkedIn.

VW ad on cruise control - from 2017

See anything strange?

How about,

“It says you’ve arrived. Ahead of schedule.”

Um “The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta”????  And the ad simply goes to new cars. It’s May 2018!

This is a great example of automation taken too far. Clearly they have not looked at their campaign very closely since the beginning of the year. How do you think it is performing?

To have a successful digital campaigns on any platform you should monitoring them regularly for the following aspects of their performance:

  • Let’s get the first one out of the way. Regular audits of the message.
  • Does the message resonate with your audience?
  • Is it timely? In this case, an obvious no.
  • How’s the visibility? Is it still getting impression?
  • Are people engaging with  the ad?
  • Are your bids still acceptable? Has the ad seen an increase in cost per click for some reason?

Without monitoring these basic aspects you can end up with ads that don’t make sense and are largely ineffective, cost you more than they should, or even worse they could make you look silly.

Moral is automate when it makes sense, but don’t let it your ads go on cruise control!

SEO and Web Design – Plan for a Ongoing Updates

I’ve written about this before (read Building a Website & Getting it Found Online is Not a “Once & Done” Tactic), but unfortunately many people still believe if they build and optimize a website once their site will be #1 in Search. Sadly this is rarely if ever the case with SEO and Web Design.

website optimization servicesYou could look at it like buying a bike. When you buy it and take it home from the bike dealer it is shiny and new.  Everything works great. Gears shift smoothly and you can stop on a dime with the brand new breaks. You know what it’s like, it’s exciting!

To keep your wonderful new bike in top shape you need to do some small regular maintenance.  You need to oil the chain to make sure it doesn’t start to wear out and maybe eventually break.  If you ride it in the rain, wiping it down afterward is good practice to keep it from corroding, rusting or so pieces of dirt or rock don’t damage the rims when breaking. The brakes may need adjusting or the pads may need replacing. It’s the same with websites.

This is why many SEO experts charge a monthly or quarterly fee.  As you add blog posts, pages or other content, even when you remove content, you need to think about how it affects the optimization of the site.

Create a Procedure for Updating and Optimizing Your Website

One of the best things you can do is create a process for website updates and optimization. If you have a system in place for adding and removing content as well as optimization, you’ll have a concise process that leads to the best SEO results. This will ensure that everyone in your organization is on the same page and your site stays uniform.

Here are a few examples:

  • New pages and posts: Each time you add a new post or page you should take into account a few aspects. What is the purpose or intent of the page/post? What keywords are you targeting? What part of your business does the post or page support? Each post or page should be designed with these factors in mind.
  • Moving content and redirects: This is critical when developing a new site as well as maintaining a website. Maybe you have a page that is no longer relevant and you want to remove it. If the page received any traffic you need to create a 301 redirects (permanent redirect) to let the search engines know where the visitors show go now.
  • File naming: With the invention of Universal Search, it is now possible to rank for multiple types of media. So you can be found in search via many different types of media. By making sure that your files are name correctly, i.e. clearly describe the content or media and include relevant keywords, you have a better chance of ranking in multiple ways. You can also add descriptions for images and other content.
  • Linking – Internal and Inbound Links: Both are very important. For inbound links you should create a standard for linking before you start acquiring links. This means the anchor text should be established as well as what type of links you want to acquire.  Internally this also means making sure links are up to date and not pointing to pages that have been removed.

Having a process in place will definitely help keep your website uniform and help maximize your SEO efforts.  So if you don’t have one, get your process plan in place today!

Need help with your process? Contact us to see how we can improve and maintain your website and digital marketing. 

 

“Don’t forget About the Body” When it Comes to Website Optimization

Straight from the disembodied head of Matt Cutts… “Don’t forget the body” when you optimize your website.

Each page of a website is made of at least 3 main parts.

  • The Head: This is where links for style information, scripts and meta tags (Title, Description) are found.  The code in the Head is not directly visible when someone visits your page.
  • The Body:  This is where the main visible portion of your page is. So, what visitors see when the view your site. The main body copy, images, etc.
  • The Footer: This also has contains elements that are visible to visitors, but it can also contain scripts and other code.

When it comes to website optimization, one aspect of optimizing is to make sure that the Title and Description meta tags are unique and include keywords relevant to what the page is about (pay no attention to the “Keywords:” meta tag. The search engines don’t, so why should you?). Many people get caught up in thinking this is all that matters and think if the put a bunch of keywords in the Head and meta tags, they will rank high for those keywords. Sadly though if the body content does not include the keywords, they likely will never rank well!

Google continues to improve and is trying to make their search results better. They are looking at the content on websites and what the site is about. Without keywords and content in the body of your pages it will be very difficult for Google to understand what your site is about.

So, listen to Matt’s head, and don’t forget about the body.