WooRank gives online marketers and SEOs a solution to optimize, promote and measure their websites against optimization best practices. Its real-time SEO report, consisting of over 70 criteria, will help you to instantly spot critical issues that impact traffic, usability and conversions. In this interview, WooRank Head Of Marketing Courtney Harrington discusses the foundations, challenges and future of strategic SEO, and invites readers to try WooRank’s free website audit to instantly improve their SEO posture.
Please describe the story behind the WooRank: What sparked the idea, and how has it evolved so far?
WooRank started a little over 10 years ago, when our co-founders, Nils De Moor and Boris Demaria were speaking with an SEO consultant. This SEO consultant just kept complaining about the tedious, repetitive routine of website auditing. For him, not only was it long and quite boring, but the preliminary work was generally done prior to even having a contract signed. You can’t really close a deal without the website audit in that industry, but you don’t necessarily even close the deal even with the website audit. So he was getting very frustrated. So Nils and Boris had a thought that lots of repetitive work was something that could be automated. It started as a challenge or a proof of concept. When the first iteration of WooRank was launched, people really liked it and the rest, as they say, is history.
And just a little bit about our name: to Woo means to seduce someone, and rank is about getting good ranking, so it’s really all about seducing Google to give you good rankings.
We started as a website auditing tool and it just blossomed and flourished from there. We’ve added so many extra features. The power of our instant website review is unmatched in the industry. We have our Keyword Tool, which has the ability to do local tracking; we have competitive analysis; we have a full technical site crawl, that was built by our brilliant developers. We also have our white-label PDF reporting and more sales tools for SEO professionals.
WooRank has evolved from being an automated way for SEO consultants to review websites for potential clients, to an audit tool that is really accessible for any level of SEO knowledge. If you’re just starting out, WooRank is a perfect tool for you. If you’re an SEO expert needing to share this knowledge with your clients or if you’re just using it for market research or industry trends, then we’re perfect for you as well, and everything in between. In our index alone, we have about 26 million websites that we’ve reviewed, that can be queried and used for your own sales purposes. The initial idea of just doing this website audit for an SEO consultant has branched off into all of these really incredible and very interesting different tools that we offer.
Here’s a quick preview of WooRank’s SEO report:
What would you say are the most important factors. When creating an SEO strategy?
This is a question I get asked a lot: where do I start? What do I do? So really, when you think about a solid SEO strategy, you have to think about the three main pillars of SEO: content, technical SEO, and promotion, which mainly means backlinks.
Every SEO strategy should start with keyword research. This is going to help to guide your content strategy, allowing you to really understand how your audience searches for your products or your services, and know how to meet that demand. So once you start building your pages around that content and around that keyword research, you also need to be sure that they can be discovered, crawled and indexed by search engines. That’s where the technical SEO comes into play, because you can create the most wonderful content, the most insightful and perfect piece of content that your readers would love, but if you’re not doing the technical SEO, no one’s ever going to see it, so there was really no point of even creating that content in the first place.
The technical SEO includes things like making sure you’re only providing one version of your page, you can do that with the help of canonical tags, as well as creating a sitemap and submitting it to search engines so that they can find all of your most important pages.
And then finally, the crux of the industry, the backlinks, is still definitely one of the most important parts of SEO but for that reason, it can also be the hardest to get right. So making your link profile as diverse as possible is really your best bet. Avoid being punished by search engines for unnatural practices. When I say unnatural practices, let’s just say that you have a car dealership in South Africa. It wouldn’t make sense for you to have a backlink coming from a hair salon in Milwaukee. They’re not close to each other; they’re not in the same industry; they have nothing to do with one another, and Google is smart enough to see that there is no connection there. But if you are, let’s say, a Bed and Breakfast, with an amazing apartment that you want to be promoting in Manchester, and then a travel blogger from London writes about your B&B, that’s a very natural backlink. Again, Google is smart enough to see the connection and to see that this is a relevant backlink you’re getting.
We often say backlinks are quality over quantity. Anybody that emails you and says “I can get you 200 backlinks overnight”, run as far away as possible! If you get 200 backlinks overnight from all of these spammy or non-authoritative sites, that’s not going to be good for your website. So really, slow and steady wins the race of backlinks. Making sure that they’re coming from people who would backlink to you naturally, in your industry or proximity, and then also making sure that you’re building them at a natural pace. Building 200 links overnight is just not feasible, no one can really assume you can do that unless you have the most viral piece of content ever. So, if you’re building links without any context, simply with the hope of ranking, it’s probably going to cause more harm than good. And that is what I would say are the fundamentals of building an SEO strategy.
What would you say are the main challenges today for website owners and SEO professionals?
For SEO professionals, and even just digital marketers in general, there’s a couple of things that I would say are challenging. The first thing is just the difficulty of some of the SEO techniques. I know that it can be overwhelming if you’re just getting started as a business owner, and you decide that you want to take on SEO yourself without outsourcing it to a specialist or a company. Especially with the amount of information and the number of little boxes you have to check, it can be very overwhelming for beginners as well as for SEO professionals.
Having to convey what needs to be done to your client, who doesn’t necessarily understand the importance of SEO, would be a challenge on both sides. If you’re an SEO professional, and you’re not necessarily the one making those technical changes, communicating to those clients that you’re just there to report might be a difficult concept for them to understand. Then there are things like adding structured data or adding alt tags. If they don’t even know what an alt tag is, it can be difficult to explain why it is important.
Some of the information that you find on the internet is not that accurate, so our solution helps in several ways. First, we distill that difficult information down and make it easily digestible. We also provide SEO guides that give you only relevant and tested information. We also guide customers on how to implement those fixes on their sites, one step at a time. Unlike some other tools on the market, we don’t just throw the data at you and send you on your way. We give you actionable advice to make sure that you can make those changes on your own, even if you’re not super confident in your technical skills.
Finally, for those clients who feel like it’s all too much and they’re about to rip their hair out, we have a services team that can take care of that work for them. That’s something that we’ve just recently started offering but it’s been highly beneficial for those users that look at their SEO report and have no idea what to do with it.
How would you advise website owners or SEO professionals to stay ahead of Google updates in order to keep their positions?
Well, the short answer is you can’t. You can’t stay ahead of Google’s updates, but you can stay on top of them. Google is under no obligation to tell us when or how or why or where they’re making an update. We can just be reactive and try to test what’s been going on.
If, as a website owner, you want to stay on top of Google updates, this is where you need to decide if you’re going to become a master of SEO yourself and follow all of the updates from Google to keep abreast of what’s happening. But ultimately, the easiest way is just to let us do our job at WooRank. We’re in the industry and this is our lifeblood, so we will break those updates down for you, send out newsletters, and then on the back end, we’re always updating our software to reflect those changes. So for instance, when Google said that they’re no longer using Google+ as a platform, we immediately removed that from our auditing review. But then, when they’re saying they’re placing a lot more importance on structured data, that would be weighed a little more heavily within our review.
Even if cosmetically the Review looks the same day in and day out, just know that we are constantly updating our review tool and algorithm based on what we know Google is looking at and what they’re using as their ranking factors.
Google has also published a set of guidelines to help point out some of the practices they see as attempting to “game the system”. The general theme here is just to avoid anything that doesn’t have your users’ best interests at heart.
How do you think voice search is going to impact the SEO industry?
This is something that we’ve talked a lot about here at WooRank. We’ve been to a few different conferences and had some talks about this as well, so it’s something that we’re well versed in. At WooRank, we’re always going to adapt and respond to any major change in search. Whether that’s recognizing the massive shift to mobile devices over the last few years, or when websites went responsive 10 years ago. As voice becomes more integrated with search engines, WooRank does include this data in its algorithm.
At the moment, most Voice Search requests are just being passed through an existing search engine like Google or Bing anyway, so we do have the advantage that we’re already pretty intuitive about what Google and Bing want to find. Of course, there are also some standalone services like Samsung’s or Amazon’s, but the search industry itself tends to fall in line with Google and follow very similar trends.
Which trends or technologies do you expect to see more of in the coming years?
As I mentioned earlier, structured data is becoming much more widely used. There are great tools on the market, like a tool that we work with, called WordLift, which makes it so much easier to implement. I often say to our customers, specifically to our novice customers, that schema.org and structured data’s bark is so much worse than its bite. It sounds very technical, but it’s not actually that difficult to implement. Especially with tools like WordLift that can just do the heavy lifting of content marketing for you. I think that would be the next major iteration of SEO.
Can you explain in simple terms what structured data is all about?
Structured data is making sure that Google and other search engines can understand your content in the same way a human would understand it. The most widely used example of this would be the word apple. If I tell you I’m going to have an apple for lunch, you’ll understand that I mean the fruit because you’re a human; but sometimes search engines and different technologies need a little bit more context because they might misinterpret my use of the word apple and think I’m going to eat a computer for lunch.
Schema.org and unstructured data really help to organize your content and make sure that search engines understand who you are and what you’re talking about. It helps them to contextualize what’s on your website.
What that helps do as well, is deliver your website to the right people at the right time using something called user intent. Google pays a lot of attention to the way people are searching, and structured data gives Google even more hints to help find the right website that matches a person’s search query.
Google is continuing to use more and more data points provided through the schema markup within the search results, which has really put it at the center of SEO. In recent years, as I’m sure everyone who’s reading this does understand, Google has been changing the search results as we once knew them. It’s no longer just a list of links that you scroll down; it is now more of a plethora of extra features and information. If you have a simple question like “Why is the sky blue?” you’ll see the “people also ask” box. You can click the drop-down and have your answer without even leaving the Google Platform. If you have a recipe that you’re trying to make, you don’t necessarily need to leave Google; you’ll see the bullet points and instructions being pulled from the website. If you say to Google, using schema markup, that this is a recipe, Google knows that it can pull that recipe and show it on their platform. This is all part of the schema markup. There are lots of new opportunities to improve the visibility of your search listing just with the use of structured data.
I was on a demo yesterday with someone that was trying to rank for the word loans, which in America is being searched over a million times a month. Especially considering what’s going on right now financially with COVID-19, that’s a very well searched term. But even though they’re not ranking in the top 100 positions, there are plenty of other ways to kind of Trojan-horse your way onto the first page of Google.
Take a look at what’s being asked in the “People also ask” section. Take a look at the types of videos and multimedia that are being shown on the first page. If you answer those “people also ask” questions; if you create a video or a piece of content that answers “What’s the best way to get a business loan” or something a bit more tailored like that, you might have an opportunity of showing up in the first page, whereas with just your existing content alone, maybe you wouldn’t have any chance of ranking. So that’s really where structured data comes in.
Structured data is just making sure that Google can understand your content because the easier you’re making it for Google, the more they’re going to like you; the easier it is for users to understand how to navigate your content, the more Google’s going to want to reward you and show you on search results.
How do you envision the future of your industry?
I think if we take recent events, it’s really proven just how much organic search is needed. I don’t think that SEO is going anywhere anytime soon. I think a lot of businesses, specifically small businesses, are now realizing the importance of being online when everyone has been stuck in their houses for the last five months.
At least on my end, I certainly didn’t stop shopping. You get bored of watching Netflix all day and checking your email, so you pop over to Amazon or to ASOS, and you’re shopping again. So it’s important to really have that presence online for your users.
I’ll give you a real-world example. My mom’s birthday was in May, and she loves this little bakery in her hometown; she decided she wanted to get this “quarantine cake” that they made, and she was able to get it just by going to their website and searching. But small-town businesses often don’t realize the importance of being online and that’s a perfect example of it.
When looking at what’s going on in the industry, I think more and more people are understanding that it is crucial to have online presence and visibility. If you’re not doing SEO and you think you don’t need it because you have a fantastic brick and mortar shop or people in town know you and love you, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to be online. What if another wave of COVID-19 happens and everyone is stuck inside again?
If this year has taught us anything, it’s that Earth is going to throw curveballs. We’re going to get hit with curveballs and it’s important to have that online visibility so that your loyal customers and the people that you trust to keep your business afloat are still able to find you and communicate with you through online platforms.
So in terms of what’s going on in the industry, my answer is that SEO is becoming smarter and more reactive. It’s not just about putting this keyword here and that keyword there. It’s a lot more nuanced than that, but luckily, you have tools like WooRank that can help you navigate those choppy waters, understand the best practices, and use what we’re learning and what we know Google appreciates to boost your site organically.
With SEO, it’s so much more of a long term investment. We often say that SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. If you’re expecting to see those results overnight, I’m sorry, it’s just not going to happen. But SEO success really builds off of itself and it’s much more sustainable than doing a PPC campaign where as soon as you stop paying, your traffic completely drops off.
On a side note, I don’t know about you but I get ad blindness. Whenever I go to Google and I search for something, I will spitefully not click on the ad, even if that’s the website I want to go to. So if I’m searching, for instance, for a new pair of Nike sneakers, and I see the exact thing I’m looking for as an ad, and then two links down is the exact same thing without the ad, I’m going to scroll and click the non-ad. I don’t know why, but I know that I’m not the only person that does this.
So if you really think about user behavior, people are more likely to click on the organic result. Having that organic result being on the first page just instills a real sense of trust with your users, because they know that you have solid content, otherwise you wouldn’t be on the first page.
What are your future plans for WooRank?
WooRank has a lot of interesting things coming down the pipeline. There are a few new features that we’re working on getting delivered by the end of the year. I think it’s a really great time to come over and try what we have. All of our tools have been amplified and tweaked during the lockdown, so the website information that we’re delivering is just as powerful, but then we have this new stuff coming out too, which is really cool.
Come over to WooRank and do a 14-day trial. There’s no commitment there and we have lots of different plans for lots of different needs. If you’re just starting out, you can start auditing with our free tool, or if you’re a global company wanting to benchmark your SEO success and have cohesiveness for all of your different branches around the globe, we have plans for you too.
WooRank is accessible for any level of SEO knowledge and designed to be tailored to your digital marketing strategy. It’s not just a “pay to do this” solution. We work with you to find out what would be the most beneficial for your strategy. You can sync up with Google Analytics and Search Console, integrate your data, and have it all on a single SEO platform. I think that’s what makes us particularly unique in the SEO audit tool arena.