The New Year is here! All the usual suspects are present: evergreens are glowing, Mariah Carey is singing, and us? We are hoping! Hoping for the next year to be so much better, more fun, more successful than the last one.
As much as the New Year is about looking back at all the good that's happened in the last 365 days, it's also about looking forward! So right now, make it your job to ignore your inner pessimist, and turn the "childlike optimism" up to 11.
Because now is the perfect time to look not just a year, but an entire decade ahead! A 10-year challenge is a very real thing. In front of you are 10 years' worth of opportunities!
To grow personally and professionally, though, you can't just be going with the flow. You need a direction to go in. This is where resolutions come in. They are the framework which you can use to judge your progress.
What we get wrong about New Year resolutions
So first of all, let's think about what makes people quit on resolutions. Most people formulate their goals like this:
- Eat healthier
- Get out more
- Prioritize family
And the list goes on to one hundred and seventy-two points. What's the problem with all of these resolutions? They are too vague. They simply aren't actionable! What does it actually mean to "eat healthier"? We all get it, but there's simply no way to track your success there.
So how to actually eat healthier? Make that resolution actionable! Say: "Monday, Wednesday and Friday will be the health-foods days from now on" — this is a resolution you can actually keep. Aim to make resolutions that you can implement in a concrete way into your daily life!
I believe the resolution to "prioritize SEO" is too vague. We need to break it up as well! Make it into a bunch of actionable goals instead! And this is what we're going to do here. We're going to make a series of smaller, actionable, concrete resolutions that will actually help you improve the overall SEO of your website considerably.
What to keep in mind
When setting goals for yourself for next year, remember this:
- Only use clear definitions. If you're making a commitment to do something over the course of a year, you need to know exactly what it is you are signing up for. Plus, having a detailed definition will stop you from making a million excuses about the meaning of the word "exercise".
- Keep asking yourself "Why is that important right now?" — with so many things to do, you should manage your time carefully. Building an agenda for a day, a month or a year, you need to have a very firm grasp on why handling this particular thing is necessary right now.
- For every resolution, know exactly how to do it. After the "what" and the "why", you now need the "how". With every resolution idea given on this list, there will also be a "game plan". Avoid forming resolutions that you have no idea how to deliver on!
- Don't expect results January 2nd — to do anything right you need time, and SEO even more than most things! Take it one week, preferably one day at a time, and remember that you're in this for the long haul. Best SEO practices accumulate and yield long-term benefits, but it takes some persistence.
- SEO is complicated — so don't attempt to do everything at once! There's a ton of intricacies in our work. From website auditing to link building, doing SEO really means doing a million things! So you have to spread your SEO efforts in a way that doesn't immediately overwork you. Remember that you can do anything, but nobody can do everything.
- It's not about New Year at all — even though we look at January 1st as the day of new beginnings, the reality is that it's never the wrong time to be better. That goes for everything: family, career, gym, SEO — it's never too late or too early to do better. January 1st simply offers a nice symbolic starting place.
Whew, that's a lot, isn't it? But all of those points are non-trivial, and, yeah, kind of boring, but absolutely vital for actually making it through the year having achieved consistent progress.
With all of that in mind, I'll share with you a few of my own SEO resolution ideas for 2020. It's only 5 things, because I believe you shouldn't bite off more than you can chew.
Yet those 5 things, done continuously throughout the year, will accumulate and make a huge difference for any webmaster out there.
Resolution idea #1: Perform a monthly website audit
Real-world equivalent: "This year I'll start taking better care of my health" — a timely audit, much like a timely visit to the doctor's office, will end up saving you money and trouble.
Just so we're clear on the definitions, running an SEO audit means analyzing your domain and all of the pages in it to determine their rankability. Every page of your website is looked at very closely in order to ascertain the overall compliance with the best practices for ranking in search engines. You also see any technical problems, from the most urgent to the most benign.
We've written before on the importance of running a full website audit. Things on the web change pretty fast, Google is rolling out updates constantly, your content becomes outdated, pages stop working, you start getting penalized for something you barely remember doing!
Much like with your actual health, check-ups should not be something done sporadically, every once in a while. Instead, the responsible thing to do is to go to the doctor regularly. Same exact thing here. You should not wait for the problems to start. Not getting sick is the best medicine.
Just like with actual doctor visitations, it's super easy to put SEO audits off indefinitely. There's a billion things to take care of, and so it's easy to forgo a thorough website audit in favor of something else. But, just like doctor checkups, SEO audits need to be regular and thorough.
You can, of course, turn to a digital marketing agency to get an SEO audit for your website, but nowadays it's really not necessary and you can do the entire task yourself without much vexation.
Use an SEO audit tool like WebSite Auditor, and the entire process will take only a couple of hours, instead of days or weeks.
Create a project for your domain, and wait for the tool to do the heavy lifting for you. After the auditor's done, you'll get a full layout of your website. Look for the alarming red signs in the columns on the Site Structure > Site Audit screen.
Every red sign represents a certain problem that needs to be addressed rather urgently. Clicking on those tabs you'll get an explanation of why those factors are dangerous and what you'll need to do to fix them.
Resolution idea #2: Start doing on-SERP SEO
Real-world equivalent: "I'll pay more attention to my looks" — it's about changing the way your website is perceived right on the results page.
On-SERP SEO is a collection of practices aimed at making you stand out among other SERP results. It's less about getting a higher ranking, and more about managing what Google displays about you on the SERP.
So treat it like getting your shirts pressed, and wearing a suit and tie — an investment in your looks is an investment in you, and the same is true for online space. It's not merely a question of vanity, but of actually standing out among your peers.
For example, it's editing your content to get your page into a Featured Snippet. That's the result placed above the other organic results that is created to answer a user's question immediately. See here how it stands out among the rest of the results:
Did you know that in 2019, for the first time, more than 50% of Google users engaged in zero-click searches? This means that in 2019, most people Googling something don't actually end up on any webpages from the SERP.
With the arrival of such features as the aforementioned Featured snippets, knowledge graphs, People also ask, etc. the user has less and less incentive to go beyond the results page!
Some would talk about it in apocalyptic terms, but I don't see a cause for panic.
First of all, most of those features take away the clicks that probably wouldn't convert anyway: the answers to precise informational queries.
Second, while you can treat it as a problem, I feel it's unproductive. On the contrary, we should try and capitalize on the opportunities that these features present. It's an opportunity to adapt! Now that the looks are so important, you can actually put on a three-piece suit and work it!
Becoming a source of the knowledge graph, a People also ask, or a Featured snippet all but guarantees you much higher engagement than your SERP neighbors. Not putting effort into that direction is honestly just leaving money on the table.
We actually wrote a guide on getting into a Featured Snippet. Find out which of your target keywords it's possible to get a snippet for. Doing that is fairly easy — you could just Google your target keyword and see if there's a featured snippet there.
But if you don't actually feel like spending up to 3 weeks on a single task, you should use a tool. Create a project for your domain in Rank Tracker software, and fill out the target keywords.
In the appropriately named module Target Keywords > Rank Tracking you'll be able to see if any of the keywords you want to rank for have a SERP feature associated with them.
Then look up how the content is organized on the page that currently holds the snippet. See what it is that makes their page more "snippable".
Generally, this is what you need to get into a Featured snippet:
- use structured data markup,
- organize information in lists, and
- add a good portion of varied keywords neatly distributed between headings and content.
Using structured data is actually a "best practice" approach in general. It's one of those twofer deals: search engines like it, and users love it.
This one's easy: go to the aforementioned WebSite Auditor, run an audit and go Site Structure > Pages. There, you'll be able to instantly see which of your pages have structured data markup.
Also remember to place the keywords you want to rank for in the title and descriptions of your pages! You'll be able to easily monitor meta description and title tags in Site Structure > Site Audit.
In the column On-page you'll see everything related to titles and descriptions of your pages. Upon clicking on those tabs, you'll see the pages that contain the possible errors. Fixing those issues usually takes little to no time at all.
When creating the description of your page for the search engine, remember to use about 160-170 characters, and try to really give a feeling of what your page is all about.
In light of the growing importance of the SERP itself, we now can't ignore how the search results are shown on the page. Implementing the best practices is simply necessary to not get lost among other results.
Resolution idea #3: Manage your Google My Business page weekly
Real-world equivalent: "Find more ways to express yourself" — It's about adding a new avenue for your communication with your users and clients.
Google My Business (GMB) is a feature created by Google for you to create a profile for your business, that Google will then display for relevant search queries. You fill out the location, address, work schedule and phone numbers for your business.
It's effectively your business card in 2020. It's what most people see when looking up your business, and what a huge number of potential clients look at for their first impression.
Importantly, it's also a place for your customers to leave you a review and give your business a rating. From those reviews, your average grade is formed and then displayed as a score from 0-5 stars.
Much like other Google features, GMB is taking up more and more space on SERPs. In fact, having a properly filled-out GMB page right now is the most important thing to let users know where you are and how to reach you.
Say you sell bicycles in Seattle. A user who searches "buy bike Seattle" will see, above the usual organic search results, a list — we call this a Local Pack. So you'll see the businesses that are on GMB before everything else!
This is also the first place people go to when they want to vent their frustrations or ask questions about the service. This is why you need to regularly check your GMB page.
Use the Google My Business starting page and sign up for it! Claim your business, fill out the details, add a bunch of photos of the products, services, the office building, whatever you feel might help a potential customer recognize your place of business.
Treat your GMB page as another avenue of marketing, and an important one at that. Update it to alert your customers about all of the incoming sales and special offers. Use GMB to provide quality answers about your business, respond to possible criticisms, and engage with users in a more face to face fashion.
Resolution idea #4: Make link building a part of your daily routine
Real-world equivalent: "Meet new people" — creating more meaningful connections is paramount to your success in life, both professional and personal. As it happens, it's also vital for getting higher rankings and growing your website.
Link building is an activity aimed at getting more quality backlinks through building partnerships with other websites. It can take the form of guest posting on websites that write about your particular niche, or connecting to topical blogs, joining discussions on forums, researching your competitors' backlinks, and so on.
Well, it's important because your backlink profile is one of the most important ranking signals. Having a lot of websites link back to your webpages is very important if you want to rank highly in a competitive environment.
Among other factors, Google uses PageRank algorithm to rank its pages. This means that the more links a webpage receives, the higher its "link authority", the higher its chances to rank!
Treat it like social networking, as, effectively, that's exactly what it is. The easiest way to get a promotion is through recommendation, and knowing a lot of people from your industry may lead to beautiful mutually beneficial partnerships. "Mingling", while sometimes terrifying, is always important.
Well, there is a bunch of tactics for link building that are totally valid. But what you'll definitely need to start is to collect a bunch of prospects — websites that could potentially link back to you.
Sure you might already know certain niche blogs and websites, but you also should turn to using link building software. Simply create a project for your website in Link Assistant, and then the tool will scour the web for potential prospects that you need.
Choose between a wide variety of opportunities for link building.
From guest posting or researching your competitors, to finding opportunities to join giveaways, simply enter your target keywords and the tool will collect a huge list of potential domains that you could partner up with.
Using the provided email next to the prospect's domain, you can immediately contact any number of your prospects using the email module in the tool. Shoot them an email, say hi, tell a little about yourself, and see if they're open to the idea of being partners.
You'd be surprised how many people are open to working together to a mutual benefit like that! You will find opportunities to spread the word about your products, while they will get quality content and a link back as well.
Resolution idea #5: Learn more about SEO
Real-world equivalent: "Learn a new language". Search engine optimization is a huge topic, it covers basically all areas of website management.
For pretty much any task a webmaster might have to do, there is a "best practice" approach, and learning it requires quite a bit of time and effort.
Because SEO keeps changing! Much like a foreign language, you can never really "learn" SEO once and for all. It's a world that keeps on shifting and mutating.
So, much like my college Finnish (long story), with SEO you need to refresh what you already know and learn new stuff all the time. Make time for it, otherwise you're going to fall behind!
Ranking factors in 2020 aren't the same as they were in 2019, and way different from those 10 years ago. Sure, doing thorough keyword research is still vital for rankings. But the "how" of it changed dramatically. Search engines now understand synonyms so much better and punish keyword stuffing mercilessly.
Sometimes it takes just one update to Google's algorithms to make a large chunk of your SEO efforts worthless. This is why you should dedicate your time to finding out more about SEO.
First off, don't expect, from working your way through a huge book, or signing up for a 6-months-long course, for the knowledge to magically appear in your head. In fact, I'd say stay away from those in general.
In my experience, they are overwhelming and people give up on them pretty quickly. Instead, you need to make SEO-related reading a natural part of your life. So try to sign up for an informational SEO newsletter, and glean the SEO insights along the way.
Reading everything ever published about SEO is impossible. What you need is a steady supply of learning material and insights, spread out over your month in a thoughtful fashion. Make it your weekend read here and there, implement the concepts that you've read about for better absorption of the material — but take it easy!
If you go slow, you're still going, but if you try to take in everything at once, and then get tired and stop, then you really haven't done anything useful at all.
Something for next year
What you need to remember about making New Year resolutions is a year is a short time. I know it doesn't seem like it, especially right at the cusp of 2020. Sure it looks like such a long time, especially considering that with 2020 we'll have a full extra day to achieve all the goals. But, really, this time flies by in a blink.
Concentrate on making visible progress this year, and don't kid yourself: it will be over very quickly! Every day counts, but stuffing every day will only exhaust you. If you see that you've made that consistent progress throughout the year, you can then start working on building new goals.
Those new goals will already be based on your newfound knowledge and lessons you've learned while working on your previous ones.
Making a resolution is an act of hope. It's saying: "I want to be better" in some way, shape or form. Resolution is something you can only make for yourself. It's you setting a goal to be better.
And, yes, most resolutions don't pan out the way you want them to, and you end up forgetting them and/or putting them aside for next year (about five years in a row). But I believe that it doesn't have to be like that!
There is a way to create a goal for yourself and stick to it, and while a big part of it is just your willpower and desire, a huge portion of it is creating just the right goal. Take the principles I described, and create your own SEO resolutions that you know you'll be able to keep!
Share your own resolutions with me in the comments, I'll be happy to hear them (and maybe implement them in my life as well!).