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Rebranding Your Company? How NOT to Kill Your SEO in the Process

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Considering a rebrand? You’re probably aware that it will be no easy feat. On top of the soul searching, repositioning, creative, legal headaches and everything else that’s involved, you’re going to have Google to reckon with.

So much of the work we do in marketing is based on building brand recognition and online visibility – and when not done properly, transitioning to a new name and domain can put that all at risk.

After years in business as Zizinya Web Solutions, we decided it was time to take the plunge. Over the years, we’d evolved from a local SEO and web design shop to a full blown digital agency, and we knew it was time our brand reflected that.

We wanted a new name that better communicated our true value proposition – eventually we settled on Bonafide. New name, new logo, new website.

rebrand-old-new

But the work was far from over.

As we moved through the transition process, we identified ten crucial steps that are critical to maintaining your online visibility during a rebrand.

It’s important to note that not every rebrand involves a new name and domain – if your company is only planning on new positioning and an updated logo, most of the advice in this post won’t apply. But if you’re brave enough to overhaul your company name, logo and website all in one go; read on.

Step 1: Preliminary Work

Advance planning is key. Before diving in to the tactical steps, you need to make sure you’ve got everything you need in order to pull the trigger when the time comes. Skipping these steps can cause some hiccups down the road.

  • Google Webmaster Tools. You’ll need to add and verify both sites in GWT to take advantage of Google’s Change of Address feature (more on this later). Make sure to do it in the same Google account.
  • Google Analytics. Confirm that you have administrator access to the site in Google Analytics. If you don’t have the right permissions you won’t be able to update the old website information to the new one (we’ll cover this one later as well).
  • Hosting and Registrar. Confirm that you have access to the hosting for both the old and new websites. You’ll also want to make sure that you’ll have the ability to host both the old and the new websites for the foreseeable future. Same with the old domain – you’ll want to register it for as long as possible in order to maintain control of it for years to come.
  • Block the New Site. Your new website should be live and fully functional – but blocked from search engines for the time being. This is especially important to avoid duplicate content issues if the pages are mostly the same as the old site. You can do this easily with the Robots.txt file.
  • Back up. Last but not least, make sure to back up your old site. It never hurts to be safe – and who knows, maybe you’ll get nostalgic down the road

Step 2: Benchmark Important KPIs

If you’re in the marketing industry, you probably already make a point of measuring everything, but a historical record of your analytics data becomes even more important during a rebrand.

Take the time to benchmark your most important KPIs leading up to the transition. A good place to start would be:

  • Traffic. Break it down by channels like organic, referral, direct, etc.
  • Rankings. Document positioning for 20-30 of your most important keywords – including both the new and old brand names.
  • Links. Pull a list of all your backlinks – the sites that link to yours. I listed a couple of our favorite tools to do this in step 8.
  • Citations. These are “mentions” of your old brand in important places online. You can record these by manually searching in Google or you can use a tool like BrightLocal or Yext.

All set? Let’s move on to the fun stuff.

Step 3: Prep Your 301 Redirects

To ensure an awesome user experience (and to keep the search engines happy), you’ll need to redirect every page from your old site to the most relevant page of the new one. Although you’ll be creating your redirects file in this step, you won’t actually be using it until you’re ready to go fully live with the new site.

Depending on the particulars of your rebrand, this step could be a piece of cake. Or not.

Do your old site and new site have the same pages and URL structure?

You’re in luck. You can use a couple of lines of code in your .htaccess file to simply route all the pages on the old domain to the corresponding page on the new one.

Here’s the code you would use – just swap out your domains accordingly:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^olddomain.com$ [OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.olddomain.com$
RewriteRule (.*)$ http://www.newdomain.com/$1 [R=301,L]

Do your old site and new site have different pages and URL structure?

If that’s the case, you’ll need to take a few extra steps. And if you have a website with lots of pages (if you’ve been practicing inbound marketing, you almost certainly do), this step might take some time.

You’ll still be using the .htaccess file, but in this case you’ll have to redirect each page on your old site to the most relevant page on the new site.

Here’s how you would do this with some sample code again:

Redirect 301 /old-sample-page.html http://www.newdomain.com/new-sample-page.html 
Redirect 301 /old-sample-page-2.html http://www.newdomain.com/new-sample-page-2.html

Since our new website is completely different than our old one, this is the route we had to go. We found it easiest to manage this process with a spreadsheet. We listed the URLs for every page on the old site in one column, and then dropped in the corresponding URLs on the new site in the next column. Of course, any pages that generate a lot of traffic or have a lot of backlinks should take priority, so organize your spreadsheet to update the most important pages first.

It’s important to note that if you have a blog, landing pages or any other content on a different subdomain that is hosted elsewhere; you’ll have to create a separate .htaccess file for those URLs. Fortunately, our blog is hosted on Hubspot and they have a seamless URL mapping tool that took care of all that for us.

Step 4: Deploy!

Ready to pull the trigger? It’s time for all that hard work you’ve done to finally pay off – this is the easiest step!

  1. First, upload the .htaccess file you created in step 3 to the old domain hosting. The results will be instantaneous, and it’s a good idea to test several of the old URLs to make sure they point to the right pages on the new site. Don’t forget to test the home page.
  2. Then, remove the Robots.txt command on the new site that’s blocking it from search engines. That’s it!

Don’t be tempted to take down the old website too soon. It can take DNS a few days to update, so some searchers will continue to see your old site after your redirect is set up. Taking down your site too early could end up with a bunch of 404s – confusing your customers and jeopardizing your traffic.

Step 5: Update Google Webmaster Tools and Analytics

After setting up your 301 redirects, you’ll want to let Google know that you’re moving your website. Google Webmaster Tools has a handy change of address feature that you can use to do just that. Just navigate to the old site and click on the gear at the top of your screen:

GWT Change of Address

Once you let them know which site you’re moving to (it has to be a site in your account – this is why we had you verify both sites in step 1), you’ll go through a couple of quick verification steps and – boom, you’re done.

Next, you’ll want to let Google Analytics know that your site URL has changed. This step is also a breeze. Just log in to your GA account and navigate to your site’s account. Head on over to the Admin tab and you’ll see the following screen:

GA

You’ll probably want to update the info in two places. Under Account Settings update the Account Name field; and under Property Settings update both the Property name and the Default URL fields.

While you’re at it, you might want to add an annotation in Google Analytics on the day you do this so you have an easy reference point when comparing traffic before and after your switch.

Bonus: Create a sitemap.xml file on your new site and submit it to Google through Webmaster Tools. It should help them crawl your site faster.

Step 6: Give the Search Engines Signals to Connect the Old and New Names

The search engines will eventually figure out the connection between your old and new company names, but you can send them signals in a number of places to help make it clear.

We used some variations of Bonafide (formerly Zizinya Web Solutions) and dropped it into a few different places including:

  • Our title tags and meta descriptions
  • The footer of our website
  • A custom 404 page
  • Our social media account handles and/or descriptions
  • Guest blog posts on high-authority websites like this one 🙂

Here’s an example of how we used our old name in our title and meta tags:

rebrand-serp

“About Us” pages typically include some information about a company’s history, which makes them a good spot for mentioning your previous brand name if it makes sense.

While this “information scent” is important for SEO, it also helps make the transition less confusing for your visitors. Someone who searches for your old brand and ends up on an unfamiliar website with a new name and look could end up really confused. And confusion = bounces.

Step 7: Update Your Directory Listings

If you do any local business (and who doesn’t really) you’ll want to show up for local searches that involve your products or services. One of the strongest local ranking factors is the consistency of your business NAP – that is its Name, Address and Phone number – across the scores of local, regional and industry business directories. In the SEO world these are called citations.

That said, you’ll need to go back and update every listing with your company’s new information. Yes, it’s tedious – but your local SEO efforts depend on it.

Be warned, this is not a “once and done” type of undertaking. You’ll find that many of the directories take what seems like an eternity to update the listing (if at all), and once they do it could be weeks before Google crawls the new info.

Tip: Start with the data providers like Infogroup, Acxiom, Factual and Localeze because they feed many of the other directories their business info.

A well-organized spreadsheet is a great way to plan, document and track your progress. Here’s a screenshot of ours:

locals-spreadsheet

There are also a bunch of great tools to help take some of the grunt work out of this process.BrightLocal and Moz Local are two of our favorites.

Step 8: Do Some Link Update Outreach

Much like updating your directories, this part of the process is likely to take a little time. The goal here is to get all the strong links that point to your old site and/or mention your old name updated to the new information.

The first step is determining all the websites that have mentioned your old company name or included a link to it. Luckily, there are several tools that can help with this process, includingAhrefs, Majestic, and Moz’s Open Site Explorer.

Next, compile all of those links into a spreadsheet, dedupe and start working your way down the list. Using a template email is definitely quicker, but as with all outreach efforts, a personalized approach is best. Use the spreadsheet to keep up with which links and mentions have been updated – and who to follow up with.

Tip: While this step is certainly time-consuming, it also doubles as an opportunity to turn some of those mentions into links. Score!

Step 9: Promote Your New Brand

Time to get the word out. If you do this well, you could actually end up with more traffic and overall visibility than you had before.

  • Email announcement. Tell everyone – customers, vendors, suppliers and friends. You want to get people to start searching with your new brand name.
  • Press release. Write a compelling release that includes your new brand’s story and send it out via a PR distribution platform. Be sure to include your old brand name and the new NAP because the release will likely get picked up by multiple sites.
  • Guest posts. In spite of the past year’s controversy surrounding Matt Cutts’ comments on spammy guest posting, it’s still one of the best techniques for brand promotion when done right. Pitch relevant blog posts with sites whose audiences can learn from your rebranding experience.
  • Social Media. Update your social media profiles with your new brand information and use them to get your new name out there. This is a great time to invest in paid social to expand your reach.
  • PPC. If you did a good job of marketing your old brand, people will probably continue to search for it for a while to come. Buy some PPC ads for your old business name and use the ad copy to communicate the rebrand.

Step 10: Follow-up and Monitor

Nope, you’re not done yet. For the next couple of months you’ll need to do a lot of monitoring and follow up. Here are some key areas to focus on:

  • Directory listings. I mentioned in step 7 that this was not a “once and done” process. Since it takes the data providers a while to update your information, you’re going to see lots of listings pop up with the old brand name. Much like a game of whack-a-mole, you’ll need to periodically find, claim and update the old listings. This could go on for months and it’s important that you catch them as they surface.
  • Links. It’ll probably take you a couple of outreach attempts to get your links updated to the new brand information. In many cases you probably won’t succeed. Focus on getting the most important, authoritative and relevant links updated – don’t worry about the crappy “made for SEO” directories.
  • Crawl errors and 404s. No matter how much prep work you do, you’re bound to see some of these. Thankfully, Google Webmaster Tools tracks all of them for you. Keep an eye on 404s (pages that are not found) – as they surface, you should redirect them then “mark as fixed” in GWT.
  • Traffic and rankings. Keep a close eye on the KPIs you benchmarked in step 2. If you see a big tank in either your traffic or your rankings, you’ll want to dig deeper and find the problem. Expect to see rankings steadily improve for your new brand name – how long it takes will depend on how competitive the term is.

Be aware that even after completing these steps, you might experience a dip in traffic for a month or two while all your updates are indexed by search engines. Play your cards right, and that should only be temporary. Play them exceptionally well, and you could actually end up with even more traffic and visibility once the dust settles.

Designing a Website Blueprint: How to Create Your XML Sitemap

You wouldn’t design a new kitchen without creating a blueprint first, would you? Similarly, you’d never want to design a website without creating a sitemap.

A sitemap is a file of code that lives on your web server and lists all of the relevant URLs that are in the structure of your website. It helps search engine web crawlers determine the structure of the site so they can crawl it more intelligently.

Here’s an example of what a sitemap file might look like:

Image Credit: Sitemaps.org

People create sitemaps when they first design their website, add pages to it, and/or redesign it. It’s kind of like a “floor plan” for the site, which especially comes in handy whenever the site gets changed. Along with boosting SEO, sitemaps can also help define a site’s navigation scheme so you avoid internal linking issues.

Some of you might be thinking to yourselves, But I thought sitemaps were more visual, like a web. That’s a visual sitemap, as opposed to an XML sitemap — the latter is what we’ve been talking about so far.

Visual sitemaps, on the other hand, are abstract sketches of your website’s structure, like the one below of Google’s website. They’re useful for the internal planning process, but it’s the XML sitemaps that are relevant to SEO best practices.

Image Credit: Wikimedia

So, how do you structure your website’s sitemap? Let’s dive right in.

How to Structure Your Website’s Sitemap

Who’s involved?

Typically, the teams involved in structuring a website’s sitemap are the marketing team, a technical team (whether that’s a team of developers or an agency), the IT team (or whoever controls your servers), and the legal team.

The marketing team is usually responsible for defining the structure of the site. Which pages need to link to one another? Should site visitors be able to get from the “About Us” page directly to the product page, for example? Whether they define the structure using a visual site map in PowerPoint or some other tool is up to them.

Then, the technical team will build an sitemap.xml file based on the structure defined by the marketing team.

The IT team usually gets involved, too, assuming you’re using your own servers or some servers that IT controls. Remember, the sitemap lives on that server — so someone has to make sure it’s on there. If you’re working for an agency, they should be able to do this for you, too.

Finally, be sure you check with your legal team to make sure everything on your website is legally sound and you don’t have any outstanding copyright restrictions that could pass through your sitemap.

Which Tools Will Help Me Build a Sitemap?

We recommend using a sitemap generator to build your sitemap. While the folks at Google no longer maintain their own sitemap generator, they do provide this helpful list of XML sitemap generators you can pick from depending on the OS of your computer.

4 Steps to Building a Sitemap

1) Research & Plan

When you first begin planning your sitemap, think about questions like: What are your website’s goals? Who’s your target audience, and what do they want to see?

You’ll also want to keep in mind each search engine’s requirements. The last thing you want to do is break the path of a visitor getting from a search engine to your website. Google’s, Bing’s, Yahoo!’s, and others’ requirements are fairly similar, but you’ll want to make sure you’re not breaking any specific requirements for any of them. This is especially true if you see a lot of your traffic is coming from a specific search engine.

To make sure you’re not breaking any rules, check out:

2) Define the Top-Level Navigation Structure

What do you want your homepage to link to? This will provide the foundation for your site’s structure, and will allow your site to grow.

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The structure of your website plays a big role in your site’s SEO, so it’s important to plan your top-level navigation structure carefully. Specifically, pay attention to your website’s depth. The further away a page is from the original homepage URL of your site, the worse it is for that page’s SEO.

In other words, a shallow website (one that requires three or fewer clicks to reach each page) is much better for SEO than a deep website, according to Search Engine Journal.

What are best practices for top-level navigation, you might be asking? Unfortunately, it’s hard to give general advice here as best practices can vary significantly by industry, company type, and so on. For inspiration from companies similar to yours, then take a look at Crayon: It has a huge library of real marketing designs you can filter by industry, traffic level, device, and so on. Check out high-traffic homepages in your industry to get a sense of their structure and get some ideas for yours.

3) Define the Second- & Third-Level Content

This is where creating visual sitemaps can come in handy. Once you’ve defined your homepage’s navigation structure, you’ll want to brainstorm and map out the pages that are two or three levels deeper into your website. This might be your “About Us” page, your team management page, your hiring page, your blog, and so on.

Depending on the complexity of your website, you may only need two levels, or you may need up to four. And as you think out the deeper parts of your website, you may find you need to tweak the top-level navigation — that’s okay.

visual-sitemap-example.png

4) Write the XML Sitemap & Submit it to Search Engines

Once your website’s planned out, it’s time for the technical team to create the XML sitemap, put it on your web server, and then submit it to each individual search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and so on).

When you first publish your website and each time you go through a significant site redesign, someone on your team will have to submit the sitemap to each search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, etc.) so that those search engines will be able to tell your homepage from your “About Us” page from your team management page.

Unless you’re using a platform that automatically updates your sitemap, you’ll need to update the sitemap yourself and resubmit any time you make a significant changes to your website. (HubSpot customers: HubSpot will automatically generate your sitemap.xml file when you publish new pages and make changes to your site. But remember, you’ll still either have to rely on search engines to pick up new pages organically. That means if you’ve made a really significant change to your site’s structure, you might want to manually submit it.)

Below are step-by-step instructions for submitting a sitemap to Google, and then to Bing and Yahoo!.

How to submit a sitemap to Google:

  1. Sign in to Google Webmaster Tools.
  2. Click “Add a Site.”
  3. Enter the URL for your company (e.g. http://www.yourdomain.com). Click “Continue.”
  4. Click “Crawl” on the left-hand side of the page, and choose “Sitemaps.”
  5. Click “Add/Test Sitemap.”
  6. Enter sitemap.xml after “http://www.yourdomain.com/”.
  7. Click “Submit Sitemap.”

(For more details, click here.)

How to submit a sitemap to Bing or Yahoo!:

  1. Sign in to Bing Webmaster Tools.
  2. On the My Sites page, enter the URL for your company (e.g. http://www.yourdomain.com). Click “Add.”
  3. In the “Add a sitemap” field, enter http://www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml. (Replace “yourdomain” with your company’s URL.)
  4. Complete the rest of the required fields on the page, and click “Save.”

(For more details, click here.)

What If I Want to Add Webpages Later?

Once you define and submit your sitemap the first time, chances are you’ll want to tweak and add pages to your website every so often — and that’s completely fine. But keep in mind that if your website isn’t built on a platform that automatically generates a new sitemap and updates it on your web server when new pages are added, then every time you add a page — any page — to your website, that page will be missing from the sitemap that search engines see.

Remember, Google and other search engines will pick up the sitemap organically as long as you’ve updated the sitemap.xml file on your web server. But if you want to try to index your content the fastest way possible, you could resubmit your sitemap after publishing a new page — and it’s possible that Google would pick it up more quickly.

Once you’ve created and submitted your XML sitemap to search engines, you can start working on other fun stuff like your website’s design.

Want More Traffic to Your Website? Try These 5 Tools & Tips

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There are many things you can do in eight minutes or less. You can tidy up your to-do list. You can chip away at your mountain of emails. You can delete unnecessary meetings from your calendar. You can even get a real workout done (seriously).

You know what else you can do in eight minutes or less? Get a bunch of great tips on how to better market your website and blog.

This is exactly what we do during Marketing Grader Live. We ask our audience to submit their websites for us to review. We choose three to review on camera. We have one goal in mind: Provide as many tips as possible in eight minutes or less.

In a recent episode, we mentioned several essential tools and tips that people can use to improve their website and blog. After the event, attendees kept asking us to list out the tools we mentioned, so we decided to compile them all into the following blog post.

(Want to tune into the next Marketing Grader Live episode? Sign up here.)

1) How to Quickly Diagnose and Solve a Google Penalty

When trying to diagnose a potential Google penalty, it’s important to look at the dates you noticed a decline in traffic. Because we didn’t have access to the submitted website’s analytics, we used SEMRush to look at traffic trends. Looking at the chart below, you can see one of the websites that was submitted had an extremely sharp decline in traffic in January 2013.

SEMRush - LondonPremierLaser

We can then look at Moz’s awesome list of Google algorithm changes to see if this decline matches the dates of a specific update. In this case, there is a pretty clear match with Google’s Panda updates.

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Understanding what Google penalty may be affecting your site helps you focus on identifying its problems. For example, we know Google Panda penalises sites for things like poor quality content. Looking through the websites blog content, we could see a lot of posts had very little content and had large ads for their services. These can be potential flags for Google when assessing the quality of a website’s content.

Google_Panda_potential_issue.png

Something else to look at is duplicate content. In this site’s case, we discovered they had two versions of the site indexed: a https version and a http version. You can identify if you have this issue by searching the following command:

site:URL.com inurl:https

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The canonical tag was introduced by Google to help solve the problem of duplicate content. It allows website owners to tell Google if a piece of content is a duplicate version of another page. Setting the canonical tag correctly can help in situations like this where there is both a http and https version of the site indexed.

The problem for this site is they didn’t have the canonical tag set to anything.

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We told the site owner they should reevaluate their blogging strategy to provide more in-depth posts, make them less image-heavy, and fix the canonical tag to resolve their duplicate content issue.

2) How to Find Your Most Valuable Keywords

Another valuable tactic is spending time optimising your most valuable keywords.

HubSpot customers can use the Keyword Tool do just that. You can sort keywords by ranking, conversion, and long tail opportunities to uncover which keywords you should prioritise.

You should also pay attention to the CPC of each keyword. If a keyword has a high CPC, it’s usually a good indication that keyword is generating revenue for people. Why else would they spend money bidding on it?

Keyword_Types_HubSpot

As mentioned above, we didn’t have access to websites analytics. So we used SEMRush again to identify the websites’ most valuable keywords.

SEMRush_-_Organic_Keywords.png

We looked for keywords that were on Page 2 of Google’s search results, had a nice amount of search volume, and a high CPC (based on the average CPC for their industry). Once you identify those keywords, go look at the page currently ranking for it and figure out how you can improve it.

Something I highly recommend is looking at competing pages for that keyword (those ranked above you) and ask yourself: Why would Google surface their page ahead of yours? Why is it a better experience for the user to land on that page versus yours?

If you use the HubSpot Marketing Platform, our software will recommend SEO improvements for your different blog posts, landing pages, and website pages. If not, you should spend time looking for these keyword opportunities and ensure your pages are well optimised for them.

3) How to Use Competitors to Expand Your Keyword Set

There are a lot of tools you can use to expand your keyword set. If you use HubSpot, you can use the tool highlighted above to categorise your keywords. There are also other tools like theGoogle Keyword Planner, UberSuggest, and Keyword.io to help with keyword research.

But did you ever think to look at your competitors for keyword inspiration?

The HubSpot software has a built-in feature that helps you identify keywords your competitors are ranking for that may be relevant to you. Here is an example of websites in Germany that are relevant to HubSpot and what keywords they rank for.

competitor_keywords

For websites currently not using HubSpot, you can see the example below of doing this in SEMRush:

SEMRush_Competitor_Keywords_Inspiration.png

This shows keywords that both GVI.co.uk (one of the websites featured on Marketing Grader Live) and a competitor of theirs rank in the top 20 of Google.co.uk. Basically, all of the orange circle not currently occupied by GVI.co.uk is potential opportunity for them. Clicking into that circle allows you to see a list of keywords their competitors are ranking for, the estimated traffic they’re receiving for that keyword, and the current cost per click of the keyword.

This information presents a wealth of keywords that may be relevant to their market, but they don’t currently have any real visibility for. They can spend some time selecting keywords they want to appear for and either optimise existing content or publish new content that’s relevant to those keywords.

4) How to Optimise Your Websites for International Traffic

Another really quick tip we shared with Zetes.com is the use of the hreflang tag to ensure their websites are optimised for international traffic. The hreflang tag helps Google understand what website is relevant for a particular country. You can read more about hreflang here.

A really useful tool to check if your site has implemented the tag correctly is the Hreflang validation tool by DejanSEO. It shows you if the tag has been implemented incorrectly on any of your sites. For example, in the below image, it looks as if Skype haven’t implemented the tag correctly across all their sites.

Hreflang_validation_tool.png

If the tag hasn’t been implemented correctly across all your international sites, it won’t do you any good. If it’s broken in just one place, then it won’t work across all of your URLs.

5) How to Figure Out Which Topics Your Audience Likes

This last tip is going to be shortest, but it’s also one of the most important. Checking if your content is being shared on social provides you with great feedback on how well the content you’re publishing is resonating with your audience.

But how do I know what’s a good average number of shares for my content?

With BuzzSumo, you can compare the performance of your content against a number of competitors.

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This will not only help you understand how your content is performing with respect to the competition, but it will also tell you what content of yours is performing way above and below the average. You can use these insights to improve the content you’re producing.

Those were just five of our favorite tips shared during Episode 2 of Marketing Grader Live. We really hope you can join us for Episode 3 on September 3rd. Not only will you get to see me again, but we will also have a very special guest there to offer you more great tips on how to improve your website. You can sign up for it right nowAlso if you like this post, we would love for you to submit it to inbound.org and leave a comment.

6 Ways to Craft Better Meta Descriptions That Rock The SERPs

A well-written meta description can give your site an advantage in search engine results pages (SERPs), resulting in more click-throughs to your site where you have more chances to convert that visitor into a lead or new customer.

Here’s a look at 6 ways you can begin to craft better meta descriptions for your website that will rock the SERPs – resulting in more click-throughs to your site.

1. Keep It To 155 Characters or Less

According to our friends at SEOmoz, the guideline for meta description character length is 150-160 characters. I personally aim for 155 characters or less. This can prove to be a real challenge when trying to write the perfect description for certain web pages but going over this character limit results in having your description cut off in the SERP. Avoid these awkward mid-sentence breaks (as shown here) in your description by forcing yourself to stay within this character limit. That way you can present a complete statement that inspires the user to click.

2. Concisely Articulate Your Value Proposition

For every meta description you write you need to be mindful of what the user will be thinking: “Yeah, but, what’s in it for me?” This is where your specific value proposition comes into play and should be utilized to clearly articulate what specifically you have to offer in relation to the particular service or product you’re writing a page description for.

To ensure your value proposition is unique and stands out from your competition, take the time to do some side-by-side comparisons to evaluate what they’re saying in their page descriptions. And then, write a better one! SEOmoz is getting a lot of love from me in this post, but I have to highlight their home page meta description since it encapsulates perfectly what I’ve outlined here.

3. Make It Welcoming

Per my point to always write for the user first and not the search engines, the reason is to make your web copy and meta descriptions inviting rather than awkward. Stringing together numerous keyword phrases with little or no personality won’t get you very far in the SERPs, even if you do rank in the top 3 results for the phrase(s) you’re targeting.

As John Clark from Rival IQ put it in his latest post, (Is Your Meta Description Working As Hard As Your Tagline?), evaluate whether your meta description is a friendly doorman or an angry bouncer. Your goal should be to write with a warm tone that welcomes the user to enter your virtual front door.

4. Incorporate A Call-to-Action or Offer

Your website’s meta description is essentially an ad in the SERPs, especially if you’re ranking in the top positions just below the paid ads. So, make it work for you! Incorporating a short call-to-action (CTA) or offer at the end of your meta description is a great way to boost your click-through rate and be your answer to standing out from your competition. Here’s a look at what Salesforce uses in their description.

5. Bust Out Some Name Dropping

For certain industries, dropping some names of clients, vendors, brands or certifications that your company is associated with can make a compelling case for your qualifications and credibility. Don’t go crazy and don’t forget the other tips outlined in this post, but if you’re crafty enough to make it work within your allotted character limit go for it!

6. Test, Monitor & Adapt

With anything that you do online associated with your website and marketing efforts, it’s key that you test, monitor and adapt your activities based on our ability as marketers to track what’s working and what’s not. This goes for your SEO activities and your meta descriptions too. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little to see what works best for your website and industry. If one of the aforementioed tips does wonders for you, try doing more of it for other pages on your site.