Looking for Advice/Insight on Many SEO Topics

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Hey Everyone,

I came across this forum about a week ago and so far I’ve read about half of the Digital Strategy Crash Course, as well as some other posts. My first introduction to blogging was through Income School, which I still follow and adhere to a lot of what they teach. Recently, I came across fatstacksblog.com, which is where I saw someone post a link to the post @CCarter made (having trouble finding it now) on creating content within your level.

For some background, I have an 18-month old sports blog with 134 posts. Of those 134 posts, around 105 of them are six months old or younger and all of them are informational posts. I’m currently getting about 3,000 page views a month and use SemRush/Ahrefs to find keywords to target.

Regarding SemRush and Ahrefs – how much stock do you put into the volume #s they present? I’m getting considerably less traffic to my website than SemRush suggests (12.8k organic search traffic). Some (or all) of this might have to due with my low CTR:


I think part of my low CTR has to do with being on the bottom of the first page for some searches that get searched 5-10k a month (according to SemRush/Ahrefs at least). My low CTR also leads me to believe I’m not creating good titles. I’m very interested in your thoughts on that.

I believe I’m going in the right direction but that there’s still a ton for me to learn. As of this moment, my website has made $0 because I haven’t turned on ads and I have 0 affiliate links/posts on the site. I created my blog with the intention of primarily making money through ads but I’m definitely open to start exploring the affiliate side of things.

With that said, here are my goals:
  • Reasonable Goal: Make $1k per month by the end of 2021
  • Big Goal: Make a full-time income through blogging (2+ years from now)
  • Crazy Goal: Make enough money monthly so I can move to Switzerland!
With those goals in mind, I’m very much tempering my expectations. I wonder if I should have started a blog that was less seasonal in nature. My website covers sports-related questions/topics regarding baseball, hockey, basketball, golf, soccer, and football. Would have covering a topic such as “coffee” or a less seasonal niche been a better idea? I know coffee is very competitive but I imagine there are still gaps to be filled.

Hopefully, I have provided a general idea of where I’m coming from and the current state of my website. I have many more questions regarding SEO & blogging in general but I by no means expect all (or any) of them to be answered:

  1. Should I disavow some of my backlinks? According to SemRush I have 270 backlinks, 68 of which are marked as don’t follow. I’m not sure how bad don’t follow links are.
  2. How redundant should I be with sub-headings? For example, if I have a post covering the # of players on a soccer team (at each level), would “High School Bench Size” or “High School Bench Size for Soccer” be a better header? I think the first header is generally better because the reader already knows the article is about soccer but I believe more people are liable to search the latter headline.
  3. Is it harmful to change the title of a post?
  4. Do any of you use some kind of guide for making headlines?
  5. Should I put a table of contents in every post?
  6. Should I put a resource section at the bottom of each post linking to related articles? I recently bought Link Whisper and have been trying to step up my interlinking. Of the 134 posts, about 80 of them have 1 or more links from another post of mine.
  7. Do bullets and H3/H4 tags hold the same weight in the eyes of Google? How about bolding, italicizing, using pull quotes, etc?
  8. Should I include an image above the fold for my posts?
  9. How important are image alt tags?
  10. Should I worry about Schema?
Those are the major questions I have at this time. If you made it this far – thank you!

Although I don’t see myself being able to leave the 8-5 grind any time soon, I hope making this post is a move in the right direction.

Thanks again,
Titan243
 

Ryuzaki

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Welcome, Titan. Thanks for the quality introduction. I'll try to answer your questions to the best of my abilities.

Regarding SemRush and Ahrefs – how much stock do you put into the volume #s they present?
The "domain overview" traffic estimates are usually inaccurate at about the same ratio no matter the scale. I find both peg my sites at about 1/3rd of the actual traffic at low, medium, and high amounts of traffic. I've seen them get a little closer to reality, like undercutting by half or less, but I've never seen them overshoot.

My low CTR also leads me to believe I’m not creating good titles. I’m very interested in your thoughts on that.
The thing with SERP CTR is that if you get it higher, you'll rank higher and the CTR will go even higher. But you can find CTR distributions per organic ranking slot, though it's getting a lot more tricky to measure these day. It used to be that you could assume the #1 spot got about 40% of the clicks with it decaying by about 50% per slot from there down. But now there's featured snippets and video carousels and all that to contend with.

As of this moment, my website has made $0 because I haven’t turned on ads and I have 0 affiliate links/posts on the site. I created my blog with the intention of primarily making money through ads
Then turn on your ads. You've written all that content and fought for your 3,000 pageviews a month, and you're pissing them down the toilet right now. I'm a proponent of not wasting traffic. We get traffic to make money and you have traffic. You should monetize it, or what's the point. I know people think they're more likely to get natural links, but I can tell you that you'll get links when you get more exposure. I have a site flooded with ads that picks up big links every month (Forbes being a recent one). Nobody cares about ads. They've seen ads, they're not surprised and they know everyone has to make money to operate. Most of the time it's some "journalist" that just need a reference for appearances.

I wonder if I should have started a blog that was less seasonal in nature. My website covers sports-related questions/topics regarding baseball, hockey, basketball, golf, soccer, and football.
Shouldn't that go year round then? Like baseball in the spring and summer, football and basketball in the fall and winter, hockey in the winter, golf in the spring, etc. It should wrap all the way around, I think?

Would have covering a topic such as “coffee” or a less seasonal niche been a better idea?
The grass is always greener on the other side to people that aren't properly maintaining their lawns. It sounds like you're working hard. If you switch on the monetization I bet that'd light a fire under you. Seasonality can be great. You can make an absolute killing during a certain time period. But there's lots of sports topics you can cover that get searched year round I bet. History, stats, stories, facts about each team, on and on.

Should I disavow some of my backlinks? According to SemRush I have 270 backlinks, 68 of which are marked as don’t follow. I’m not sure how bad don’t follow links are.
The technical term is nofollow and those are the exact ones you don't need to disavow. All disavowing does is tell Google you want a link to be designated as "nofollow". If they're dofollow (the default state) and of very low quality, Google is likely ignoring them. I used to disavow but don't bother any more. Without going into all of the details and caveats, I don't think "poisonous" links exist like they used to. They either count or don't, but not negatively (disregarding convo about anchor texts and other things).

would “High School Bench Size” or “High School Bench Size for Soccer” be a better header?
The 2nd is better. Google indexes and parses and searches out text phrases. You want to be as specific as possible for the sake of Google and for the users who are trying to find that information. As humans, we know what the first one means within the context of an article about soccer. Robots, not so much, even still. Specificity is still needed.

Is it harmful to change the title of a post?
If it's dependent on SEO as its means for getting traffic, it can be. The <title> is easily the most potent part of on-page optimization. If you change it too much, removing keywords or changing the entire meaning, you can disrupt your rankings for a bit. Changing it can improve your CTR and gain you ranking spots too. It's a gamble, one that can pay off if you aren't already ranking highly. If you rank high, don't change it, it's fine!

Your questions 4, 5, 6, & 6 are a matter of preference. They aren't going to make or break anything. Resource sections can be good for interlinking or moving outbound links down so your own internal links up top get more of the page rank. Table of Contents can create "jump links" which can display in the SERPs if you care about that.

Do bullets and H3/H4 tags hold the same weight in the eyes of Google? How about bolding, italicizing, using pull quotes, etc?
No, bullets and headers don't hold the same weight. You should use both, but H3 and H4 tags weigh more. Your most important are your H1's and H2's though. Yes, the other minor markups can help too. You can exploit them but they won't make any noticeable difference but perhaps can add up and serve as a tie breaker in rare cases.

How important are image alt tags?
Very. They should describe the image while including the keywords, long-tails, and variations you hope to rank for. The more images, the merrier.

Should I worry about Schema?
This is a big question. The answer is yes. From breadcrumbs to brand signals to various snippets, it's how Google displays all that stuff in the SERPs. They can't yet understand it without that extra help. It's absolutely crucial for Local SEO. You should find a way to get it all templated and automated (Yoast does a good job for Wordpress, for example). It's not something you want to manually do for every post.

Keep chugging through the BuSo Digital Strategy Crash Course. It'll answer a lot of your direct questions, answer them indirectly, or teach you how to think about the questions so you can answer them yourself confidently. You seem, to me, like a smart person with a level head and reasonable expectations about the effort, study, and execution this takes. I believe you have everything it takes to win. Some ideas you'll need to shed, too, like not monetizing! Monetize!

Thanks for joining, sharing your story, and asking these solid questions. I hope you stick around and join us in the ongoing conversation.
 

bernard

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Your Google Search Console traffic graph looks like your site is about to take off. If you haven't already, you should probably begin linkbuilding and having a plan for that.

HARO (Help A Reporter Out) is a site that gets mentioned a lot as an easy way to get at least some links. The Authority Hacker podcast just did an episode on how to get the first 100 links and they talked about HARO first.

I am mentioning that, because I'm sure there are many questions about sports there, that you could answer for some links.
 
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Thanks for such a detailed reply @Ryuzaki!

Titan243 said:
Regarding SemRush and Ahrefs – how much stock do you put into the volume #s they present?
The "domain overview" traffic estimates are usually inaccurate at about the same ratio no matter the scale. I find both peg my sites at about 1/3rd of the actual traffic at low, medium, and high amounts of traffic. I've seen them get a little closer to reality, like undercutting by half or less, but I've never seen them overshoot.
That's really interesting that you've never seen SemRush overshoot the traffic. I wonder if my Google Analytics is possibly not set up correctly. I haven't transitioned to Google Analytics 4 yet so maybe that's the reason.

Titan243 said:
My low CTR also leads me to believe I’m not creating good titles. I’m very interested in your thoughts on that.
The thing with SERP CTR is that if you get it higher, you'll rank higher and the CTR will go even higher. But you can find CTR distributions per organic ranking slot, though it's getting a lot more tricky to measure these day. It used to be that you could assume the #1 spot got about 40% of the clicks with it decaying by about 50% per slot from there down. But now there's featured snippets and video carousels and all that to contend with.
In my uneducated opinion, I feel like CTR is overrated in the sense that position on the 1st page dictates it more than the title. I feel similar about bounce rate. A lot of people come to my site (informational) after googling their questions, get their answers (I hope), and bounce.

Titan243 said:
As of this moment, my website has made $0 because I haven’t turned on ads and I have 0 affiliate links/posts on the site. I created my blog with the intention of primarily making money through ads
Then turn on your ads. You've written all that content and fought for your 3,000 pageviews a month, and you're pissing them down the toilet right now. I'm a proponent of not wasting traffic. We get traffic to make money and you have traffic. You should monetize it, or what's the point. I know people think they're more likely to get natural links, but I can tell you that you'll get links when you get more exposure. I have a site flooded with ads that picks up big links every month (Forbes being a recent one). Nobody cares about ads. They've seen ads, they're not surprised and they know everyone has to make money to operate. Most of the time it's some "journalist" that just need a reference for appearances.
Yeah, I'll reach out to Ezoic and work on getting Ads up. I wasn't worried about the prospect of losing out on potential links, I just didn't' really consider it worth it until I started bringing in at least $100 a month.

Titan243 said:
I wonder if I should have started a blog that was less seasonal in nature. My website covers sports-related questions/topics regarding baseball, hockey, basketball, golf, soccer, and football.
Shouldn't that go year round then? Like baseball in the spring and summer, football and basketball in the fall and winter, hockey in the winter, golf in the spring, etc. It should wrap all the way around, I think?
Theoretically, yes. The issue is I have a writer or two for each sport that work at different speeds. For instance, the baseball writer works 3x quicker than the soccer writers, leading to many more baseball articles getting published than soccer. I probably need to bring on another writer or two to replace them.

Titan243 said:
would “High School Bench Size” or “High School Bench Size for Soccer” be a better header?
The 2nd is better. Google indexes and parses and searches out text phrases. You want to be as specific as possible for the sake of Google and for the users who are trying to find that information. As humans, we know what the first one means within the context of an article about soccer. Robots, not so much, even still. Specificity is still needed.
This is great to know! I've been doing a mixture of both in an attempt to see what works but I'll have to go back and update my headings.

Titan243 said:
Is it harmful to change the title of a post?
If it's dependent on SEO as its means for getting traffic, it can be. The <title> is easily the most potent part of on-page optimization. If you change it too much, removing keywords or changing the entire meaning, you can disrupt your rankings for a bit. Changing it can improve your CTR and gain you ranking spots too. It's a gamble, one that can pay off if you aren't already ranking highly. If you rank high, don't change it, it's fine!

Your questions 4, 5, 6, & 6 are a matter of preference. They aren't going to make or break anything. Resource sections can be good for interlinking or moving outbound links down so your own internal links up top get more of the page rank. Table of Contents can create "jump links" which can display in the SERPs if you care about that.
Would you hold off on making any changes to titles for newer sites like mine? I've had it engrained in my head that it takes 9+ months for a post to start pulling the kind of traffic it's supposed to in the long run.

If I were going for this search (just an example) in Google, "What Is a Corner Kicker in Soccer?", which of these titles do you think is best? Or are they all weak?

1. What Is a Corner Kick in Soccer? The Ultimate Guide
2. The Ultimate Guide to Corner Kicks in Soccer
3. Corner Kicks in Soccer: A Rules & History Guide

A lot of my titles follow the formula for these bullets, especially the first. Repeat the search phrase (because most of the 1st page of Google does this) and then try to throw in a power word or two in. I'm not sure how important it is to repeat the search phrase as opposed to going a unique route.

Titan243 said:
How important are image alt tags?
Very. They should describe the image while including the keywords, long-tails, and variations you hope to rank for. The more images, the merrier.
Good to know. I'll start looking into alt tags and adding them across my site. And regarding images, most of my posts average 3-5 of them depending on length.

Titan243 said:
Should I worry about Schema?
This is a big question. The answer is yes. From breadcrumbs to brand signals to various snippets, it's how Google displays all that stuff in the SERPs. They can't yet understand it without that extra help. It's absolutely crucial for Local SEO. You should find a way to get it all templated and automated (Yoast does a good job for Wordpress, for example). It's not something you want to manually do for every post.
I'll go ahead and install Yoast for this purpose. I was led to believe Yoast wasn't worth it and only slowed your site down.

Thanks again for such a detailed reply. Really means a lot!
 

Ryuzaki

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Would you hold off on making any changes to titles for newer sites like mine?
Unless you have traffic flowing through your site or are attracting traffic through other means, there's no point in changing them, because you won't be able to measure whether there was an improvement or not anyways until you rank higher. I never change my titles, personally. I write them good the first time and leave them, so as to not disrupt rankings once I get them. Keyword + benefits for reader or some kind of clickbait, and you're good to go.

I've had it engrained in my head that it takes 9+ months for a post to start pulling the kind of traffic it's supposed to in the long run.
It can if you don't have enough page rank flowing through your site and the posts don't end up getting any links. It can happen faster than that, for sure. But yeah, they definitely continue to benefit as they age until they hit a maximum, which could be 9 months or so. But you can reach your maximum a bit sooner once your site is powered up and Google trusts it.

I just didn't' really consider it worth it until I started bringing in at least $100 a month.
I care about every penny. My sites exist for one reason: to bring in money. Even if a site can only bring in $50 a month, that can offset the cost of hosting and some content or whatever. Or pays for my cellphone bill, etc. There's zero point in wasting traffic especially when you don't have any other reason for not monetizing. You can set it up now and take $100 a month, or set it up later and miss a ton of months of accumulating money. It's the same amount of work either way. The income is passive once it's set up, so might as well do it sooner.

I feel like CTR is overrated in the sense that position on the 1st page dictates it more than the title. I feel similar about bounce rate.
I don't worry about it at all, same with bounce rate. On some sites I want a 100% bounce rate, because it means the user clicked through an affiliate link and went and purchased. Some I want a low bounce rate because it means they're on another page viewing a bunch more ads. But those are two metrics I never look at: bounce rate and SERP CTR.

I'll go ahead and install Yoast for this purpose. I was led to believe Yoast wasn't worth it and only slowed your site down.
Yoast doesn't load anything HTTP resources on the front-end that would impact loading times. The most they do is insert some schema. Otherwise, if you're using server side caching (you should be) then all the PHP stuff is pre-rendered anyways.

which of these titles do you think is best?
The first one. It's the best for SEO. The keyword is located in the closest proximity to the front of the title tag (it is the front). That's a ranking signal. Plus there's continuity between what the user typed in as a search and what they immediately read in your title. They know it answers their query directly. It's not the "catchiest" or "clickiest" but if you rank number one you're going to get the most clicks and be the clickiest regardless. But I want the exact keyword phrase in the title tag, and your first example achieves that. The title tag is the biggest on-page factor, period, by far (followed by the H1 header, which can just list the title again).