How to ask for design feedback

Never hear “yeah, that looks fine” from anyone again.

Neal O’Grady
May 6, 2015
Design process

It’s hard to consistently get useful feedback on design work. This post introduces the techniques for getting the most out of your questions—so you can improve as a designer.

“Oh, it's good.”

“I like it. It looks nice. Good colors, dude... I gotta get back to work in a minute.”

I bet you’ve heard feedback like that before. Not very helpful, right? What you actually wanted was precise, actionable feedback so that you can improve your design work—not vague statements.

If you’ve ever asked a friend or colleague for feedback on a design, these are likely the responses you received—perhaps coupled with a shy smile and discomfort as they tried to avoid hurting your feelings.

This fruitlessness leads many designers to tune out feedback entirely, and to go from mockup to production entirely on their “instincts”. Is this the right path?

Nope. As we’ll see, feedback is vital. And there’s a right way to ask for feedback so that you get good thoughts from everyone—every time you ask. We're going to learn them in this post.

Why feedback is so important

When done correctly, receiving feedback is the most valuable part of any designer’s process. It doesn’t matter how experienced the designer is. Without feedback from other people, you cannot be sure your work will be appreciated and understood by anyone other than yourself. There are approximately three billion people in the world with an Internet connection, all of whom have a completely different set of experiences, biases, and preferences. Trying to design anything in isolation—in my opinion—is madness.

Other people also provide insights that never would have occurred to you, thanks to their unique set of experiences and skills. Draw from the diversity, and use it to your advantage.

Personally, I always have my blog posts and my site designs reviewed by several people before publishing. This ensures that they are coherent, understandable, engaging, and provide actual value to others—that they’re not just crazy ramblings filled with errors. To be able to reach out to enough people, you can try creating a survey with the specific set of questions that you are most inquisitive about. Then sharing that survey within designer related groups and social news sites would possibly give you the most diverse and healthy feedback.

For website design in particular, a second pair of eyes helps to ensure that 1) the design is visually pleasing to a variety of tastes, and 2) the designer’s intentions are clear.

How to ask for feedback

Often, when we receive generic feedback, we blame the person being asked. But the mistake rests with us—not them. This mistake is natural, though; communicating complex questions and answers is not a skill we’re born with.

So we need social hacks. We need tricks to master the communication process.

The most important aspect of getting insightful, actionable feedback is to create an environment where the person you’re asking for feedback from is as comfortable as possible. Stress and anxiety ruin our ability to think clearly and critically, and fear of insulting others prevents us from saying what we really think.

Don't stress people out, dawg

In order to create an environment of comfort, below is what we need to do. We’re going to explore these concepts further, and learn the associated techniques:

Give people advanced notice plus ample time to review  your work. Never surprise someone or put them on the spot. If you do, the feedback you get, in turn, will be hurried and superficial.

Tell the person exactly what you’re looking from them. If they know the kind of feedback you want, then they can answer accordingly. Free reign isn’t always a great idea; people need constrained focus to perform well.

Limit their options. It is significantly easier to make a decision between two options than it is from an undefined range.

Be aware of how they are conveying the feedback and what they are not saying. You might uncover thoughts that they might not know how to express.

Give them a working prototype instead of a mockup, and watch them use it. You will instantly receive valuable insights on usability.

Let’s explore these so we can master them. It’s time to level up our feedback game.

Tell them the type of feedback you want

When someone asks me to review, edit, or critique anything, I always have numerous questions: What is the purpose of you coming to me for feedback? Do you want me give you a thumbs-up and a high-five? Or do you want my detailed, no-holds-barred constructive criticism on even the finest of details?

If someone asks me to review their essay for school, I need to know if they want me to just look for spelling errors, or to give them a critical analysis of their argument. The same goes for design. Designs can be critiqued on a dozen factors, and most people don't have the experience to differentiate one factor from the next.

If you don't instruct people as to what you’re specifically looking for feedback on, they’ll settle somewhere on the safe side—and it’s not going to be particularly helpful. The trick, then, is to ask different people to critique different parts of your design (and you can double up on people you ask), then aggregate all their responses.

Give people time

Imagine you’re in a meeting. You’re surrounded by other designers, managers, and other stakeholders. Like most people in a meeting, your thoughts wander to lunch, work you should be doing, and the weekend. But, suddenly, your manager points at you, and asks you to talk about your latest project.

‍Cue the stock photo: Here’s the dreaded meeting

You freeze. Flustered, unprepared. You stumble out a few words that you hope make sense and sound confident. But, ultimately, you’re stressed, and you cannot think clearly.

This is similar to what it’s like when you walk into someone’s office, interrupt their train of thought, and say: “Hey Susan! Nice weather. Hey, what do you think of this?” while shoving a laptop in her face with your design work on full display.

“Errr, uh… well... it’s nice. The colors, well, hmmm... the red is nice. Yeah, it’s good! Good job.”

They were taken by surprise so they rushed to come up with something insightful so that they'd seem useful and smart. Seem is the keyword—they’re not actually being useful. That would have required time and sincere thought.

So, give people time to consider and respond. To get a really considerate answer, give them the work in advance, and ask them to take a look at it before a short discussion in the near, but respectable, future (later that day, but not in 5 minutes). Consider asking them to take notes of their most pressing thoughts, and to consider specific questions that you send along with your designs.

Ask specific questions

Ever been asked “Tell me about yourself” in an interview? Well, if you didn’t prepare a canned response to that question, you probably blundered out a quick answer and got off on the wrong foot.

Open-ended, general questions are difficult to answer because we do not know what the asker wants to hear. By asking specific questions, the person answering will feel more confident in answering because they have a guideline of what you want to actually know. More confidence means more insight, and more insight means better feedback.

Continuing with our interview example, questions such as, “What were your primary duties at X?” and “Do you have experience designing sites using Webflow?” are much more direct, and are consequently easier to insightfully answer for the applicant.

Here are a few design-specific examples: “Is this text legible on this background?”, “What is the purpose of this website/product is?”, and “Does this button draw your attention?”.

Limit their options

Would you find it easier to choose between these two cars, or if I asked you to choose from every luxury car in the world?

When you’re at an optometrist’s office, they have compare the effectiveness of various lenses. Remember how you’re always comparing only two lenses at a time? There is a powerful reason for this.

Imagine if they gave you twenty lenses and asked you to choose the best one, or to rank them in order from best to worst. Wow, that is a much harder. Your memory isn’t that good. Nor is your perception.

When there are only two options, it is vastly easier to say which one is better.

“Do you think this is the best color?” leads to “Um, well, I’m not quite sure... there are several million of them.” Avoid this. Instead, try for, “Does this look better in this red, or this red?”, or “Does this look better with the image centered or left-aligned?” Then keep iterating your questions for as long as your friend has the patience to keep thoughtfully answering.

Oh, ya. Make sure you have patient friends. Good luck on that one ;)

Ask them what they do not like

In an interview with Kevin Rose, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, talked about the greater importance of receiving negative feedback—asking people what they hate, not what they love. He goes on to say that despite constructive negativity’s immense value to the design process, it is unfortunately avoided by most managers. Why? Because managers, and people alike, are fragile and sensitive when they’re asking for feedback for the first time after having hustled on a project in the comfort of isolation! You can’t blame them. We want to be reassured we didn't waste our time on garbage work.

But it’s a counter-constructive intuition we need to train ourselves to ignore. The truth is that, for the sake of what you're working on, you do not need to hear praise about what people love—you need to know what they hate, so you can turn it into something acceptable or great. Then, after several iterations of fixing the biggest pain points, hopefully the question of “What do you hate?” will be met with, “Nothing, it looks perfect, actually.”

To maximize the benefit of this process, it is necessary to create an environment where the other person is sufficiently comfortable to openly criticize your design. This brings us to:

Accept feedback gracefully

The most important step in receiving valuable feedback is honing your ability to receive constructive criticism graciously. With a genuine smile. Instead of feeling insulted or embarrassed, be appreciative that they discovered and drew your attention to these faults. They are spending their energy for your own benefit. If you’re passive aggressive or simply dead silent in response, you are being a counter-productive. And a jerk.

Plus, consider this: It’s a lot better for your ego and your career to openly handle criticism from a friend before you later hear it from a client instead! Listen to your friends, and incorporate their feedback as appropriate.

At first, it will be difficult to not react negatively at every little nitpick. I promise you that it will be become easier with time and practice. You have to detach yourself from your work—realize that it is not a direct extension of you. Instead, it’s the outcome of your creative process, which is constantly evolving and improving. So, a criticism of the work is not a criticism of your abilities; it’s pointing out what can be improved because the rest is so good.

Notice how they are saying it, and what they are not saying

Many people find it difficult to express themselves—myself included. On top of that, people don’t want to appear ignorant, and they generally don’t want to insult you. These realities will manifest themselves in what people don’t say. Put another way, these reveal themselves in how people express their feedback.

Perhaps you notice your friend point at a something, but remain silent. Or begin to say something, only to then backtrack. Or respond with a “Good” or “I like it”, but with a high-pitched or blasé tone.

These are all signs of missed opportunities for constructive feedback. This person has something potentially super useful to say but isn’t. This is as bad as it gets; they’re wasting their time and yours. What you need to do is put the person at ease immediately. Make it natural for them to criticize you. To do this, start by criticising your own work in a light-hearted fashion so they recognize you don’t think you and your work are always the epitome of perfection.

Then, politely reassure them that you especially want to hear negative feedback, and ask them again.

Give them a working prototype (if possible)

As I wrote in a popular post on this blog, working prototypes have numerous benefits over mockups, and receiving much better feedback is one of them. Not only can your reviewer get a better idea of the true look and feel of the site by using it live in their browser, but you can also watch how they use it in real-time! Get them to open the site and go through its pages and sections. Note any problems they have finding where things are, or knowing what they should be doing.

Keep them talking the whole time—maybe even have them narrate what they are doing and thinking at each stage of the process. Ask them questions to keep them going, such as “What is the purpose of this page?”

A great resource for learning how to get the most out of user-testing—and to design clear and easy-to-use UI’s—is Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. You’ll be amazed by what you can learn from a five-minute user experience testing session.

You’ll be amazed by what you can learn from a five-minute user experience session with a prototype.

Moving forward

Receiving feedback is valuable for obtaining diverse perspectives and opinions on your designs, and discovering faults that your eyes had grown accustomed to. In order to maximize the benefits you receive from feedback, however, it is important to create an environment where the person giving the criticism is comfortable doing so.

Do you have any feedback techniques that I missed? Or, have you tried some of these and want to let us know how they went? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below. I’ll be sure to respond ;)

Anyways, if you're still skeptical, know that what you’re currently reading is entirely built and hosted in Webflow. But again, I could just be biased because I use Webflow — professionally and personally. I’m not saying it’s the only option. I'm just saying be wary of technical SEO if you decide to go with other solutions.

Okay, now that you have a better understanding of technical SEO, let’s get into what really brings in traffic and customers to your website — content!

content loading gif

On-page SEO: why you need to focus on it when creating content

Assuming you have a website that was built cleanly with SEO in mind, let’s move on to the actual content creation side of things. To break it down simply, on-page SEO is concerned with how you create and present content on your website. It’s a practice of making sure pages on your websites are optimized to be easily indexed by Google. This will apply to any page on your website that has content on it — so pretty much every page. But, I’ll primarily explain things in the form of blog posts on a website as it’s probably the easiest way to understand. Again, a lot of assumptions here on my part, but I’m assuming you’re a business that needs visitors and customers, and you’ll definitely need content to persuade people to buy from you.

Moz's on-page SEO hierarchy of needs (source)

On-page SEO is extremely important because it’s your opportunity to “give Google what it wants.” Actually with any platform, whether it’s YouTube, Pinterest, or whatever, making sure you understand and play to how algorithms read content is extremely important.

If we take a short trip back to the beginning of this article, I mentioned how Google’s mission is to categorize all the content in the world. Making sure you follow on-page SEO best practices is how you’re going to make sure Google can easily index your content and know what it’s all about. In a lot of cases, you can rank a piece of content on the second or third page of Google simply by following on-page SEO best practices, without much promotion. And if you have a really high domain authority, you can even reach the first page without much promotion — more on that later.

Speaking of rankings in Google, I think at this point you’re dying to just know how to rank content. So, let's go over exactly how to utilize on-page SEO, and other ranking factors, to get your content seen in organic search results.

How to rank your content in Google

Want to hear a secret that most “SEO experts” don’t tell you about ranking content in Google?

Google makes the hardest things to manipulate the most important ranking factors.

Write that down and read it back. Let it soak in.

despicable me minions gif

Knowing this, stop looking for “tactics” and “hacks” to rank your content on Google. I’m talking to you PBN lovers. SEO is a slow and steady game. You don’t want it to be fast and easy. Otherwise, everyone would invest their time into it. If SEO results came fast, you would lose rankings just as fast as you received them. And we would just call SEO viral marketing (yuck). 

Google is extremely smart. In fact, a lot smarter than you think. Way smarter than me or you. Don’t try to game it. Instead, focus on the hard stuff. The stuff most businesses aren’t willing to invest in. Because that’s where the real long-term ROI will come to play. Never play the short-term game — that goes for everything beyond just your business.

So, let’s go over some ranking factors that affect how Google decides to rank your content. These will be listed in order of most important to least — but they are all very important regardless. Don’t take the list I'm about to present as hard facts. They are just mere observations on what I believe to be true based on lots of experimentation.

What factors affect your Google rankings?

From most important to least, aka from the hardest to easiest to manipulate, Google cares about:

  1. Content quality and its relevance to a search query
  2. Your domain authority
  3. Backlinks and page authority
  4. Your on-page SEO
  5. Keywords in your domain and it’s age
  6. How many page views you’re receiving at a given time

Now, there’s actually a lot of different ranking factors… so they say. According to Brian Dean of Backlinko, there are over 200 ranking factors.

However, the above 6 or so things I mentioned are probably the top “hardest” things to manipulate — making them outweigh almost any other ranking factor that other sources will tell you about. I know this because I’ve experimented with all of them. So, let me show you how to nail each one for your business.

1. RankBrain: how Google judges content quality and relevance

Throughout the years, Google’s Rankbrain algorithm has been getting smarter and smarter. This is because Google has a shit ton of data — like a lot. Think about it. There are over 63,000 Google searches every second. In the amount of time that it took you to read this sentence, there were over 250,000 searches on Google. All those searches, coupled with over 2 million articles posted each day, allows Google’s machine learning algorithm to know exactly what makes good content. Plus, not everything on Google is a blog post. So there are actually way more data points than I just mentioned.

I don’t consider myself a Google algorithm expert, no one is. Not even Google employees. But I can tell you that the most important thing to Google is to give searchers great content in the least amount of clicks as possible. Google wants users to search for something and have the first link they click on to be the best possible resource for them. Heck, Google cares so much about this that they created featured snippets so people don’t even have to click on anything for some search queries.

This is why you’ll hear some people say, “just create better content” than what's currently ranking in Google if you want to outrank them. But how do you know that your content will be “better?” It’s extremely hard to create amazing content, and that’s exactly why it’s probably the most important thing you should focus on.

I can’t 100% tell you what makes good and bad content, but a rule of thumb is if you search something in Google, and click on the first link, it should answer your problem right away. If you notice that the first link for a certain query/keyword doesn’t give you the answer you think it should, there’s your opportunity to shine. It’s very subjective, I know. But it’s the most honest answer I can give you.

And Google knows this. For example, if you click on an article that ranks number 1, then back out and proceed to click on the article that ranks number 2, it sends Google a signal that the first article you clicked on did not answer what you were looking for. Then, it starts to consider making the second article rank first instead — assuming you didn't keep clicking on different articles after you viewed the second one. Hope that makes sense.

pogo sticking google ranking factor
"Pogo sticking" between articles can be a bad Google user experience signal

On the same token, relevance to a keyword search is extremely important. To get a better understanding of relevance for certain keywords, just Google something (in an incognito or private window) and see what comes up.

For example, if you search “dog toys” you’ll see a bunch of links that go straight to websites that actually sell physical dog toys. If you write a blog post on dog toys, and try to rank for that keyword, you best believe it’ll never make it to the first page of Google. This is because Google knows people searching for dog toys are looking to buy physical dog toys, not read articles talking about them. So, it will always favor ecommerce stores selling dog toys as it believes that this is the most relevant option to the given search.

On the flip side, if you search for “what are the best dog toys for puppies” you’ll notice that all the top-ranking articles are blog posts talking about the best toys your puppy needs. Again, this is because Google decided that these are the most relevant options for the given search term. So, if you want to rank for that keyword, write a blog post.

Google also looks at things like CTR (click through rate) and TOS (time on site) as ranking factors. We won't get too in-depth on these because they're pretty self-explanatory. To have a high CTR you just want to make sure your title and meta description are appealing to a searcher, and for time on site you want someone to spend as much time on your page as possible. The latter sends Google a signal that your page is interesting and that it should show it to more users as a result.

If there’s something to take away from the first ranking factor it's to create better content and only create content that is relevant to the search. Creating great content is hard because it’s subjective — making it the hardest thing to manipulate. But, if you think you have a unique or better way of explaining things compared to the top-ranking articles, go for it. And creating content that’s relevant to the search is simply a matter of Googling a keyword and seeing the type of content Google likes to rank.

2. Your domain authority

Domain authority is something I pay a lot of attention to, sometimes more than I actually need to. This is because I’ve noticed, in a majority of cases, websites with higher domain authorities tend to rank higher in search results. I’d actually go out and say that domain authority is actually the number one most important ranking factor. But because a high DA (domain authority) is a by-product of great content and a strong brand, we’ll keep it as the second most important ranking factor.

But first off, what is domain authority? I like to think of it as your brand's strength and quality. For example, in a world where soda companies are websites, Coke would have a higher DA compared to Shasta (hope I didn’t offend anyone there).  

DA is actually an arbitrary number, from 1-100, created by Moz — not Google. Google would rather you not calculate the strength of a domain based on a number. DA is based on a handful of things, but mainly on the quality of backlinks you have — which essentially means external websites that link to your page. If you’ve ever used any sort of SEO tool, you’ll notice a lot of them rank difficulty based on things like “domain rating,” “domain authority,” or in the case of Ubersuggest, “domain score.”

In the SEO community, domain authority is probably the one most looked at. Whatever SEO tool you use, the ratings will be relative to each other so pick one SEO tool and stick to it. It won’t make sense to compare Moz’s domain authority to Ubersuggest’s domain score as the values are calculated differently.

Personally, I just stick to SEO tools that show the Moz domain authority. I’ll explain more about the specific tools I recommend in a sec, just keep reading. 

Now, you might be thinking “how am I going to compete if I’m just starting out?” And that’s a valid point. It’ll be hard to rank for the keyword “best quotes” if you’re a brand new website because all websites on the first page of Google for that keyword have a DA of at least 50. And it will take a good amount of effort and time to reach a DA of 50. But, even if you’re just starting out, you shouldn't let websites with high domain authorities discourage you from trying to compete. It wouldn’t make sense because no website starts out with a high domain authority — it takes time and effort to get there. Instead, you need to be strategic with what type of content you create.

Instead of trying to rank for “best quotes” you can choose a long-tailed keyword like “best quotes from 1917.” Where, at the time of writing this post, there is a website with a DA of 6 ranking on the first page of Google for that term. And getting a DA of 6 is almost as easy as just creating your website and having your social media profiles link to it.

So, understand that building up your domain authority takes time. If you can get links from websites that have really high DAs like Forbes or Inc, then it could help expedite the process. 

If your website is brand new, focus on long-tailed keywords with low competition and create great content, something we talked about earlier. As a result, people may share your article and your DA will increase. Of course there will be less search volume for these keywords, but you need to start small in order to grow. Growing to a high DA of something like +50 is not impossible. It just takes effort and time. Again, going back to the concept of making the most important ranking factors the hardest to manipulate.

factors that affect domain authority
Domain authority ranking factors (source)

One thing I usually tell my friends that want to start creating content in a specific niche is to always start with a sub-niche. For example, if you want to create a website that teaches people how to build websites, focus on a small cohort of people trying to build websites. As in, focus on something like people who specifically want to build photography portfolios.

If you can, try diving even deeper. For example, people who want to build photography portfolios specifically in Webflow. Or, people who want to build a photography portfolio for a job interview. The competition will be much less for these topics compared to targeting everyone who wants to build a website. Starting super sub-niche, then branching out broader into your niche later, is how you’re going to slowly build up your website traffic and domain authority as a new website.

Now, how exactly would you grow your DA to help you rank easier for different keywords, and more importantly how would you rank a specific article higher in search results? Well, here are where backlinks come to play.

3. Backlinks and page authority

Backlinks are links from different websites that link back to your website. For example, if you were to share this post in one of your blog posts, you would give this page a backlink. Which if you liked this post, I hope you do because this content is completely free and took me a while to write. Similarly, I could give another page a backlink by linking to it — just like I did right there. 

what is a backlink
A visual representation of a backlink (source)

This goes back to Google’s core algorithm, PageRank. Google decides to rank content in its search results based on how many backlinks a website, or article, has. Now, just because you have a lot of backlinks doesn’t mean you rank higher. Backlinks are not created equal.

For example, if you were to search “how to learn python” in Google, the first ranking article has a fraction of the number of backlinks as the second ranking article. At the time of writing this, the first ranking article also has a lower DA (by more than 30) compared to the second ranking article. So why is the first website still ranking higher?

It could be due to a multitude of things, but if I had to quickly guess it would be because that the first article is written a lot better (think back to the first ranking factor) and because the backlinks that the top ranking article has come from quality sources that also have high DAs.

For example, if Forbes were to link to your article it would be a lot more valuable compared to if a niche lifestyle blog were to link to you. This is because Forbes has a strong and reputable brand that has an insanely high DA — 95 at the time of writing this. If Forbes links to you, it gives Google a signal that your website must be valuable to some degree.

However, Google is also now focusing a lot on backlink relevance. This means that the anchor text, and the website you receive a link from, should be relevant when you’re getting a link. For example, in the previous sentence, I linked out to a post that explains what anchor text is. The backlink Moz just received from this post is a highly relevant backlink because we are talking about anchor texts and I linked to an article that explains what it is.

Making sure your backlinks come from relevant anchor texts can help with the quality of your backlinks and help improve the page authority of an article you are trying to rank for. Now, we didn’t get much into what PA (page authority) is but it’s essentially a DA for a specific page.

While DA gives you an overall score of your entire domain, PA gives you a score for an individual page on your website. A high DA will naturally yield a fairly strong PA, but strong backlinks to an article can actually increase your PA past your overall DA in some cases. This is why sometimes websites with lower DAs rank higher. PA can increase from things like backlink quality, social likes/shares, and internal links from other pages on your website.

I hope I explained that in the least confusing way possible, but I’ll show you what I mean visually in the case study section. If you’re a bit confused feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this article and I’ll try to respond.

Anyways, let's get into the next ranking factor, and one I believe to be quite important — on-page SEO.

4. On-page SEO: how to create content on your website

When I think of SEO, I primarily think of on-page SEO. Even though it probably isn’t correct to think this way, I see on-page SEO simply as speaking Google’s indexing language. In a lot of cases where you are doing SEO for another business, optimizing on-page SEO can be the low hanging fruit to go after.

In the example of a business blog, most businesses write just for the sake of writing, so a lot of them have pretty bad on-page SEO. And because this ranking factor is 4th on our list, it’s not insanely hard to do.

This ranking factor can be an entire post on itself but I’ll make sure to only give you what you need to know and nothing of what you don’t.

First, on the technical side of things, you want to make sure your website has an SSL certificate and is secured. Most hosting providers, including Webflow, already come with this as a standard. Just make sure when your website loads it has HTTPS in front of the URL and not HTTP.

showing ssl secured url
In Chrome, you’ll see a lock next to a URL that shows the website is SSL secured

Next, you’ll want to make sure your website loads fast. Preferably, you want a page to load in less than 3 seconds. You can test page speed with Pingdom’s speed test. If your website takes longer than 3 seconds to load, consider either finding a new hosting provider or cleaning up the code on your website to speed things up. With Webflow, you should experience load times to be less than 2 seconds, with smaller websites loading in half a second.

Next, you’ll want to make sure your website is responsive. This is extremely important as you should optimize for mobile SEO whenever you can. If your website design doesn’t look right on a mobile device then this could seriously hurt your SEO. Just use Google’s mobile-friendly test tool to check for this.

Okay, now let’s get into how you’re going to optimize your content around a specific keyword. I’ll show you an example from the Webflow Blog in a small case study at the end of this post. But for this part, you need to understand the fundamentals.

First, you want your keyword to appear in your URL. Say you wanted to go after the keyword “best puppy food.” You would want your website URL to look something like:

  • https://yourwebsite.com/best-puppy-food
  • https://yourwesbite.com/blog/best-puppy-food

Both are okay, it doesn’t matter if your post is on the root of your domain or in a folder (name could be different from blog). But the point is your URL slug should include the exact keyword you’re going after.

Next, you want to make sure the keyword “best puppy food” is in your H1 title tag. In the example of a blog post, this means it should be in the main title. If we do a quick relevance check, we can see that Google likes to rank listicle type articles for the keyword “best puppy food.” So an example of a title we could use is:

  • 10 best puppy food options in 2020

That probably isn’t the best title, but the idea is that you want your keyword, or some variation of it, in the title. To help you write great titles, try using a headline analyzer. Just Google “headline analyzer” to find a handful of solutions. CTR (click-through rates) are going to matter a lot because it’s how you’ll initially get people to even click on your website. So make sure you title things properly and accurately.

Next, you want to make sure your keyword is in the meta tag, or description, of your post. The meta description is the little paragraph you see under the title when you Google something. It gives you a sneak peek of what the article is about, and you want to make sure that your keyword is somewhere in there. This way when Google crawls and indexes your page, it can quickly figure out what the content is about.

importance of on page seo

Next, you want to make sure any images you use in your blog post have proper alt text. I won’t get too deep in them, as this post will be longer than it already is. Just Google it.

Another key tip with images is to use proper file names. Don’t have the file name of your images be a random string of letters or numbers. Actually name them properly, as this will increase your chances of having them rank in Google’s image search. It’s also ideal to have any images with transparent backgrounds to be uploaded as PNG's, and ones without transparent backgrounds to be JPEG’s. This is mainly due to image file sizes, as you want your images to load fast. So make sure any images you use are under 300kb. If your images are too big, Google “PNG compressor” or “JPEG compressor” and use a tool to help bring down the file size before you upload them to your site.

Next, you want to have LSI keywords within your content. LSI stands for latent semantic indexing and it’s just a fancy way of saying synonyms or variations of your main keyword — makes me sound smart saying LSI. Use a tool like LSIGraph and type in your main keyword and see what other keywords pop up. In the case of our main keyword being “best puppy foods,” some LSI keywords that pop up are “dry puppy food,” “wet puppy food,” “large breed puppy,” and much more. We want to use some of these keywords within our content about "best puppy foods."

Another great tool you can use, that’s like LSI on steroids, is Clearscope. Clearscope essentially analyzes the first several ranking posts in Google, for a given keyword, and tells you what keywords to have in your content for maximum relevance and reach. It’s a bit pricey, but worth it if you output lots of content.

on-page seo tips

Alright, that’s about all you need to know about on-page SEO. You can dive deeper if you want by reading more about it elsewhere. But we pretty much went through the fundamentals.

5. Keywords in your domain and its age

The fifth ranking factor on our list is domain age and what your domain name actually is. Now, I won’t get much into domain age because it basically just means how long your website has been live for. If your website is brand new and you start building backlinks to the website quickly, Google may think you're using "tactics" to grow your DA. So take things slow, especially if you use something like a PBN to start growing a website's authority quickly — Google will flag you.

But what's more important is what your domain name actually is. It took me a while to realize this, but it does matter for SEO. For example, go in a private window and search for the keywords “website” or “consulting” and see what the first ranking result is. I rest my case. 

But on a serious note, while keywords in your domain do help, it only really matters if you’ve also focused on the above 4 ranking factors. Keywords in your domain are good, but it doesn’t make sense for every website. So don’t worry about it too much.

6. Traffic

Last on our list is how much traffic a page is receiving at a given time. This one might make you go, "huh?" I actually didn’t even know this was a thing until I tested it. But it made sense once I realized that Google does rank breaking news articles pretty high in its SERP.

Essentially, when a page is receiving a surge of traffic, it sends Google a signal that it’s “breaking news” or really important, and starts to rank it higher for others to easily find. For example, we had a post ranking in position 8 for a while and it wouldn't move up. So, we sent it in a newsletter to give it a sudden surge of traffic.

webflow ranking for featured snippet

After a couple of weeks, the post was ranking number 1. We also tested this with running paid ads to a blog post and it worked just the same. There’s actually a recent blog post by Grow and Convert on this that you should check out to learn more in-depth.

Alright, that about concludes it for the top ranking factors. Again, there may be a few more. But these are the only ones I really pay attention to — at least for now.

Case study: ranking number 1 in Google

As promised a little earlier, here’s a small case study of how we ranked number 1 for the keyword “UX design tips.”

First, we used an SEO tool that showed us Moz’s DA. I’m not going to tell you exactly what tool to use, but for this example I went ahead and used a budget-friendly tool called Keysearch.

We knew we wanted to write an article around “UX design tips” so we typed in the keyword into the tool:

In Keysearch you can see PA, DA, and backlink count — all things we talked about earlier

Now, at a quick glance, you can see our article is ranking number 1. But when we initially did our keyword research our article wasn’t there (duh), so ignore the first result. Knowing we had a stronger DA than the first 2 articles made us sure we could rank for this term.

However, the first ranking article (again, ignoring ours) had a lot of backlinks. But, because we knew DA is valued pretty highly, it didn’t scare us away. 

Next, we followed all the protocols mentioned in the on-page SEO section of this post — making sure relevant keywords and the content quality was there.

We wrote and published the post and then followed a distribution strategy. Generally, I like to wait until I know a post is indexed in Google before going hard on distribution. It’s important to treat content on your website as a product launch. So making sure you share the article on your social media accounts and email list is important. In some cases, you can even use paid advertising to help boost the promotion of posts. We also followed a link-building strategy by making sure we interlinked any of our previous relevant articles to the post.

After about 3 months the post ranked number 1. And at the time of writing this, it’s been in that position for a while. Voilà!

seo magic

See, I told you SEO was simple.

Now, you can actually follow this exact process for existing content on your website too, especially if you’re doing SEO and content marketing for a website that already has lots of content. This can be a huge quick win.

A beginner’s guide to republishing posts for an SEO boost

Because SEO is a long term game and it can take a while for content to rank, sometimes over 6 months, updating old posts will yield quicker results compared to creating new ones. This is because if you already have a post ranking in Google, it’s already gone through the long process of Google indexing it.

We did this with one of our old posts that had been on our blog for a couple of years. And this happened…

updating a post
A Google Analytics screenshot. The red arrow indicates when we updated this post

Talk about a 100% increase in traffic! What happened was we went back, followed all the on-page SEO protocol, republished the post (making sure the date was updated), and followed our distribution strategy again. 

Related reads: How to double your page views without publishing anything new

And no, this wasn’t a one-off. Here’s one that grew by over 300%:

updating a post again

See, we know what we’re talking about. But seriously, you can do this too. Just make sure to go back and read this post whenever you forget something. Bookmark it so you can refer back at any time. In a future post, I may even explain more on developing an actual content strategy. If I included that here, this post would be twice as long. But, before I give a recap over everything we went over in this post, I want to explain one more thing about republishing.

In some cases, you may have URL slugs that are not on-page SEO friendly. If you want to update a post that is already ranking somewhere on the first page, say between 5-10, don’t worry about changing the URL. You’ll break things, especially if you change the original canonical tag

However, if you notice a post is on the second, third, or even fourth page, and you want to republish it and follow this protocol, update the URL slug and 301 redirect it to your SEO friendly URL slug. But make sure you keep the original canonical tag. We didn’t get much into canonical tags, but they’re essentially a way of telling Google that this is the original article so you don’t have duplicate content. So, once something is published for the first time, never mess with the canonical tag. If you want to update URLs, just 301 redirect the old page to the new one — while keeping the old canonical. I thought I’d mention this because I’ve broken posts in the past when I didn’t understand this logic.

Anyways, I hope all this helps.

Conclusion

If you made it to the end of this post I salute you. Knowing all of this will put you ahead of the game when it comes to being an SEO master and content marketer. While I don’t consider myself an expert in anything, I am fairly competent when it comes to SEO. But only because I’ve spent a while focusing on it. I wrote this guide for my younger self and I if you even learned one thing from this, I did my job.

Anyways, as a recap, we discussed:

  • What website SEO is
  • How Google actually works
  • What makes SEO special
  • Types of SEO: both technical and on-page
  • How to rank your content
  • All the (important) ranking factors
  • A mini case study
  • A beginner’s guide to republishing content

It’s also a good idea to check out tools such as:

  • Google Analytics
  • Google webmaster tools
  • Moz, Ubersuggest, or Keysearch
  • Clearscope or LSIGraph
  • Ahrefs
  • Keywords Everywhere chrome extension

We didn’t get much into the exact tools, besides a few of the ones mentioned above. But what's more important than the tools are the fundamentals, and knowing how to apply them to your research when using any tool you choose to use.

Let us know in the comments below what you thought of this post. If you have any questions we’ll be sure to do our best to respond.

Now go make some awesome content, the world needs it!

Neal O’Grady

Freelance designer, traveler and all-around web guy.

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