SEO Tips and Predictions from Joost de Valk

SEO Tips and Predictions from Joost de Valk

Joost de Valk is the founder and Chief Product Officer of Yoast. He’s got a background as an SEO, digital marketer and web developer. Nowadays, he spends most of his time at Yoast working on Yoast SEO and its add-ons, especially making sure that the roadmap for all Yoast products is being managed.  To know more about Joost and Yoast updates, follow his Twitter account.

1. What projects have you launched recently that you are proud of?

We’ve recently started a series of SEO workouts in Yoast SEO, and they’re a really, really big deal. So for each workout, we’ve basically pulled a bunch of our best SEO tools together onto one page, and by following the steps you can improve your site’s SEO really quickly and easily. Our first SEO workout was for internal linking and cornerstone content. Since then we’ve released a workout for cleaning up orphaned content (posts and pages with no incoming internal links), and we’ve already got another one we’re planning!

I truly think these new workouts are super impressive. They make complex SEO tasks so much easier, and nobody else is doing anything like it. I think professional SEO’s and agencies will also enjoy them because they make their job of cleaning up and maintaining sites so much easier.

2. In your opinion, what are the 2021 SEO trends?

Thinking of SEO in terms of yearly trends is great for blog posts, but doesn’t really reflect on reality. Good SEO is a combination of good use of underlying technology, good UX, and good information architecture. 

The first step is search engine friendliness: taking away hurdles for indexation and making sure your site doesn’t have more URLs than it has content for (for example, if you have 100 products, you shouldn’t have 1,000 filter URLs on your site). Then you “just” need good content and a good UX. It sounds simple but is of course quite hard.

The good thing is that if you follow this and don’t fall into the trap of thinking of SEO as a bag of tricks, you don’t have to fear Google’s updates.

3. Do you believe that backlinks are Google’s past? Is link building important for increasing the website’s positions nowadays?

Backlinks definitely still matter. There was a scam uncovered earlier this year, where these browser-based text editor tools were inserting hidden backlinks into the text. A bunch of web editors just pasted that text into their sites without thinking and ended up helping sites they’d never heard of getting to the #1 position on Google. It was pretty funny at the time, but what’s more, it was really working. Getting those backlinks was getting the scammers to rank. At least, until the scam was uncovered — Google has taken action to remove the scam sites from the search results now.

The moral of that story is backlinks matter for SEO in 2021, and how you get them matters, too. Buying backlinks is always a bad idea. You should be creating content, or software, that makes people actually want to link to you, instead.

4. How important is technical SEO in 2021?

It’s super important, but if you choose the right platform, you won’t have to think about it much. The right platform of course being WordPress. Otherwise, you might find yourself spending a lot of time and/or effort fixing technical issues.

5. In your opinion, does a user’s behavior impact website ranking in SERP?

One user’s behavior of course doesn’t. But people’s reaction to your site in the SERPs is important: do they click, do they continue to the SERPs after they reach your site. So, you need to actually “answer” their search “questions”. You need to fit your content to their intent.

6. Which SEO tactics do you think are underrated?

Internal linking is definitely underrated by a lot of SEOs. People just don’t realize how much impact it can have, especially in combination with a good cornerstone content strategy. Tactics like that can make your content really work for you. Rather than it just sitting around on your server, taking up space.

Another thing people miss a lot is the importance of audience research and getting aligned with the right search intent. It’s simple: it really doesn’t matter how great your site is or how many people visit your pages if those people don’t find what they’re looking for there. Plus, if you get this stuff right, your conversion can go through the roof. So then you don’t need to worry about getting thousands of views every day, you just need to reach the right people and get those conversions.

7. How can start-ups and early-stage businesses use SEO effectively to drive traffic to their sites?

Things like local SEO strategies or long-tail (longer, easier to rank for) keywords are usually a good starting point. What’s going to be difficult is targeting really high-value, competitive keywords and expecting your site to rank overnight. That doesn’t really happen, you have to build some authority first. There are loads of long-tail keywords and niches that are less competitive, and by targeting those more specific searches you can start to get some traction. It’s a similar thing with local search — by targeting locally, you’re going to face a lot less competition.

8. What is the future of rich snippets?

Lots of search results snippets have some sort of “enhancement” these days. Whether it’s products, recipes, jobs, podcasts, how-to’s, FAQs: there are loads of different enhancements. Those aren’t going to go away, in fact, there will only be more of these enhancements over time.

Most of these are generated based on schema metadata on those pages. This is one of those essential parts of technical SEO that really can take lots of time and effort if you’re not on the right platform. We have structured data blocks in Yoast SEO that help you get these enhancements very quickly.

9. How to create great page titles for SEO?

Well, great page titles take a bit of learning, more than I can do in a couple of sentences. Luckily we have a great article about this topic: crafting good page titles.

10. What can you tell about mobile SEO? Is it true for you that mobile SEO will absolutely force out desktop soon?

A lot of searches happen on mobile, and thus optimizing for that is very important. I don’t really think there’s such a thing as “mobile SEO”, specifically: all SEO is mobile SEO. Google has already introduced mobile-first indexing, which means that it looks at sites as though it looks on mobile. This means that if the content isn’t available on mobile, and only shows on desktop, it’s actually not counted in your ranking. You can really no longer ignore mobile in your SEO strategy.

11. Have you ever used black hat and grey hat SEO tactics? What do you think about them?

I’ve tested some tactics in the past, of course. I think any good SEO should try those at some point on a test site. I’ve never used them for my clients though. I don’t really believe it’s a sustainable way of doing SEO and that’s all I’m really interested in.

Take the backlinks trick we were talking about earlier. Or paid backlinks. You might be able to artificially boost your rankings with those backlinks, but in the end, it’s going to backfire. Google will figure it out eventually, and you’ll get penalized.

12. How do you see the future of SEO (in 5 years)?

If the last decade is any indication, then what’s truly important will stay the same. That’s logical because that’s the stuff that matters to users: good SEO requires great content, good information architecture, good UX, a fast site. Basically, good SEO is what comes to you when you build a good website.

Of course, there are reasons why search engines will change over the coming years. One of the drivers behind that is privacy regulations. I’m curious where that’ll bring us, but I don’t think it’ll bring dramatic changes in the next 5 years. But those could just be my “famous last words” 🙂

13. Are you going to surprise the SEO and Digital Marketing world with something new (tool/app, course, product)?

If I did, we’d never tell 🙂 But we’ll have something you’ll want to shop for sure!

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