John McAlpin's Top SEO Hacks

Focus on These High Impact SEO Strategies – John McAlpin



There are so many SEO strategies, how do you know which ones you should focus on? Which ones will give you the best results in the shortest amount of time?

That’s why I brought on John McAlpin.


He’s the SEO director at Cardinal Digital Marketing and has spoken at top SEO conferences, like State of Search, and is highly regarded for his ability to blend both the art and science of SEO. 


What are some SEO experiments that you have run lately and what have you learned?

Yes, he recently ran some tests with Google My Business (for local SEO) and found that Google not only wants to see that you have a local listing, but also that it is active. So doing things like creating posts, modifying the descriptions or even adding photos can help signal to Google that you are active.


For businesses that aren’t local, he’s found that pruning content is actually one of the most effective SEO strategies. So, for example, you might find that several pieces of content are very similar and combining them and then creating redirects to the one combined post can really help to increase traffic.


For example, many people have an annual piece of content that covers topics and trends from a particular year. In this case, rather than having one for 2018, 2019 and 2020, combine the information still relevant from previous years and put it all into the 2020 piece.


About 25% of your time should be spent working on content should be content management (so pruning, refreshing, updating etc).


You mention that you even prune landing pages. Can you give us an example?

He’s using the term “landing page” as in any page that is not a blog. This could be service pages. Sometimes it makes more sense to have a page dedicated to one answer and sometimes it makes more sense to have a more comprehensive page.

This is an old school tactic, but it still works and they’ve been seeing good results with it.


How do you decide which topics should have a dedicated page with a concise answer and which topics should have a more comprehensive page? 

Google’s John Muller says that Google prefers longer and more comprehensive pages so that the user doesn’t have to search all over your site to find the answer to their question (as oftentimes, finding the answer to one question may lead to another question). 


Don’t overlook structure! 


This is often a problem with web designers as they don’t really understand the SEO implications of H1s, and H2s.


Also, using a table of contents to help interlink your post is a great way to produce not only a better user experience but also attain “fraggles.” These are the little blue links under the meta description.


What’s say the 20% of work that is driving most your SEO results.

While it’s actually not that easy, one of the most valuable SEO strategies that John has been doing lately is investing in understanding the buyer’s purchase journey and moving away from just keyword research.


An experiment that has been working really well for Cardinal right now is developing content for each stage of the funnel and then reporting on it. One of his favorite tools is which helps him see the natural progression of the “also asked” boxes in Google. 


For example, let’s say we’re working on a healthcare website, and many prospects have an upcoming procedure or a certain condition. In this case, most people will want to know symptoms, the procedure, and post-procedure care. 


Therefore, as the SEO, we try to provide enough content that guides the prospect through every step of the journey, from discovery and symptoms to managing post-procedure and expectations. John sent me this example after the call explaining, “This is a mid-funnel piece I did last year to help address the various questions that people go through in the decision process when looking for a Caribbean medical university. This is actually phase one of this project and we’re launching phase two later this month which will be this piece on steroids.”


Sometimes the patient guides just have a paragraph or two that will internal link to another section of the website. The key is that it should allow the patient to find everything they need in one place.


One problem is that if you’re in say, eCommerce, you don’t need a huge guide on how to buy a t-shirt. How would you go about creating content for a website like this?

Honestly, the bigger the eCommerce website, the more important technical SEO is versus content. This also goes for say, travel booking websites. They just don’t need as much content. 


Instead, try to make the on-page copy really amazing. Look at what your competitors are doing on their product pages and try to do one or two things better than them (and make sure that you have everything they are doing well!). For example, do they offer product videos? Then take it a step further. Perhaps you can incentivize user-generated content by encouraging customers to upload pictures of themselves in the product. 


If you do want to write a blog post, you could do something like Our Most Popular Products of 2020, however, this should not be done at the expense of technical SEO and on-page copy.


As content is pretty difficult for eCommerce, I’m curious how much you recommend leveraging internal linking?

Internal linking is extremely important and is one of the best SEO strategies to focus on. Not only do you want users and search engines to find your content, but internal linking can also help search engines understand the relationship between the content. So you really want to make sure that your products are organized in a logical fashion. 


For example, you might have Clothes>Shoes>Mens>Black Shoes. 

Once you have that in order, the trick is finding unique ways to link them. One way is with “related product” sections. Whatever you do, make sure that you are internally linking them very naturally.


About what is the percentage breakdown of blog posts to video to podcast per client?

It really depends on the client’s budget. Video is very popular, though one of the unique content forms they have been producing are interactive graphics that help keep the audience engaged during long-form blog posts. This also helps them quickly find their way around the piece of content if they want to refer back to other parts as well. Here’s an example.


Do you find that one type of content resonates particularly well with a particular audience?


He finds that content in healthcare is generally very behind the curve. Most procedures have very thin explanations that leave the patient with more questions than answers.


Do you have any other last-minute tips on SEO?

SEO Roundtable is an amazing resource with some of the best information available to stay up-to-date. Another great way to learn more is to follow some of the below people on Twitter.

  1. (Great for SEO news & updates)
  2. (Super nice, great at technical SEO, has solid advice)
  3. (Also very nice, another technical goddess, & great advice)
  4. (Founder of women in tech seo, certified badass)
  5. (Python genius & all around stand-up guy)
  6. (Sass machine & technical SEO godfather)
  7. (JavaScript Elf & giver of valuable knowledge)
  8. (King of domain name knowledge & extremely knowledgeable)
  9. (SEO/Dev wizard; Shares great advice on the reg)
  10. (Google Webmaster Trends Analyst; Gives advice, when asked politely.

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