Trending December 2023 # 5 Easy Organic Search Opportunities You May Be Missing Out On # Suggested January 2024 # Top 21 Popular

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Search is the number one source of external traffic for content sites, driving 34.8 percent of site visits in 2023, compared to 25.6 percent from social.

But do you need to pay for search to see success?


Clearly, search engine optimization (SEO) is critical for brands that want to succeed.

What are some good strategies for optimization?

To answer those questions, I’ve put together a list of five SEO opportunities you may be missing out on.

1. Focus on Organic Keywords

The difference between success and failure in SEO often comes down to the words you use and the topics you write about.

So which keywords are going to be the most valuable for your company?

A little keyword research can help you identify the words your customers are actually using to find your business.

Going to Google for keyword research is fine, but consider looking at social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter.

When customers hashtag your brand, they’re often using related hashtags and keywords in the same post that you can use to develop your SEO strategy.

You should also leverage long-tail keywords — specific search phrases with modifiers that have low competition but high search intent.

For instance, you may have optimized for “waterproof sunscreen,” but there’s probably a lot of competition for these keywords.

However, a search term like, “waterproof sunscreen for sensitive skin,” should have less competition and may be searched by users with a higher likelihood of buying the product.

2. Encourage More Reviews

Reviews also help you organically build up those long-tail keywords with less competition.

So how do you go about getting more reviews?

Depending on your industry, there are a number of tactics you can use.

First, let’s talk about incentives. Paying for reviews is never a good idea. Paid reviews come across as inauthentic and if word gets out that you’re paying for reviews, it can damage your brand’s reputation.

There is a way to get around this, however. If you have a call center, you can offer your employees a bonus for good reviews that mention the worker’s name.

So if one of your agents has a remarkably good call, he or she can simply tell the customer, “If you’d like to leave a review on our website and you mention my name, I’ll get a $10 tip.”

You can also ask for post-purchase reviews using email.

3. Amplify Visual Marketing

While you’re generating those reviews, don’t forget the image.

According to an A/B test we did at Yotpo (the company I work for) the simple act of adding customer photos to product pages increased checkout by as much as 24 percent.

I can just hear your art department saying, “But those photos aren’t professional, they look terrible.”

It doesn’t matter.

Leverage visual marketing with UGC as part of the shopping experience. A shoppable gallery of customer photos featuring your products can increase relatability. This social validation gives shoppers the confidence to spend.

There’s a long-tail keyword play for consumer product shots, too.

Try this out using the alt text field to put in descriptive terms like “yoga pants with pockets.” In a search engine search, a photo of your customer wearing your product is sure to stand out among a sea of posed, professional shots.

4. Optimize for Mobile

The world is rapidly becoming more mobile and companies that want to succeed in the future need to prepare now.

By 2023, 53.9 percent of all online purchases are expected to happen via mobile phone, according to eMarketer. That means ecommerce sites need to serve mobile-optimized content that enables a seamless shopping experience via smartphone.

When people use their mobile phone to shop, they’re usually in a hurry so make sure your text and images are formatted to load quickly.

Also, consider the length of your copy. Headlines should be short and pithy to accommodate a smaller screen and a shorter attention span.

You also have to consider that being on social media platforms like Instagram means you’re reaching global audiences. So remember to localize mobile content around language, currency, and measurements based on audience location — and be prepared to ship there.

5. Build More Links

If you want your business to rank higher in search, just remember this: links are an important Google ranking factor.

So how do you build links for your brand?

One great way to do it is to leverage your own experience and write an opinion piece for an online publication. When you do this you usually get a short bio with a link to your company’s website.

You can also offer up the key players on your creative team as guest bloggers for style blogs.

If you have a partnership with a designer or another brand, go ahead and set up reciprocal links between your two websites.

To aid with local discovery and link relevance, sites like Yelp and Google My Business offer free services to list your business and website.

Do whatever you have to do to get backlinks, just remember the sites those links need to be relevant to your business. Fewer high-quality links are better than thousands of links with a weak connection to your brand.


Brands that do the strategic thinking and preparation today can expect to see serious results tomorrow.

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Google Search Glitch? 100% Ads – Zero Organic Links

What is Google Shopping Actions?

“Today’s consumers don’t just want answers; more and more, they’re craving relevant, meaningful, and immediate assistance in completing their day-to-day shopping tasks.

We see this in our data: mobile searches for “where to buy” grew over 85% over the past 2 years. Moreover, 44% of those who use their voice-activated speaker at least weekly say they use the device to order products they need like groceries and household items at least once a week.”

It’s clear that people want helpful, personal, and frictionless interactions that allow them to shop wherever and however they want… they want an easier way to get their shopping tasks done.”

Google’s Danny Sullivan Suggests this is a Glitch

Danny Sullivan also Tweeted that he passed along these examples for review:

It’s All About Satisfying User Intent

In the past Google decided to not show web directories and shopping comparison sites in their search results. The reasoning was that it didn’t make sense to send users from a list of ten websites to another list of ten websites. Google decided it was a better user experience to send users directly to the answer that satisfies the user intent.

Google Shopping Actions is devised to satisfy user intent faster and conveniently. As Google states in their announcement, Google Shopping Actions delivers “frictionless interactions” that allow users to buy products easily directly through Google apps and services.

Google Shopping Actions Do Not Replace Ads

This is apparently not a test because many users can see it. But as Danny Sullivan suggests, this may be simply an edge case.

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Focusing On Weight May Be Hazardous To Your Health

Focusing on Weight May Be Hazardous to Your Health SPH Bicknell lecturer: what’s wrong with approach to obesity epidemic

Paul Campos, author of The Obesity Myth: Why America’s Obsession with Weight Is Hazardous to Your Health, will deliver the 2013 William J. Bicknell Lecture on Thursday, October 24. Photo courtesy of the University of Colorado

This summer there was much rejoicing in the public health community over the recently announced falling obesity rate among preschoolers in many states, the first time in decades the rate has gone down.

“Although obesity remains epidemic, the tide has begun to turn for some kids in some states,” said Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which had released the data. “While the changes are small, for the first time in a generation, they are going in the right direction.”

But for Paul Campos, a University of Colorado at Boulder law professor, concerns about obesity have been headed in the wrong direction for generations.

Campos, the author of the controversial 2004 book The Obesity Myth: Why America’s Obsession with Weight Is Hazardous to Your Health, has been a vocal critic of what he considers a self-defeating war on fat that has no basis in science and can have devastating consequences for women.

Campos argues that the health risks of obesity have been exaggerated by medical and public health professionals and the $50 billion a year weight-loss industry. Against a cacophony of voices calling attention to weight—from the CDC to First Lady Michelle Obama—he concludes that the health risks associated with body fat have been overblown, save for a small minority of people who are at the extremes of body weight.

Studies support the idea, says Campos, that a moderately active, moderately overweight person is likely to be healthier than someone who is thin but sedentary. He sees cardiovascular and metabolic fitness as more significant keys to health than a person’s body mass index (BMI).

Even if obesity carries risks, Campos argues, the solution is not to try to make fat people thin. In his view, the cycle of short-term weight loss, usually followed by weight regain, poses potentially serious health risks.

On Thursday, Campos will bring his critique of America’s obsession with weight to the School of Public Health, where he will deliver the 2013 William J. Bicknell Lecture. The lecture, titled The Obesity Epidemic: Is Focusing on Weight Hazardous to the Public’s Health? is free and open to the public and will be followed by a panel discussion on obesity that includes Frank Hu, a Harvard School of Public Health professor of nutrition and epidemiology, and Abigail Saguy, a UCLA associate professor of sociology and gender studies and author of What’s Wrong with Fat?

BU Today spoke with Campos about the hazards of fighting the war on weight.

BU Today: What was your reaction to the CDC’s childhood obesity findings?

Campos: Like most of these reports that come out about weight, I think it’s important to contextualize. Obesity among preschoolers, as an indicator, was just invented a few years ago by the CDC—not based in science, but just an arbitrary definition. Basically, they took the 95th percentile of the height-weight chart from the 1960s and 1970s and treated that as a definition of childhood obesity. So it’s kind of a made-up definition. And I have trouble seeing a decline in a made-up definition as a big deal.

In terms of context, rates of obesity and overweight have flattened out or declined all over the world. Much of the alarmism about obesity is based on projections that people were just going to get fatter and fatter, and it appears from the data over the last 10 to 12 years that this has just stopped. The alarmism in many ways has never been based on a sound scientific analysis, but on classic moral panic, in the sociological sense.

Where is that moral panic coming from?

There are several factors. One is a very straightforward economic one—there’s an enormous weight-loss industry in the United States. I don’t think most of this is really conscious at all—people’s economic interests just dovetail with beliefs. We have a very strong aesthetic preference for thinness in this society, and this gets medicalized. It becomes a sign of moral quality, essentially.

Another factor is that we have, in many ways, an eating-disordered culture in this country. Anorexia nervosa is rampant. If you look at the normal representation of a female body, it’s in the second percentile. That just feeds into this tremendous anxiety about weight.

There’s also a generalized anxiety about overconsumption, especially among the upper classes. Look at the popularity of the TV shows about hoarding—there’s a fascination with people consuming too much.

So there’s a social class element to this?

Absolutely. Obesity in our culture has become a marker for lower class status. This is something that makes people in higher economic status nervous. We think—who are these overweight people? Well, they’re people of color who are shopping at Walmart—and since we have a culture with a lot of downward mobility at present, that anxiety gets fueled by weight. It’s tied up with a lot of discriminatory beliefs and actions.

With women particularly, you have to get to extreme emaciation before you evoke a similar kind of revulsion from mainstream culture. Fatness is considered a respectable reason for scorn. We have this very stigmatizing culture surrounding weight.

If it’s so ingrained in our thinking, how do we fix it?

Well, first we have to give up on this phony notion that we somehow know how to make fat people thin. We don’t. Every discussion of this subject should start with an acknowledgment that we don’t know how to turn fat people into thin people.

I’m all for encouraging people of all sizes to be active and avoid eating-disordered behavior. Physical activity and nutrition are good things. What I’m not for is stigmatizing people and haranguing them about their weight. It doesn’t make them thinner, and it doesn’t make them healthier.

It’s like that old aphorism that defines insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That’s where we are with weight in this culture.

You are by training a law professor, not a health expert. What do you say to critics arguing that you lack the expertise to weigh in on weight?

I think what we’re talking about, when we talk about obesity, is a cultural phenomenon. That is, to refer to it as a health issue is already to engage in a kind of question-begging.

What academics from a whole bunch of disciplines have been criticizing is the idea of obesity and overweight, as it’s being defined, as a health issue. There’s a kind of language issue at the core of this. Obesity is a word that, by its very definition, pathologizes higher weight. Higher-than-average weight is being framed as a disease state. If the people who were authorized to speak on this are pathologizing weight to begin with, we have to ask: Should this be framed that way? I think it’s valuable to have people from a variety of disciplines talking about this issue. This is something that has many facets, health being one of them.

Health experts have criticized you for downplaying a serious public health problem. Why hasn’t your point of view gotten more traction?

Actually, there’s quite a vigorous debate within the health community on the question of how much is weight a causal factor in terms of health risk.

There are people who have criticized my work, but others who have been supportive of it. I think people mischaracterize what I say about the issue. I’m not saying obesity can’t pose a health risk for some people; it certainly can. I’m saying the cures that are being proposed are sometimes worse than the disease.

If the problem is that overweight people are more prone to disease than thin people, it does not mean the solution is to make people thinner. That can make the health consequences worse. There’s a debate right now because some people in the health community are beginning to grapple with the sort of crude and overly simplistic model that says, “If A has bad effects, then what we should be doing is getting rid of A.” It’s so much more complicated than that.

The 2013 William J. Bicknell Lecture in Public Health is Thursday, October 24, from 10 a.m. to noon at the School of Public Health Bakst Auditorium, 72 East Concord St. It is free and open to the public. The lectureship is named in honor of the late William J. Bicknell, founder and chair emeritus of the SPH international health department.

Lisa Chedekel can be reached at [email protected].

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5 Useful & Easy Google Ads Metrics You Should Monitor

There are some indisputable truths on PPC measurements that any practitioner can relate to:

There is no shortage of PPC metrics available.

There is no shortage of PPC metrics that will be of zero use to the optimization of your campaigns.

There is no shortage of debate among PPC practitioners about which metrics matter and which ones don’t.

PPC campaign objectives will dictate which metrics need to be reviewed and analyzed.

To truly optimize a PPC campaign, there is never just “one metric” and you always need to dig deeper to find your way forward.

So many people who run PPC campaigns have no idea where to start.

This post is not meant to reveal “the ultimate PPC KPIs” or serve as “the definitive guide to PPC metrics once and for all”. Instead, see this as a useful starting point.

Looking at any one of these metrics alone will not give you the needed answers for optimizing your campaign, but at a universal level, each one can point you in the proper direction towards understanding:

Why the numbers are what they are.

What needs to be addressed.

I surveyed a few team members from my staff just to get their insights on “starting point metrics” and below are the most common ones:

1. Cost Per Conversion

At the core, this measurement is a very simple calculation:

Ad Spend / Conversions = Cost Per Conversion

Who Should Look at This?


Why Is This Important?

When you start by looking at your cost per conversion, you can quickly see which campaigns might not look quite right.

Which campaigns are outside of what you deem to be an acceptable cost per conversion?

How does the cost per conversion goal vary by campaign or ad group?

Which ones are bringing the overall average up or down?

Based on what you see here, you may decide to:

Reallocate budget from an under-performing campaign to one that’s more worthy.

Perform a deeper analysis on why a successful campaign is working. Can that campaign scale and maintain performance? Is there a lesson to be learned and applied to other campaigns or ad groups? There may not be, you at least need to make the effort to confirm.

Critical Context

To state the obvious, not all conversions are created equal.

For example, a download of a whitepaper or research guide will have a different value than a prospect directly requesting a quote.

Generally, you should be willing to pay more for a customer wanting a quote than for one downloading a free guide. With that in mind, always remember “Cost Per Conversion” is not a “one-size-fits-all-campaigns”.

2. Conversion Rate

This measurement is also a simple calculation:

Who Should Look at This?

Everyone. It makes no difference whether it’s B2C retail, B2B manufacturing, ecommerce, local services, nonprofit, or another category.

Why Is This Important?

When you start by looking at your conversion rate early, you will see the highs and lows of various campaigns.

Start with the lowest ones. How did they perform in the current period vs. last month or last year? (If applicable.)

Just like the “cost per conversion” metric above, paying attention to this number will point the way to improving the campaign.

Based on what you see here, you may decide to:

Test a new Call to Action (CTA) on your landing page.

Similar to “cost per conversion”, this metric points the way to a deeper analysis on why a successful campaign is working. Can that campaign scale higher? Is there a lesson to be learned and applied to other campaigns or ad groups? There may not be, you at least need to make the effort to confirm.

Critical Context

Again, not all conversions are created equal. Therefore, some are naturally much easier to attain than others.

For example, in the consumer software world, converting someone to a free direct download of a trial version is much easier to than having a trial version that forces a user to enter personal information and a credit card up front that will automatically convert to a paid subscription after 14 days.

You will ultimately need to decide which method will lead to more paying customers.

3. Search Impression Share

Your ad campaigns are set up to (or at least they should all be) be seen by a specific audience with a specific intent.

Simply put, if there were 100 opportunities that your ad could show (again, based on the criteria you specify) and it shows 80 times, then you have an 80 percent “search impression share”.

Who Should Look at This?

Everyone. It makes no difference whether it’s B2C retail, B2B manufacturing, ecommerce, local services, nonprofit, or another category. (Notice a pattern here?)

Why Is This Important?

This isn’t the first metric you need to look at, but it should be near the top and a critical part of your analysis.

To state the obvious, you want your ad to show up for every applicable opportunity and see numbers on the report as close to 100 percent as possible.

A couple of common factors that play into this are:

Budget allocation (see below in #4).

Quality Score: Many studies, blogs, and conference presentations have covered (and debated) quality score in depth so I won’t here, but generally speaking, you can be reasonably confident that having a high-quality score is never a bad thing.

Below is the same exact graphic as the one directly above this, but note the metrics in the line that’s highlighted.

The “search impression share” is 63 percent. This one is the most expensive in terms of CPC, total cost, and cost per conversion. Looking at the cost per conversion first would point you to dig deeper on this segment.

Some of the things this examination could lead you to might be:

An analysis of the true value of these conversions. At $38.34 it’s the most expensive one. As stated earlier, not all conversions are created equal, so this one better be more valuable than the rest.

Additional question: If these conversions truly are more valuable than the others, do you just need more budget or do you need to put intense focus into optimizing the path?

Critical Context

For newer campaigns (especially in a highly competitive space), you’re trying to find your footing. Don’t panic if it’s low right out of the gate.

As you get more data, be prepared to take action, but try not to feel too defeated if the number doesn’t look as good that first month.

4. Search Impression Share Lost Due to Budget

This measurement is an extension of what was covered in #3. Whereas the first three metrics were calculations, this one comes directly from Google.

Who Should Look at This?

Once again – everyone. It makes no difference whether it’s B2C retail, B2B manufacturing, ecommerce, local services, nonprofit, or another category.

Why Is This Important?

This number is a clue that the path to scaling this segment may be easier than others.

The closer the number is to the difference between 100 and the “search impression share”, the more likely you are to find additional conversions simply by boosting the budget.

If, however, there is a significant gap, you have other issues (see #3 above).

Critical Context

In more than 15 years of PPC experience, I’ve yet to have Google tell me that I’m spending too much money! Just keep that in the back of your mind.

If this report tells you that you’ve lost 20 percent of search impression share due to budget, don’t automatically assume that increasing your spend will result in your other critical metrics remaining consistent (cost per conversion, conversion rate, etc.).

5. Conversions Directly From the Ad

Huh?!? What does this mean?

Well, a conversion doesn’t always require a landing page.

The most obvious example of this would be a “call extension” that places a phone number directly in the ad.

Who Should Look at This?

Not everyone!

If you’re doing that, then this is the first metric you should look at.

Why Is This Important?

If the fastest way to earning a paid customer means getting a phone call or text message, then optimizing for that objective becomes your business lifeline.

In the context of the ad example above, a storm has taken out a tree in a someone’s yard and created a horrible mess.

The context of the query and intent of the searcher is very clear. That searcher wants to connect with someone quickly who can solve their problem.

The ad copy must clearly address the searcher’s need in order to earn that phone inquiry.

Critical Context

Conclusion & Parting Advice

Never rely on one single measurement to be the final arbiter of the success (or lack thereof) of your campaign. Instead, look for those singular measurements that can give you a place to start.

Always look to dig deeper to find the “why” that that helps you take action. Follow through on that action and over time you will see improvements to your PPC performance.

More Paid Search Resources:

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In-Post Photo: RCarner / Can Stock Photo

7 Ways To Increase Organic Reach On Social Media

Deepening ties between organic search, social, and content-related traffic drivers makes it increasingly important to coordinate efforts among channels. Basically, you’re not likely to sustain good social traffic without some good search and content practices, and vice-versa.

In this article we’ll go over some insights you can gather from search and content efforts that will amp up your organic reach on social.

Know What Keywords are Already Driving Traffic to Your Site

A good place to start improving your efforts is by going over what’s already organically working for your site and that means digging into some keyword research (a topic we discussed on Found Fridays via Google Hangouts on Air). Since keywords aren’t just words—they’re the phrases and topics that people are naturally searching for in your industry—explore both broad and specific terms. For example, if you’re marketing running shoes, you might have keywords that range from general topics like “women’s running shoes” to very specific things such as “women’s cold weather trail running shoe”.

Once you find out which keywords are driving traffic to your content from search, ensure you’re weaving those throughout your social posts. This is a great way to tie into the existing way your audience is finding your brand and amplify it throughout additional marketing efforts.

Know the Corresponding Content for Those Keywords

Chances are you’ve already created good content that your audiences are finding based on search efforts. Understanding which of your content is driving the most traffic organically (via search) helps you know where you’re meeting audience needs without paid efforts—which highlights a good pairing between content and keywords.

For each piece of top-performing content, determine the ranking keywords to discover what words and phrases people are using to ask questions or to seek solutions when they are finding your content. That content and keyword pair is something that search engines already deem a good match—and chances are your audience does too. Take that keyword/phrase and content pairing use it for your engagement and posts on social. Make sure you include the keyword in the post or as a hashtag to capture audience attention and assist in measurement later.

Figure Out What Keywords and Content Are Working for Your Competitors

Beyond the keywords and content that are working well for you, are the keywords and content that are helping your competition take traffic from you. By discovering what they’re doing well in search and content, you can see how they’re meeting audience’s needs and then use that information to boost your social media engagement.

If you’re already monitoring social media engagement and conversations, this is a great layer to add, looping in your competitor’s top keywords and content topics from search and turning them into discussions on social channels.

Discover Peripheral Competitors and Understand Where Your Audience, Traffic, and Content Overlap

Move beyond the “big competitors” to understand the surrounding conversations that could convert your audiences. In addition to the two or three direct competitors that you’re already keeping an eye on, look at the peripheral conversations, including other brands that may offer adjacent products, that are taking traffic for your target keywords.  Although not all of these sites are considered direct competitors, they may be taking audience share with some great engagement ideas that you can use.

Using the trail running shoe example from before, I can gather ideas about what to engage my audience around beyond just what other shoe manufacturers are saying. Expanding to parks and recreation areas, sports medicine, weather monitoring, and safety tips, I can engage my audience around all the topics related to the sport they’re interested in, beyond my own product line. Answering the questions your audience is asking and providing resources for them builds a deeper audience relationship. Joining in on the conversations your audience is already having gives you insight into the topics of greatest importance to your target and inspiration for  more relevant content creation, social media reach, and, ultimately, higher conversion rates.

Track Social Engagement for Content by Group

Creating keyword groups based on campaigns, products, features, etc., allows you to segment the keywords and social posts to match those groups and align social media efforts to your marketing needs.

For most of us, we’re not just talking about one facet of a single topic all day. There are nuances to our topics that may be as widespread as different product types, features, geographies, or campaigns, or it may simply be the difference between a sales inquiry and a support topic. Either way, you probably have room to group content and keywords by type to match those subgroups.

What this allows you to do, for your content as well as your competitors, is dive into the specific topic group that you’re targeting for social and see how people are talking about it, what content is being created, and how it’s performing in search and social. You can compare and contrast group performance to determine what’s resonating across campaigns, product types, messaging strategies, etc. and then make smarter decisions about resource allocation accordingly.

Update Your Content and Social Engagement to Mirror Changes in Audience Language

We’ve been talking about monitoring keywords and competitor content to mine for topic ideas to use on social. Beyond monitoring for new ideas, track keywords and content to keep up with the nuanced changes in language your audience undergoes over time.

Popular words and phrases, descriptions of products or features, and general conversation style tend to change over time, and often more quickly than we realize—making it important to stay relevant by speaking to your audience in the same vocabulary they’re using. If you notice a sudden drop off in a keyword—before abandoning its importance, see if people are simply referring to the same feature/solution/issue in a different way. Then update your content and social engagement to reflect the new lingo.

Being on top of shifts in terminology and understanding how audiences are referring to their wants and needs makes you a more effective conversationalist and will lead to more conversions.

Vary Your Content Types on All Social Channels

For most of us, it makes sense to post images on Pinterest, videos on YouTube, and text on Twitter—but you don’t have to be constrained by these established norms. There are many ways to weave in different content types across social channels to set yourself apart. For instance, consider what we’ve been talking about with regard to trending topics for your industry. If you notice a keyword or topic is rising in popularity for you and your competitors, consider creating content in multiple formats and mixing up which content is shared on each channel. If you’ve traditionally left case studies to be sent out via LinkedIn and email, considering linking to them on Twitter, or adding great graphics and post on Pinterest. If you normally post blogs on Twitter, post a video or image, put an ebook on Pinterest, post an infographic on Instagram. Offering people a unique way to consume content on a channel where most of it looks the same can yield surprising results.

Once you discover a popular topic and keyword string, create a variety of assets based on the same keywords, including: blog posts, videos, slide decks, images, webinars, case studies, etc. to engage your audience. Having multiple content formats to share and to engage your audience on social means you’ll be able to bring larger amounts of content to each channel as well as use the correct keywords in your posts to attract attention.

If you’re not leveraging your search and content data to extend your social media reach, this a great time to start. Using the tips in this article, you can get better engagement with existing audiences and extend to new targets as well. Be sure to measure your efforts and share data with team members who may be working on SEO and content creation tasks—everyone can benefit from understanding the full organic marketing ecosystem.

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5 Easy Fixes For Common Computer Problems

Many of us are so reliant on our computers that it’s a serious problem when something goes wrong—akin to the power going out or the water getting cut off. Of course you want to get your system back up and running as quickly as you can, but that’s often easier said than done. It’s no exaggeration to say an almost limitless number of things can go wrong with a computer, because everyone’s system and settings are different. It can seem almost impossible knowing where to begin when it comes to troubleshooting your way back to a working machine.

1. Run a thorough virus scan

It’s obvious, but it’s effective: Fire up your virus-scanning software, launch the deepest and most thorough scan available, and leave it to do its work. Note that the most comprehensive type of scan (which looks at the most files and takes the longest time to complete) may not be the scan that your computer is set to run by default, so check the program settings to see what’s available. You’ll also want to make sure your scanner is up to date first, so it can catch the most recent wave of bad code.

Antivirus scanners can sometimes miss threats or be disabled by them, so it’s worth getting a second opinion. A lot of antivirus developers make lightweight, on-demand scanners you can install alongside your main security software as a second layer of protection—applications like Kaspersky Security Scan for Windows or macOS, or Microsoft Safety Scanner for Windows, or Emsisoft Emergency Kit for Windows.

Windows Defender on Windows 10 checks a variety of computer health factors. David Nield

You’ll find more antivirus programs around for Windows because it has a history of being attacked by the greater proportion of malware. While macOS is quite comprehensively locked down, especially if you stick to the Mac App Store for your applications, you can never be 100 percent sure you’re safe, so it’s always worth having an antivirus program or two on hand to troubleshoot system problems.

2. Update your software

Many computer problems are caused by outdated and un-patched software, from outbreaks of ransomware to glitchy keyboards that refuse to spit out the correct letters when you tap them. Fortunately, many updates now occur automatically, because they’re so important—which is why your computer might suddenly reboot when you weren’t expecting it to.

Most software updates should be handled automatically, but it’s always good to check. David Nield

It’s important to check for updates to your other applications, including your web browser and your antivirus program, even if you’ve set them to update automatically. The update feature should be fairly prominent in any app, but consult the built-in help options if you get stuck.

After applying all the updates you can find, your issues might be fixed. If they are, maintain this process as a way to prevent future problems in addition to fixing existing ones. Make sure as many of your installed applications are updating themselves automatically in the background, and you should run into fewer computer issues as a result.

3. Cut down on the bloat

You might think that leaving older, unused programs on your hard drive is pretty harmless, but as more and more applications mount up, your operating system has to work harder and the files on your computer get broken up more often and spread out further as your computer tries to save them—something known as fragmentation. As a result, the amount of free storage space can quickly become limited.

Keep your browser as lean as possible and it’ll run more smoothly David Nield

If your computer is running low on disk space, it can lead to a number of problems, including occasional crashes and slow performance. Once you’ve removed unneeded apps, try removing unneeded files too, like movies you’ve already watched or duplicate photos you’ve got safely backed up somewhere else. Generally speaking, the less bloated your system, the fewer problems you’ll run into.

4. Test your Wi-Fi connection

This troubleshooting technique only applies to internet-related problems—one very specific category of issue. The key to getting your internet up and running again is to work out where the problem lies, and the detective work isn’t as difficult as you might think.

If you can, plug your laptop or desktop computer straight into your router with an Ethernet cable. If you still don’t get internet and nothing connected to Wi-Fi is getting internet (like phones and tablets), then the problem may lie with your router hardware or your internet service provider. If that’s the case, your best option is to get on the phone with the company and ask for assistance.

Wi-Fi woes often have a simple solution. David Nield

If some devices can get online and others can’t, that points to problems with those specific devices. We can’t cover every conceivable issue here, but rebooting those gadgets, updating the software installed on them, and switching Wi-Fi off and back on again to establish the connection from scratch are good first steps.

If your computer can get online when plugged directly into the router but not when it’s browsing over Wi-Fi, you might be looking at a problem with your Wi-Fi network. We’ve written before about getting the strongest possible signal around your house, but if that doesn’t get you anywhere, reboot your router and dive into its on-board settings—a quick web search based on the router’s make and model should surface some information about troubleshooting tricks you can try.

5. Reinstall the operating system

Reinstalling Windows or macOS and starting from scratch is a more extreme version of the “cut down on the bloat” solution we mentioned above. It wipes out troublesome programs, erases many viruses and types of malware, resets your internet connection settings and generally gives you a blank slate. You’ll want to make sure that you have all your data backed up before starting the reinstallation process.

What makes this worth trying is that Microsoft and Apple have made reinstalling their operating systems so straightforward. On Windows, you can head to Update & Security from Settings, then choose Recovery, and select Get started under Reset this PC (more here), whereas on macOS your process will vary depending on whether your computer uses Apple silicon or an Intel processor. For the few new models with silicon, turn on your device and continue to hold the power button until the startup options window appears. Choose Option, then hit Continue. If you have an Intel processor, turn on your Mac and continue to hold Cmd+R to launch the Utilities program (more here). Then follow the installer’s instructions.

Resetting Windows isn’t the long and arduous process it once was. David Nield

By setting your system back to square one, you’re theoretically wiping away whatever was causing the issue you’re having, though there’s no guarantee it’ll work. You’ll also need to consider the hassle of getting all your applications and files back on the system afterwards, so it’s not the right choice for everyone in every situation. In our experience though, we’ve found it to be an effective fix for a lot of computer ills.

We can’t promise that these five tips will solve every problem you’re having but they will at least enable you to rule out some basic possibilities as far as root causes go. We’re also not trying to diminish the importance of your local PC repair shop—and that should be your next port of call if your computer’s still struggling at the end of this guide.

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