February 22, 2020
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the marketing process to increase visibility within the organic search results, for the specific purpose of obtaining more traffic for a website.
Every major search engine such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo provides a listing of websites that are deemed to best answer a search user’s query. Those listings are called search results. Within those search results you will find paid listings, but the bulk of the results are made up of what are called organic listings. The organic results are the free listings that the search engines have found, through their analysis, to be the most relevant to the user’s query.
Being listed at the top in the organic listings is at the root of why SEO is so important. Organic results currently receive a significantly greater share of traffic in comparison to paid ads. So, if your business isn’t being found in the organic listings, you are missing out on a large percentage of the consumer market.
Getting to the top of the results is where search engine optimization comes in. There are numerous strategies and techniques that go into creating a relevant and optimized website to truly compete for the keywords that can generate revenue for your business.
See Also: Why is SEO Important?
Basic SEO isn’t hard to get started with, it just takes time and plenty of patience. Web pages don’t typically rank overnight for competitive keywords. If you are willing to create a solid foundation of optimization for your website, and put in the time to build upon it, you will achieve success and grow your organic traffic. Businesses that cut corners may achieve short-term results, but they almost always fail in the long term and it is very difficult for them to recover.
So how do you go about optimizing your website? You must first understand how the search engines work as well as the various techniques that make up SEO. To make it easier to navigate, we have linked each section below so that you can jump to the section that interests you.
The search engines use automated robots, also known as web crawlers or spiders, to scan and catalog web pages, PDFs, image files, etc. for possible inclusion in their massive indexes. From there, each web page and file is evaluated by programs called algorithms that determine if a file offers enough unique value to be included into the index.
If a file is deemed valuable enough to be added into the index, the file or web page will only be displayed in search results that the algorithms have determined are relevant and meets the intent of the user’s query. This is the true secret to the success of the search engines. The better they answer a user’s queries, the more likely it is that the user will use them in the future. It is generally accepted, as evidenced by the sheer number of their users, that Google delivers more relevant results because of their highly sophisticated algorithms that they are constantly improving. In an effort to maintain their competitive advantage, it is believed that Google makes 500-600 updates to their algorithm each year.
User intent is playing a greater role in how search engines rank web pages. For example, if a user is searching for “SEO companies,” is the user looking for articles on how to start an SEO company, or are they looking for a listing of SEO companies that provide the service? In this case, the latter is more likely. Even though there is a small chance that the user may be looking to start an SEO business, Google (with their expansive data on user habits) understands that the vast majority will be expecting to see a listing of companies. All of this is built into Google’s algorithm.
As stated previously, these algorithms are highly sophisticated, so there are numerous factors that these programs are considering to determine relevance. In addition, Google and the other search engines work very hard to prevent businesses from “gaming” the system and manipulating the results.
So how many ranking factors are there? Well, back on May 10, 2006, Google’s Matt Cutts declared that there are over 200 search ranking signals that Google considers.
Then, in 2010, Matt Cutts stated that those 200+ search ranking factors each had up to 50 variations. That would bring the actual number to over 1,000 unique signals. Even though there are so many signals, they don’t each carry an equal amount of weight.
For websites wanting to rank for nationally competitive keywords, the signals that matter most are related to on-page, off-page, and penalty-related factors. On-Page optimization is related to content, and for a website to have a chance to rank for competitive search phrases, the content needs to be very relevant and answer the search user’s query. Off-page factors are related to the link popularity of the website and how authoritative external sources find your content. As for the penalty-related factors, if you are caught violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, you are not going to be competitive at all.
For websites that are looking to rank in their local market, the factors are very similar except for the addition of Google My Business, local listings, and reviews. Google My Business and citations help verify the actual location of the business and its service area. Reviews assist in determining the popularity of that local business.
On-page SEO is the optimization of the HTML code and content of the website as opposed to off-page SEO, which pertains to links and other external signals pointing to the website.
The overall goal behind on-page SEO is to make sure that the search engines can find your content, and that the content on the web pages is optimized to rank for the thematically relevant keywords that you would like to target. You have to go about things the right way, however. Each page should have its own unique theme. You should not be forcing optimization onto a web page. If the keywords don’t match the theme of your product or service, you may just need to create a different page just for that particular set of keywords.
If you optimize the title, description, and headings while creating content appropriately, the end user will have a significantly better experience on your website as they will have found the content that they were expecting to find. If you misrepresent the content in the title tag and description, it will lead to higher bounce rates on your website as visitors will leave quickly when they aren’t finding what they expect.
That is the high level overview of on-page SEO. There are several key topics regarding on-page optimization that we are going to cover including HTML coding, keyword research, and content optimization. These are foundational items that need to be addressed to have a chance at higher rankings in the search engines.
If your website is having difficulty ranking, you may want to start with an SEO audit. You need a 360-degree analysis to identify your website’s shortcomings so that you can correct them and put your site back on a more solid foundation. An audit can help identify glitches or deficiencies, both on and off page, that may be holding your website back from ranking for your targeted keywords.
There are SEO crawling tools that can help you identify basic technical issues fairly easily, making that part of the auditing process much more efficient. An audit typically would not stop at a technical analysis. Content and the link profile of a website also play a significant role in the ranking ability of a website. If you don’t have quality content or authoritative links, it will be difficult to rank for highly competitive search phrases.
See Also: Technical SEO Audit Process + Checklist
Google, in an effort to create a safer and more secure web experience for their search users, has been pressing webmasters to secure their websites. Safe experiences are important for Google’s search engine. If search users have confidence in the safety of the results being displayed, they will be more likely to continue using Google’s search engine in the future.
While Google might have a good reason to encourage webmasters to secure their sites, webmasters have just as much incentive. When people are purchasing online, potential customers are going to feel much more confident completing a transaction with a site that is secure versus one that isn’t.
To strongly encourage webmasters to secure their websites, Google has integrated SSL as a search ranking factor. Websites that do have SSL certificates will be favored slightly above those that do not. It isn’t a big factor, but enough that if all other factors are equal, the site that is secured will win out.
Over 60% of all search queries are conducted on a mobile device now. Google is working to create the best possible search experience; therefore, they need to give preference to websites that are improving their mobile usability.
Providing a better mobile experience can be done in several ways. The most common method is that webmasters are creating responsive designs that will adjust based on the size of the browser that you are viewing from. Other sites have a mobile-specific version of their web page that is displayed when the server detects that the user is utilizing a mobile browser.
The speed at which mobile pages load is also important. Google backs a project called Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and, in 2016, they integrated AMP listings into their mobile search results.
Taking into consideration that the majority of searches are now mobile based, Google is creating a mobile-first index. This will become Google’s primary index of web pages, and it has been rolling out slowly since the end of 2017. Should you be concerned if your site isn’t mobile friendly? Maybe not in the short term, but in the coming months, yes. Websites that provide a good mobile experience will have a greater ability to rank higher in the search results. This isn’t just Google, however. Bing is moving in this direction as well.
See Also: How Google’s Mobile-First Index Works
Page speed is the length of time it takes for a web page to load. With Google’s mobile-first index, page speed is going to play a greater role as a ranking factor.
Once again, it is about the user’s experience. Visitors to a website just don’t want to wait for pages to load. The longer it takes for your web page to load, the greater the chance that the visitor will leave (bounce) and visit your competitor’s site. Google did a study and found that the difference between a 1s web page load time and a 5s time increased the odds that the visitor will bounce by 90%.
You need to pay attention to the rate at which visitors bounce off your website, as this is also a ranking factor. Not only that, those are lost revenue opportunities. Google cares about these metrics because they need to keep their search users happy with the results being displayed.
There are several things that you can do to improve page speed. Some of these items include the following:
Search engine robots visit your website and make copies of each page for consideration into their index. If they deem the content valuable, they will include it in their index so that their search users can find it. That is why it is important to make sure that the search engines can easily find the pages within your website. If they can’t find your content, it can’t be included in their index for others to find.
One way to help ensure your content is seen is by creating a sitemap.xml file. This file lists out the various URLs for a website, making it easier for the search engine robots to find the content of your website. Sitemap files are especially helpful for websites with thousands of pages, as links to some content may be buried deep within your website and harder for the search engines to find right away. As a general rule, you should update this file whenever new pages are added.
Duplicate content can harm the ranking ability of some of the most important pages of your website. When Google is looking at the pages of your website and finds nearly identical content between two or more pages, they may have difficulty prioritizing which one is more important. As a result, it is very possible they will all suffer in the rankings.
Here are some unintentional, yet common causes of content duplication:
Structured data is organized information that can help the search engines understand your website better. Through the collaboration of Google, Bing, Yandex, and Yahoo; Schema.org was created to standardize the HTML markup of this information.
While there is no conclusive proof that structured data can improve your search rankings, it can help enhance your listings, which can improve your click-through rate. Click-through rate is something that is widely accepted as a ranking factor.
The following are some enhanced listing features as a result of structured data:
Implementing structured data is also helping you prepare for how search is evolving. Search engines are trying to provide instant answers to questions, which will play an even greater role with voice search.
See Also: Understanding Google Rich Snippets
There has long been a discussion regarding the value of having a keyword in the domain name. There was a time when there was a very strong correlation with ranking ability, but as the algorithms have evolved, that signal has diminished in importance.
That does not mean there isn’t value there, however. It simply means that you shouldn’t place a big focus on the domain name containing the keyword when there are so many signals that are more important.
URLs are one of the first things that a search user will notice. The structure of the URL not only has the ability to impact the click-through rates of your search listings, but can also impact your website’s search ranking ability.
A title tag is the HTML code that forms the clickable headline that can be found in the search engine result pages (SERPs). The title tag is extremely important to the click-through rate of your search listing. It is the first thing that a search user will read about your page and you only have a brief few seconds to capture their attention and convince them that they will find what they are seeking if they click on your listing.
The following are some quick tips for writing title tags:
A meta description tag is the HTML code that describes the content of a web page to a search user. The description can be found in the search engine result pages (SERPs), underneath the title and URL of a search listing. The description, while not a ranking signal itself, plays an important role with SEO. If you provide a relevant, well-written, enticing description; the click-through rate of the search listing will most likely be higher. This can lead to a greater share of traffic and a potential improvement in search rankings, as click-through rate is a search ranking factor.
The following are some quick tips for writing description tags:
The meta keywords tag is HTML code that was designed to allow you to provide guidance to the search engines as to the specific keywords the web page is relevant for. In 2009, both Google and Yahoo announced that they hadn’t used the tag for quite some time, and in 2014, Bing acknowledged the same. As a best practice, most SEOs don’t use the tag at all anymore.
A header tag is HTML code that notes the level of importance of each heading on a web page. You can use 6 heading elements: H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6; with H1 being the most significant and H6 the least. Typically the title of an article or the name of a category, product, or service is given the H1 Tag, as they are generally the most prominent and important heading.
Headings used to play an important role in the optimization of a web page, and the search engines would take them into consideration. While they might not carry the same weight they once did, it is still widely believed they offer some ranking value and it is best to include them.
As an SEO best practice, it is best that you utilize only one H1 tag, as this will signify the primary theme of the web page. All other headings should use H2-H6 depending on their level of importance. From an optimization standpoint, it is safe to use multiple H2-H6 tags.
Conducting a competitor analysis is a strategic function of properly optimizing a website. This can help you identify areas that your business’s website might not be covering. The analysis will help drive the keyword research and content development so that improvements can be made.
The following are some quick tips for conducting competitor research for SEO:
Keyword research is essential to any SEO campaign, and this is one area where you don’t want to cut corners. You need to understand how people search for your specific products, services, or information. Without knowing this, it will be difficult to structure your content to give your website a chance to rank for valuable search queries.
One of the biggest mistakes that a webmaster can make is focusing solely on ranking for one or two keywords. Often, there are some highly competitive, high-volume keywords that you feel you must rank for in order to be successful. Those keywords tend to be one to two words in length, and there is a pretty good chance your competitors are working hard on those very same keywords. Those make for good longer-term goals, and you should still optimize for those, but the real value is in long-tail keywords.
Long-tail keywords make up the vast majority of all search volume. These keywords are more specific, longer phrases that someone will type in, such as “blue 4-inch high heel shoes.” This is much more descriptive than “blue shoes,” even though that word might have a higher search volume. With these keywords being so much more descriptive, these types of customers also tend to be more in-market to transact now.
See Also: 10 Free Keyword Research Tools
You have probably heard that “content is king” when it comes to SEO. The thing about content is that it drives a lot of factors related to optimization. You need quality content to have a chance at ranking for the keywords that you are targeting, but for you to have success, you also need to have content on your website that webmasters find interesting enough to want to link back to. Not every page can do both. Pages that are sales focused, such as product and service pages, aren’t usually the kind of content that webmasters want to link to. Link generation from content will most likely come from your blog or other informational resources on your website.
The following are some quick tips for content optimization:
Breadcrumbs can play an important role in helping Google better determine the structure of your website. They often show how content is categorized within a website and also provides built in internal linking to category pages within your website. When placing breadcrumbs, make sure to use structured data as Google may also choose to include these breadcrumb links within your SERP listing.
To understand the importance of internal link building, you need to understand the concept of “link juice.” Link juice is the authority or equity passed from one web page or website to another. So with each link, internal or external, there is a certain amount of value that is passed.
When you write content for your website, you need to take into consideration whether there are any other relevant web pages on your site that would be appropriate to link to from that content. This promotes the flow of “link juice,” but it also provides users the benefit of links to other relevant information on your website.
Off-Page SEO (also known as Off-Site SEO) refers to optimization strategies that are enacted outside of your website that may influence the rankings within the search engine results pages.
A large portion of Google’s algorithm is focused on how the outside world (the web) views the trustworthiness of your website. You may have the best-looking website with the most robust content, but if you don’t put in the work to get noticed, odds are good that your website won’t rank very well.
Since Google’s algorithm is non-human, it relies heavily on outside signals such as links from other websites, article/press mentions, social media mentions, and reviews to help determine the value of the information on your website.
While it would be difficult to rank without quality content, you won’t have any chance on competitive keyword phrases without links. It is still universally accepted that the number and quality of inbound links to a website and/or web page is the number one influencer of search rankings.
With link building as the top search signal, you must have a solid strategy to attract and acquire links for your website. That being said, you should not even start this process without having a solid foundation built with content and design. Acquiring links is much easier when you have attractive, valuable resources that other websites will want to link to.
It is important to know that not all links are created equal. Google’s algorithm looks closely at the trustworthiness of the linking website. For example, a link for the New York Times, which has millions of links and tens of thousands of reputable and unique websites linking to it, will carry much more weight than a link from your friend’s free WordPress site he built a couple of weeks ago.
There are tools that estimate the authority of a website. Two popular tools are Moz’s Open Site Explorer, which calculates a Domain Authority score, and Ahref’s Domain Rank. These tools are great for determining what links are worth acquiring. The higher the score/rank, the more worthwhile it would be to spend time to acquire that link.
The number of links isn’t the only thing that the search engines look at from a quality perspective. They will also take into consideration how relevant the linking website/content is to your own site. If you are selling shoes, for example, a link from a fashion blog will carry more weight than a link from Joe’s Pizza Shack. It may seem crazy to even try to get a link from a pizza place for a shoe website, but in the early days, search engines focused more on the quantity of links. As webmasters caught on, some would try to acquire every link they could find to influence search results. To ensure the quality of results, the search engines had to focus on quality to account for this potential spam.
Even though the greater focus is on the quality and relevance of links, quantity still has a place. You want to continue to grow the number of authoritative links pointing to your website and its important web pages so that you have the ability to challenge your competition on highly competitive keywords.
Another aspect to the quantity discussion is that it is better to have 100 total links from 100 different websites as opposed to having 100 links coming from 10 websites. There is a strong correlation that the more links your website has from unique domains, the better chance you have for ranking improvement.
Of course, once you obtain top rankings, you can’t take a break. If you aren’t growing your link profile, you can trust that your competitors are, and they will eventually surpass you. For this reason, SEO has become a necessary ongoing marketing function for most organizations.
Anchor text is the actual highlighted hyperlink text on a web page that directs a user to a different web page upon clicking. How websites link to you does make a difference in the search engine algorithms, and anchor text is part of that equation. The search engines look to anchor text as a signal for a web page’s relevance for specific search phrases.
Example: Getting a link with the anchor text of “Blue Shoes” on a fashion blog, would indicate to the search engines that your web page must be relevant to “blue shoes.”
In the past, the more links you had pointing to your web pages that contain specific keywords, the more likely you would rank for that keyword. There is still some truth to that, but if you have a high percentage of your links containing keywords, the search engines will suspect you are trying to manipulate the results.
A natural link profile generally contains a varied mix of anchor text, usually dominated by linking text that includes a website’s brand name.
Another factor that the search engines consider is the location of where the link is placed. This plays a role with how much weight or “link juice” will be passed to your own web page from the linking website. Footer and sidebar links are not given as much weight as they once were because of the abuse related to websites selling links in the past.
Links within the body or content of the web page generally designate greater importance to the topic being discussed and have more weight given to them. It is also widely accepted that the higher the link is within the content, the greater the weight and authority that is passed.
A do-follow link tells the search engines that the website is essentially vouching for the web page that they are linking to and that search engines should follow that link and pass the appropriate link juice accordingly. A no-follow link has HTML code containing rel=”nofollow” to tell the search engines not to follow the link to the destination and pass any authority or credit.
User-generated content such as comments, wikis, social bookmarks, forum posts, and even some articles have been abused by SEOs to obtain easy links for websites. No-follow links have become a very necessary part of search algorithms because of this user-generated content. Websites started placing the rel=”nofollow” tags to signify that they weren’t vouching for the links. This has led to a significant reduction in spam that was being generated on those websites, as the value of obtaining a link was no longer there.
Do-follow links are significantly more valuable because of the link juice and authority that is passed, but no-follow links are very natural to have in a link profile and can still offer value from the referral traffic that they may provide.
Purchasing links for the purpose of building the authority of your website is against Google’s guidelines and would put your website at risk of receiving a penalty. All purchased links for advertising purposes should be given a no-follow designation to keep your website out of harm’s way.
Earned links are what the search engines actually want to give credit to. For a link to be “earned,” there has to be a clear and compelling reason for one website to want to link to another. Being cited in articles or as a resource on a list are all good examples, assuming that there is a clear and relevant connection between your content and the linking website. Going back to the shoe website example, a link from a fashion blog, within the article content and to your web page, that details the top shoes trends is one that has a clear connection. If your shoe trends page had a link from a pizza shop within their footer, that is something that would not give any appearance of being natural. There would be no clear reason that they would link to that page, as the page is not relevant to their business, audience, or content.
Most reputable SEO companies offer link building services that create linkable assets or content to conduct outreach on your website’s behalf in order to obtain these earned links. You can also do this yourself by building well-thought-out resources or content and contacting websites that you believe would find your resources link-worthy.
Even though many SEOs thought that social media was a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm, in 2014 Google’s Matt Cutts declared that it is not. In 2016, Gary Illyes, a Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, also confirmed that social media is not a ranking factor.
While social media might not be a direct contributor as a ranking factor, the following are a few ways social media can help improve SEO:
Every business is different, and the same can be said for their specific goals. SEO success can be measured in a variety of different ways. A plumber may want more phone calls, a retailer may want to sell more product, a magazine publisher may want to simply increase page views, and another business may just want to rank higher than their competitor.
The following are some common metrics for gauging the success of an SEO optimization campaign:
Most businesses today know the basic concepts around SEO. You can do a lot of individual SEO functions well, but success comes with how you put the pieces together to form a cohesive strategy. That strategy will create the foundation for organic traffic growth that will propel a business for years to come.
You need to be prepared to spend a significant amount of time mapping out the strategy because it is much better and more effective to do it right the first time. The following are some of the key components found in nearly every successful SEO strategy:
See Also: Ecommerce SEO Best Practices Guide
See Also: Beginner’s Guide to Amazon SEO
See Also: Local SEO for Multi-Location Businesses
A standard rule of thumb is that you should start to see results within 3 to 6 months of starting an SEO campaign. That does not, however, mean that you will be at the top for all of your keywords.
The following are several factors that contribute to how quickly you will see success with your SEO campaign:
Algorithm updates are changes to the evaluation of ranking signals and the way they are applied to the search index to deliver relevant results for search queries. Google makes roughly 500 algorithm updates per year. Of those 500 updates, typically a few would be deemed significant with the vast majority considered to be minor adjustments. Until recently, the major updates were provided names, either by Google or the SEO community. Now, major updates are usually rolled out within the main core algorithm, making it more difficult to determine the true nature of the changes that have been made.
The following are some of the more well-known algorithm updates over the years:
There are two varieties of search engine penalties that a website can receive: manual or algorithmic.
Manual penalties are a result of a Google employee manually reviewing a website and finding optimization tactics that fall outside of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. With a manual penalty, the business will receive a manual penalty notice within Google Search Console.
Algorithmic penalties are a result of Google’s algorithm finding tactics that they believe are not consistent with compliance of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. There is no notice that is typically provided with these types of penalties. The most common way a webmaster would determine if they had an issue is by matching updates of traffic/ranking losses with known Google algorithm updates. As Google has integrated key updates (such as Penguin) within their core algorithm, it has become much more difficult to pinpoint the exact nature of an update. In those instances, there is a heavy reliance on chatter within the SEO community to see if there are common traits shared by sites that have been impacted.
The two most common penalties revolve around two of the more important aspects of Google’s algorithm: content and links.
With Google Panda, sites with very thin or duplicate content see significant drops in rankings, traffic, and indexed pages.
Websites that have a spammy link profile can receive an “unnatural links” penalty within webmaster tools, or be caught within Google’s Penguin algorithm. Sites hit by these have an extremely difficult time ranking well for keywords until they begin the penalty recovery process and the offending links have been removed or disavowed.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to SEO. One has to do with long-term growth with long-term rewards (White Hat), and the other is to grow as fast as possible while reaping the rewards until you are finally caught breaking the rules (Black Hat).
Ethical SEOs employ what are considered White Hat SEO tactics. These SEOs are focused on creating positive experiences with quality content, while building natural links to the website. These tactics stand the test of time and usually experience more positive gains than negative when a Google Algorithm change occurs. These tactics build a solid foundation for sustainable growth in organic traffic.
Black Hat SEOs don’t mind violating Google’s guidelines. They are typically focused on improving search rankings quickly to profit off of the organic traffic increase while it lasts. They will use tactics such as purchasing links, creating doorway pages, cloaking, and using spun content. Google eventually detects these tactics and will penalize these websites accordingly, and once they do, Black Hat SEOs usually move on to their next short-term conquest. This is not a tactic that real businesses would want to use, as it can be very detrimental to the future of your online presence and reputation.
The future of SEO will revolve around voice search. This is truly the next frontier that the search engines are working through, and SEOs will need to be ready.
When it comes to nationally competitive keywords, obtaining the feature snippet or top ranking for keywords will be very important. You will need to work on making sure that you have content that will answer the questions of search users.
For Local SEO, maintaining consistency in name, address, and phone (NAP) data across the phone directories will be important, but you will need to work on obtaining reviews to standout from the crowd.
See Also: How Popular is Voice Search?
If your company has made the determination that you will need to hire a digital marketing agency, either for a lack of available time or expertise internally, the evaluation process is very important.
The following are some key areas that you will want to evaluate when choosing an SEO firm:
Search engine optimization is an important skill in the fast-growing digital marketing industry which, according to Forrester Research, will grow to $120 Billion in marketing spend by the year 2021.
If you are considering a career as an SEO specialist, the following are some traits that would serve you well in this field:
Like almost any other profession, you need to be equipped with the right tools in order to succeed. The following is a list of popular search engine optimization tools that are used by industry professionals.
Knowledge is power with SEO, as it is with most industries. You need to stay aware of the latest news, research, and trends so that you are able to adapt accordingly. The following are some educational resources that provide a wealth of knowledge on the subject of search engine optimization:
If you want to learn from the greatest minds in the industry, attending conferences and events is an excellent way to do it. The following are some of the most popular conferences that have a strong focus on search marketing:
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