Although you may not know the ins and outs of SEO, you have likely at least heard the term before. Even your grandmother who stops by the Internet no more than once a year has heard of it.
Businesses understand the importance of SEO. In fact, it has been said (and said often!) that search engine traffic can mean the difference between a business that grows and one that fails entirely.
Think of it this way. If you were given an opportunity to have your lemonade stand all over the front page of the newspaper, wouldn’t you take it? And not only that, but a front cover that is specifically designed for and distributed to those who love lemonade – not the kind of people who are ambivalent about it or find it too sour.
Savvy business people wouldn’t want their lemonade stand to remain at the back of the newspaper where no one would ever see it. They want it proudly on display.
That’s exactly what SEO, short for search engine optimization, can do for you. It is the process of applying various techniques so that your web pages are at the top of search engine results when people search for things on the Internet; they will be directly on the top page and have the highest chance of generating traffic for you.
Consider that search engines provide the most web traffic to your website when compared to all other means – more than even social media – and you begin to see why proper SEO is so important. To put it another way, without SEO, your website would simply be lost amongst the millions of other websites.
In our increasingly digital landscape, search engine optimization is only going to become more important.
Why You Need SEO
Search engine traffic creates exposure, increases conversion rates and, ultimately, it grows your business. It also has the advantage of offering great ROI (return on investment) when compared to other online marketing strategies.
Of course, SEO is not something you do once. Search engines continue to change their algorithms, which requires that you move alongside them. While you may be tempted to take the easy way out by buying links or trying to trick the algorithms, the effort is not worth it in the long run.
SEO is a big world and it can be overwhelming, but this guide will offer you a step-by-step guide on how to ensure that when someone types in any keyword, your website is at or near the top.
1. The Basics: On-Site SEO
When it comes to SEO, the first thing you need to do is make sure you optimize things on your own website, which is, of course, why it’s called on-site SEO. The majority of businesses won’t have the ability to optimize each factor, but the following list will offer a good starting point.
Keep in mind that your domain age is a significant ranking factor, but since you cannot change your domain age, it does not warrant a discussion. However, this is another reason why it is important to not take shortcuts, but instead to stick with your SEO over an extended period of time.
The title tag is the most important factor when it comes to on-page SEO. It is an HTML that provides information about the title of your post, so you can clearly see why this is plays a significant role in getting the right people to see your site.
Title tags should be 60 characters or less and be sure not to make them in all-caps because very few would search that way. Put your keywords close to the beginning of the title to indicate relevance, but ensure that you do not “keyword stuff.” Be unique as well.
If your business is well-known, consider including your business name (although, this should always go at the end as it would probably not generate the traffic your keywords could) as this will make the results stand out.
The title tag goes between the <HEAD> </HEAD> portion, which you can find at the top of the HTML code.
For those using WordPress blogs, the process of adding title tags and meta descriptions (see below) is made a little easier. Download the free plugins in order to add title tags with ease offered on Yoast.
When it comes to optimizing your website, the speed of your website is also a very significant Google ranking factor. Ensure that your score is at least a 50. If you score less than this, that will actually become the first thing you are going to need to work on.
To test your site’s speed, Google PageSpeed Insights or WebPage Test will do the trick. Also check the page speed for key pages while you’re at it. You should aim for two seconds for a speedy computer and one second for a mobile device, as these are considered ideal results.
There is some conflicting information when it comes to meta descriptions, but regardless, they are there to provide a brief summation of what each page is about.
In general, the meta description should include the page’s main keywords, as well as your business or brand name. It’s an easy step to take that has the potential to strengthen your SEO, so should not be overlooked.
Alt-Text For Images
Many people forget about optimizing their images. A good practice is to include your keyword on at least one image per page.
The content of your page is also, not surprisingly, a very important ranking factor. There are entire articles dedicated to this topic since there are a lot of nuances to it, which can be delved into should you wish to read up on the subject further.
In brief summation, though, search engines like content that meets some kind of specific need and content that is linkable (that’s key for high quality).
Content is not only a way to establish a relationship with your customers, establish your credibility and establish your brand, but the more content you have, the more likely it becomes that search engines will include your pages.
Content doesn’t come in just one form, though; it could be in the form of blog posts, videos, podcasts, etc. The key across all mediums is quality. Why? People are much more likely to link to your content if they found it to be a valuable source of information.
Here is a great source for quality generating content.
- Outbound Links, Internal Links & Anchor Text
Outbound links, where you link to other relevant pages within your content, such as other blog posts, improve your rank. Keep in mind that they must be relevant to your actual topic.
The inclusion of internal links, whereby you link to another page from your website, is also important, although it often doesn’t receive as much attention as it should. Internal links are akin to a navigational tool for search engines, providing them with a hierarchy.
Be sure to include two or three internal links for every post.
Going back to outbound links: pay attention to anchor text.
- Anchor Text
Yet another element that is important when it comes to ranking is anchor text. Anchor text is the part of the text that you can click on in a given link and it can have a positive or a negative effect in terms of ranking.
An example of anchor text would look like this: if I linked to the SEO trends in 2017, the anchor text would be “SEO trends in 2017.”
In the past, targeted keywords would actually be the links. Today, however, it is important to “diversify.” This means having a variety of anchor text in your content.
Not only will you improve your ranking this way, but if you don’t do this, but some types of anchor text are penalized if over done – beware of exact match keywords.
There is a variety of different types of anchor text, but here is a list containing the majority of them ranked by level of importance:
- Brand Name (31%) – Brand name anchor text is when you create a link with the brand name becoming the anchor text.
- Exact Match (18%) – You should still include exact match links, but it is imperative that you do so sparingly, otherwise Google could interpret is as you trying to outsmart its algorithms, which will earn you a penalty.
- URL (18%) – This is a simple kind of link building, that links directly to the domain of a website. For example: Yocale.com
- Other (17%) – This could include things like keyword branded anchor text, which involves combining anchor text with your target keywords.
- Phrase (16%) – Similar to above, the anchor text should have the keyword phrase in it.
In summation, remember that if you over optimize your site with too many anchor texts (in combination with exact match anchor text), Google will penalize you for it. You certainly don’t want to waste time on attempts at SEO only to hurt your website in the process.
Also, don’t use links that aren’t relevant to your content, as this will result in less specificity and a worse search engine ranking. For example, don’t link to a shoe company if you are talking about Internet marketing.
There are a variety of ways that you could receive penalties and you obviously want to avoid them all.
If you typically experience a lot of organic traffic but have been noticing a sharp decline, this may be an indicator that you are being penalized. Use Google Sandbox and Penalty Checker Tool to check your website’s status.
Now, we are about to get serious, but before we get into the meat of optimizing your content (hint: keywords), here are some additional SEO factors that you can keep in mind.
A minimal amount of bolded text, for example, can help search engines to identify important information pertaining to important search engine matters.
In addition to outbound links and internal links, you need to properly use keywords if you want to improve your ranking. There are articles upon articles dedicated to this topic alone. This is arguably one of the most important parts of the article (and certainly one of the meatiest).
There are primary keywords – you will target one (or two) for each page – and there are secondary keywords, also called LSI keywords, which can be used more liberally than the primaries.
Keep in mind that the goal is not to add as many keywords as possible to your pages as it once was in the past, which is an indicator of the way SEO algorithms are constantly changing.
You may recall the days when websites had long lists of even hundreds of keywords at the bottom of their pages, but, in fact, Google has now put an over-optimization penalty in place.
For your ease of use, here are a couple important tips in regards to using keywords:
- Diversify – Rather than searching for that one, be-all and end-all keyword, diversify your keyword usage. Find your central idea and create a list of keywords based upon that idea. You can and should be specific with your topic, but get creative and diversify the keywords themed upon that one topic.
- But Still Be Specific – Your use of qualifying words should be specific, as this generates more traffic and better SEO. For example, if your content involves a deal, you could use the words: Discount, Cheap, Popular.
This can be done in multiple areas, including specific locations, dates and so on.
Keyword research is absolutely necessary. Keyword research will lead you to exactly what people are searching for (search queries) that they enter into search engines.
Be sure to put in some research before choosing your keywords, as keyword research will lead you to find exactly what your target audience is most likely to be searching for so you can use the information as means to create additional content specifically targeted for what those people are looking for.
There are easily weeks and weeks worth of reading available that is dedicated to the topic of keyword research alone and it is arguably the most important skill to master.
If you are serious about competing strongly in your area of expertise, don’t just stick a couple in and hope for the best. Moz.com is a great resource for SEO and also has a lot of SEO tools, too.
Broadly speaking, there are a few mistakes that people make when using keywords, namely choosing keywords that aren’t specific enough, or using keywords that have too much competition (more on that to come).
Also using keywords that are too obscure and trying to rank on the basis of a single, targeted keyword are also not ideal.
With all of the things best avoided out of the way, here are the basics for targeting keywords.
The first step is to use Google Keywords Planner. As we mentioned, a major problem is that there is a lot of competition for the most high-volume keywords, which is problematic for businesses just starting out.
These high-volume keywords will be your primary keywords, which you will target a couple of times throughout, but this is not enough on its own to separate you from your competitors.
Here is a QuickSprout video tutorial that will walk you through how to use Google Keywords Planner.
Aside from the primary keywords, you will also target several secondary keywords, which is where you will begin to try to separate yourself from the herd. These will be lower volume keywords – that is, they aren’t targeted as much.
Don’t ignore long-tail keywords as these can lead to an 80% increase in traffic, and improve your rankings.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there are informational and commercial keywords. The number one mistake made when it comes to keywords is failing to use commercial keywords.
Not only are commercial keywords the kind of keywords that generate sales, but they also improve your rank. Informational keywords generate traffic, but they are not as effective when it comes to sales.
It is also important to figure out what specific queries are driving people to your website. The benefit of this is that it allows you to write content specifically for them. You can use a tool called AHREFS for this.
Another aspect of keyword researching is figuring out what keywords your competitors are using, especially if they happen to be in a better position than you (quite literally). You can go ahead and use Google Keyword Planner again to suit your purposes in regards to this.
However, there is a secret about keyword research that can up your keyword game to the next level. Backlinko’s Brian Dean at Backlinko.com emphasizes the important in figuring out the niche topics in your industry.
While you could start by using a keyword tool, this won’t tell you the keywords that are necessarily the closest to what you sell.
The problem about keywords is that everyone is targeting the same ones, so it can be beneficial to find niche areas in your industry that can lead to more traffic on searches for those niche areas, eventually creating more traffic and leading people to your site for even the common topics.
For a more detailed guide on keyword research, visit Dean’s keyword research guide, which will give you a guide on how to find “untapped” keywords that are just as good as high volume keywords.
2. Off-Page Optimization
The second part of increasing your ranking is off-page optimization, also called link building. Link building is all about getting others to link back to your site – that is, the goal is to generate “inbound links” or backlinks.
This tells search engines that you are popular and that your content must be high quality, otherwise people wouldn’t be linking to you as much.
Like on-page optimization, there are many different elements to off-page optimization. In order to see the best results, it is always best to use a combination of the methods below.
The thing about link building is that it takes a lot of work. That is why many people find themselves buying links and using other unsavory methods that exploit the algorithms in order to get them to rank higher. SEOs call these methods “black hat strategies.”
Google eventually caught on to such practices and began penalizing people who used them. We will save you a lot of trouble (and money!) by telling you not to go down this route.
Instead, you should focus on what SEOs call “white-hat strategies.” While these strategies take more effort and time, eventually you will see results. Like almost everything in life, the best results come from investing your time and energy into the right areas.
In addition to white-hat strategies, there are also organic links. Organic links occur when other sites link to your content naturally – without you having to ask.
This is likely to occur because you have created great content that others want to be associated with. These links are called backlinks or inbound links.
Ultimately, the goal is to create content that people will want to post on their own website – infographics are particularly useful at this. In creating such valuable content, others will be more likely to link back to you in return.
If you can get a site with a lot of authority to link to your site, it is particularly beneficial in terms of ranking. SEO involves ranking you based on the rankings of sites that link to you – in other words, you are often judged by the digital company you keep.
Guest Posting (Specifically, The Upside Down Guest Post)
Guest posting involves writing blog content for those in your industry. By doing so, you will typically earn a link back to your site, which is usually found in the author box at the bottom of the page.
However, the location of the link is problematic now that Google has changed its algorithms, making guest posting less effective. While you’re at it, check out SearchEngine.com for a bunch of other helpful SEO tips, including about how to refresh your SEO.
The Upside Down Guest Post, courtesy of Brian Dean of Backlinko, however, is a very effective spin on the original guest post and can take you from the bottom pages of a search to among the top.
Instead of following the traditional method mentioned above, you should put your link in the middle of the page. The keyword here is just one.
In order to avoid making this link appear like spam, Backlinko suggests simply putting a “Useful Resources” section in the middle of the blog post and then add your link there.
Next, take this one step further by linking to the websites that have linked to you in the past (your backlinks). This is a simple modification, but it creates even more traction.
Of course, don’t waste your time posting about low-quality sites that won’t do you any good.
Now, we will be going a bit off the current topic to a discussion about backlinks, since it came up naturally. Here are a few important facts.
Backlinks/Inbound Links, Briefly
While generating inbound links, also called backlinks, to your site is hailed as as a significant Google ranking factor, if those links are coming from low quality websites, your ranking will suffer by extension (again, always keep good company).
There are a number of things that can make a site less than ideal for this purpose, from websites that receive little traffic to websites that engage in black-hat strategies to websites that over-optimize their content, to name a few issues.
To identify these bad links, use Monitor Backlinks. What you do from there is the important part.
While you may be tempted to simply delete the page itself, if you discover you are linked somewhere that is resulting in penalization, Google will continue to penalize you anyway. In other words, you need to remove the actual link itself.
In this case, you have two options: manual link removal, whereby you will need to go to the website and contact them to ask for them to remove the link (alternatively, you can also contact your webmaster if you hired someone to do link building for you).
Or, if the above methods fail, you also have the option of using Google’s disavow links tool. However, as Google itself points out, you will need to do more than this if low-quality links are actually affecting your site.
Outreach Link Building
This is the traditional method of link building, but it does require some effort. In short, you analyze your competitor’s backlinks to repeat exactly what they did to get those links. You can do this with a backlink analyzer such as Open Site Explorer.
Technically, outreach should really begin even before you publish anything. You would do this by ensuring that your share buttons are easily visible in order to maximize content.
Returning to the traditional form of outreach, do not try to replicate the techniques of sites with a page authority below 20.
Also keep in mind that even if a website is ranked higher than you, they could have used less than ideal methods, at least in some areas, so you should be careful about mimicking without thoroughly analyzing what you have mimicked.
In this case, you certainly do not want to replicate their backlinks.
Now, if the link was “earned” (i.e. the website deemed that content relevant to share), you can contact the webmaster of the site and mention that you also have excellent content they can link to as well.
If the link was “built” – that is, by doing a guest post, see if you can also write a guest post for them. As we mentioned, go for the upside down guest post.
An additional method is to search for broken links on competitor’s sites and offer a piece of content to replace it. It never hurts to create a market for yourself when you see one, however small it may appear!
Brian Dean’s 1-2 Punch by BackLinks is another powerful method of link building. As the name suggests, it is a two-step process:
- Expanded List Post
Instead of creating a regular list, such as “100 Ways To Improve SEO” with a brief point about each, an expanded post list goes into very specific details regarding each point.
By including more information under each number, such as what sites to visit or more detail about how to perform the tasks, the value of the content increases to the average reader.
The result is that more links are generated while still taking advantage of the high click through rates and social shares of a list-based post.
Of course, you have to promote your content so that people will see it (and ultimately recognize the value of it). One of the best ways to do this is with a “Content Roadshow,” the second part of this process.
- Content Roadshow
This idea takes a cue from the ways that Hollywood would promote their films back in the day, where they would go on a road show. For our purposes, a content roadshow could come in several different forms:
- Thank you Email – This means reaching out to the sites in your post to thank them. This makes them not only likely to check out your site (so make sure your content is strong!), but also to share your content and, in the best case scenario, to link to you in return.
- Industry-Related Forums (this applies to all industries) – This gives you direct access to your target audience. In short, it involves editing your content to make it a bit shorter and then posting it in relevant forums.
- Heads Up E-mail – This means providing a “heads up” that your content is out there to be consumed.
On social media, content is always easily lost. Sending out your email to a list of 100 to 200 people who are working in the same market as you is very effective alternative.
Interestingly, not a lot of people are on to it yet, so it could give you a leg up on the competition.
Social Link Building
This method is similar to the above. The only difference is that you use social media. The process goes something like this: you share relevant content and reproduce the content that was heavily shared.
You then contact the people who originally shared the content to update them about the new piece.
Another approach is Brian Dean’s “Skyscraper Technique,” which resulted in him increasing his organic traffic by 457%.
How it works is this: identify lower ranking keywords and then find a piece of content that garnered a lot of engagement. After those simple steps, you simply write it better for that particular keyword.
The last step is to promote it on social media with the goal of authority sites eventually linking back to you.
Another traditional link building method is to submit your website to relevant directories, avoiding ones that do not pertain to your particular industry or ones that post questionable links to organizations such as those for pharmaceutical companies and casinos.
While the old method involved submitting your content to a large number of directories, it is now clear that the best path is to choose quality directories that Google is still fond of. Here are some examples.
The last stop is approaching.
Remember that at the end of the day, an effective headline is what makes this come full circle (in addition to writing good content, of course). You can be at the top of the search results, but if no one wants to click on your link, then all of your hard work would lead to a futile end.
Here is your go-to guide on how to write an effective headline.
The final step in your quest toward SEO is to analyze your efforts. Check your keyword rankings, which you can do either manually or with a ranking tool.
If you’re not seeing the results you wanted, you may have chosen a keyword that is too competitive, but you will have to do more work. Then again, SEO never really ends. Like all aspects of our digital world, it is always changing.
With all of this together – on-page optimization with keywords and off-site optimization such as link building, you will be well on your way to mastering the art of SEO.
What are some of the best SEO tips that are working for you? Leave me a reply in the comment section below, I would love to hear about it.