SEO is a term that gets thrown around the web and the business world all the time. Some of you reading this may have heard the phrase, but might not be completely sure what it means – or what it is. I am going to give a very brief overview of how I like to look at SEO (in basic terms), and then later on, I’ll share some ideas on what you can do to improve your own site.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Essentially, this means optimizing your website for search engines, like Google and Bing. For the purpose of this article, we will discuss Google, as they have the biggest market share.
There are a lot of different off-page and on-page factors that go into ranking a website on Google. Some off-page things Google considers are:
- Domain Age
- Size of Website
- Content on Website
- Traffic to Website
Domain age is exactly what it sounds like: the age of your domain. Although this is not a huge factor, older domains usually have more authority in Google’s eyes. This makes sense when you think about it from a business perspective. If you were going in for plastic surgery, who would you trust: The doctor with 20 years of experience, or the surgeon fresh out of medical school?
That is sort of how Google sees it. Content published by older, more established sites gets more clout with Google than content from a new website. Brand new websites have to earn their credibility. Google puts these sites in a temporary hold for 3-6 months. During this time, it can be extremely challenging – if not impossible – to move up in the rankings.
Size of the Website
By size of the website, I mean the number of pages and the amount of content they contain. If you have a bigger website, you likely have more content. This gains trust in Google’s’ eyes because you aren’t just starting a 1-5 page website with crappy content and trying to rank in the search engines. By having a big site, you are giving out a lot of free information, which not only leads to trust with Google but also with your readers.
Content on the Website
While having more content is almost always better, there are some things to consider. Junk content is a no-no. If your content is barely legible or looks like it was written by a non-native speaker, it will not only hurt your conversion rate but (I personally believe) it will also hurt your Google rankings.
Google is looking for unique and awesome content. And when I say unique, I mean it. Content can’t be copied and pasted from other websites. If Google finds duplicate content on your website, they may penalize your website or give you a nice slap-back in the rankings.
Your main goal should be to create awesome content.
Traffic to the Website
Aside from traffic generated through keywords in SEO, you can also get traffic from social media outlets and from other websites.
The more traffic you receive, the higher your Google rankings may be. Why? Because traffic gives your website credibility.
Think of it this way. You are ranked #2 and your competitor is ranked #1. They get 10,000 visitors a month, but you get 50,000. Eventually Google is going to say: “This website right here is getting 5 times the traffic. It seems to be way more popular, and people want to read its content. Let’s move it up to #1!”
Obviously this is all speculative (no one knows for sure how Google determines its rankings), but this is exactly what I’ve seen happen with colleagues of mine.
Backlinks can sometimes be a sketchy topic to cover. On one hand, backlinks are an awesome way to gain authority and build your rank. But on the other hand, if done the wrong way, you can easily end up with a nice a Google penalty.
In the section below I am going to go over some ways you should and shouldn’t build backlinks.
About 6-7 years ago, it was extremely easy for site owners to rank their websites. All you had to do was create a few thousand backlinks with your desired keyword as the anchor text and boom: in a couple of weeks, your site rose to the top of the rankings. Sometimes, top rankings could be achieved in days. It was very easy to manipulate rankings.
Ultimately, easy manipulation meant that the best website for that keyword usually never showed up. Junky one-page websites were outranking them with thousands of backlinks. Google knew something had to be done.
To deal with the manipulation issues, Google started making changes to its algorithm, and they still make changes today. For some people, these algorithm changes were a godsend. But they were the demise of countless others.
Nowadays, it’s pretty hard to rank a website with spam tactics unless you know what you’re doing. That’s deterred a lot of people from entering the online marketing world because: ‘GASP’ you actually had to treat your website like a true business. Oh, the horror!
Backlinks You Should Avoid at All Cost
Here are some backlinks you should avoid
- GSA blasts
- Web 2.0 blasts
- PBN links
The first two are done with software. You pop in your desired keywords and URLs, and it will automatically create backlinks – thousands if you want. These links are from junky websites that will look like straight up spam. If you are going to use them, only do so for Tier 2 or Tier 3 links. These are links that point to your better links to pump some juice into them; almost like giving them a steroid shot. However, even doing this has some risks.
PBN links are private blog network links. These are networks of domains with the sole purpose of ranking websites. They can be very powerful or VERY dangerous, depending on where you order them. There are some guys who cover their tracks pretty well, but this route is still risky.
You could alternatively create your own PBN, but managing it would be time-consuming and expensive. I would suggest staying away from it for the most part, unless you have a lot of experience.
For SEO research we highly recommend SEMRush.
Building Quality Backlinks
There are some legit ways to get backlinks that won’t get you hit with any penalties.
One of the first things you are going to want to do is set up social media accounts across all the top sites. At the very least, you should create accounts on the following platforms:
All of these sites allow a backlink. These backlinks don’t do much for rankings, but they show Google you are a legitimate website with social media accounts.
Guest posting is one of the most powerful ways to get backlinks. These posts are similar in power to PBN links, but they come from legitimate sites that are far less likely be penalized by a Google update.
To find guest posting opportunities, search on Google for websites in your niche that allow guest posts. Contact them, tell them who you are and explain what type of article you would like to write. Most websites that accept guest posts will allow you to include a backlink to your site in the author bio. Make sure when you contact them that you come across as very professional.
If accepted, you will write up a post, send it to them for their approval and then they will publish the post with the link. Most guest post sites will also share their guest posts on their social media accounts. So, you have a lot of potential traffic that could come from just one guest post. Not to mention the value of having a backlink from a legitimate source.
Build awesome content that gets shared! If you write an awesome piece of content, other websites may just share it on their site, giving you a backlink.
This technique can teeter on the gray area. You are going to build some web 2.0 blogs on high authority websites, like WordPress.com and blogger.com. I won’t go into this in full detail, but you can basically make a blog with a lot of content and multiple posts. Within one of those posts, you can add a link back to your website. I would suggest staying away from this, but some people still use this technique.
With backlinking in general, you also need to be careful not to use the same anchor text over and over again. The anchor text is the word or phrase that is hyperlinked back to your website. Say you were looking to rank for “cars” in Google. You don’t want all of your anchor texts to be “cars.” Instead, you want to vary your anchor texts. Variations may include:
- Click here
- Best Cars To Drive
- I love cars
- Muscle Cars
- Daily Commuter
- Learn More
Another important variation is to use a “naked” URL as the anchor text. A naked URL is just a link with your URL in it and no text. If Google sees that the same anchor text is used over and over again when linking to your website, they will assume that you are just spamming all your backlinks to improve your rankings.
So, that is a brief overview on off-page SEO. Here are some basics for on-page seo. On-page SEO has to do with what is on your actual website, primarily dealing with keyword placement and content.
What is On-Page SEO?
Earlier I talked about several off-page factors that Google considers when ranking websites. The term off-page essentially means that these factors are external and may not necessarily be in your control.
On-page SEO is the opposite. These are factors that are completely in your control and directly related to the website itself. Google considers many things when it analyzes and ranks websites.
On-page ranking factors include:
- Internal Linking
- Content and Keywords
- Speed and Ease of Use
- Meta Data
URL structure is an important on-page factor in SEO because it helps tell Google where the page is and a little about its contents. Ideally, you want the category hierarchy of your website to be reflected in your URL structure. Too much technical jargon? Here are a few examples of good URL structure:
In the first example, the URL lets Google know that your product is part of the “shoes” department, which is part of your products. The structure in the second example allows Google to determine that the page is about the history of apple pie and not just history in general.
Here’s an example of a poor URL structure:
As you can see, the URL really doesn’t tell you anything about the page. The website doesn’t have an information hierarchy either. Google will assume that the page is related to “titles,” but won’t know what the page is about. The “pp056726” isn’t useful to search engines because this isn’t a term that users would search for.
The right URL structure will not only tell Google what your page is about – it will also help with linkbuilding. When people link back to your website, they will be far more likely to use an anchor text that uses keywords in the URL.
Smart internal linking can help improve your on-page SEO. An internal link is a link on your page that points to another page on your website.
Let’s say you run an online fashion store and that your website has a blog. You write a post about shoes, and link the word “shoes” to your shoe product page.
With an internal link, you’re sending visitors to another page on your website instead of a page off of your website (which would be an external link).
Internal linking allows you to spread link juice across your website. It’s also useful for readers because it sends them to a relevant page to learn more about the topic.
Content and Keywords
The content of the page is arguably the most important on-page factor in SEO. Without relevant, unique and well-written content, your site won’t rank well – even if every other on-page factor is on point.
Google only wants to send its users to web pages that will answer their questions.
How can you know if your content is “good” in the eyes of Google? There are a few things that will be considered when analyzing your content:
- Is the content linkable?
- Does the content supply a demand?
Content must be linkable. If no one can link to your content, it obviously can’t rank and you won’t get traffic to it.
But who creates content you can’t link to? That’s a great question. And it happens a lot more than you might think. Unlinkable content might include:
- Image slideshows
- Content that can’t be shared
- Content that is only accessible when logged in
Along with being linkable, the content also needs to supply a demand. In other words, it needs to give the reader some sort of valuable information. Content doesn’t have to be all text either. Good content can also come in the form of images, videos or even sound.
The content you create should be relevant to the topic of the page (i.e. your keyword or keywords). It’s also important to use your targeted keywords a few times in the content of your page. The keywords should flow naturally into the content. Forced keywords are awkward and tell Google that you’re just adding the keyword phrase to boost your rankings.
Speed and Ease of Use
An SEO-optimized page loads up quickly and has a user-friendly design. Google has already confirmed that page speed is a factor in rankings. The faster your website pages load, the higher your rankings will be. Aim for your pages to load in four seconds or less.
Along with a speedy website, you also want to make sure that each page’s:
- Content and navigation are easily understood by visitors
- The page layout is easy to scan, and readers can easily identify important content elements
- Layout and design is both desktop- and mobile-friendly
The page’s meta data will also influence your on-page SEO. Meta data, which includes title tag and image alt text, tells Google what your page is about.
For proper optimization, your topic (or targeted keyword) should be included in your page’s:
- Image alt text fields
- Title tag
- Meta description
There’s no need to bother with the meta keywords field unless you plan to use this for field for internal searches.
To recap, a well-optimized page – according to Moz – should:
- Be relevant to the topic (or keyword)
- Include the topic in the URL, title tag, image alt text and content
- Link back to the subcategory, category and home pages
- Provide the visitor with unique content about the topic
These are the basics for on-page and off-page SEO. Understanding these factors can help you implement changes that will – hopefully – boost your rankings.