If you are wondering what, exactly, SEO is, then don't worry. You aren't the only one, especially in the tech start-up world. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it is the process of trying to create content that will perform well when you search for a term in Google. Sounds simple enough, right?
Organic search results differ from the top results on the SERP (search engine results page), which are typically paid advertisements.
You've probably Googled a term before and seen three or four results at the top that look different from the rest. Look closer, and you'll see an "Ad" label at the top left corner of these results.
These are NOT organic search results. These are paid advertisements. SEO aims to put your website at the top of relevant search results without paying for ad space.
SEO sounds simple on the surface, but there's a lot that goes into an effective SEO strategy. We'll dive into that in a second, but first... What SEO isn't. SEO is not a simple algorithm. At one point, however, it was!
Before a 2009 update and an even more dynamic 2013 update called Hummingbird, somebody could beat Google's system by jamming in keywords, racking up fake backlinks, even typing keywords in white font to hide on your page worked!
All of these were effective methods used to make a website number one on Google's SERP. But since the Hummingbird update, Google has gotten very, very smart.
Now, the only way to get your page to rank is by utilizing SEO strategies that add real value to your users.
Sure, there are people still trying to hack their way into the top spot, but the watchdogs at Google are good at their jobs and erase shady pages by the millions daily.
The rule of thumb is to think like a Googler – as in a Google employee. Are you doing something that they would want you to do? Are you focused on delivering great value to potential customers? Or are you trying to overpower their search index by purchasing likes and clicks for your page?
Google will know if you cheat, and they will penalize you.
Search engines want to deliver the best value. Help them do that, and don't try to rig the game because it can't be beaten. Always act with the consumer in mind, and your SEO results will reflect positively on your honesty and consumer-focus.
What makes up SEO?
As you can see in the graphic above, there is a lot to SEO.
SEO has become a very complex machine. While the technical aspects of SEO are important, remember that above all else, the quality of your content is key to SEO success.
You can accomplish the technical aspects of SEO perfectly, but Google will still penalize you if people are regularly leaving your page immediately.
"Time on page" is an important factor when Google is determining SEO positioning.
Significant time spent on a page means Google can trust that this page contains relevant, high-quality information, yields good answers, and provides satisfactory results for what the user wants.
Remember, search engines want users to find the best results in the shortest time.
SEO will help you get people to your site, but great content is the only way to keep people on your site, creating conversions and gaining trust from Google to boost you even further up the SERP in the process!
That being said, there are quite a few SEO fundamentals that need to be covered if you're going to find your content on Google's first page. Those fundamentals include:
- Technical SEO
- Meta descriptions
- Content length
Why SEO Matters
This chart emphasizes the importance of SEO.
Your content must be found in the first five slots of the SERP; if it falls below that, your chances of getting clicks drops significantly.
Even if you fall from the first to the second position, your chances of a click decrease by almost HALF: from a 30% chance down to a 15% chance of getting clicked.
These numbers don't even count the percentage of users that click on paid ads, which is a large portion.
The importance of optimizing SEO and landing on the top of search engine pages cannot be overstated. Fall behind the first page, and you might as well not be there at all!
That might be an exaggeration. There are other ways to distribute content to get views, but it doesn't exist for organic search if it isn't on the first page.
Is SEO right for you?
Before you dive into SEO, you need to have a plan.
Use customer data and research the market to decide if increased search traffic will be good for your company goals.
It's hard to imagine a case where SEO doesn't help a business, but you may conclude that optimizing content and ranking on Google's first page isn't what you need to focus on right now.
Maybe you need to focus more on selling, building a brand image, or any number of other aspects of the business that marketing plays a role.
At some point, however, incorporating SEO into your business plan will absolutely be in your business's best interest.
If you are unsure whether or not SEO will have a positive ROI (return on investment) for your business, try this short exercise:
ROI = Keyword volume * SERP position(traffic %) * conversion rate * value per conversion
Calculating ROI for SEO is pretty straightforward once you have the tools and know-how to use them. One of the best free tools for this ROI equation is Ubersuggest.
Once you have a list of keywords you are interested in, you have to find 4 values:
- Volume, or how many times people are searching for a specific keyword per month.
- SERP position, or traffic percentage. As we discussed, there are averages available if you don't know the exact number.
- Conversion rate. If you have data on this through GA, great! If not, it's safe to assume your conversion rate is somewhere in the realm of 3%.
- Value per customer. How much is each new customer worth to you? Are you an architect, one-click could mean 200,000+ dollars? Or do you sell tee-shirts, and each customer has an average value of 10 dollars?
Say that only 1000 people were searching for "SEO"; you can see how important it is to rank highly on the SERP.
If you can get to the number one spot, you're looking at over $1000 per month just from this one keyword, but as you fall below fifth place, you are making a minimal amount despite being relatively high on the SERP.
The beauty of Google is that it's brilliant. What do I mean?
Thanks to Google's Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) abilities, if you're ranking well for a keyword, you will also rank for words similar to that keyword.
That means the ROI will be significantly higher than shown for just one keyword in most instances.
I keep bringing up these "keywords." You're likely wondering what they are and how you incorporate them into your business' SEO plan.
Don't worry, I've got you covered!
Evaluating Keywords the Right Way
Keywords are the words or phrases that your customers are searching for in Google.
If you are looking to buy a new stereo, you may Google "stereos," "best stereos 2020," or a specific brand like "Sony" or "Polk."
These search terms are known in the marketing world as "keywords," You need to decide which ones you want to rank for based on your business or industry needs.
"Ranking" for a keyword refers to which keywords are affiliated with your site. Using various techniques and tools, you can incorporate "best stereos 2020" into your site, allowing your site to appear at the top of the SERP when somebody searches for that keyword.
How do you decide which keywords to target?
You need to think like a customer, not like a business owner or a marketer.
If you run a website called "Steve's Stereos" selling stereo systems, you don't want to target people Googling "Steve's Stereos." That's your specific business name, and if people are Googling it, they likely already know and like your business.
Keywords allow you to target new customers. "Steve's Stereos" would target keywords like "best stereos," "quality stereos," and stereo brand names.
People will not know you are the answer to their question when entering a search term, so it's critical to also rank for the problem they have that you can solve.
If a customer is searching for anything related to the term "stereo," that's what you want to target.
Finding keywords isn't always that simple. That's why there are a variety of tools, mostly for free, at your disposal to help you:
Even Google's autofill feature can help you discover what people are searching for concerning your brand.
Remember; think like a customer, think about the problems you solve, and find the most relevant keywords.
Technical On-page Tips
As we've discovered, there is more to a webpage than meets the eye, but what meets the eye is still extremely important.
A lot can go wrong with a website, and issues visible to the public are damaging to your site's SERP ranking. Issues include, but are not limited to:
One of the most penalized and easily fixed problems on a webpage is broken links.
What's a broken link?
These are links that direct to a page that doesn't exist. This issue could happen because you, or someone you linked to, took the page down or changed the URL.
With internal links, you can avoid this problem by driving to a page ID, not a URL. That way, you can change the URL, but the connection remains unaffected.
Multiple broken internal links may discourage users from visiting other pages of your website, and broken links prevent crawlers from indexing your site correctly.
As a result, your website rank may be downgraded in the search results on Google.
Another error that could come back from a broken link is the 4XX error.
According to SEMRush, a 4xx error means that a webpage cannot be accessed. These errors prevent users and search engine robots from accessing your web pages and negatively affect user experience and search engine crawlability.
A 4xx error may occur due to any of the following reasons:
• DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) protection system.
• Overloaded or misconfigured server.
• "Disallow" entries in your robots.txt.
The most common error is a "404 - page not found." You've probably dealt with a 404 code before.
They're annoying, right?
There are also:
429 error codes
The user has sent too many requests in a given amount of time ("rate limiting").
The most common reason for the "429 too many requests" error is a user, bot, or a script trying to make too many requests of the servers. 429 is a measure to prevent DDOS attacks on websites.
This error means that someone is attempting to overload your system to keep genuine users out.
With a 429, you're going to want to dive deeper to see what is going on. Typically, reaching out to whoever hosts your website like Squarespace or WordPress will solve the problem.
If not correctly dealt with, a 429 or 404 code may end up preventing search engines or other APIs from running correctly. Poor user experience is bad for your website and bad for business!
Duplicate Meta Descriptions:
A <meta description=""> tag summarizes a web page's content that helps search engines understand what the page is about and shown to users in search results.
Duplicate meta descriptions are also quite common and maybe even easier to fix than broken links. Given you can write up to 260 characters, we will get into optimizing these in a bit, but for now. It's very simple, don't have the same one twice! Site crawlers, generated by Google and other search engines, penalize pages with duplicate meta descriptions only if they are exact matches.
It is better to have no meta description than to have a duplicate one since the clearer you can make your content according to Google, the better. Duplicate meta descriptions make it difficult for search engines and users to differentiate between different web pages, negatively affecting your overall rank. It also means a lost opportunity to use more relevant keywords on other pages to get multiple pages ranking on Google.
If there is one aspect of site optimization you can point to that will have the most significant impact on the customer experience, hence the Google ranking algorithm, it's site speed.
Having a great looking site that is easy to navigate is critical, but it won't matter if it won't load!
As you can see from the graphic above, if your site takes over 3 seconds to load, you have almost doubled the probability of a bounce (person leaving your page immediately). Slow load times also hurt conversions, meaning they are losing customers directly, and if they stick around, they are much less likely to mature in the lead process.
According to Moz, Page speed is often confused with "site speed," which is the page speed for a sample of page views on a site.
Page speed can be described in either "page load time" (the time it takes to display the content on a specific page fully) or "time to first byte" (how long it takes for your browser to receive the first byte of information from the webserver).
There are several tools, paid and free, that you can use to analyze your web page's health. SEMRush is one of the most popular and one of the best because it provides one of the most thorough site audits.
The site audit will give recommendations about which site issues that need to be corrected. Analyzing your website with the SEMrush SEO audit tool helps you make it more accessible for search engines and real people, ensuring a positive user experience for your site's visitors. In short, it will help boost your ranking on Google. Some things an SEO audit covers are:
- Optimizing your internal and external links
- Adding tags where they are missing
- Making titles, meta descriptions, and other HTML tags unique and comprehensible for users and search engines
- Correcting broken images and provide them all with an alt attribute
- Detecting and erasing error pages
- Finding duplicate content pages
And as you can see above, you can quickly prioritize what needs to be done first by the grading system for problems for red: errors, orange: warnings, and blue: notices with an overall score for your site found on the top left.
SEO Best Practices to Improve Content Performance
If you research this topic, you might find a range of "ideal lengths" anywhere from 1000 to 2000 to optimize SEO.
The gist of it is, it has to be long enough to cover the content thoroughly.
Put yourself in the customer's shoes and try to answer every question they could have about a particular topic.
Essentially, you want to ensure that the reader gets everything they could want to know out of your article without having to go back to google and search again, so typically, 400-500 words won't cut it most of the time.
I say most of the time, because the length of posts can be keyword dependent. If someone asks, what is 2+2? They may only need a concise answer. But someone searching for how to build a rocket may not be happy with a merely 2000 word answer.
Maybe extreme examples, but you get the point.
The best way to find out what the ideal length of a page should be is to check out the posts that already rank highly for the keyword you want to rank for; if the keyword's average post is only 200-words, there is no need to write 2000.
"Keyword density, in general, is something I wouldn't focus on if you are building content. Search engines have kind of moved on from there." John Mueller, Google 2014
An interesting way to start this section, I know, but it's essential to realize that there is no magic number for keyword density, but there are certain things to remember and take into account that should not be ignored. Google doesn't want you to focus on keywords too much. So it will punish your page if it is apparent that you are, what they call, keyword stuffing (repeating the same word over and over unnecessarily). But, Google still can't read your mind, so you somehow need to make the topic of your content very clear, which means you need to use your keyword in your content with regular frequency. As long as it is used in a natural, non-disruptive way, around 1% frequency seems to be a safe target for your primary keyword for a page, roughly 1 in 100 words.
Primary keyword density also doesn't delve into LSI, or latent semantic indexing, which we will cover in the next section. Spoiler alert, it's another hotly debated one, so buckle in!
LSI – Latent Semantic Indexing
Latent semantic indexing is a mathematical method developed in the late 1980s to improve information retrieval accuracy. It uses a singular value decomposition technique to scan unstructured data within documents and identify relationships between the concepts contained therein.
Are you still reading? Wow, congrats! I wouldn't have been, let's say that in English.
In regards to keywords and SEO, LSI just means words that are pretty close to the words you are selecting as keywords.
For example, if you are writing an article about coffee, it would help your SEO ranking include words in the same ballpark: beans, mugs, cafe, joe, etc.
The problem is, like so many other aspects of SEO because of Google's secretive algorithm, this may or may not be accurate. But one thing is definitely true: Google wants to understand the context of any piece of content.
And semantics (the study of meaning in language) is a vital part of this since Google is not a mind reader. The more information about a topic you include on a page, the more likely it is that Google, and therefore your readers, will understand what issue you are covering.
And using words that are very similar in meaning to your keyword is a great way to drive home the page's topic without keyword stuffing, which has a two-fold benefit. Google hates keyword stuffing, as I have said, and so do people reading. LSI will provide clarity for Google while also having no impact on the user experience.
LSI's topic and its value is a hotly debated issue (as hotly as SEO issues can be) at the moment, depending on who you ask. But done well, there is no downside and a potential SEO boost. So let the haters hate, and add in those semantic synonyms with confidence.
The meta description tag in HTML is the 160(ish) character snippet used to summarize a web page's content for users looking at the link on a search engine results page.
Search engines use these snippets in search results to let visitors know what a page is about before they click on it to improve the likelihood that a user gets what they are looking for when they set out on their initial search.
It is crucial to not just think about SEO in a traditional, keyword-based sense when it comes to meta descriptions. You need to think like a marketer. While it is still best practice to include your keyword within the meta description, it is WAY more important to consider what will make people click on it.
According to Moz: "These short paragraphs are webmasters opportunity to advertise content to searchers and let them know exactly what the given page has with regard to what they're looking for."
The bottom line is that you need to make your meta description crystal clear about what people will see when they click on your site because getting them to click and getting them to stay are the most critical factors to a successful meta description.
The URL slug is the part of the website URL that comes after the "/." For example:
Optimizing a URL slug is pretty basic.
- Include the keyword – this will help Google and users know what the page is about before clicking on it.
- Keep it short – the shorter and more descriptive, the better. To do this, avoid any stop words like "the," "a," or "and."
That is it for slugs. Keep it simple: Long enough for a user to get the general idea of what the page is about, without any filler words.
You can just re-read the section of URL slugs pretty much here… simple, descriptive, and include your keyword.
As far as actually getting people to click on them, then that gets a little more complicated!
"How to" lists, "Top # Reasons that whatever," etc. You've seen all the clickbaity titles that you probably also click on in the past. And there are so many because they work, and it's fair to use them as long as you have great content to back it up.
Header tags are the big, bold text on your website. If you dive into the code, they will look something like this <h1>Big Bold Headline</h1> and <h2>Secondary headline</h2>.
For SEO purposes, H1, H2, and H3 headers are the only variants that carry any SEO value, with H1 being, by far, the most important.
Header tags tell Google and users what the article features most prominently. For that reason, you must include your target keyword in your H1 header and only use a single H1 header. If you use multiple H1 tags, it will muddy up the waters for Google to know what to rank on that particular page.
H2 headers are a great place to flex your LSI muscles that we discussed earlier. Use similar words to your keyword to boost the SEO value of the page.
Another friendly reminder, which can't be talked about enough, is focusing on creating great content for the user!
Headers should be very clear about what the user will read about in a given section of the page. Readers should be able to glance at your headers for the page and sections and have a pretty good idea about the topic and flow of your content.
So at the risk of sounding like a broken record, keep it simple. Keep it clear. Use the keyword.
How to Use the Skyscraper Technique
The skyscraper technique!
If this were the only part of this guide that you pay attention to, you would be in pretty good shape.
What is the skyscraper technique? It's simply taking the best content on the web for your desired keywords and making it better. Building on great content – like adding stories to a building, hence the skyscraper.
Let's break down exactly what you need to do.
When it comes to SEO, the holy grail gets to the number 1 position in the SERP for your desired keywords. Why not start by learning from the people that have already done it?
If you are trying to rank for "essay writing tips," well search for "essay writing tips" in Google and see what comes up:
As you can see, below the ads and the featured snippet (you'll get there one day!), you can see the first result, "Essay Tips: 7 Tips on Writing an Effective Essay | Fastweb". Now all you have to do is dive in and see what they did!
After a glance, it's easy to see why this piece ranks number 1.
- Clear headings
- Perfect length
- Informative list (everyone loves lists)
- Good keyword density (2% for essays)
- Outbound links
- Good domain authority (that one can't be replicated, but still important)
Ok, what now? Copy and paste and post? No!
It is essential to realize that the skyscraper technique is not a thinly veiled excuse to plagiarize. This strategy just gives you the guidelines to what sort of content people, and Google, find valuable when it comes to whatever your keyword is.
Is it ok to copy the structure and general concepts? Sure. Fastweb doesn't have a patent on useful essay writing tips. But be sure to make it your own, and make it even better! Or else it won't have a chance to knock them out of the top spot.
YouTube SEO Best Practices
Overall, YouTube ranks only behind google as far as daily searches on the internet, and contrary to popular belief, there is a ton of business value there. No, it isn't all cat videos and K-Pop. Every good marketing plan will utilize video, especially YouTube, as a critical part of their marketing strategy.
According to an article published by WordStream, 87% of online marketers use video content. By not having video content to support your content pillars, you're already behind your competitors.
45% of people watch more than an hour of Facebook or YouTube videos in a week.
And that 45% is quite a bit more than one hour per day. With an audience of over a billion users — about one-third of all internet users — YouTube can quickly get your content in front of a ton of people. But these practices will ensure you get your content in front of the right people.
1. Add Smart Title, Description, Tags
Incorporate keywords in the title and description, and add them as tags for the video. The title has a max of 100 characters. It should include one main target keyword, as with most content, and represent the video's content.
"Blogging Best Practices for your Inbound Digital Marketing Strategy with Acer Inbound"
It's okay to use hashtags in the title to emphasize the video elements—it can help users find your video. There are two ways to find videos using hashtags, according to Google:
- Search for a hashtag
- Click on a hashtag in the title or description of a video
You'll see a results page that shows the top trending videos for the hashtag and the most recently uploaded content. The platform also recommends not using too many hashtags—at 15, they'll ignore the hashtags on that video.
Descriptions have a maximum of 5,000 characters and should take up as much of that capacity as possible.
I repeat, use as much of the description as you possibly can. The video description will boost your SEO and relevancy according to google and YouTube tremendously.
When adding tags to your videos, it's essential to think of these as keywords and use tags relevant to the video and your channel and help you show up in search results. There are many SEO tools that you can use to guide you through keywords to use for tags.
2. Add Cards
Cards are subtle calls to action, represented by an "i" icon in the top right corner. Clicking on the "i" extends with a thumbnail for a recommended next video. Adding cards is simple: within the editing navigation, you'll see "cards"—from there, you can "add card."
3. Add an End Screen
End Screens are thumbnails you can place in your video that click through either to another video, to your channel or give the viewer the ability to subscribe to your channel. They are a great way to keep users engaged in the YouTube realm. If you're more interested in linking to your website, you can do that as well if your site is verified with your branded account.
Like the card section, you can go to the "end screen" portion of the navigation and "Add element."
4. Add it to a Playlist.
Adding your video to a playlist creates a better user experience, allowing the users to easily access your videos without having to click around and search for them. This action will also give the user quick access to more of your content, increasing the likelihood of a new fan, and hopefully, a new subscriber.
Adding a video to a playlist is easy. Located on the editor's main info/setting section—the option to add a playlist is right under the "add a message to your video" box on the right-hand side.
5. Create Closed Captions
When Google crawls videos, it's not listening to the video to learn about the content—it relies on the description and captions. Adding manually created closed captions to your video helps boost your SEO and YouTube rank. Some tools can automatically transcribe your videos through sites like Rev.com, Google Voice, and even YouTube itself. However, the automatic captions YouTube provides will need to be edited.
These SEO best practices are important factors in creating a positive user experience for viewers that reach your channel and videos on YouTube. Consistency in posting will further the likelihood of gaining new subscribers and more viewers. If you let your channel lay stagnant, viewers won't check-in for new content. YouTube can be a useful lead generation tool when used properly, but it requires an effective and thorough content strategy.
But as always, content is king. Create excellent, useful, informative content that users will find valuable.
Off-page SEO: What Is It, Really?
Now you've conquered on-page SEO, and you're an SEO optimizing machine! However, we aren't finished yet. On-page SEO is only one piece of the puzzle. If you stopped reading now and did everything we have discussed so far, you would see drastic changes in your traffic already. But, if you want to be an SEO Superstar, off-page SEO is where you separate the pros from the amateurs.
This graphic from Moz shows exactly (relatively exactly with Google secretive search algorithms) how important off-page SEO is:
Let me go ahead and summarize that for you before your head explodes:
Everything we just did for on-page optimization ends up being roughly 45% of Google's search algorithm to come up with the SERP rankings. I know it seems low for all that work. But before you send me hate mail, it isn't exactly that simple. A lot of what we just did will directly impact the remaining 55% of off-page SEO.
Things like offline usage of brand domain, people linking to your page, quality of the links, social shares, TrustRank, etc. will improve if you create awesome content that people can find. But if you want to take the initiative to get that last bit of SEO optimization, you can implement strategies to attack off-page SEO. Let's look at what exactly goes into this 55% and how we can optimize it.
Backlinks are the heart and soul of off-page SEO – in fact, they are almost the entire makeup of it! There are a couple of other minor elements that play a factor, but backlinks are pretty much the name of the game. But why? Well, think of it this way. If you are choosing a restaurant, what would be more effective in guiding your decision?
a) The restaurant's aesthetics, it looks good on the outside, the menu seems to have what you want, prices are reasonable, the staff seems friendly enough.
b) Your best friend, who happens to be a professional chef, tells you it's the best restaurant in town.
You might choose the restaurant based on all the things in option A, but of course, option b would be more compelling.
You trust your friend, so you know she wouldn't lead you to somewhere you didn't want to go. And that is how Google works too. The more trusted sites that link out to your site, the more Google can safely assume you should also be trusted.
The New York Times wouldn't link to some bogus site trying to scam people. So, if you secure a backlink from a trusted site like the NYT, it goes a very long way toward Google thrusting your page up in the SERP rankings.
Ok, great, so now you understand that the internet is just a giant web of trusted sites vouching for each other, but how do you get into this network?
Well, that's the tricky part, and it will take a little bit of groundwork.
How to Find Broken Links
People appreciate it when others look out for them, even when it is evident that they are doing it for their benefit. Sometimes, the best way to get a backlink to your site is to help out another site by letting them know they have broken links.
Here is the easiest way to do it:
Step 1: Find a website that you think would be a great place to get a backlink. (Relevant to your company, high traffic, seemingly trustworthy)
Step 2: Use a site like https://www.brokenlinkcheck.com to check their website for any broken links.
Step 3: Find some of the broken links that you also have relevant content to fill those voids.
Step 4: Reach out to them through email, kindly letting them know that a link on their site is down, and you would be happy to provide an alternative for them to use if they are so pleased!
That email could look something like this:
You may think people will read this as junk mail and trash it, and they probably will. That's why it's vital to send A LOT of these out!
And the more personalized, the better in regards to getting responses from people regularly.
Domain authority is a ranking system that was created by Moz. I will let them explain it:
"Domain Authority (DA) is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). A Domain Authority score ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank.
Domain Authority is calculated by evaluating multiple factors, including linking root domains and total links, into a single DA score. This score can then be used when comparing websites or tracking the "ranking strength" of a website over time."
Essentially domain authority is simply the measure of the number and quality of your backlinks… I told you, it all boils down to the backlinks!
The Role of Social Media in SEO
Talk about complicated things.
In 2016, Gary Illyes, a Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, was asked if Google takes social into account for SEO. He then retweeted Cutts' video and said: "the short version is, no, we don't."
But the short version based on all of the SEO experts out there seems to have landed on yes, they do.
But the simplest version of this story that you need to care about is that yes, a strong and consistent social posting schedule does help SEO value since Google will trust you more, but only very slightly.
These varying bits of information make social a "nice-to-have" but certainly not a necessity!
What To Do Next
You made it!
I hope you have a better understanding of what it takes to become an SEO master now!
To sum it up:
Make sure your site works.
Create awesome content.
Make sure it's clear to both your reader and Google.
Get people to link back to it!
And there you have it. Now go forth and conquer those search results!