Search engine optimization (SEO) is an industry unto itself. Algorithms are updated regularly in complex ways that aim to punish spam and paid links, instead rewarding websites that are compelling and useful. Those rewards come in the form of higher listings in searches, more page views and more conversions.
PageRank, Google’s rating of your site, and search result positions (SERPs) is an important metric for the success of your online endeavors. There are many things you can do to improve your rankings in the organic search results, and there are many useful online services you can use to track your website’s performance and gradual improvements in the keyword rankings. Investing in one of them is the easiest way to track the payoff of implementing the SEO strategies mentioned in this guide.
Here is what you will learn in The Advanced SEO Ranking guide:
- On-Page SEO
- Images, Infographics and Videos
- Keyword Targeting
- HTML and Technical Search Engine Optimisation
- Off-Page SEO
No matter where you are with your business, it is almost always a certainty that having a website optimised for SEO, and getting links from a creative reputation and marketing strategy, will give you some sort of success, and in most cases, a significant boost in your visitor- and revenue flow.
“If you know how to get good ranks on Google, you are already miles ahead of most marketeers.”
It is no “breaking news” that SEO is important, even if you are a small startup or a larger cooperation. Almost everyone knows it, and most website owners strive to make ranking well on Google a high priority. However, despite the known understanding – that search engine optimisation can skyrocket your online sales if done right – most seem to simply not do it right, or try to take too many shortcuts because they don’t want put in the work required to reach the absolute best positions on the first page of Google.
There are two main prongs to SEO efforts: on-page and off-page. Different activities fall under each umbrella, based on where the work takes place. On-page SEO is the easiest to control: your site’s webmaster holds all the keys. Off-page SEO is trickier, but also has a substantial impact on your search rankings.
Typical on-page SEO strategies include content generation, keyword targeting, and site design and ease of access. To understand on page search engine optimisation and how to utilise a variety of techniques to ensure that Google likes your site, we will go through some of the basics of SEO understanding and onsite optimisation below.
Content is the bread and butter of any SEO campaign. What appears on your webpage can sell itself, or it can relegate your site to obscurity. Three criteria for SEO content are:
Useful Content gives you points for helping
Content should engage readers with good storytelling and offer them something they can’t get on another site — either a new product, new information or a new perspective on old information or current events.
Unique Content makes you stand out
Copied content is penalized by search engines, and using content subject to copyright without permission exposes your site to legal action. Every post, page and description should be original.
Relevant Content gets your readers to come back for more
Content should be updated on a regular basis, especially time stamped pages. A website with article publication dates that are months old looks abandoned and out-of-date. Additionally, uploading new content consistently helps increase return readership and improves a site’s credibility.
A daily or weekly blog post is a great content strategy that meets all of the above criteria. It also creates opportunities for outbound links that are relevant to blog post content, and exceptional posts can generate a high number of inbound links. Google’s own Blogger as well as WordPress – the most popular blogging platform since 2003 – both have easy-to-use blog creation tools that can be used on a new or existing domain.
Images, Infographics and Videos
Images and infographics are easier for readers to parse. They convey more information in the same amount of space, they’re visually appealing, and they capture readers’ attention far better than text. Readers are also more likely to remember information they learned through an image when compared to information they learned from reading text, and can help you drive more sales or sign ups on your blog or ecommerce store.
Infographics are a compelling way to showcase complicated information or diagram an experiment or case study, and they, along with videos, are the two categories of content that are most likely to go viral.
The downside to using images, infographics and videos in SEO campaigns is that search engines can’t process them on their own: it takes a little more work to describe them. This where image description tags take center stage. By using these HTML tags around your visual content, you can describe your image with keywords and text that search engines can use to categorize them. That text won’t appear on your website, and visitors will still only see the image itself.
The goal of SEO is to get a page to the top of the search results, but all searches are guided by keywords and phrases. Certain keywords are more competitive than others. “Jeans” is going to return more search results than “women’s size 8 flare jeans.” The first is a short-tail keyword; the second is a long-tail keyword. Choosing the keywords and phrases to target is an art. Google AdWords Keyword Planner is a valuable research tool for keyword targeting, and the following tips should help guide your keyword targeting as well.
Short-tail vs. Long-tail Keywords – Which is Best?
Short-tail keywords tend to be more competitive. You’ll have to do more work to rank your site on shorter keywords, and, depending on the exact nature of your site, you may be competing with top industry names that have already established their credibility and niche.
So what’s the advantage of trying to rank for them? Short-tail keywords tend to be used more often as search terms, which means that when you do finally make it to the front page, your site will appear in the results of a higher number of searches.
Long-tail keywords are usually more specific than their shorter counterparts, which could significantly help your customer acquisition rate in most cases. While searches for them are less common, it’s more likely that your site is relevant to searchers when it is on the front page of results. You might see lower traffic than if you target a short keyword, but that traffic is more likely to be interested in what your site has to offer.
There’s no reason you have to choose just short or just long keywords, however. In fact, there’s no reason not to use both for natural SEO efforts. For advertising purposes, long-tail keywords tend to be cheaper to target, and could very well be part of integrated Pay-Per-Click and SEO campaigns and strategies.
Geographic Keywords and Local SEO is Easily Forgotten
Local SEO is an alternative approach that uses a geographic location as part of the targeted keyword, “jeans in Richmond, Virginia” for example. This is a helpful strategy if you have a physical location that relevant to your online business, such as a storefront or warehouse, or can offer reduced shipping times to that area. The more pactical the information is, the more likely you are to convert your visitors into customers. It’s also useful if you have particular insight into that area that’s relevant for any of the services you offer, or if there’s a reason readers from that area might have a particular interest in your content.
There are a few additional things to be aware of when using a geographic keyword:
NAP information. NAP stands for Name, Address, and Phone number. This information is vital to your online identity and it should be identical everywhere it appears for consistency across search engines. If you abbreviate Avenue to Ave in the address you have listed on your website, it should be abbreviated that way everywhere. You may have to contact review sites or update maps listings to improve consistency.
Facebook, Google+, Yelp listings. These all feature prominently in search results that include a geographic area. If you’re focusing on local SEO, review these sites regularly, respond to reviews, and make sure they accurately reflect your business or other undertaking.
Myth Busted: Yes, Keyword Density & Placement Matters!
Keyword stuffing — including your keyword so many times that the page is unreadable or reads unnaturally — is one of the factors that can negatively impact your site’s SEO ranking. Including your keywords and phrases enough times to indicate to search engines that they’re the topic of your site is important, however. Striking the correct balance of keywords is one the difficult aspects of SEO campaigns.
Deliberate placement of keywords is a good way to balance out keyword density. Your targeted words and phrases won’t bog down the readability of your pages, but placing them in these prominent places will alert readers and search engines that they’re the subject of your page:
- Page title
- Image tags
- Link anchor text
Keywords should also appear a few times in the body of your page’s content. Generally, earlier positioning is better. Save synonyms or secondary keywords for later in your content. You may have to experiment with keyword placement and density to find the most effective combination for your keywords. It is vital for your success to keep track your of search engine rankings, as you will need to learn what works and what does not, and always be aware if your website suffers from a penalty or errors on your page, so that you can react quickly and negate the harm that has been done to your rankings. Tools like RankScanner help you track your Google rankings positions and can help you determine what’s working and what isn’t in a quite simple and automated way, so you won’t have to check it manually yourself.
You can also check the readability score of your site using tools like the Readability Test Tool. It returns helpful information based on multiple different indexes for readability that will help you make your content accessible to as many readers as possible.
Links are the backbone of the Internet, and they’re also the backbone of search engine optimisation. Keyword targeting and content generation are the foundation, but links are the structure and ingredient that supports your SEO efforts, and not just that – but good internal link building can help lead your visitors where you want them to go, thus improving your sign up rate drastically.
There are two categories of links: outbound and inbound. Generating inbound links is an off-page SEO strategy, but we will come back to that later in this guide.
Outbound Links – What Goes Around, Comes Around
Outbound links are links on your site that take readers to someone else’s site. You can place as many outbound links as you like on your site, and you can place them in a few different ways.
“Helpful Links” or “Resources” sidebar. This is a great place for links that you think any visitors to your site might find interesting or links to websites that you’d like to support. Blogrolls have become rather outdated and therefore ignored by many visitors, but there are still ways to include resources in a visually attractive way, and many WordPress themes that are built for SEO already allow for great ways to “contextually link around” by default.
Within content. Linking words, phrases or images in your content to source material or sites for further reading helps establish your site’s credibility.
The number of sites you link to is a factor in search rankings, but the quality of those links is more important. Avoid linking to sites that are considered spam or ones with shaky reputations. Instead, link to industry authorities and .edu, and .gov sites that have high credibility of their own.
Anchor Text: The One Every SEO Says is a “no-no”… But Is It Really?
Any words and phrases on a site, called anchor text, can be turned into a link. Anchor text and the context in which it’s placed are important factors for search engines trying to categorize how that link fits in with your site and decide how much it contributes to your search engine ranking.
Here are some examples of types of anchor text that are useful to readers and search engines:
- Relevant keywords
- Description of the link destination
- Company or site names
All of these kinds of anchor text help identify what kind of content the link is pointing to, which helps readers judge whether or not it’s going to be useful for them. In turn, it helps search engines judge whether your content and the linked content is useful to site visitors; if it is, it helps your SERPs.
Images can also be used as links, though they lose many of the advantages gained through deliberate use of anchor text. For instances where context isn’t important, such as a logo in the page header returning to the home page, images make aesthetically pleasing links.
Nofollow Attribute: Take Control of Your Google Authority
“Nofollow” is a special attribute that can be used when embedding links into a page that bears mentioning. Called nofollow links, these inbound links don’t contribute to the linked site’s PageRank or search engine results placement (SERP). They’re often used in comments sections on blogs and forums to help prevent spam links. Most off-site links on Wikipedia are also nofollow links.
While they don’t contribute at all to SEO campaigns, nofollow links can still be valuable sources of website traffic and webmasters shouldn’t necessarily shy away from them. In fact, many plausible theories suggest that nofollow links are almost essential for an overall natural link wheel, which in the end weighs heavily in search engine rankings.
HTML and Technical Search Engine Optimisation
The coding of your site is incredibly important, but managing it for SEO purposes isn’t all that scary. This code is what tells search engines what your website is about, what kind of content you have, and how it could be useful to the people performing searches.
There are a few key areas that need special attention when you’re looking to improve your PageRank.
Meta Description Tag – Make it count!
This short sentence or phrase doesn’t show up on your website or directly impact your PageRank, but it does show up on the tab in a website browser and on search result pages. It’s often the first thing a potential visitor reads about your site when they’re scanning search results, which means that a good meta description is the first step in your customer acquisition efforts. Here is what the META description consists of:
Ideal meta descriptions are 150 to 160 characters — this is all most search engines will display. Each page on your site should have a unique meta description, and they should accurately describe what your site is about and what you do so search engine users can decide whether it will answer their question.
Loading Times, Redirects and Broken Pages
Search algorithms take note of problems they encounter when crawling a page: links that don’t work, excessive redirects, long load times and anything else that might annoy visitors to a web page. Sites with any of these issues are penalized in search results, even if their content is relevant and useful to visitors. Here are some tips to help avoid them and improve your website loading speed and responsiveness to an acceptable degree in Google’s eyes:
Check links to outside pages regularly. You can’t control what other webmasters do, and sometimes pages you’ve linked to disappear. Worse, sometimes they change drastically and aren’t a good match for your content anymore.
Be careful when restructuring your website. If you change URLs frequently, you may break links within your site and from other sites. These links are an important source of credibility for your site, and losing them also has a negative impact on rankings. A common source of error is when you optimise your website for mobile devices, as this often involves either special redirects to mobile friendly subpages, or drastically changing your HTML structure, which may break some elements for your desktop version (and yes, Google will most likely take note of that).
Check your load speed regularly. Free and paid tools, like Pingdom are available online. They test website speed and rank it against response speed of similar websites. Subscription services can monitor your load times continuously and alert you when there’s a problem.
Site Structure and URLs are Highly Underrated
Your site should be easy to navigate, with understandable menus that allow visitors to find the specific page they need as quickly as possible. Page URLs should be descriptive; they’re often overlooked as an additional place to use your targeted keywords.
As more Internet users are accessing sites from their mobile devices, mobile friendliness is increasing in importance with search engine algorithms. It’s important enough that Google has developed a Mobile-Friendly Test for websites and they’re implementing new features of search on mobile devices to help people locate mobile-friendly sites when they’re searching from their phones.
Trustworthiness and Credibility is part of Your Google Authority
The trustworthiness and Google Authority of a site is determined by many factors, and while there is a lot you can do to improve your overall Domain Authority it is vital that you always attempt to approach your marketing and technical optimisations naturally.
“By writing, linking and designing for the reader, you will have already made Google happy.”
- Domain age
- Link quality
- Content length
- Bounce rates
Domain age. This is hard to control for new entrepreneurs, but the good news is that it improves with time. The longer your domain has been registered, the more credibility you have. If you are new however, it is highly recommended that you have patience and try to focus on organic customer acquisition – which may eventually even give you a few bonus backlinks in return – at least until your website has lived for around half a year.
Link quality. The quality of links both to and from your site used to gauge your site’s quality. Links to and from .edu and .gov sites are more valuable than links to clickbait sites and untrustworthy news outlets.
Length. Search algorithms generally favour longer pages over shorter ones. Longer pages are more likely to provide visitors with information they need. This doesn’t mean that shorter pages are unusable — they’ll just need to offer something special to rank well, and acquire enough backlinks to reach a decent value and page authority.
Bounce rates. Many search engines track how often visitors to a page immediately leave the page, either returning to the search results or moving to a different page. A high bounce rate can indicate that the site isn’t what it appears to be or doesn’t have useful content.
There are also some things that will have a devastating impact on website trustworthiness and SEO efforts. Using HTML to show a different site to search engines and real visitors, buying and selling links, and spam content. In some cases, sites are blacklisted by search engines for these offenses, meaning that they don’t appear in search results at all.
These activities should be avoided entirely, and you should check your site regularly to make sure an unauthorized user hasn’t gained access and made changes that might jeopardize your site’s trustworthiness.
Many of the elements of an SEO campaign that are within the webmaster’s control fall into the on-page side of things. There are dozens of off-page techniques, like commenting on blog posts and forums that are related to your site, that can drive traffic, but many of them have little impact on your site’s ranking when compared to more direct on-page optimization in terms of time spent.
Two strategies stand out, however: inbound link building and social media engagement.
Inbound Link Building
Inbound links, also called backlinks, are essential to a successful SEO campaign, but generating them takes a combination of luck and tact. It all starts with content that visitors want to see. Create useful blog posts or images, and they’ll naturally share it on their own blogs or sites and link back to you.
Here are a few more tips for generating those all-important backlinks to your website:
- Write a guest blog posts. Ask webmasters of blogs that are related to your niche or area of expertise if they’d be interested in having a guest post. Your content is hosted on their site instead of yours, but in return you can link back to your site.
- Notify other webmasters of content you’ve posted that’s been received well by your audience. Explain how it may be relevant to their readers, and ask them if they’d be interested in linking to it from their website.
- Ask for a review of your content, product or service. The review will usually include a link, and it’s also a handy resource to link to from your own pages or comment sections.
- Search for mentions of your site or content. If you find mentions that aren’t links, reach out to the webmaster of those sites and ask them to link back to you if you feel it’s warranted by the context.
Real-world engagements, like speaking engagements or case studies, can also be turned into opportunities to generate inbound links.
Social Media Engagement
For many businesses, Google’s top search result is a social media account rather than the business’s website – probably the most talked about trend in recent years among online marketers. Social media pages tend to get more traffic and engage more users, so it’s natural that they rank higher, especially for small and medium brick and mortar stores.
Building a social media presence that’s linked to your site is a valuable way to earn credibility and PageRank. The presence of Facebook, Twitter and other social media icons in your site’s footer or sidebar encourages readers to interact with you, often generating links to your content on their own feeds. While most Facebook and Twitter links use the nofollow attribute, they still generate buzz, which in turn generates traffic.
Users engaging through social media are looking for things that indicate a site is worth the investment of their time or money:
- Response time
- Review quality
Mobile apps, like Facebook Pages Manager, can provide alerts for social media accounts. Those alerts, as well as and similar configurable alerts for other social media accounts, can help you excel in visitor engagement.
The Whole SEO Package
Sometimes it is hard to believe how much of online marketing has Google at its center, but Google has after all changed a lot in online marketing over the years. Search engine algorithms are complex and constantly shifting. The tools and strategies available to webmasters for SEO campaigns can also be complex. Often, the best way to optimize your site is through trial and error. Explore different combinations of the above tips, use an online tool to check your search engine results positions to see what worked and what didn’t, and then try something new. Always experiment so that you won’t fall behind.
What are the techniques you use for SEO? Do you believe that you can get ahead with some of these online tools and techniques, or do you prefer something different?