This post is aimed at novice and intermediate webmasters and will not cover in-depth technical topics. However, I will include links to valuable resources that will help you minimize the risks in your search engine optimization efforts. I will also include some tips and hands-on advice. Hopefully, I will include updates as Google pushes new algorithm updates.
Basics of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
People often ask a question: "Where should I start?" Since SEO is a complex field, there are numerous tasks and strategies that may consume a lot of your time. Some are more and some are less beneficial and may lead to non optimal results.
So what are the common SEO tasks? They are:
Onsite optimization which includes
- Keyword research
- Content creation
- Onsite optimization of website
Offsite optimization which includes
- Link research
- Outreach and link building
- Optimizing inbound channels
- Social networking and audience engagement
We will take a look at the specific tasks and tools to do each of these tasks properly. Also there are two "schools of thought" - so called "white hat SEO" and "black hat SEO" where white hats follow the guidelines proposed by Google, while black-hats try to do shortcuts and break the rules. Google periodically issues updates to fight these techniques. In this guide I will cover only the white hat techniques as I firmly believe that individuals who are not experts in the field will not gladly risk their rankings and website reputation if they know the dangers.
Example of white-hat techniques. Image source: SEOMoz
Keyword research should be one of the first steps in your SEO tasklist. It is one of the commonly overlooked steps, but can yield very high returns as it provides actionable intelligence and sets future course of action. Wikipedia describes keyword research as:
Keyword research is a practice used by search engine optimization professionals to find and research actual search terms people enter into the search engines when conducting a search. Search engine optimization professionals research keywords in order to achieve better rankings in their desired keywords.
As you become more familiar with the tools used in keyword research (listed a bit below) you'll find it irreplaceable in your routine as an SEO or PPC marketer (keyword research is also used in PPC, look here to see the differences between SEO vs PPC).
What you need to know before starting a keyword research?
There are three types of queries:
Informational types of queries are the ones when user types in some generic keyword, usually with the intention to find out about certain topic or product.
Navigational queries are the ones where user knows the website or a part of website. Remember, sometimes you found some article on a website, don't really know the address, but know the topic.
Transactional queries are the ones that clearly describe the intention to buy a product or a service. When you look to buy something or want to see a review, you'll type this kind of a query.
How to do SEO
SEO Guide SEOMoz
best seo software
Also, there are several keyword match types:
- Keywords that are related by topic to inputed keyword
- In PPC, inputed without any other characters
- Example: shoes
- Keywords that contain the inputed phrase
- In PPC, inputed with ""
- Example: "shoes" - will be triggered by: cheap shoes, shoes sale, buy shoes...
- Keywords that contain the inputed phrase and ONLY inputed phrase - when doing keyword research - look for these
- In PPC, inputed with [ ]
- Example: [shoes]
- Used in PPC when you use broad or phrase match, they prevent ad from showing, for example if you want to prevent keywords with "cheap" in the query
- In PPC, inputed with -
- Example: -cheap
- Used in PPC, a hybrid of broad and phrase match that enable broader reach than phrase and more control than broad match
- Excludes certain synonyms but includes misspellings, singular/plural forms, abbreviations and acronyms, and stemmings
The tools you'll need for keyword research
Write down anything you think your target audience will type into search engine. Group the keywords into specific themes. Use the spreadsheet software like Excel or Google Docs. Once you have the initial keyword list it will be easier to manipulate (input, change, re-group) the keywords you'll input in the following tools.
AdWords Keyword Tool
AdWords Keyword Tool is probably the most used tool for keyword research. How to use it?
- Type in your keywords (take them from "ideas")
- Select your geolocation and language
- Select keyword type
- Explore possible traffic (I suggest you use "exact" match type)
AdWords will give you ad group ideas and keyword ideas. I usually use both of them and export the keywords into csv file. You can see the numbers, competition in AdWords and so on. Once you select the best possible keywords, group them together.
Google insights for search
If you want to see how the keywords behave in terms of trends and geographic volume (displayed as indexed number) go to Google Insights for Search (it was merged with Google Trends). If you are researching into new products/niches, this is a must have tool as it will show you the search demand for a specific query.
I love SEMRush. It is one of my favorite tools as it shows me the search volume, the price for specific keyword and a lot of other data. It is a paid tool, but if you are serious about SEO or AdWords, this one is a must-have.
It will show you detailed data about the keyword, related keywords, who is bidding on specific keyword. You can also research the competition and also, what is very important if you are doing international SEO, the volumes and competition in US, UK, Germany, Canada, Russia, France, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Australia.
A very nice (and free) keyword research tool. When you're looking for more keyword ideas based on one keyword, this one will "strip" Google Suggest box and give you a lot of new possibilities. Go ahead and try Ubersuggest.
Steps for your first keyword research
- Define your target audience
- Brainstorm ideas
- Use AdWords keyword tool
- Use SEM Rush
- Use Ubersuggest to get more keywords
If you need more info on the keyword research and the tools, take a look at this more comprehensive keyword research guide.
Now you have your keywords, so it's time to pick up the topics and start creating your content. Define the structure and types of content. You can have:
- Products / services
- Case Studies
- Knowledge base
- How to & guides
- Blog posts
- Q&A forums
- Image galleries
- Resource pages
Align your content strategy with these topics and start writing! Here are several tips on how to make your content better:
- Be careful about the structure (headings, intro, main area, conclusion)
- Create content that is rich with links, videos, images, tables
- Make it easy to digest based on the level of readers' knowledge
- 2200 Words minimum
- Write epic shit
- Make it easy to share and link-to
- Make it unique!
- Learn how to write great copy
Image: Average Length of pages that rank in Top10 search results on Google. Image source: QuickSprout
Onsite optimization of your website
There are numerous guides how to optimize onsite structure of your website for SEO. If we would cover all the elements, this page would have 10k+ words. So we will break it down to most important elements:
- Create valid HTML & CSS
- Have unique title of your page (use at least one of your main keywords, but don't stuff it - create it for the user, not the search engine)
- Have unique meta description of your page - this one IS NOT a ranking factor, but improves CTR on search engine result pages
- Use alt image descriptions
- Use headings
- Introduce new meta information (schema.org)
- Have a fast website (Webiny websites are ultra-fast - check it out) - also, Google confirmed speed as a ranking factor
- Create a good structure so your users may easily find your content
- Be careful about duplicate content - create no-index and canonical elements if you have multiple versions of the same page
- Use authorship tag to connect to Google+ (it influences rankings also)
- Don't mind the nofollow element
To quote from Jill Whalen:
Too many are nofollowing all links, or some links without having a clue as to what they’re doing. Google has spent tons of time and energy in learning how to graph links in terms of their popularity and authority. There’s no way they would simply ignore all that data becuase a bunch of dopes stuck an attribute on their outgoing (or internal) links for “SEO purposes”!
Image: Shows crawling error reports in Google Webmaster Central
Links are the foundation of internet. And Google (still) relies heavily on link data to decide which website "deserves" to rank. Regardless of the other ranking singals (social, citation), links will be the fundamental elements of SEO in foreseeable future. Researching and acquiring links are the best practice to get higher rankings (if you've done everything else from this guide) but there are several traps - beware: if you try to manipulate the results by using spammy tactics, Google may penalize your website. These tactics include "anchor text bombing", spamming, links from poor websites and so on.
What is a good backlink:
- Link from authority website
- Link from topically relevant website
- Descriptive link with appropriate anchor text
When acquiring links, just ask yourself: Is the backlink from this website valuable to my website and to visitors who will click on it? If the answer is yes - go for it. This is the simplest and most straightforward piece of advice I can give to people looking to build links.
What tools to use and how to use them?
This is also a topic of it's own, so I will just name the few good link building tools and what you can do with them:
Citation Labs Link Prospector
- Research link opportunities by keyword, topic, type
- Great link database - research yours or competitors' website
- Free for your websites, paid packages
- Similar to MajesticSEO
- One free and paid packages
- Complete link building software
- Paid software
- Complete link building software
- Paid software
- Complete link building software
- Paid software
How to use them: I use LinkProspector to find link opportunities, MajesticSEO for tracking links to my websites and doing competitor research. If you are serios about link building, paid tools can help you automate research and outreach.
Outreach and link building
Reaching out to prospects who can link your website is not an easy part. Remember, people link, not websites! So, you have to know them and create connections and relationships first! People will always link to someone they find worthy. But, you have to ask first, give something of value and be persistent. However, don't push to hard. No one likes spammers! In fact, people hate spammers.
So who will link to you? Friends, business partners, people you know. These are easy targets. Also, there are web directories that you can submit your site to, as well as profile pages and social networking accounts. Use them, but don't abuse them. Submit only to top ones. Here are few tips:
- Directory list - use it wisely and submit only to few link worthy directories (general and niche directories). Google devalued most of them, so don't waste too much of your time - how will you know which ones? Well, download SEOQuake and look for the average value of PageRank, Google Index and Alexa rank - if one of these numbers are off the chart - it's not worth your time. Generally, top 20 or 30 paid directories are worth your time and money. Don't waste too much time doing this!
- KnowEm - a list of social media accounts - same goes as with directories, only here, you'll also secure your brand name
- Create a list of people who may link to you - expand your circles with people on social networks and in real life. If they have a website, they may link to you but beware - look only for quality links and topical websites
- Listen, engage in conversation - this is the easiest way to reach out people that don't know you - you need to establish trust and credibility
- Reach out - ask the person who runs a similar site to place a link to yours (doesn't work so well as before - as Google is devaluing links and making it harder to rank, experienced webmasters are afraid to link out)
- Comment on blogs and forums - as with every other tip - make it count! Buying a software that automates this kind of link building will get you on a spam list (usually, working with these requires a lot of technical know-how and expert SEO knowledge)
- Guest blogging - very popular these days, but first, provide value and authority, connect to people before doing outreach. Otherwise, you're still a spammer!
Some of the better link building guides out there:
- Point Blank SEO - Link Building Strategies
- SEOBook - 101 Ways to Build Link Popularity
- SearchEngineWatch - 131 Legitimate Link Building Strategies
- QuickSprout - The Massive Guide to Getting Massive Traffic
- SEOMoz - What Makes a Link Worthy Post
- SEOMoz - Link Building 101 - The Almost Complete Link Guide (Updated for Post-Penguin)
Optimizing inbound channels
How much time should you spend on each channel? There is no straightforward answer. After you setup your analytics, be sure to setup the KPIs, goals, targets and so on. This guide will help you! Read it :)
Based on what you have in your analytics, you can track ROI on your marketing campaigns. So what will you track (based on this fantastic article from HubSpot):
- Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)
- Lifetime Value of your Customers (LTV)
- Performance of each of your channels
Even though some of the channels may have poor performance, look at them in broader perspective and with a grain of salt. If someone never found out about you on social media, would she/he consider your products and have brand/company awareness when searching in Google? But, most SMBs have a tough time and lower budgets, so they need to be fast, adaptive and make all those marketing $$$ worth. If you are running a company that sells directly online (no lead generation) than you should check out KissMetrics - they track revenue and ROI on user level.
What will you do?
Measure, improve, repeat
Or, to have it as an SEO joke (the shortest SEO guide ever)
Social networking and audience engagement
Where should you be active and how much time to spend there? Google+, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter... they all have their specific audiences and if you don't have too much time to spend on each of them, segment and make it count. So, how specific are they? Let's take a look:
- Facebook - use your community of friends to get the message out. Also, create a fan page for your business. Engage specific audiences, but don't post too often. Your friends don't want to know about everything and anything you do on your website
- Twitter - fast interaction, can send a lot of specific traffic. Don't just put links, engage in conversation, retweet, answer and give something of value
- Google+ - growing quite fast, adoption from marketers, SEOs, webmasters - create specific page, create communities and engage in conversation
- LinkedIn - a business network - make your profile strong. If you're into B2B this one is a must have - create a company profile, group, engage in conversation in specific groups
- Quora - Q&A community. Can send good leads especially if you answer to specific questions.
- Reddit - a bit geekish community. Be careful with this one as it can backfire. Community has a specific humor and can spot self-promotion and spammers from a mile away. Can send huge amounts of traffic, but be careful, invest time and see what they like.
- StumbleUpon - a discovery engine - if you can get a lot of likes, can send huge (really huge) amounts of traffic, but it's only one-time.
- Inbound - community for marketers. If you're in this niche, a must-have.
- HackerNews - startup & tech related
- Pinterest - send your infographics there
- StackOverflow - tech community. If you're writing about programming, this is the place to answer questions and place links
- Be natural
- Share something of value
- Don't spam!
- There are people on the other side - treat them as humans
- Find other niches with KnowEm
- Track your influence with Klout
Do's and Dont's
- Write unique, valuable content
- Keyword research
- Write often
- Optimize onsite elements
- Engage with other people in your industry/niche
- Build valuable links
- Write for engines and craft content that has low value
- Try to cheat Google (and your users)
- Listen to every "latest tecnique"
- Buy into the false promise of "high rankings for cheap"
How search engines rank websites
We're getting a bit technical here, but for your easy understanding, we'll break down the ranking factors into several easy-to-understand categories:
- Domain popularity - how many backlinks point to your domain and all of the pages
- Page popularity - how many backlinks point to specific page
- Keyword usage - specifically throughout the domain and on specific page
- Domain brand - how many people search for your brand name (example: facebook has 270.000.000 queries per month)
- Social metrics - how much is your website/content/pages shared
I suggest you take a deeper look on the complete ranking factors on SEOMoz - they are from 2011 and since then, some new algo changes took place, but it's a good start.
Image source: SEOMoz Ranking Factors
Google Algorithm Change History
Google changes it's algo constantly. Before you know it, some tactics that worked yesterday may get your site penalized or banned tomorrow. The best way to minimize the risk is following the advice on community sites that are reputable and have a great history of proper advice. Also, be sure to follow Google Webmaster Blog and Matt Cutts.
Also SEOMoz has a great algo change history page. I am quoting SEOMoz a lot, but they are probably the best SEO resource community out there.
The most important updates:
- Panda algorithm
- Penguin algorithm
- Exact matching domain change
- Google Instant
- Caffeine structure/index
Where to learn SEO
I promise, just 10 must-read, valid, regularly updated and easy-to-understand blogs:
- SEO Book
- Search Engine Watch
- Matt Cutts
- SEO By The Sea
- Search Engine Land
- Point Blank SEO
...And a Bonus - The Future of SEO
So here it is, the SEO Checklist or steps to take when you work on your website. I am a big fan of MindNode, so I've created a visual guide. I hope you will like it.
I hope you liked the article and that you'll be able to do much more SEO with your website than before. Please share, link and comment!
If you have any SEO related questions I'd be more than happy to answer them in your comments.