Are you new to SEO? Do you wonder how it works and what matters most in 2020? You’re in the right place!
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a process of optimizing your website with the goal of improving your rankings in the search results and getting more organic (non-paid) traffic.
Search engine optimization focuses only on organic search results and does not include PPC optimization. Both SEO and PPC are part of Search Engine Marketing.
The search engines are used by internet users when they are searching for something.
And you want to provide the answer to that something. It doesn’t matter whether you sell a product or service, write a blog, or anything else, search engine optimization is a must for every website owner.
To put it simply:
SEO is all the actions you do to make Google consider your website a quality source and rank it higher for your desired search queries.
SEO in practice
You don’t need to know ALL the factors and the exact algorithms Google uses to rank your website. But you need to understand the basics.
To understand the key components of SEO and the relationships between them, imagine a bowl of soup – the SEO soup.
There are three key aspects of SEO:
- Technical stuff – The bowl represents all the technical aspects you need to cover (often referred to as technical or on-page SEO). Without a proper bowl, there would be nothing to hold the soup.
- Great content – The soup represents the content of your website – the most important part. Low-quality content = no rankings, it is that simple.
- Quality backlinks – The seasoning represents the backlinks that increase the authority of your website. You can have great content and a perfectly optimized website but ultimately, you need to gain authority by getting quality backlinks – the last ingredient to make your SEO soup perfect.
In the following chapters, we’ll take a look at all of these aspects from the practical point of view.
As soon as you start digging into SEO, you’ll come across some common terms that try to categorize its various aspects or approaches, namely:
- On-page SEO & off-page SEO
- Black hat SEO & white hat SEO
Although they are not that important from the practical point of view, it is good to know their meaning.
On-page SEO & off-page SEO
The terms on-page and off-page SEO categorize the SEO activities based on whether you perform them on the website
On-page SEO is everything you can do on the website – from the optimization of content through technical aspects.
- Keyword research
- Content optimization
- Title tag optimization
- Page performance optimization
- Internal linking
The goal is to provide both perfect content and UX while showing search engines what the page is about.
Off-page SEO is mostly about getting quality backlinks to show search engines that your website has authority and value. Link building may involve techniques like:
- Guest blogging
- Email outreach
- Broken link building
Off-page SEO is also closely connected to other areas of online marketing, such as social media marketing and branding, which have an indirect impact on building the trust and authority of your website.
Remember that a successful SEO strategy consists of both on-page and off-page SEO activities.
White hat SEO vs. black hat SEO
Black hats and white hats have their origin in Western movies. They represented bad guys and white guys.
In SEO, the terms are used to describe two groups of SEOs – those who adhere to the rules set out by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and those who don’t.
Black hat SEO is a set of unethical (and usually spammy) practices to improve the rankings of a website.
These techniques can get you to the top of the SERP in a short time, however, search engines will most probably penalize and ban the website sooner or later.
White hat SEO, on the other hand, refers to all the regular SEO techniques that stick to the guidelines and rules. It is a long-term strategy in which good rankings are a side-product of good optimization, quality content, and a user-oriented approach.
While SEO experts agree that “white hat” is the way to go, there are different opinions on the acceptability of various link building techniques (including link buying).
Frequently asked questions
Can I do SEO on my own?
SEO is not easy. But it’s no rocket science either.
There are things you can implement right away and there are concepts that will take much more time and effort. So yes, you can do SEO on your own.
The only question is whether you are willing to invest some time into learning all the aspects of SEO, or you’ll hire a professional and invest your time into something else.
How can I learn SEO?
There’s a couple of things you should do to learn SEO:
- Read reliable resources
- Get hands-on experience
- Don’t be afraid of experiments
- Have a lot of patience (SEO is a marathon, not a sprint)
Reading and implementing the things from this guide is a great way to start 🙂
How long does it take to learn SEO?
To answer this question, we’ll use a common answer of SEO experts to almost any SEO issue: it depends.
While understanding the basics won’t take you longer than a couple of weeks, the actual mastering of this discipline depends largely on the practice, which is a question of months, even years.
Last but not least, SEO is evolving all the time. You should always keep learning and stay updated with the latest updates, experiments and findings.
Do I need SEO tools?
If you’re serious about SEO, you shouldn’t neglect the useful data and insights provided by various SEO tools. They give you a great competitive advantage and save a lot of your time.
Here are some essential SEO tools every website owner should use:
- Google Search Console
- a traffic analysis tool (e.g. Google Analytics)
- a keyword research tool (e.g. KWFinder)
- a backlink analysis tool (e.g. LinkMiner)
- a rank tracker (e.g. SERPWatcher)
Is SEO dead?
When people use the phrase “SEO is dead”, they usually mean that “the spammy attempts to cheat the Google algorithm that were used 10 years ago are dead”.
Other than that, search engine optimization is an essential marketing strategy and an ever-growing industry.
A search engine is an online tool that helps people find information on the internet. A typical example? Google. And the truth is, Google is also probably the only example you need to know. Although SEO stands for “search engine optimization”, with the current dominance of Google, we could simply use the term “Google optimization”. Just look at the chart of the search engine market share (data by Statcounter): So when we talk about search engines in this guide, we mostly mean Google. Other search engines work on similar principles and as long as your website is optimized for Google, you should be all set up for others too. Find out more about the most popular search engines and their history. The process in which search engines work consists of these main steps: …and finally, showing the search results to the user. The process looks something like this: Crawling is the process in which search engines scan all the internet webpages continuously. They use small pieces of programs (called crawlers or bots) to follow all the hyperlinks and discover new pages (as well as updates to the pages they discovered before). Martin Splitt, Google Webmaster Trend Analyst, describes the crawling process quite simply: “We start somewhere with some URLs, and then basically follow links from thereon. So we are basically crawling our way through the internet (one) page by page, more or less.” Once the website is crawled, the information is indexed. The search engines try to analyze and understand the pages, categorize them, and store them in the index. The search engine index is basically a gigantic library of all the crawled websites with a single purpose – to understand them and have them available to be used as a search result. Once the internet user submits a search query, the search engine digs into the index and pulls out the results. To provide the best results, they consider various factors, namely: Of course, search engines keep the exact calculations of their algorithms in secret. Nonetheless, many ranking factors are well-known. Ranking factors are a very discussed topic in the world of SEO. Many of them have been officially confirmed by Google but many remain in the realm of speculations and theories. From the practical point of view, it’s important to focus on factors that have a proven impact but also try to keep a “good score” across all the areas. Cyrus Sheppard from Zyppy made a nice list of Google success factors (the ones that correlate with higher rankigs). Here are the 10 critical ones: Note: Quality of content is undeniably the most important SEO factor (notice that 5 out of 10 critical factors are related to content). To learn more about content optimization for SEO, jump to the 4th chapter. Other important factors that may have a positive impact on your rankings:
What are search engines
How search engines work
Picking the results
A search engine is an online tool that helps people find information on the internet. A typical example? Google.
And the truth is, Google is also probably the only example you need to know.
Although SEO stands for “search engine optimization”, with the current dominance of Google, we could simply use the term “Google optimization”. Just look at the chart of the search engine market share (data by Statcounter):
So when we talk about search engines in this guide, we mostly mean Google. Other search engines work on similar principles and as long as your website is optimized for Google, you should be all set up for others too.
Find out more about the most popular search engines and their history.
The process in which search engines work consists of these main steps:
…and finally, showing the search results to the user.
The process looks something like this:
Crawling is the process in which search engines scan all the internet webpages continuously.
They use small pieces of programs (called crawlers or bots) to follow all the hyperlinks and discover new pages (as well as updates to the pages they discovered before).
Martin Splitt, Google Webmaster Trend Analyst, describes the crawling process quite simply:
“We start somewhere with some URLs, and then basically follow links from thereon. So we are basically crawling our way through the internet (one) page by page, more or less.”
Once the website is crawled, the information is indexed. The search engines try to analyze and understand the pages, categorize them, and store them in the index.
The search engine index is basically a gigantic library of all the crawled websites with a single purpose – to understand them and have them available to be used as a search result.
Once the internet user submits a search query, the search engine digs into the index and pulls out the results. To provide the best results, they consider various factors, namely:
Of course, search engines keep the exact calculations of their algorithms in secret. Nonetheless, many ranking factors are well-known.
Ranking factors are a very discussed topic in the world of SEO.
Many of them have been officially confirmed by Google but many remain in the realm of speculations and theories. From the practical point of view, it’s important to focus on factors that have a proven impact but also try to keep a “good score” across all the areas.
Cyrus Sheppard from Zyppy made a nice list of Google success factors (the ones that correlate with higher rankigs). Here are the 10 critical ones:
Note: Quality of content is undeniably the most important SEO factor (notice that 5 out of 10 critical factors are related to content). To learn more about content optimization for SEO, jump to the 4th chapter.
Other important factors that may have a positive impact on your rankings:
Keyword research should be the very first step on your SEO journey. It is especially important in two common scenarios:
- Getting to know your niche – when starting a new website, keyword research can provide a great overview of what sub-topics are interesting for people in your niche or industry
- Finding new content ideas – keyword research can help you find the most profitable keyword opportunities and plan your content strategy
Where to find keywords?
There are various ways to find keywords.
Your first task is to come up with the seed keywords – phrases you’ll use as the stepping stone to finding more keyword ideas. If you run a coffee blog, simple phrases such as “coffee beans”, “coffee machines” or “espresso” will work great.
The classic ways to look for keywords:
Google offers many keyword suggestions directly in the SERP. Features such as Google Autocomplete, People Also Ask or Related Searches can be a great source of keyword ideas.
With the autocomplete feature, you just need to write your seed keyword into the Google search and the suggestions will appear automatically.
You can combine your seed keyword with different letters from the alphabet to find more autocomplete ideas (e.g. email marketing a, email marketing b,…)
Here’s another example of keyword ideas that can be found in the Google results page:
The suggestions are based on real search queries used by people all over the world.
Note: Besides Google, there are many other platforms that can help you find new keyword ideas. Focus on the ones people in your niche use to ask questions, communicate and share ideas. Some examples: Reddit, Quora, YouTube, forums, Facebook groups…
There are many free keyword tools that can give you hundreds of keyword ideas based on a single seed keyword. The problem is: they are very limited when it comes to other features.
So if you make money with your website in any way, a quality paid keyword tool is a great investment that will pay off sooner or later.
Besides the keyword suggestions, professional tools offer other useful SEO metrics and insights to evaluate the keywords and pick the best ones. So they can save you a lot of time a give you a competitive advantage.
There are two ways to start keyword research with a keyword tool:
- seed keyword
- competitor’s domain/URL
Here’s what a list of keyword suggestions looks like in KWFinder:
You can also look for the keywords your competitors rank for by simply typing their domain or URL:
Tip: Try KWFinder with a 10-day free trial. No credit card needed.
Besides keyword suggestions, it calculates the difficulty of ranking for the keywords and helps you to analyze the SERP.
Which brings us to the next important part:
Your goal is to find relevant keywords with high search volumes and low keyword difficulty – an ideal combination of the three most important factors of keyword research.
We call this approach The Tripod Rule of Keyword Research and the three factors represent the three legs.
As soon as you take one of the legs, the tripod will collapse.
In the past, content creators did keyword research only to find the keywords with high search volumes.
They stuffed them into content to trick the search engine algorithms and ensure high rankings in organic search. Since then, keyword research has become a lot more complex.
Long-tail keywords vs. search volumes
Many keyword research guides recommend focusing on the so-called long-tail keywords – keywords that are more specific and usually consist of more words.
The reason is simple:
Long-tail keywords tend to have lower difficulty and higher conversion rates. It’s because the query is more specific, so there’s a higher chance the user is further down the buyer’s journey.
Not to mention that there are hundreds of them – the estimate is that about 70% of all the traffic comes from long-tail keywords.
Of course, the downside is a lower search volume. So you need to consider all the aspects and find the balance between the effort and the potential benefits.
Besides, ranking only for high-volume keywords is not always possible.
The truth is that as a new website, you simply won’t be able to rank for big keywords. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it once you establish yourself on the market and get some authority.
It’s all about evaluating your actual chances. The metric called keyword difficulty can help you with that.
Once you find keywords you want to rank for, you’ll need to find out how hard it will be by evaluating the keyword competition. It is usually expressed with the keyword difficulty metric.
In most tools, the keyword difficulty value is indicated on a scale from 0 to 100. The higher the score is, the harder it is to rank on the 1st SERP for the keyword.
It is based on the authority of pages ranking for the given keyword.
By keeping an eye on keyword difficulty:
- You’ll get a great overview of what are the “big” keywords and “big” players in your niche
- You’ll be able to identify keywords that you have an actual chance to rank for
- You’ll be able to save a lot of time by focusing on keywords that can bring you results even if you don’t have much authority yet
Note: The keyword difficulty values may vary in different tools – you can see a score 30 in one tool and 50 in another one for exactly the same keyword.
That’s because the calculations are based on slightly different metrics and algorithms. The important thing is to compare the results within one tool.
Last but not least, your keyword must be relevant. The easiest way is to do a proper SERP analysis to find out:
- Whether you are able to compete with websites in the 1st SERP (see the previous part about keyword difficulty)
- What is the search intent behind the keywords you want to optimize for
By looking at the SERP you can identify what’s the search intent behind the query and whether it matches your content.
There are 4 different search intent types:
- Navigational – search for a specific website/brand
- Informational – search for general information
- Transactional – the user wants to buy something online
- Commercial – the user does the research before purchase
Look at this table to see some examples:
Let’s say you run an e-commerce store with fitness equipment. You want to optimize your squat racks product page and you find the keyword “best squat rack”. It has a solid search volume and the difficulty is not too high.
However, if you look at the search results, you’ll notice that all the pages ranking for “best squat rack” are reviews and buying guides, not product pages. In other words, Google considers it a commercial, not a transactional keyword.
A quick look at the SERP will tell you that.
Always keep this in mind so you won’t end up optimizing for the wrong keywords
Tip: If you want to dive deeper into keyword research, you should read our ultimate guide to keyword research for SEO. There is a short quiz at the end to test your keyword research knowledge 😉
They say that content is king.
As cliche as it may sound, there’s a lot of truth about it. SEO and content are interconnected.
(In other words: there’s no point in doing SEO if your content is garbage).
That’s why we decided to share some practical tips on creating a successful content strategy in this SEO guide.
Identify the topics
Your content strategy should be based on a proper understanding of your niche and the needs of your audience.
We’ve covered the first step in this process – finding the right keywords – in the previous chapter. The second step is identifying the topics.
Now, many times the keyword is also a standalone topic. But it’s not always like that.
Look at the following example:
Let’s say you run an online marketing blog and you’ll find several keywords like:
- how to start a blog
- how to create a blog
- how do you start a blog
- how to start your own blog
You may notice that although the words differ, they are all about the same thing – creating a blog.
It would make no sense to create a separate post for each of them. Instead, we group them into one topic – how to create a blog – and cover it in a comprehensive guide that could potentially rank for each of these keywords.
(If you do a quick SERP analysis you’ll notice that the search results are almost identical for all of them).
Once you’ve established the topic, you can go back to the level of keywords and select one that will represent your topic the best – the focus keyword (also called the target keyword).
The basic principle of content strategy for SEO is simple:
1 page = 1 topic = 1 focus keyword
To select the focus keyword, you should follow the keyword research principles we covered extensively in the previous chapter – consider its search volume, difficulty and relevance.
Organize your topics
A great way to plan and organize your topics is to use the so-called content hubs.
A content hub is a collection of pages that are all related to a certain topic.
The pages are interlinked and provide a general overview of the topic as well as deeper insights into the sub-topics.
There are two types of content to achieve that:
- Pillar content – a pillar page that provides a general overview of the broad topic, usually targeting a broad keyword (e.g. jogging)
- Cluster content – the supporting pages that focus on subtopics within the theme in detail (e.g. jogging benefits, jogging shoes, jogging mistakes)
This strategy has multiple benefits:
- You provide more value for your readers by covering each topic in detail – they don’t have to visit other websites to learn all about a certain topic
- You are forced to plan and structure your content and cover all the important keywords from your niche systematically
- You increase your authority in certain topics by interlinking pages that are closely topically related
Target various intent types
When selecting the topics for your content, remember that there are various types of search intent (see the previous chapter) – informational, navigational, transactional and commercial.
You don’t have to “sell” in each post. By focusing on various search intent types (including the informational one) you’ll be able to target various stages of the buyer’s journey.
As a side benefit:
- You’ll establish yourself as an authority in the field
- You’ll build trust and brand awareness
- You’ll reach new users (that may convert later)
Optimize for a focus keyword
Once you have a focus keyword, you should use it to optimize your page for the given topic.
Here’s a list of all the possible elements where you can use the focus keyword:
- Title tag and meta description
- Heading and subheadings
- Body text
- Image metadata
- Anchor text of the internal links
Title tag and meta description
Putting your focus keyword in the title tag (and, to a lesser extent, in the meta description) is very important. Ideally, as close to the beginning as possible.
If you write about a certain topic, it’s only natural that the target keyword appears in the on-page elements that summarize the content of the page.
Here’s an example of a SERP snippet for our post on “7-step SEO strategy” with the focus keyword SEO strategy.
You’ll find more about title tag and meta description optimization in the next chapter.
Your URLs should be short and easy to read. It’s not the most important SEO factor, but it can help.
One of the benefits: If someone links to your page with the so-called “naked URL”, the backlink will include your focus keyword.
Headings and body text
It is best practice to use your focus keyword in the H1 heading of the page. If appropriate, it may be used in some of the subheadings.
Finally, it should appear in the body text a couple of times.
Always remember that there’s no such thing as the ideal number of keyword appearances on a page (a.k.a. keyword density).
You can actually do more harm than good by trying to use the keyword a certain number of times in your text.
You can insert your focus keyword into various image metadata, namely:
- image filename
- image title
- image caption
- image alt text
The alt text is the most important from the SEO point of view – it describes the image for visually impaired visitors as well as crawlers (that can’t “see” your image either).
It does not mean you have to put it into all these places.
If your focus keyword is “outdoor sports” and you’ll feature an image of a man climbing the mountain, you don’t have to use the alt text “a man performing an outdoor sport”.
Anchor text of the internal links
Last but not least, you should use the focus keyword in the anchor text of your internal links.
Anchor text is the visible part of the link. If it contains the focus keyword, you let Google know what the page you’re linking to is about.
Here’s an example: SEO strategy 🙂
Note: The same applies to external links. However, you can’t always influence what anchor text will be used on external pages linking to your site.
In fact, it may be quite dangerous to manipulate the anchor texts of your external links (it is a big “no no” for Google). More on that in the link building chapter.
Now, here’s the most important part about the optimization of your page for the focus keyword: Don’t force it.
If your focus keyword is “best content marketing strategy for small businesses”, it would be crazy to use it in all the on-page elements mentioned above just to tick them all off the list.
Use common sense and write naturally.
What about LSI keywords?
Many SEO “gurus” recommend using the so-called LSI keywords.
What they mean is that you should find synonyms and related keywords and “sprinkle them” across the page to make sure Google knows what it’s about.
The truth is, LSI keywords are just a dangerous SEO myth. Here’s why:
- the term makes no sense and has nothing to do with the original latent semantic indexing algorithm
- the “technique” puts way too much emphasis on the idea of using certain words artificially, which poses a big risk to the integrity of your text (and usually leads to keyword stuffing)
John Mueller, the Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, summed up the LSI keywords phenomenon in the following way:
“There’s no such thing as LSI keywords – anyone who’s telling you otherwise is mistaken, sorry.”
What to do instead?
Think about “how to make the post as relevant as possible”, not “how to stuff the post with keywords so that Google thinks it’s relevant”.
It’s actually quite simple: Analyze your competitors, study the topic and cover it in a comprehensive way. If you do that, Google will figure out the topic of your page.
Focus on quality
Nowadays, ranking for almost any keyword is much harder than it was in the past – most niches are oversaturated.
But there’s one strategy that works perfectly – creating content that is 10x better than your competitors, also known as the “10x content” strategy.
Here’s what it means in practice:
- Cover the topic more thoroughly than your competitors (you can literally look at the top-ranking pages and try to figure out what can be done better)
- Provide more up-to-date information and data
- Provide more expertise (feature insights from experts in your niche) and trustworthiness (cite trusted sources)
- Be original, use unique data, provide new angles, do experiments
- Use a unique layout for your most important pieces of content
- Add visually stunning media (illustrations, infographics, charts, gifs, screenshots, videos)
- Use your own illustrations and avoid stock photos
- Make sure the text is readable (font type and size) and free of grammar errors
- Avoid walls of text – write short, easy-to-digest paragraphs
- Use navigational elements (e.g. table of contents) for longer pages
- Use quotes, info boxes, bulleted lists, bolded sentences
- Optimize the technical aspects (more on that in the next chapter.)
The right content length
Many people think that content length is one of the ranking factors. There’s a well-known study by Backlinko that shows that posts with about 2,000 words ranked better in Google.
While it’s true that longer content ranks better in Google, it is not the number of words that brings high rankings. It’s the fact that long posts usually cover the topic in a more comprehensive way.
As the content marketing expert Julia McCoy states:
“You can’t “bluff” your way through 2,000-5,000 words on your topic. There’s no shortcut. You must be an expert on the topic you’re writing about, and you must prove it when you write content.”
So how to approach the content length?
- Look at the average word count of pages ranking for your focus keyword to give you a rough idea of how many words you’ll need.
- Always keep in mind that a high number of words alone won’t improve your rankings. Focus on the quality of content, not just quantity.
Note: Correlation does not always mean causation in SEO. If something (like longer posts) correlates with higher rankings, it does not necessarily mean that it is a direct ranking factor.
Update your content regularly
Content decay is a real thing.
No matter how successful a piece of content is, there’s a big chance the traffic will gradually decrease unless you keep it fresh and updated.
Andrew Tate noticed that many successful blog posts share the same traffic curve and described this phenomenon as the 5 phases of the content lifecycle:
So, how to make sure your post is not forgotten over time?
The answer is: regular updates.
Regular content updates are an important (yet often overlooked) SEO technique.
One of the reasons why content updates may have a positive impact on your rankings is that Google notices the frequency of updates and tends to favor frequently updated pages for some queries.
It means, not every topic requires content freshness but many do.
Even if it wasn’t your case, an update is a relatively easy way to improve the quality of your content, which is never a bad thing to do.
Tip: There’s a handy free tool by Animalz that can be connected to your Google Analytics account and identify pages that may need an update based on the declining traffic.
Updating vs. republishing
While smaller changes of your pages don’t require any special steps, a major remake is probably worth republishing the post – so that it shows at the top of your blog feed and the readers know the post went through a big update.
Here are some cases when you may consider to republish your post:
- The update affects more than 50% of the content
- You’ve added a significant amount of new content
- You’ve merged 2 or more posts into one
Republishing is also a great opportunity to promote your post again on social media and newsletter, or starting a new link building campaign.
Search engine algorithms have come a long way and become more sophisticated from the times when content, titles and descriptions stuffed with keywords were enough to achieve high rankings in search results.
If you want to learn SEO, you can’t get stuck in the past. One of the biggest improvements of search engines is that they consider the human factor, in other words, the user engagement.
Don’t forget that SEO is about targeting real people, not only search engines.
Meta tags are a part of the HTML code. They describe website’s content. The most important are meta titles and meta descriptions.
They aren’t as important as they used to be from the technical point of view.
Meta titles and descriptions packed with keywords don’t directly influence your rankings BUT they remain a strong psychological factor affecting the CTR and overall user engagement. Therefore, they are still very important for SEO.
Don’t get confused by bloggers saying that title tags and meta descriptions aren’t important at all. On the other hand, keep in mind that Google algorithm changes titles and descriptions to better indicate their relevance to the search query in case your copy doesn’t match enough.
There are many tools and plugins (e.g. Yoast for WordPress) analyzing your content in terms of focus keyword usage in meta title, meta description, headings, overall keyword density, alt image attributes and others.
They offer a lot of hints, yet can hardly follow Google’s algorithm focusing when it comes to human factor. Make sure that you consider both technical points of view and user experience when creating meta tags.
On-page SEO checklist
Let’s start with the things you can do in WordPress or any other content management system.
1. Find out what people are searching before you start writing
Do you plan to write about a topic that people search for? Are you sure your point of view is different, unique? Can you offer a new added value to the topic? Is your timing right?
These are the major questions before you start writing and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a blog or a product landing page. There are many ways how to find out. Keyword research is an inevitable part of it. We talk about how to do keyword research in the 5th chapter.
2. Title tags and headlines
Create an appealing title tag, meta description and headlines. Keep in mind what we mentioned earlier. Your main focus keyword should still be there, so users know what is your website about. Use the meta description as a great opportunity for the call-to-action (CTA) emphasis.
Persuade both users and search engines that your website is the one to be clicked on.
Once again, think of the user engagement, so don’t overact by using cheap or too cheesy words. Look at your competitors, analyze what works for them and build your own strategy.
Quick tips for title tags and headlines:
- Google will show the titles if they’re up to 70 characters and meta descriptions up to 155 characters (updated on May 2019).
- Make sure to use correct <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, … structure for good readability and structure.
- Check the search results preview in tools such as our SERP simulator (screenshot below), SEOSiteCheckup, or WordPress plugins.
3. Use SEO-friendly URLs
Avoid using auto-generated URLs with figures and characters:
Use URLs corresponding to your content and its title:
If you use WordPress, you can set permalinks in the common settings.
SEO specialists and bloggers say that short URLs ranks better in Google. We think it’s a matter of the user experience. Of course, this doesn’t mean a 20-word URL is alright.
Do you want to engage your visitors? Use images, infographics, charts and videos. They lead to lower bounce rates and higher engagement. Some things have to be written in the good old-fashioned way but multimedia are a must.
Video streaming has been one of the hottest marketing trends over the last couple of years. Furthermore, they motivate people to like, share or comment your content.
Quick tips for multimedia:
- Optimize images by using relevant file names (how-to-bake-pizza.jpg), alt image attributes and file size.
- Embed interactive multimedia such as videos or charts.
- Don’t forget to include transcripts so you don’t lose important keywords (search engine crawlers can’t “read” the video).
5. Outbound and internal links
Using outbound links gives a relevancy signal of your topic to Google. Make sure to link to relevant and authoritative sources.
Internal links are a perfect way to promote your other articles or website sections. It makes easier to visit them and leads to higher engagement. Internal linking also helps Google bots to understand the website structure.
Quick tips for outbound and internal links:
- Outbound links may not directly improve your rankings, yet it is highly advisable to use them.
- Use up to 2-3 internal links, depending on the content length.
- Search engine crawlers scan these links, so don’t try to cheat and watch out for broken links.
- Follow the content hub model for internal linking.
6. Let people engage
Great content shares itself. Yes, maybe in the past. People are lazy these days so the share buttons should always be on your website. According to BuzzSumo, social sharing dropped by half since 2015.
Besides Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, consider adding specific and topic-related social networks, such as Reddit, Pinterest and many others.
Technical on-page SEO checklist
We can classify technical SEO as a part of the on-page SEO that deals with more technical stuff. It usually requires at least some development skills or a web developer. But don’t get scared too much, there are many things you can do easily in WordPress 😎.
These are the most important technical SEO factors you should focus on:
1. Search Console
Connecting your site to the Google Search Console (former Webmaster tools) is one of the SEO basics. It helps you to monitor and maintain your site’s presence and performance in Google Search.
The Search Console helps you analyze your keyword rankings, CTRs, possible Google penalties and many other useful data for technical SEO.
Other features include content mobile usability, choosing what you want to be indexed and what not, site errors, structured data errors and links.
- Every property (website) needs to be verified to use Search console features.
- Connect Search Console with Google Analytics.
2. Website speed
Website speed is one of the ranking factors so you should always aim to improve it. It’s known that 50% of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less. If it doesn’t load in 3 seconds, they will leave.
3. Mobile optimization
Mobile optimization is a must. The world is shifting from desktop to mobile. In fact, running a website that is not mobile-optimized will negatively influence your rankings.
Google started rolling out the mobile-first indexing in March 2018. The mobile-first indexing means that Google will use the mobile version of your website for indexing and ranking.
- Test the responsivity of your website in the Mobile-Friendly Test.
- Monitor your keyword rankings in mobile search results.
- Make sure the mobile version of your website works like a charm.
You can also consider the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). It’s an HTML code extended with custom properties that enable to render static content faster. In 2017, it was one of the main Google’s projects of mobile search. We’ll see if there’s any future for this.
A sitemap helps search engines to crawl your content. It’s a file where all website sections are listed. It’s good to have one when you run a large website with a complicated structure or when you use rich media content.
Having a sitemap doesn’t mean your rankings will improve. According to Google, it’s a benefit but you’ll never be penalized for not having one.
- Not all websites need a sitemap.
- There are more types of sitemaps than just the XML sitemap.
- The Sitemap shouldn’t contain more than 50,000 URLs and cannot exceed 50 MB.
- Place the sitemap in the root directory of the website:
Robots.txt is a file that tells crawlers which website sections you don’t want them to be accessed. It’s located in https://example.com/robots.txt and it’s public.
It’s handy when you don’t want some scripts, unnecessary files or images to be indexed.
User-agent: * (e.g. Googlebot) Disallow: / (e.g. /images/pizza.png)
- Don’t use robots.txt to hide content from search engines.
- Crawlers or malware robots should not be able to violate robots.txt
Further technical SEO hacks
There are many SEO hacks that will boost your website performance. First, start with the analysis of the current state. It will help you find the opportunities.
SEOSiteCheckup is a great tool for on-page SEO analysis. You can analyze one URL per day and download a PDF report without registering.
Set up Google Tag Manager for advanced tag management, so you don’t need any assistance from web developers.
HTTPS vs. HTTP: Back in 2014, Google announced they will boost rankings of HTTPS/SSL websites. Today, we know that it’s a lightweight ranking factor influencing a small percentage of search queries.
However, security is a strong psychological factor. Google Chrome, for example, labels a website that is not encrypted with SSL as “not secure”, which influences the user engagement.
URL/IP canonicalization: IP canonicalization is important when a website is indexed under both its IP address and domain name. URL canonicalization means that:
https://example.com and https://www.example.com/ should resolve to the same URL
If you want to dive deeper into on-page optimization, check out our practical on-page SEO guide for beginners. It covers everything from techical stuff, through content and CTR optimization to monitoring and analysis of your progress.
Link building is a process of getting links from other websites. From the technical point of view, backlinks are hypertext links that serve as navigation among websites. The links are crawled by search engines which allows them to index the web content.
Why is link building so important?
Search engines use links to explore new websites and to set the overall ranking of a website in SERP. In other words, they explore new content and determine the authority of a website based on the authority passed from external sources.
This means that a website’s link profile is one of the most important ranking factors.
When Google introduced PageRank in the 1990s, the number of backlinks was used as an important metric of the overall ranking. The more links you earned, the better was your ranking.
As this could easily be misused, several Google algorithm updates focused on penalization of shady link building techniques.
Today, link building is no longer about the number of backlinks, but mostly about the quality and relevance.
Types of backlinks
Generally speaking, there are two types of backlinks:
- Do-follow backlinks pass the authority of the linking page to the linked page. This authority is also often called the “link juice”.
- No-follow backlinks don’t score any points to the linked website. They don’t pass the authority because of the rel=”nofollow” HTML tag that tells crawlers not to count it.
In the illustration above, Site A links to both Site B and Site C. But only the link to Site B passes the “link juice”. The other one has a no-follow tag, so no authority is passed to Site C.
No-follow links have no value from the SEO point of view.
The anchor text is a visible, clickable part of a hyperlink. It helps crawlers to indicate what the linked page is about.
If more pages link to you with certain terms used in the anchor texts, it may help you rank for these terms in the search engines.
Well, then all I need is a lot of backlinks with my focus keyword as an anchor text, right?
It’s not that easy. An over-optimized anchor text profile may lead to an algorithmic penalty by Google. It is better to leave the anchor texts to be natural rather than trying to tweak them artificially.
There should be a balance among the following types of anchors:
- Keywords and phrases (“SEO tools”)
- Brands (“mangools”)
- Branded terms (“SEO tools by mangools”)
- Generic anchors (“page”)
- Naked URLs (“mangools.com)
- CTAs (“click here, “read more”)
For more detailed information about anchor texts and how to optimize them, check our SEOpedia’s article dedicated to anchor texts.
Quality aspects of backlinks
Google considers multiple quality aspects of the referring websites:
- Domain Authority
- Page Authority
- Other link profile quality metrics
There are several metrics by Moz and Majestic which help us to evaluate/approximate these qualities:
- Moz Page Authority (PA)
- Moz Domain Authority (DA)
- Majestic Trust Flow (TF)
- Majestic Citation Flow (CF)
The higher is the value, the higher is the quality of the backlink.
When we take a look at Majestic’s “Trust Flow and “Citation Flow”, we’ll get another evaluation of links.
The first mentioned says that sites closely linked to a trusted seed site can see higher scores, whereas sites that may have some questionable links would see a much lower score. Citation Flow predicts how influential a URL might be based on how many sites link to it.
Links referring to a website have to be relevant to its content. A backlink from a clothes e-shop will be useless for you if you write a blog about recipes.
Links placed in the main articles or sections are better than links in footers and sidebars. Single links tend to be more valuable than sitewide links.
Sitewide links appear on all pages of a website. They are usually in the footer, header, sidebar or blogrolls. Sitewide links are great both for internal and external link building.
They can generate a lot of traffic. Don’t get scared by them but make sure to use only natural links and keep in mind that their SEO potential may be a bit lower when compared to single links.
Besides the aspects mentioned above, we need to consider the freshness of the link, the anchor quality, popularity and social signals.
Link building strategies
It’s not easy to acquire a high-quality backlink. The techniques that were the simplest (reciprocal links or directory submissions) do not work anymore, so the SEOs spend a lot of time trying different approaches.
Let’s take a look at what works the best these days:
Guest posting is probably the most popular link building technique. The equation is simple: You write a post and publish it on another website. The website will get free content and you’ll get a free backlink. Win-win.
Of course, it all comes down to quality. If you want a good backlink, you need to bring your A-game in terms of the guest post quality. The popularity of this technique means that everyone uses it and there are too many bad guest posts and bad outreach emails. Here’s what you should keep in mind when doing the guest post outreach campaign:
- Don’t use templates
- Be personal
- Offer relevant, well-researched topics
A time-consuming but still quite effective strategy is to find what works for the others. Check the websites that link to your competitors, create better content and contact relevant people behind these websites to link to your website instead.
The easiest way to find your competitors’ backlinks is to use a backlink tool such as LinkMiner. All you need to do is to enter the domain of your competitor and the tools will show you the backlinks they have.
You can do the same with the specific URL of your competitor. This comes in handy especially when you are looking for the link building opportunities for a specific blog post. All you need to do is to find the top-ranking pages for your focus keyword and analyze their backlinks.
Once you find your competitors’ backlinks, it’s time to analyze the best opportunities. You should consider:
- Link relevance – Is the link relevant to your content?
- Link strength – What is the authority of the linking page?
- Chance to replicate the backlink – Will I be able to get the same backlink?
The next step is the so-called email outreach – contacting the website owners to replace the backlink of your competitor (also known as The Skyscraper Technique) or add your backlink as an additional resource.
Here are some other popular link building techniques:
- Content-based link building: Create content that will naturally attract backlinks, social shares and referral traffic
- Social backlinks: Share your content on social media, promote it on Facebook, join discussions, comment relevant posts and create connections
- Broken link building: Find websites with inactive links and give them your content to link to instead
- PR articles written by professionals and published on news portals will give you high-quality backlinks but prepare some budget for this and make sure they are truly relevant
- Buying backlinks via paid blog posts
- Writing a testimonial for a product with a backlink to your website
- Backlinks from forums, Q&A sites, top lists, comments, content aggregators, business listings, etc. (keep in mind that a vast majority of them are no-follow or low-quality backlinks)
- Grey/black hat techniques such as PBN (Private Blog Network) link building
Black hat techniques and penalties
Paid backlinks and PBN (Private Blog Network) link are another way to build backlinks but these techniques are considered black hat (or gray hat). Google may detect the pattern and penalize your website.
On the other hand, these techniques work. You just need to be super careful and think about all the possible risks before taking the black-hat path 🙂
Google Penguin algorithm update from April 2012 started to detect and penalize for bad, spammy, or low-quality links.
However, if you have spammy or low-quality backlinks you did not create, don’t panic! Google understands that not all bad backlinks were created on purpose and usually, the worst-case scenario is that it will just ignore these backlinks. If you want to be sure, you can still disavow such backlinks in the Search Console.
- Do link building regularly, it’s not a one-time effort
- Acquire a few high-quality links rather than many low-quality links
- Do natural anchor text distribution based on the tips we listed in the “Anchor text” section
- Avoid backlinks from spammy websites and networks
- Try to acquire backlink placements which could bring you referral traffic as well
If you were starting with SEO in 2008 your main tasks would be stuffing your content with keywords, ideally hidden as white text, doing reciprocal backlink exchanges and creating low-quality content pages for every keyword variation.
Luckily, we are in 2020 where the mentioned techniques don’t work and some of them will grant a penalty for your website.
Let’s read them all again and think as a human being. Did you find any positive value? Nope. That’s exactly what they were meant for: to fool the search engine algorithm.
And here comes user experience (UX) which is on the opposite side of the barrier…
While SEOs need to understand it’s not only about rankings, UX specialists have to admit that user experience kicks in even before using the website.
User experience starts by submitting a search query to a search engine.
User experience. What is it?
User experience is every user’s interaction with the company, its website or products. It’s the overall experience influencing product development, design, marketing and customer support.
In this SEO guide, we focus on the “online” user experience and its relationship with SEO. UX is no longer only about meeting customer requirements. It’s about going beyond these requirements.
You should think out of the box and develop a website that naturally covers every possible need of a customer without bothering him.
Keep in mind:
UX is not UI (user interface). Yes, it’s a part of it but we need to distinguish these terms. Imagine an online store. Despite its UI for finding a product is perfect, the overall UX will be poor if we click on “Order & pay” and suddenly get an error message that the product is out of stock.
UX rules nowadays world
The first and most important part is to understand that UX is a never-ending process of improvements towards customers. It’s a philosophy the company should stick to and develop its website accordingly.
Web UX is a mix of content and technical UX. If we wanted to put it simply, we would say UX is everything. That’s why we need to understand its complexity and influence on everyone inside and outside the company. We’re talking about:
- Website structure and navigation
- Conversion funnel optimization
- Easy onboarding process
- Page speed
- Website responsivity
- Content optimization
- Content structure
- Title tags and meta descriptions
- Real-time customer support
- Smooth workflow
UX and SEO challenges
When we think “UX and SEO” instead of “UX vs. SEO”, we have to cope with challenges every once in a while. Not all of the above mentioned are directly connected to SEO. Let’s take a look at the ones that do.
Website structure and navigation
Let’s put everything on a single page to ensure smooth UX. This is a valid idea in the UX world. It’s easy and it makes sense. But SEOs know that organic traffic is at least half of the success.
Many visitors should come from the organic search or access the page directly based on their previous actions. Other visitors are referred from various sources such as social media, blogs or PPC campaigns.
Can you imagine a single-page experience for all of these different intentions and search queries? People use Google to find what they want. Your website should be the finding.
When it comes to the website navigation, don’t try to fit all possible landing pages there for the sake of SEO. Having a link to your latest blog post in the navigation indicates Google that the URL is important but it may not be relevant to your website visitors.
Our blog used to have a different call-to-action button in the top-right corner. It was designed to convert the readers to our SEO tools users. Not that relevant, right? We decided to add “Subscribe to newsletter” instead. It makes more sense from the UX point of view and gives a chance to work harder on our inbound marketing activities.
The faster is your website, the better is the UX. As we mentioned in the 3rd chapter, page speed is one of the ranking factors. There’s a clear relationship between SEO and UX. This is probably the easiest case to explain.
Understand the language of a typical searcher and adjust your content to it. In other words, do keyword research and optimize your content accordingly.
The point is to make your content accessible for everyone searching for a product, solution or any information that your website may provide. Of course, don’t forget about search intent all keyword research tactics that we explain in the 4th chapter so you won’t end up optimizing for the wrong keywords.
Title tags and meta descriptions
The higher in the SERP you are, the higher possibility you get to be clicked. That’s quick math.
However, if you spoil the title tag and meta description the quick math can go wrong. Your goal is to catch the searcher’s attention by using copy that encourages them to click on your website in the SERP.
There are 3 main elements to consider when creating title tags and meta descriptions:
- SEO – Use the right keywords so crawlers can understand what is the website about and what is the most important content.
- UX – Give the searchers clear and meaningful information that will motivate them to click because they will find what they are looking for.
- Marketing – Irresistible copy with a clear call to action leads to higher click-through rates.
How to measure UX and SEO
From Google Analytics through specialized reports to internal data, there’s a variety of options you can use.
Engagement and behavior metrics in Google Analytics
“Bounce rate”, “Pages per session” and “Avg. session duration” provide a basic view on user interaction. These metrics are almost in every report in GA, so you can see them for various traffic sources.
The more detailed information is available in the category “Behavior”. The “behavior flow” informs you how visitors interact with various sections of the website. Advanced options let you see reports based on traffic sources, landing pages, campaigns and others.
Though the report is usually based on a small percentage of website visitors, it comes with a piece of handy advice: It tells you how many users went through or dropped-off when visiting that particular section.
Conversion funnels in Google Analytics
This report tells you how people interact with the checkout page on your website. Do you have more than one step in the checkout process? In this case, don’t forget to properly set up the goal tracking in the admin menu.
This way, you’ll measure how many people went through all the steps and how many abandoned throughout the process. It can be a registration form, buying process or subscription form on your blog. It’s just another extremely useful information for UX optimization.
If the majority of the website users who visited the checkout process didn’t even fill the first form then you know there’s something wrong.
Heatmaps & recordings
Heatmaps visualize the behavior of website visitors while providing many useful reports. Sophisticated heatmap tools such as Hotjar or Crazyegg come with complex analytic solutions but they can be too expensive for bloggers or small businesses. For beginners, a limited free plan by Hotjar or Ptengine may be a good start.
Heatmaps help a lot when it comes to both UX and SEO. The power of heatmaps is in the ability to see exactly where people click, what elements they expect to be clickable, how they scroll, interact, fill in forms.
Top-notch heatmap tools include the recordings of the user behavior. Are they worth it? Yes, but not for everyone. Businesses with more complicated (e-commerce) pages (and usually with bigger budgets) should go for it, but there is no point for bloggers to spend hundreds of dollars on these expert tools. Limited free versions should do the job.
Do you know what’s great about internal data? There aren’t any additional costs. You create these reports packed with useful information all the time:
- Customer questions
- Feedback forms
- Comments and reactions
- Customer wishes and complaints
- Marketing reports
- Email responses
- Reports from web developers
Testing and site speed
Testing the website before it’s launched is a must! Beta testers provide a lot of useful information. They’re the first real users. On top of that, you can do some usability testing with colleagues, friends or fans during the development process.
Pay attention to key elements such as page speed, mobile optimization, and other important on-page SEO aspects. The complete list with a downloadable infographic is in the 3rd chapter.
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SEO is a growing industry and there are literally hundreds of resources you can learn from – wheter you prefer blogs, ebooks, infographics, forums or following the experts. The well-known online marketing company Ignite Visibility even made an SEO Movie!
Of course, too many resources can be a little overwhelming for an SEO beginner as it may be hard to distinguish quality content from the lousy one. That is why we decided to dedicate the last chapter of our SEO guide for beginners to the best SEO resouces we hand-picked personally!