To have a large volume of organic traffic is to have a never-ending stream of leads. That’s why businesses are scrambling to climb the SERP’s. SEO agencies promise to know the secret but there is no quick fix to SEO. I was going to try and let you down gently, but I changed my mind.
It’s not something you can pick up and put down as and when it suits you. If you are serious about improving your websites search engine rankings, it is entirely possible to make this happen yourself. But you have to be committed.
In this article, I’ll cover everything that you need to know to optimise your search engine rankings right now. I say ‘right now’ not because this guide is a quick fix, but because tomorrow Google could update its algorithm and everything in this guide will be irrelevant. That’s the nature of the beast I’m afraid.
That’s the architecture, backlinks and content of your website. Rumour has it that Google looks at over 200 factors when they crawl a site. The ABC’s don’t cover half of those factors, however, everything in this ultimate guide is easy to implement in-house. Even with limited resources.
The architecture, or structure of a website is one of the first things that a search engine will notice. As Google continues to update its algorithm, the focus continues to be placed on user experience.
Constantly improving your website’s architecture will help you keep up with these updates and show the search engines that you are refining your website.
Improving your site structure is all about improving your on-page SEO. For more information on how to do that, click here.
First things first, you have to make sure that your website is easy to crawl. Search engines work by crawling the internet, indexing the information that they find, and ranking websites accordingly. If your website isn’t easy to crawl you won’t make it to page one.
To make sure your website is easy to crawl, make sure you include internal links on each of your pages. These are links to pages within your site, like this one that takes back to the homepage.
The reason that this works is that crawlers start by indexing a handful of sites. To access different URLs they follow the links on a page. Every time a crawler finds new content it gets added to their index, which is a huge database of content that they’ll process and store. This means that the page can then be retrieved when an individual searches for that information.
The first thing you can do to optimise your website’s search engine ranking is to place internal links in relevant places on each page. The idea is to create a spider’s web of links to help the crawler’s index as many of your URL’s as possible.
With that being said, you might have some pages that you don’t want to be indexed. If your website contains any thin or duplicated content, you can use robots.txt directives to stop certain pages being crawled.
Over the years, Google has placed more and more emphasis on user experience (UX). Earlier this year they decided to give us a heads up and told us the next big update would place even more importance on UX.
At least you have time to fix any problems.
To improve user experience, you should be looking at bounce rate. Bounce rate measures the number of people who enter and exit on the same page. A high rate suggests that you don’t have engaging content, or there is something wrong with your landing page that is causing users to leave.
If your bounce rate is high then ask yourself what it is that is causing people to leave your website so quickly. Perhaps you have a slow load speed, too many pop-ups, or your site isn’t mobile-friendly. Maybe they’ve discovered a broken link that displays the dreaded Error 404 message.
Whatever it is that is causing users to leave your site, fix it. Before Google update their algorithm.
You wouldn’t upload any content to your website without first proof-reading it. You must do the same with your images.
First things first, make sure the image is relevant to the text. The reason for this is simple. Google looks at the file, not the image. Crawlers will see the file name and alt text so you want it to be relevant to the keyword you are targeting.
Every time you upload an image you should make sure that the file is saved and named properly. If you are uploading a photo of a dog on a beach, the file should be saved as dog-on-beach.jpg, not DSC5699.jpg.
Alt text and on-page title offer similar clues to tell users (and crawlers) exactly what the image shows. Again, you need to describe the image using a few keywords. Highly relevant imagery will naturally match the content and will help you rank.
Of course, when it comes to optimising your images it’s not all about what the file is called or the alt and title tags. You also need to take user experience into account. To make sure the loading times are as short as possible, scale the images down to the size that you are looking to use and reduce the file size.
You also want to make sure all of your images use the “srcset” attribute, making it possible to show a different image per screen width. If HTML coding isn’t your thing then stick with WordPress – they add this code for you.
Just like with the images, every single webpage is coded with metadata which gives users information about what is on that page. These titles and descriptions are important when it comes to being crawled and UX.
It is the first snippet of information that an individual will see about a page. A good meta title and meta description can encourage users to click through. It also helps the crawlers when it comes to indexing the page and processing the information.
Your meta title and meta description should include your keyword – the word that you are trying to rank the page for. That way, both the crawler’s and the users will know exactly what to expect when they click onto that page.
B is for backlinks. Search engines are constantly monitoring links, it is how they find new URL’s to add to their index. The more reputable links you have pointing back to your website, the more the search engines will trust you and the higher your page will rank.
Off-page SEO is just as important as on-page SEO, if not more so. Every link directed towards your website is another clue that helps the crawler’s index and rank you. That’s why you hear hundreds of SEO experts talking about link-building – but what is it, how do you do it, and when should you avoid it?
Link-Building Campaigns (black hat vs white hat)
If you have done any research into SEO before, you’ll have come across black hat and white hat techniques. These are search engine approved or discouraged methods to boost your SERP rankings.
Black hat techniques include things like keyword stuffing, cloaking or sneaky redirects. If a search engine finds any of these unethical techniques on your site you may be given a penalty and you can wave goodbye to your organic traffic.
When it comes to generating links back to your website, you have to be very careful. There are hundreds of ways that you can get thousands of links overnight – private blog networks and link farms are typically used to achieve this.
Even paid link insertions in sponsored content is frowned upon by Google who says “any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.”
Guest posting on other sites is still common practice amongst SEO experts, but if you are running a black hat link-building campaign then be careful. You might be doing more harm than good.
Guest posts are a great way to build backlinks. The aim is to write content for online blogs and publications in your industry. In return, you are credited as the author and given a link back to your website. Both parties benefit and you get an SEO boost.
That being said, it isn’t as easy as that. Many online sites don’t want to host guest-written content for fear that it pulls their ranking down. Usually, this is where brands get sucked into a black hat link building techniques.
To maximise your guest posting opportunities, write great content. It’s as simple as that. If you’re spending half an hour throwing 500 words together, badly, don’t expect people to want to work with you.
One of the ways that we know Google sniffs out a bad link, or black hat technique, is by looking at the anchor text. This is the text that is used to hold the link. The most natural anchor text would be your brand name, which is exactly what search engines expect to see.
Using your keyword as anchor text is unnatural and raises a red flag in Google’s eyes. If you can’t use your brand name within the text, do not use an exact match of your keyword. Using synonyms is a much better idea.
DoFollow vs. NoFollow
You might think that you’re on to a winner with your link-building campaign. You’ve started writing guest posts and you’ve had some nice links come in. Unfortunately, not all links were created equal.
Webmasters have the option of adding “nofollow” or “dofollow” attributes to every link on their website. This code tells the crawler’s whether to follow the link and index the URL or just ignore it. A dofollow link will help your SEO, a nofollow link won’t do anything at all.
If you are guest posting to increase your backlink profile, make sure that the site offers dofollow links before you start working on their content.
Disavow Bad Links
Nofollow links aren’t bad. They just don’t help you with your SEO. There are some links out there that are bad, and your backlink profile might be full of them without you even knowing. Bad links come from sites that have a high spam score. If Google associates your site with spam sites you might be facing a penalty.
Sometimes these links occur naturally, however, it most cases it is a black hat technique used by your competitors. If Google penalises your site for a high number of spam links they will knock you down the rankings. Your competitor will grab the top spot.
Luckily, you can monitor and disavow these links yourself. This will tell crawler’s not to follow a certain link, even if it has been accredited with the dofollow attribute. You should be running health checks on your backlink profile regularly to make sure you don’t get hit with a penalty.
Social Media Input
Despite offering links with nofollow tags, social media shares make a difference. There is some debate over its level of importance, but most of the SEO experts agree that the more social shares a page has the higher its rank.
Create engaging social media content that encourages user engagement. Too many businesses are only on social media because everyone else is. If you’re not using it as a platform to share your content and get people onto your website then there isn’t much point.
Create Link-Worthy Content
The only official white hat strategy for obtaining backlinks is to obtain natural links that are relevant to the site and content that they are embedded with. Even guest posting is becoming less and less popular (however, we all know how hard it is to obtain the first links without this technique).
Search engines look at links as indicators that this content is the best source of information out there. They want to see natural links that prove you and your opinions are reputable. The only way to obtain these links naturally is to create link-worthy content. Which brings us nicely onto C.
Content is king as you’ve heard too many times before. It’s true. Great content not only helps you stand out from the crowd by offering your users something of benefit, but it’s the easiest possible way that you can rank in SERP’s.
Thin content is a black hat technique that will get you penalised. Fantastic content will rank as long as it offers something useful to the users. This is the die-hard truth of SEO. You can collect all of the backlinks and perfect every element of your website’s architecture but if your content has nothing to offer then you’ve wasted your time.
Every piece of content that you create, whether it’s a blog post, web page or something else entirely, should be aiming to answer a search query. This is where keyword targeting comes into play.
Take this post. It would be incredibly useful for someone with a little bit of SEO experience but little or no budget to hire professional help. Perhaps a small business owner or a blogger. It would probably be incredibly patronising to an SEO expert and irrelevant to someone who was looking for the next best link-building strategy.
If your content is good, you will naturally target the right users. The right users, by the way, are the people who will benefit from your content (not necessarily the people that you want to read it).
A little bit of keyword research can go a long way. Try to answer the popular queries about your targeted keyword – these will come up as recommended searches and as a drop-down on the results page.
Longer content generally does a much better job of this. A study by HubSpot discovered that their fifty most-read and highest-ranking posts were between 2,100 and 2,400 words long. This isn’t because Google like reading, simply because the longer your post is the more information you can get into it.
When you do your keyword research, pay attention to the top-ranking sites for that search term. Are they blog posts that provide the searcher with information? Do they display a range of products that give the searcher a good variety for comparison?
Understanding the context of a search query is one of Google’s great leaps towards improving user experience. The algorithms look at bounce rates – remember earlier when we discussed getting yours down. Well if someone leaves your page very quickly after entering, search engines believe that you haven’t provided the information that the searcher needed to fulfil their query.
This is why context is important. If the top-ranking pages for your targeted keyword display products then try to rank a product page. If they are blogs and articles, you will find it extremely difficult to rank that same product page. Consider writing a blog post targeting that keyword and having a call-to-action on the page to drive people onto the product page you wanted to rank in the first place.
I can’t emphasise this point enough. Forget everything that you’ve read in this article so far. If your content does not provide people with value then it doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve optimised your images and disavowed spam links.
Unfortunately, just as there is no cheat to SEO, there is no cheat to content curation. You have to be prepared to spend time on everything that you are putting out there. Hundreds of experts have already written about the topic you are covering, what have you got to offer than no one else has done before you?
Unless you are creating the best content on the web, you don’t stand a chance of getting that number one spot. It is similar to link-building. People don’t want thin content that is a blatant attempt to get a backlink. Search engines and web users don’t want boring content that is a blatant attempt to climb the SERP’s.
Don’t put anything out there that you wouldn’t read if you had that query. Otherwise, you may as well be making all of these content mistakes. If you don’t think you can add any new information on the subject, why not trying creating a free resource for people to download?
That’s exactly what Quadrant2Design have done with their free exhibition planner. The content covers the key aspects of planning an exhibition, which is a saturated topic in that industry. They created a free chart that marketers can download and work with to increase the value of their post.
Update and Edit
Writing the best content on the internet is the best way to rank, but that doesn’t mean that the information in your post will stand the test of time. As I’ve already mentioned in this article – this might all be useless once Google updates their algorithms.
Search engines like to see websites that revisit their old posts and pages to make any necessary changes. This shows them that the information is up-to-date and lets them know that you’re a reputable source.
Some sites have reported a higher increase in organic traffic from pages that have been edited than new or highly targeted pages. What’s more, updating old content is much quicker than creating it from scratch. Save yourself some time and work through your old pages.
The ABC of SEO: A Summary
A is for architecture. The structure of your site is extremely important.
You need to make sure that it is easy for the search engines to crawl and index. That means leaving a breadcrumb trail via your metadata, images and headings that ensure crawlers understand how to process the information on your page.
User experience is another major element of your sites architecture, and Google let us know it’s going to become more important with the next algorithm update. Ensure your load speed is as fast as possible and that your site can is mobile-friendly. Bounce rate is a good demonstrator of user experience.
B is for backlinks. Search engines use backlinks to gauge the trustworthiness of a site.
The theory goes that the more backlinks that point to your site, the higher you will rank in SERP’s as you are seen as a reputable source of information. However, that isn’t always the case. Avoid black hat link-building techniques such as paid links, link farms or private blog networks otherwise you could be hit with a penalty. Aim to create link-worthy content and generate as many natural links as you can.
C is for content. Spend time creating content that adds value for the user.
Unless your website offers the best solution to a searchers query, you won’t rank for your targeted search term. Stop wasting time producing blog posts stuffed with keywords and a clickbait headline.
Only share content that you would read to find the information that you are searching for. Remember, context plays a key role.
Think about the searcher and exactly what it is that they are looking for when they type that phrase into a search bar.
Once you’ve nailed the ABC’s of SEO you’ll see a rise in organic traffic. But the final thing that you must remember is that SEO is not an overnight fix.
You can’t spend one month checking everything off this list and then never look at it again.
SEO is a constant process and has to be part of your ongoing marketing strategy.