Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the most widely searched for topics online (with 509,000,000 results). And for good reason:
We’ve all read the success stories and outlandish headlines about SEO taking a business from zero to thousands of visitors in just a few months.
But coming across relevant, updated, and current information on it is increasingly difficult.
Search engines change their processes and algorithms nearly 600 times a year. That’s almost twice a day.
New changes to the algorithm mean that old tactics are phased out. Processes change and what worked a few years ago could be considered spam today.
While SEO (as we know it) will likely never go out of style, its methods are constantly on the move.
In this guide, we’ll simplify SEO and give you the meat and potatoes of what you really need to know to rank your business on Google.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
What is SEO (and how it works)
Search engine optimization is a complex assortment of different ways to get your website to rank in search engines. The definition of SEO isn’t as complicated as the actual process of implementing SEO. Essentially, it’s optimizing for search engines.
As for a real definition of SEO:
SEO is the strategy where you optimize your web pages for organic search results with the outcome of bringing in good quality, interested traffic to your website to buy a product or service.
Let’s break down what we mean by this definition. SEO is a focus on organic search results, similar to how PPC marketing is a focus on paid search results.
With SEO, your entire goal is to get your website front and center on popular searches in your industry.
For example, if you sell a social media scheduling tool, you want to be ranking for keyword searches on search engines related to your industry.
Terms like: Social media tool, how to schedule social media posts, etc.
These searches conducted by real people around the world will lead to products. And the entire goal of SEO is to get your brand front and center on those organic listings.
This is great, but how do you do it?
To understand the processes to implement SEO, you need to understand ranking factors.
What is a ranking signal/factor?
Ranking factors are what search engines like Google look at to determine what content ranks on the first page and where.
In 2016, a Senior Strategist at Google confirmed two factors as “top two” ranking factors, in no particular order:
“I can tell you what they are. It is content. And it’s links pointing to your site.”
Even as two years have gone by, content and links remain huge factors for ranking your site.
Content is what you produce on your website. It could be blog posts, videos, or any page on your site that provides information for visitors on the search network, like the Credo blog:
Links, backlinks in particular, occur when other sites link to your site on their blog:
For example, in the image above from one of our recent blog posts, we linked out to Moz’s Link Explorer, a tool that their company produced.
That is a prime example of a backlink.
Being that our blog post was about SEO and backlinks, this provides more signals and relevance to search engines about the importance of their tool surrounding topics like SEO.
But content and links aren’t the only factors for ranking your site organically.
Types of SEO: onsite and offsite factors
SEO has many diverse factors that all combine toward your ranking potential. Most of these can be broken down into onsite and offsite factors.
Onsite SEO consists of making your site search engine friendly, while offsite SEO is all about promoting your site on external sites like social media or guest blogs.
Sticking to just one factor and ignoring the others can leave you high and dry. But accomplishing them can be daunting, too.
Here is how to execute some of the top ranking factors to kickstart your SEO strategy. Let’s walk through each one in detail, starting with a few onsite factors.
Onsite SEO factors to optimize your strategy
You can’t build links if you don’t have a site that SERPs “like.”
This involves adjusting elements of your site to make it easier for SERPs to crawl it. Then, they can use this data to rank you more accurately in their index.
Some of the most important things to pay attention to when thinking about onsite factors are mobile optimization and page speed.
1. Mobile optimization and page speed are critical
Mobile is currently more important than ever. Just two years ago in 2016, mobile traffic surpassed desktop traffic for the first time.
And now, mobile traffic continues to climb above 51% in 2018:
Due to growing amounts of mobile traffic, Google has begun to put more emphasis and priority on mobile optimization.
With Google’s mobile first-index rolling out currently, it’s more important than ever to have an optimized, mobile-friendly website.
The mobile-first index impacts the way that Google indexes your website.
So if your mobile site has been slacking, doesn’t exist, or been put on the backburner, it’s time to improve it.
First, focus on creating a mobile responsive website. Google recommends this as the top option as their “algorithms accurately assign indexing properties to the page rather than needing to signal the existence of corresponding desktop/mobile pages.”
Once you have a responsive website, work on improving your site speed.
According to Google, the average mobile website in any given industry is far too slow:
The best practice is three seconds, yet most sites are reaching close to (if not more than) ten seconds.
That’s bad. Very bad. If your website isn’t loading quick enough, bounce rates will increase fast.
Simply put, the higher your page load times, the less traffic you’ll get that stays on your website, consumes your content, and turns into loyal customers.
To increase your page speed, focus on compressing images and removing bulky page elements like sliders, carousels, etc.
Run your website through Google Test My Site and see what improvements they recommend.
This will scan your entire mobile site and give personalized ways to improve the speed with guided tutorials on how to do it.
Make mobile a priority, and you’ll notice great SEO benefits in 2018 and beyond. You should also keep target topics and keywords in mind when creating content. Here’s why.
2. Creating content to target topics and keywords
Content is what keeps your site fresh and keeps traffic coming in via organic search.
If your website has zero blog content and just a few web pages describing your services, you might get a little bit of organic traffic. But, you’d be selling yourself short.
Content is critical because it helps you to rank for commonly searched terms, thereby bringing in new visitors that couldn’t have found you if you didn’t have the content on your site.
But what kind of content is best for ranking well?
Long-form content. Content that exceeds 1,890 words is going to rank best in organic search results.
Because it covers multiple topics around the same base topic, allowing readers to learn the collective topic without having to navigate back to search results to find another post.
Plus, the more topics you cover in your post, the more backlink opportunities you have.
A great way to start creating content for your company is by developing a few core topics that your customers are likely searching for.
You can do this for any and every industry.
Topics can then be plugged into LSI Graph to generate a list of related keywords:
And just like that, you have an outline for sub-sections to talk about in your blog post.
Title: All You Need to Know about Search Engine Optimization
Subhead: Website Optimization Techniques
Subhead: Site Optimization Tutorial
You get the point. Use these LSI keywords to frame your content and cover topics that searchers are looking for.
If you can’t think of any topics, try using Moz’s Keyword Explorer to generate keyword ideas around your business:
You can even enter your competitor’s website URL, search by root domain and select the “Ranking Keywords” tab.
This will show you a complete list of keywords that they rank for, giving you the inspiration you need to create content.
When you’re finished creating new posts, optimize them so that they reach their highest potential.
3. Optimize new posts with tags, headers, links, and short URLs
After you’ve written and published content on your blog, you’ll need to optimize it for maximum impact.
These are vital factors for improving your organic click-through rate and SERP position.
One business generated a 48% lift in organic traffic from improving metadata like the title tag to optimize for search engine traffic.
Be sure to include your target keyword in the title tag when publishing a post:
Amongst the title tag, meta descriptions don’t directly influence rankings but are a great place to include keywords and compelling copy to improve CTR.
For on-page SEO, be sure to nail the following items before publishing, too:
Headers: If you can, naturally include related keywords in your H1 and H2 headers. One company generated a 62% increase in organic (SEO) traffic by updating their header tags.
Links: Include 2-3 external (links to pages on other sites) and 2-3 internal (links to other pages on your site) links per post.
URLs: Keep your blog post URL short and include your main keyword.
Be sure to optimize all of your blog posts before sending them live to give them the best results in organic search.
Once you’ve focused on some onsite factors, it’s time to shift your attention to some offsite ones.
Offsite factors to pay attention to
Once you’ve perfected your site and the content on it, you can turn your attention to promoting it externally. This is just as important as the onsite stuff.
Because it will help you take your rankings even higher. More external attention on your site will boost your site’s authority and ranking.
1. Backlinks: why you need them and how to get them
Backlinks are critical to success in ranking organically.
According to Backlinko, there is a direct correlation between total number of external backlinks and position on Google search results:
In almost all SERPs, the top ranking content will have the most backlinks.
If thousands of sites are linking to your content, Google notices. They understand that it’s good content if that many sites want to link back to it as a reference. It shows authority and expertise.
But you can’t just acquire any backlink.
For example, link directories and forum links won’t do you much good. If links are suspiciously easy to get, they won’t hold the value you are looking for.
You need links that meet two specific criteria:
- Authoritative websites: high profile websites with high domain authority, a score from 0-100 that measures a website’s likelihood to rank high on search engines. Acquiring links from trusted, high authority sites signals that same trust back to your site.
- Diverse sources: this means acquiring links from different spaces, like gov links, edu links, and from many different unique websites. For example, getting 100 links from the same website will appear spammy and won’t give you the same boost that 100 unique links from 100 unique sites would provide you.
Link building is tricky. It can happen naturally if you produce great content, but there are a few ways to stack the cards in your favor.
A great way to build links over time is to build relationships with industry sites.
An easy entry to relationship building is via guest posting.
What is guest posting? It’s creating blog content to publish on another website other than your own.
It’s great for building brand awareness for you and your company and starting relationships with other people in your industry.
While you do get byline links from it, guest posting shouldn’t be used to acquire links. That can result in Google penalties.
Instead, use it as the entryway to forming connections that can link back to you naturally.
A second surefire way to get links is to create unique content that others aren’t.
I’m not talking about content like XX Tips and Trick for Social Media.
While those posts can get links, they won’t get nearly as many as unique content like studies, data sets, experiments, or custom designed guides.
Brian Dean was able to generate thousands of links from hundreds of different websites on a single post because it was unique data that wasn’t re-creatable by any other blog.
Drift was able to do the same by creating a unique study on their services that other blogs couldn’t replicate:
When you create unique content like this, you have no competition for links.
But creating XX Tips posts aren’t unique, leaving you stuck competing with thousands of bloggers for the same links.
In summary, focus your efforts on building relationships and creating content that others can’t steal or that isn’t heavily saturated, and you’ll be on your way to building tons of backlinks.
Another simple way to improve your offsite SEO is to share your content on social media and engage with your followers often.
2. Focus on your social media presence
It’s no secret that social media can boost SEO.
When used as a tool, it can help brands promote their content, build brand awareness, and increase traffic and engagement.
You can even use it as a link building tool to kill two birds with one stone.
A study by SEO PowerSuite recently showed that most SEO experts use social media as a link building tool.
Their finding showed that:
- 53% of SEO specialists have run viral campaigns, like contests
- 81% of SEO specialists share their content on social media
- 88% of SEO specialists include links in social media profiles
If SEO experts count on social media as a tool to boost rankings, it’s a no-brainer that you should, too.
Share your content often, spark a dialog with your customers and with other brands, run contests or hold giveaways, and be sure to link to your site in every profile your brand has.
You can even use it to find prospects and connect with other valuable industry contacts that could help you gain some serious exposure in the future.
Once you’ve mastered some of the essential SEO components, you might be wondering how to find out if all of your hard work actually paid off.
How to effectively measure your SEO progress for continued results
So, you’ve started to implement some of the SEO tactics above.
You are writing content, building valuable backlinks, and improving your page speed.
But what’s next? How do you measure the impact that these moves had on your traffic and sales?
Once you’ve started to use SEO tactics, you’ll need to continually measure your progress to see what’s working and what isn’t. To see what tactics you can nix and which you should double down on.
A great place to start is using Google Analytics.
Here you can analyze key reports to measure your organic traffic over time, like the Source/Medium report under Acquisition.
To dive deeper into content performance, you can look at individual page performance over time including metrics like time on site, bounce rate, and new sessions to see if users are resonating with your blog:
Here you can analyze your key metrics like pageviews (traffic) and more.
Continually monitor your content to see how it performs and if any posts aren’t driving the traffic you need.
Take your newly found Analytics data and make informed decisions about next steps in your strategy.
While SEO is simple in its definition, executing a great SEO strategy can be a daunting task.
SEO is the process by which you optimize your website pages and content to appear in organic search results to bring in new traffic.
To master SEO, get familiar with the onsite and offsite ranking factors that search engines use to rank websites in organic results.
Improve your mobile site responsiveness and focus on increasing the speed to make a more user-friendly experience.
Create content on your blog that targets topics and keywords in your industry to appeal to searchers.
And never forget to optimize each page.
After you’ve built up content, you can then start to focus on acquiring good links to help your site grow authority and traffic.
Enlist in the help of social media as an offsite ranking tool that can help you promote your content.
Lastly, refer back to your data in Google Analytics to make informed decisions moving forward.
SEO is complex and takes time, but can produce long-lasting returns for years to come.