WHAT IS SEO?
Google currently receives over 3.5 billion searches a day from users all over the world. To satisfy the user’s query, Google’s spiders crawl over 60 trillion indexed web pages. Those spiders return with tens of millions of pages in a fraction of a second. Web pages featured on the first page of Google receive over 70% of clicks, while pages 2 & 3 receive less than 6% of clicks. So how do you get your content featured on page 1?
To answer that question, you must have a very basic understanding of how search engines work. When a user enters a search query, Google’s “spiders” crawl the world wide web searching for answers. This crawl entails reviewing trillions of pieces of content in less than a second. How is this possible? Well, Google’s spiders know how and where to efficiently crawl because they see data, not webpages. Let’s use an example: you are throwing a party with an expected 300 attendees. Somehow you forgot if you included Barack Obama. Now you have to look at the invitation list in excel. The rookie would begin searching row by row for the last name Obama – this would take some time. The veteran would type Ctrl+F, input “Obama” and know the answer in seconds. In this example, Google is the veteran. [if you want to be amazed, search “Google Data Center” – that’s where the spiders live]
So how do you ensure Google finds you? Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Definition: Search engine optimization is a marketing tool that focuses on getting traffic to a site by boosting its visibility organically (nonpaid). It’s driven by both technical and creative elements to improve ranking resulting in increased web traffic and brand awareness. Below is an old YouTube video by Google that provides a quick (3:14) overview of SEO. It is outdated, uploaded 3/4/2010, but the fundamental still hold true.
Search engine optimization can be broadly classified as On-site or Off-site. On-site SEO ranking factors include content, HTML, and architecture. Off-site SEO ranking factors include trustworthiness, inbound links, and social media. We will dive deeper into the various factors that influence both on-site and off-site search engine optimization.
ON-SITE SEO FACTORS
Content is a very broad term used in this case to describe the meat and potatoes of your webpage. It refers to the actual text, images, and videos featured on the page. Below are factors to consider.
What makes one web page of higher quality than another? It is somewhat intuitive. Google is looking at word count – more words typically means a more thorough answer to a question. Google is looking for images – the user experience is more enjoyable if learning is accompanied by pictures. Google is looking for references – your content should feature industry/topic specific sources that are regarded as experts.
Keywords are the backbone to crawling. Search engines measure how keywords are used on the page to determine the relevance of the query. To optimize a pages ranking, make sure to include topical keywords in the titles, text and metadata. As you make keywords more specific, you narrow the competition for search results and improve your chances of a higher ranking. The point of Keyword Analysis (https://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner) is not to rank highly for all keywords, but only for those keywords that apply to your content. In the image below, notice that Google highlights the keywords that match the user’s query. This shows the importance of including keywords in your page title and meta description.
Search Engine Journal recently posted an in-depth 10 step process for selecting the appropriate keywords. Take the time to do your keyword analysis – it serves as the foundation of your SEO.
With over 60 trillion indexed web pages, standing out from the crowd can be a daunting task. Odds are there is already plenty of content related to your industry, topic, and keywords. The key is to analyze competition. To start, enter the query that you hope to one day display your content. What titles, keywords, images, etc. is your competition using? What related searches does Google suggest?
With an understanding of your competition, you can set yourself apart. Use Google’s Keyword Planner to find alternative keywords with high traffic but low competition (easier said than done). Another technique is to find the best competitive example and make it better. Making it better consists of adding imagery, infographics, and videos to further drive home the message.
The title of a page is meant to be the most accurate and concise description of a page’s content that is both user and SEO friendly. Below are guidelines to follow:
-Length: Search engines display up to 65 characters in the title of search results, after that an ellipsis “….” Is shown.
-Keywords: The closer to the start of the title tag your keywords are the more helpful it is for ranking purposes and it makes it more likely for a user to click through to the site.
-Branding: If people are familiar with a brand, use it in the title tag. It will increase brand awareness and increase a click through rate.
-Readability: Title tags should be descriptive and readable. It’s the user’s first impression of your brand and should convey the most positive impression possible.
In Moz’s biannual survey of SEO industry leaders, 94% of participants said that keyword use in the title tag was the most important place to use keywords to achieve high rankings.
A meta description tag is a short description of a page’s content limited to 160 characters. Search engines do not use this for ranking purposes as it is just a snippet of text displayed beneath the listing result. The tags key function is an advertising copy, drawing readers to your site from the search results. Crafting a keyword rich, readable and compelling description can draw a much higher click through rate for searchers. In Google the search engine bolds the keywords used the search.
The art of crafting an excellent meta description is becoming crucially important. Users have become very skilled at scanning Google’s search results to find the best match. This quick scan involved the page title and the meta description. Splash Copywriters posted an article detailing the importance of the meta description and outlines 15 tips to write effective meta descriptions – don’t overlook its importance.
In this example, Subheads (above) is in fact a subhead. Subheads provide further detail to Google’s spiders regarding your content. Think of it like this, you are at the airport and would like to purchase a book for your flight. As you scan the shelves, an image and title peaks your interest. You then open the cover and skim the table of contents to get the big picture. Google does the same thing – subheads act like titles of each chapter.
Alt Tags – Images
Search engine robots are smart but can’t see images. By adding alt tags to photos the crawlers can index them. Below is an example of what Google “sees” when crawling images:
<img src=”image.jpg” alt=”example seo image alt text” title=”seo example”/>
Make sure the imagery you use includes alt text and titles that include your keywords. For a full overview of Alt Tags, check out Yoast’s blog post written by their founder explaining how to optimize alt and title tags. Full disclosure, I use the Yoast WordPress plugin – and I think it’s fantastic.
Easy To Crawl
This becomes a bit technical for a basic explanation of SEO. In essence, you need to code your website in a manner that pleases Google. Make sure that your code is clean, concise, and following many of the best practices listed in this article.
Nearly 60 percent of Google searches are performed on a mobile device. This number continues to grow in favor of mobile. For this reason, it is imperative that your content is responsive across all devices. In fact, as of 4/21/15, Google will penalize you for not being mobile friendly (aka you won’t be found on Google). The announcement made in Google’s Webmaster Central Blog features tools and best practices for mobile effectiveness. Here are a few of those tools:
Our on demand society wants their content, and they want it now. Google is always looking out for the best interest of their users, resulting in your content’s load speed being an on-site SEO factor. Images and videos are primarily what affects load speed, and you need to make sure that image size and compression are appropriate for load speed. The Google Developers Forum posted an article on image optimization that provides further detail. Enter your URL into the Google PageSpeed Insights and see how your site performs.
The image below, provided by KVR Webtech, outlines the structure of a typical URL.
Here are some general best practices and structures to avoid:
-Use Sub Directory root domains (searchfor.com/category/SEO)
–Don’t use Sub Domains (example.seo.com)
–Stay away from hyphens (search-for.com)
–(.biz .name .info) are considered spammy
For more information regarding URL structure, check out this article featured in Business 2 Community.
HTTPS & SSL
HTTPS and SSL refer to a sublayer under the regular HTTP application layering. They are intended to provide an extra layer of security. Essentially, as data bounces around servers to the web application, SSL authenticates requests to prevent unwanted access. Google wants its users browsing safe and secure web pages. If you are concerned about the security of your website, OWASP provides an in-depth review of best practices to keep your site secured.
OFF-SITE SEO FACTORS
Page Authority is a metric originally created by Moz, they define it as:
“Page Authority is Moz’s calculated metric for how well a given webpage is likely to rank in Google.com’s search results. It is based off of the Mozscape web index and includes link counts, mozRank, mozTrust, and dozens more. It uses a machine learning model to predictively find an algorithm that best correlates with rankings across thousands of search results that we predict against.”
An important factor in this calculation is “link counts”. Specifically, you want to focus on inbound links – the links referencing your content from credible sources. Google has a list of credible sources that assigns a higher weight to the inbound link, and thus, authority.
Google provides a tool to check inbound links to your site. Check it out.
Bounce rate is defined as – the percentage of single-page sessions (i.e. sessions in which the person left your site from the entrance page without interacting with the page).
Google evaluates your website’s bounce rate because it provides a good indication of much quality content is featured on your website, resulting in user’s viewing multiple pages and spending more time on your website. A low bounce rate is a good thing. Generally, anything below 40% is excellent and 40-55% is considered average.
If you’re struggling with a high bounce rate – this could be attributed to a number of factors including: load time, page design, CTA placement, etc. Wordstream came up with 11 Ways to Reduce Your Bounce Rate – this is a good place to start.
I wouldn’t put this at the top of the list; however, Google does value older/established domains. Google’s spiders prefer older domains because they see age as credibility.
Links are one of if not the most important part of SEO. The more websites that link back to your website the higher your web page will rank. The reason behind such a high value on links is because anybody can research a topic and create content but it’s hard to convince websites to attribute that information to you. In the eyes of the search engine, the more trustworthy sites linking to you, the more authority your web page must have.
There are countless strategies to increase your inbound links; however, it all starts with a quality piece of content. If you’re looking to gain more inbound links, check out Neil Patel’s The Uncensored Guide to Promoting a Blog Post or take a look at Nathan Ellering’s 105 Content Promotion Tactics. Both articles are thorough and include examples.
QUALITY OF SHARES
You just came down with a severe cold. Who would you trust more to help get over it, a panel of ten doctors or one hundred random people that you stopped and asked walking down the street? In almost all cases you would choose the doctors. It works the same way with link building. Yes they will count all the links pointing to a site but they don’t all hold the same weight. The better quality, large, respectable site has a higher weight on the quality scale than a link posted on a random blog. Also, links that come from local sites may have more weight than others but this topic can.
Number of Links
The more links linking back to your site the better, right? Well overall yes, but it’s more beneficial to have 1000 links all from different sites than 1000 links from one website. So links are weighted accordingly.
Anchor text are the visible words that are used to link back to a site. Search engines use the words in the anchor text to find what the page topic is i.e Keywords. Search engines use this as a reference tool for search query’s.
Social media is all about pushing out content. Content that is fresh and engaging to draw readers in. When more people read the content and the readers enjoy it, the content will be shared pushing links back to your site. When the content is shared there are different weights depending on the type of account and the platform.
Quality of Shares
This refers to who is sharing your content. Similar to inbound links discussed earlier, social media accounts with authority – verified, large number of followers, content quality and frequency all play a role. This type of quality social sharing indicates to Google that you have a valuable piece of content.
Number of Shares
Google wants to know if a piece of content has a high engagement rate. It is recommended that you integrate social platforms into your website for quick and easy sharing. The more your content is shared, the more valuable Google perceives it.
This is intuitive, but don’t limit your social footprint to just one platform. Make sure that user’s can easily share content on whichever platform they prefer. Sharing across multiple platforms gives your content more traction and reach. Google likes that.
Thank you for taking the time to read our breakdown of search engine optimization. We hope that you were able to find this beneficial and clear anything up that was questionable before. A summary of tools, articles, and best practices referenced in this post are listed below. We would greatly appreciate if you shared this article so others may benefit from it as well. Stay tuned for our real life example of how we personally audited our own website’s search engine optimization.
- Google Keyword Planner
- How to Choose the Right Keywords to Optimize For
- Meta description masterclass: a data-driven guide to the little search snippets that win you big business.
- Image SEO: alt tage and title tag optimization
- Google Mobile Friendly Websites – Getting Started
- Google Mobile Friendly Test
- Google PageSpeed Insights
- How to Create an SEO-Friendly URL Structure
- Links to Your Site Report
- 11 Ways to Reduce Your Bounce Rate
- The Uncensored Guide to Promoting a Blog Post
- How To Promote Your Blog With 105 Content Promotion Tactics