It can be difficult to get ranked on the top page of Google. That’s why our Columnist Liam Abbott takes you through a Step-by-Step SEO guide to getting your site optimized and ranked on the web.
The way your site is optimized for search engines greatly affects how it ranks online. When creating your website, it is key to constantly remind yourself of the different standards that Google, and other search engines hold your site to. We are going to cover some of these key factors in detail throughout this guide.
Make sure to bookmark this guide and check back for updates. We will be adding more content in the future!
What is SEO?
First things first, what is SEO? Well, simply put, it is the art of getting your website found on search engines. It is an acronym that stands for “search engine optimization” and is crucial for marketing your website and generating leads online. Almost every industry and their respective niches must use SEO to get more customers, sell products, or spread their content.
So how do you rank on search engines? If you stick to Google’s search guidelines and commit to a white-hat driven SEO strategy – you will see more and more page rankings over time.
White-hat SEO tactics fully follow Google’s search guidelines and policies, as well as having a focus on human audiences over search engines.
In the sections below, you will find all the different factors that relate to your SEO strategy and how to employ them to work for you… not against you!
Organic SEO Ranking Factors
Site owners must take many ranking factors into account when developing an effective online strategy for their website. The creation of valuable content that serves a purpose and meets customer demand is key. If the content fails to reach a purpose and falls short on delivery, do not expect to reach number one on Google just yet.
One major component of creating exceptional site rankings is done through the creation of strong metadata. Search Snippets serve a purpose by telling consumers what your website is about and is the selling point on the search results page to get users to your website. Some key sources of metadata to put some effort into are your title tags, keywords, URL, and description tags.
Keywords & Keyword Phrases
Keywords and keyword phrases are what users type into search engines as queries to receive results. A keyword can be absolutely anything and they are extremely important to the world of SEO. Take great care when deciding what keywords your site will try to rank for, as this will be the foundation for your SEO efforts.
When you are selecting your keyword or keyword phrases, it is important to note that you should be staying away from highly competitive keywords and finding low-competition keywords and phrases. Pairing them up with strong primary & secondary keywords can greatly increase domain authority and page rankings.
- Primary Keywords: A keyword stemming directly from our home page/theme. If our home page keyword is about Computers, a primary keyword example would be Computer Parts
- Secondary Keywords: a secondary keyword could be the brand on your website selling computer parts – Dell Computer Parts
- Shared-Intent: when a set of primary and secondary keywords share intent (mean the same thing in search terms) it shows Google that your site is more relevant to the topic at hand.
If you are trying to take things a little further… try using medium to long tail keywords to spice up your site. These keywords will give you access to tons of rarely used phrases.
Medium to long tail keywords are descriptive and have 3 words or more. They usually have a low-to-medium search volume with a low cost per click (meaning low competition). The image below shows the difference between keyword length and the monthly search volume.
Still looking for more keyword ideas? Check out our friend Gaz Hall’s excellent guide on how to pick the perfect keywords for your business.
Title tags give the customer a brief description of what the page involves and if you can assist them. Effective use of title tags can increase attention, therefore, increasing page views. All title tags should be kept to a minimum of 55 characters or less; anymore and you run the risk of hurting your rankings.
Always keep your keywords at the beginning of your title. By doing this, you allow Google’s bots and users alike to better grasp what your page is about. You want to grab the attention of the searcher as quickly as possible and draw them in, so don’t go putting a really long company name at the beginning of your title.
Other metadata, such as description tags are used to help the customer dig deeper into what your site is about without leaving the SERP (search engine results page). This is where you sell your site to a potential new customer or help direct a return customer to the right place.
Descriptions help organic rankings tremendously by showing that your website is unique and relevant to the searched subject. Remember to write original content for all of your descriptions, while keeping them to a minimum of 160 characters in length.
Google bots crawl your website to find relevant information that is optimized for search engines and is ready for indexation (think of taking pages and putting them into a catalog). If your URLs lack good readability, Google’s bots will have to work harder to find relevant information for your targeted keywords/topic.
It is crucial that you keep your URL lengths short, and describe what the page is about. In example: Eater.com released this article on the Best Restaurants in Calgary in 2018.
The closer your URL is to the original title of the page, the better! Google loves to see that content is relevant to the topic at hand.
Do not worry about certain “stop” words such as “and” & “for”. Google bots skip over stop words in URLs and page content, so feel free to remove them if your URL lengths start to get out of hand.
On-Page Ranking Factors
On-page ranking factors have some of the biggest effects across search engine rankings. This includes the content on the page like your headings, body paragraphs, images and alt tags.
As mentioned previously, your content must meet a demand that the consumer has come looking for. By creating compelling content that helps searchers solve a problem, or meet an end, is one of the best ways to increase pages rankings.
Google checks your content and compares it to these factors:
- Domain authority: A numbered value that states the overall power of your domain taken from different metrics
- Domain trustworthiness: How trustworthy the domain is overall.
- Amount of quality content: How much premium quality content you have your website
- Reputation of the website: The overall reputation of your website taken from multiple different sources including Google Maps and Yelp!
When companies create strong, worthwhile content they become an industry leader and are the go-to source for information within their niche. This leads to more links back to your website and an increase in domain authority.
Google has stated that the Top 3 Ranking Factors in their algorithm are as follows:
1 & 2) Links & Content
Andrey Lipattsev, Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google said RankBrain comes in at #3 in the top-ranking factors, but never mentioned the other two. Now it has been revealed that the two most important ranking signals come from links and content.
Currently, it is unknown what the true top-ranking factor is. What we do know, is that it is either your content or the number of incoming, and outgoing links to your website.
Both help each other out and should be focused on equally. Users will want to share your content if it is filled with useful information, and you will gain more links back to your site because of this.
Creating high-quality content that looks good in Google’s eyes and serves the users can be a tough task. That’s why in this section we are going to talk about the different aspects of developing content, and how you can apply them to your own website.
Heading tags need to be used properly to get real results. Site owners should avoid using heading tags for strictly style purposes at all costs. Google looks at each type of heading tag differently, so use this to your advantage when creating the informational hierarchy of your website. Also, use relevant, unique and targeted keyword phrases that make the page stand out from competitors.
Quick Tips for Writing Headings:
- The <h1> tag is considered the most important, with the
<h6> being the least important of the six
- Keep them short, but descriptive and unique
- Be sure to include target keywords in your headings
- Try to evoke emotion in your headings
In the online world of today, snack-able content is the way to a visitor’s heart. Try not to drivel on and fluff up your pages too much. When you create content, make sure it is relevant and of good quality. The main rule of thumb here is “quality over quantity”. Be sure to deliver the information the consumers wants/needs, and let them know the next steps to take to achieve their goal.
Eventually you can create other pages to service the information you feel can be touched on elsewhere in FAQ pages, service pages, or an archives database.
It is also important to note that you should be properly interlinking pages together across your site. Use strong keyword phrases (such as the services you provide) made up of primary and secondary keywords to interlink these pages together.
Quick Tips for Writing Paragraphs:
- Keep paragraphs relatively short. Up to 4 sentences is usually enough to get the intended message across
- Use lists and bullet points to break up large bits of content so it may be digested easier
- Be tasteful. Do not overuse lists so the page drags on
There is no limit to how much content you should or shouldn’t put on a page. However, a research study done by Lean Labs has shown that the average content length of Top 10 SERPs is over 2000.
When your page has more content, it will attract more likes and shares – two other important ranking factors!
A very important factor to take into account is Search Intent. What is the purpose of the user coming to your site? You can break this up into 4 categories:
- Navigational (finding a website)
- Investigational (getting information before purchasing goods)
- Transactional (buying something)
- Informational (answering a question)
Once you know the intent behind why users are searching for your site, you can tailor its content to serve that purpose. This can greatly increase your users experience on your website and decrease metrics like bounce rate.
“Successful SEO is not about tricking Google. It’s about PARTNERING with Google to provide the best search results for Google’s users.” – Phil Frost
Answer boxes are snippets of information taken from your page and loaded into SERPs for users to find answers without having to go to your website. In order to acquire this coveted spot, you must properly format the content of your page by making sure the content is right and not too long.
Some different ways to help get an answer box page ranking begin by targeting keywords and keyword phrases with answer boxes already. After you have found your targets, include descriptive lists and tables that answer your users’ questions and concerns.
Any image that is being uploaded to your website should be properly processed and optimized for online viewing. This can be done through photo imaging programs such as PhotoShop or DxO Optics Pro 10. Properly sizing the photo so that page load times are quick is essential to strong organic rankings. Most web pages load around 3 seconds or under, so try to keep to this threshold.
Image Alt Tags & File Names
Alt tags on an image are attached to any image on the page and describe what the picture is about. All image alt tags should have a proper description that accurately describes the image. This is done to help search engines recognize what the photo is representing and help visually impaired people understand the photo better. Alt tags have a large impact on Google’s page rankings and should be taken very seriously!
You should also take your image filenames into account. Try to make the filename as unique as possible while touching on your targeted keyword phrases. It also helps to have images related to the initial title of your page. Use dashes “-” instead of underscores “_” when creating the filenames of your image files and pages.
Domain Ranking Factors
Domain ranking factors have a tiny effect on SEO compared to the previous sections. They involve metrics such as domain age, overall authority, and the reputation behind the domain.
Before you buy a domain name you should look up that domain’s history on the web. Domains that have been known to spam the internet, or have otherwise caused damage in some way will have a negative impact on your search rankings.
You can use tools like Who.is to see what your domain has been up to in previous years, and to help you make the right purchase ahead of time.
Matt Cutts, Google’s Former Head of Web Spam, has said before that domain age isn’t that big of a deal in Google’s eyes. However, domain age is important to track because over 60% of top ten Google search ranking domains are 3 years old or more. This shows a strong trend in domains that have a firm foundation set inside Google.
Ahrefs also released a study that found websites with a domain age of less than a year had significantly lower rankings than its competitors.
Only 5.7% of all newly published pages will get to Google Top 10 within a year.
This means 95% of newly created pages and websites will not reach the Top 10… and out of that leftover 5%, it still takes anywhere from 2 to 6 months to achieve that ranking.
Alternatively, if your website creates lots of buzz and interactions – you can expect to rank quickly; possibly in just one day! Viral sensations are one of the best ways to get found online organically, and any scenario which can lead to becoming viral is WORTH it.
Domain ranking factors are an integral part of any website and should be considered when you begin optimizing, complete an audit, or take a new project on.
Brand Ranking Signals
Gary Illyes, Resident Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, stated that its algorithm actively takes in brand mentions across the web as a ranking signal. Mentions with an “unlinked” status show Google that your brand is a real entity being talked about by others around the internet. Furthermore, Google will analyze the places where these mentions are happening and get a better picture of your site’s authority.
Another brand ranking signal that seen a rise in authority is your reputation. If you take a spike in negative or positive reviews, they can lead to changes in your page ranking.
How to improve your brands recognition and gain more mentions:
- Unlinked brand mentions across the web make it clear to Google that your brand is a real entity because it is being talked about
- Positive and negative online reviews from sites like Google Maps & Yelp! can now raise or hurt page rankings substantially. Keep focused on maintaining a positive reputation throughout the web
- Take charge of your own brand mentions and talk about your brand anywhere that is natural. Avoid spammy, black-hat style tricks (opposite of white-hat. Does NOT follow Google Guidelines)
- Engage with customers, solve problems, and cater to the needs of your consumer both online and in the real world
- You can track brand mentions and keep tabs on your reputation with tools like Awario
- Find influencers willing to talk about your brand or have already talked about your brand. Work with them to increase brand recognition with their vast social media audiences
- Reverse-engineer what your competitors are doing and see how you can do it better. You can use tools like Awario to find all the information you need on your competitors.
The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into action on the 25th of May, 2018. This regulation was created after a fierce debate over who owned the rights to data submitted by users on an app or website.
The regulation found that the user owned the data and caused a ripple effect throughout the entire digital ecosystem. Changes to privacy policies, cookie consent forms, and user data retention all needed to be done.
If you are unsure if these regulations will affect you or your company, check out some of the points below.
- If you DO NOT have European customers, change your User Data Retention to “do not expire” in Google Webmasters. This will make it so your users data DOES NOT expire.
- If you DO have European customers
- review all sources of user collected data
- make sure you DO NOT send private information to Google Analytics
- Change User Data Retention to 26 weeks in Google Webmasters
- Revise cookie consent form
- If you use Google Tag Manager, activate IP anonymization. Traffic data may not be a precise.
One of the biggest trend’s optimizers are noticing is the rise of Amazon Search. For years, Amazon has been a powerhouse for ecommerce and an inspiration for anyone trying to open their own online store. Now, Amazon has reached another milestone by unofficially becoming the Google of ecommerce.
72% of shoppers in the USA, France, Germany, and UK use Amazon to find products, and 56% of customers online check Amazon first before exploring other sites. 51% check Amazon after they found a product to compare. – Kenshoo, ecommerce survey
If you sell any physical (or even digital) product on the web, you should be optimizing for Amazon in your SEO strategy. If you want to start optimizing for Amazon Search right away, here is a few beginner tips:
- Cater to Metadata and Keyword tags
- Use high-quality images
- Track all customer reviews & complaints
- Make the title user-friendly and efficient
- Use apps like RankTracker which has an automatic Amazon Keyword Research Tool to help find your niche keywords
Giving the user an exceptional experience on your website is harder than it looks… It takes a beautiful design, captivating content, and a vast amount of optimization all in sync with each other. It can end up being a lot of hard work to give your user the experience you intended in the first place!
In this section we are going to talk about the different metrics that go into measuring your websites user experience level, like dwell time, bounce rate and click-through rate.
- Dwell Time: The amount of time a user spends on your website at one time
- Bounce Rate: The percentage of users that immediately left your website without going to another page
- Click-through Rate: The number of users who clicked on a certain link versus the number of users that visited the page
User Experience helps Google determine if your site is performing well and leaving users satisfied. Better Clickthrough rates with a small bounce rate and a high dwell time tell Google that your content is serving a purpose to the searchers that found your site. These metrics will become very important in the coming months of your SEO plan
In 2015, Google released an update to its algorithm that was one of the most substantial to date. This update released RankBrain into the world of search engines and forever changed how we process search results.
RankBrain is Google’s take on AI and is a massive leap forward for search engines. The machine interprets searchers intent across the web to better understand what we are searching for, and fine tunes Google’s algorithm depending on the keyword. Before, Google’s algorithm was 100% hand coded and required testers to approve whether the change was useful or not.
Now… RankBrain can change the importance of backlinks, domain authority, content & content length, etc., while testing/making changes to the algorithm in real time. All results are based on user satisfaction and RankBrain can roll the algorithm back to its original state if needed at a moments notice.
We could talk about RankBrain all day, but the main thing to remember here is that RankBrain does 2 things:
- Interprets different search queries/keywords/phrases
- Measures user interaction with the search results page and if they’re satisfied or not
So how do we optimize for RankBrain? The webmasters of today need to change the old ways of thinking and start being more emotional.
Captivating article titles are one of the best ways to optimize for RankBrain. Try to be as personable as possible and evoke as many emotions as you can. You want to draw the reader in with their sense of urgency.
Links contain an insane amount of power in SEO. Google’s algorithm is constantly checking the backlinking profiles of its indexed sites and making changes based on that data. From a small blogger, to a large corporation – a good backlink profile is essential every step of the way.
This section is going to focus on what the different types of links are and how they affect your website and SEO strategy.
There are three types of links
- Inbound Links: These are the links other websites and users are using to share your content. Helps Google determine how relevant your content is, and your domain authority
- If a relevant site links to your content, that link will be seen as a high-quality link. If a spam site starts linking to your content, you can see a negative effect on your rankings. Keep low-quality links OUT of your backlink profile
- Outbound Links: The links you give to others. In example, giving credit to a source in a blog post
- Internal Links: How your site links together. Google will crawl all your inbound links to determine which pages to index or not. Also helps Google understand your site architecture and topical relevance
Inbound links are the bread & butter of SEO and has been the foundation for the industry for many years. It can be quite difficult to start building backlinks at the beginning of your digital journey… but backlinks come with time, patience, and a disciplined strategy. Do not take the easy route! Low-quality links, spammy blogs, and other forms of black-hat link building is seriously frowned upon!
In order to build high-quality links that benefit your website and its search rankings; you must build a repertoire with others in your industry. Here is a list of a few things you can do to help build a strong link profile.
- Talk to influencers on social media
- Look at what your competitors are doing (you can do this with Ahrefs Competitive Domains feature).
- Start a Blog
- Reach out to different blogging outlets to see if they will guest post your article
In this guide, we went over many different aspects of search engine optimization. Including how to build engaging content, create a backlinking profile, optimize with RankBrain in mind, and many more. I hope you are able to improve your sites search result rankings and develop a strategy that fits your needs!
If you feel we may have missed something, or just want to say hi, Make sure to leave a comment down below and will get back to you with any questions or concerns!