What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
SEO is a marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results. SEO encompasses both the technical and creative elements required to improve rankings, drive traffic, and increase awareness in search engines. There are many aspects to SEO, from the words on your page to the way other sites link to you on the web. Sometimes SEO is simply a matter of making sure your site is structured in a way that search engines understand.
SEO isn’t just about building search engine-friendly websites. It’s about making your site better for people too. At Moz we believe these principles go hand-in-hand.
This guide is designed to describe all areas of SEO—from finding the terms and phrases (keywords) that generate traffic to your website, to making your site friendly to search engines, to building links and marketing the unique value of your site. If you are confused about this stuff, you are not alone, and we’re here to help.
Why does my website need SEO?
he majority of web traffic is driven by the major commercial search engines, Google, Bing, and Yahoo!. Although social media and other types of traffic can generate visits to your website, search engines are the primary method of navigation for most Internet users. This is true whether your site provides content, services, products, information, or just about anything else.
Search engines are unique in that they provide targeted traffic—people looking for what you offer. Search engines are the roadways that make this happen. If search engines cannot find your site, or add your content to their databases, you miss out on incredible opportunities to drive traffic to your site.
Search queries—the words that users type into the search box—carry extraordinary value. Experience has shown that search engine traffic can make (or break) an organization’s success. Targeted traffic to a website can provide publicity, revenue, and exposure like no other channel of marketing. Investing in SEO can have an exceptional rate of return compared to other types of marketing and promotion.
Why can’t the search engines figure out my site without SEO?
Search engines are smart, but they still need help. The major engines are always working to improve their technology to crawl the web more deeply and return better results to users. However, there is a limit to how search engines can operate. Whereas the right SEO can net you thousands of visitors and increased attention, the wrong moves can hide or bury your site deep in the search results where visibility is minimal.
In addition to making content available to search engines, SEO also helps boost rankings so that content will be placed where searchers will more readily find it. The Internet is becoming increasingly competitive, and those companies who perform SEO will have a decided advantage in visitors and customers.
Can I do SEO for myself?
The world of SEO is complex, but most people can easily understand the basics. Even a small amount of knowledge can make a big difference. Free SEO education is widely available on the web, including in guides like this. Combine this with a little practice and you are well on your way to becoming a guru.
Depending on your time commitment, your willingness to learn, and the complexity of your website(s), you may decide you need an expert to handle things for you. Firms that practice SEO can vary; some have a highly specialized focus, while others take a broader and more general approach.
In any case, it’s good to have a firm grasp of the core concepts.
Basics of on-page website optimization
Note: Nowadays the way in which we structure URL addresses, write title tags and meta-descriptions, optimize website images and so on becomes less important as Google focuses on other SEO factors (mostly on content and link building techniques). However, as we’re learning about the SEO basics, the only way we should do it is to learn about good practices.
This is exactly what we’re about to do now.
1. Make your website’s structure clear, intuitive and up-to-date.
The way you organize a site architecture, and its navigation is crucial for both SEO and your visitors. Search engines go through a link structure to find and index pages. If your site is structured well, all the pages and subpages will be easily found and indexed by search engine crawlers.
Also, an intuitive navigation will work for your visitors as it will help them find what they came for in the least amount of time possible. A ‘three clicks’ rule says that any information on a website should be available for a user within no more than three clicks. This is how you should plan it.
2. Include one primary keyword in a page URL.
The web pages in your domain may be optimized for many different keywords. It is said that the best way is to focus only on one keyword phrase and to include it directly in the URL address.Use hyphens (-) instead of underscores (_) in URLs.
3. Use hyphens (-) instead of underscores (_) in URLs.
When you use underscores to separate words in a URL name, Google will read it as one single word. This means that the_best_seo_practices will be treated by search crawlers as ‘thebestseopractices’. That one is hard to read, right?
4. Choose a static URL address instead of a dynamic one.
There are two types of web addresses: static and dynamic.
A static URL looks like that:
A dynamic one can look like this:
While search engines can easily understand both of the URLs, for human beings dynamic URLs are completely illegible.
For instance, if you have a blog on WordPress you can see that a default URL address of a particular post is dynamic. Take a look:
When you click the ‘publish’ button, WordPress will automatically convert it into a static address. However, it will pick random keywords from the blog’s title. In terms of SEO, it would be better if you edit the URL name yourself which is possible as seen above.
5. Keep a URL address brief, descriptive and relevant.
A visitor should be able to tell at a glance what a particular website is all about. If you choose to edit a URL address yourself, you’ll not only work in favor of the keyword optimization, but you’ll also make it easier for a user to understand what he or she can find on a particular website. This way you’ll make a searcher’s life a bit easier.
Title-tag, meta-description and ALT-attribute
6. Create a sweet title-tag for every single page of your website.
A title tag describes what your domain is all about. This is one short sentence in which you describe your online space. It will appear in several places, such as: the SERPs, social media, external pages, and in browsers (see examples below).
It should be short, catchy and original enough to attract the attention of those people who are your targeted audience. Yes, it means that you should speak their language and present your website in a way that would be attractive to them.
7. Use meta-description to present your brand better.
A meta description is a short paragraph which is displayed under a title tag on the SERP (see screen above). A meta-description gives you the opportunity to introduce your brand before a searcher pays a visit to your site and actually sees the products that you offer.
The optimal length of a meta-description is between 150-160 characters.
8. Don’t forget to use ALT attributes for all of the images.
Search engines don’t read images, they read the ALT text instead. You should use an ALT attribute to help engine crawlers better understand the meaning of an image and what it represents. Of course, it’s good to use keyword phrases you target to describe the images on the webpage itself.
Also, it is good to place keywords in the text that surrounds the images and make it bolded. This way engine crawlers will know that this part of a post is particularly important for readers.
Whatever CMS (content management system) you use, each time you upload an image you will have a chance to optimize it with proper keywords. It’s easy. Below is how you can optimize images in WordPress.
Keywords and keyword phrases
9. Find keywords that will work for you.
SEO is pretty much based on keywords. The key to a good SEO strategy is to find out what words users type into a search bar when they look for websites like yours. With a list of relevant keywords in your hand, you’ll be a half way there.
One (and the most common) way of doing a keyword research is to use Google Keyword Planner. This free tool is available to anyone with a Google AdWords account, which is also free. Once you setup your account and give more details about your website, you’ll get a list of keyword suggestions.
Your job is to pick the most relevant keyword phrases from the list. However, it is also important that those keywords are popular among users (have a relatively high number of average monthly searches). Lastly, they should have medium or low competition (not many websites try to optimize for those keywords).
This is only easy in theory. The tricky part about Google Keyword Planner is that it shows the estimated number of average competition is for the number paid ads for that particular keyword. When it comes to the competition for the organic results will be totally different.
So the best idea is to use additional (and usually paid) tools for checking the actual keyword difficulty metric.
Still, Google Keyword Planner is a good starting point for keyword research. Here you can read more about how to use Google Keyword Planner.
10. Mix different types of keywords simultaneously.
Basically, there are three main types of keywords: generic, broad match and long tail. Each of them attract a bit different types and amount of traffic. The safest and the most effective strategy is to mix those types of keywords in order to get different variety of traffic.
Generic keywords are unspecific and very general terms, for example: “content marketing” or “growth hacking” are those kinds of keywords. Such terms provide a really good amount of traffic, which, at the same time, is not very targeted. Generic keywords are also very competitive.
Broad match keywords usually provides a good balance between the traffic volume and its relevance for a website. They could sound like: “growth hacking for startups” or “content marketing best practices”. Traffic that comes from those phrases will be better targeted, which means that people who visit will be more likely to become your future clients and followers.
Long tail keywords are long phrases (they could be even whole sentences) that people type into search bars. “How to prepare a content marketing strategy” or “how to use growth hacking techniques to expand a business” are examples of long tail keywords. They won’t bring a lot of traffic to your website. However, visitors that they provide you with, are most likely to become your engaged users.
11. Don’t forget to include a location in your keywords.
This way you’ll optimize your website and your business for both local searches and local clients. For instance, if you offer content marketing services and you’re based in San Francisco, it’s good to you let your potential customers know and put keyword such an obvious keyword phrase like: “content marketing services in San Francisco”.
12. Place your keywords in headlines, subheadings and anchor texts.
Not every spot on your website will give your keyword phrases the same exposure and SEO power. In a content’s structure the best places to put your keywords are headlines, subheadings, bolded sections within a text and anchor texts (copy that describes links).
When describing links don’t ever use the “click here” term! It gives absolutely no information about what can be found under a particular link, plus you miss the chance to optimize a text link.
Also, if possible, put the most important keywords also in the name of your website’s sections.
13. Put keywords naturally throughout your on-page content.
They should fit into the context. If you over do it and stuff your content with too many keyword phrases, you will make your web page look spammy and unattractive both for users and engine crawlers. Keyword stuffing will result in a negative user experience and most certainly will harm your site’s rankings.
14. Try to focus on one keyword while optimizing a web page.
It is good to optimize a web page with one keyword phrase rather than several ones at a time. By focusing on one keyword, you’ll be sure that it gains all the SEO power it can get. Optimize title and meta tags of a website along with its content (headline, subheadings, body text, links and images).
15. Optimize all images with proper keywords.
Don’t forget to use keyword phrases not only throughout the website’s content, but also in the image description. It is also believed that it’s good practice to use words such as: “image”, “photo”, “picture” along with your picked keyword while describing an image with an ALT attribute.
16. As soon as you start doing SEO, track the performance of all your keywords.
If you don’t follow the search rankings of your website and don’t know how particular keywords work for your positions in SERPs, you may as well just stop doing SEO altogether. Website optimization is a long-term process which requires carefully tracking all your efforts. When it comes to keywords, you have to know which ones work in favor of your rankings.
Content still wears the SEO crown.
17. Publish only high quality, fresh and keyword rich content.
One of the most important SEO factors nowadays is a website’s content. If you provide useful and actionable information for users, search engines will rank your website higher in SERPs. To get the best optimization results, you should also update your content as often as it is possible. This way you’ll keep your website fresh and your audience interested.
18. Pay special attention to spelling and grammar of your content.
High-quality content means faultless spelling. It’s true that people often misspell words they type into search bars. Some the of not-so-recommended techniques advise to optimize a website also for misspelled keywords so that users who are not good at grammar could easily find it. However, excessive misspellings and poor grammar can only harm your website’s rankings.
19. Make sure your content is unique and valuable.
To make a website stand out in the depth of the internet is the hardest job for everyone who runs an online business. There’s no magic recipe that can be applied and give sustainable results. However, search engines tend to reward those websites that bring a real value to their users.
A site that has information that unique and valuable (informative, useful and intelligible) will gain more exposure in the SERPs. Search engines rank higher those websites which try to make a difference (in a good way of course!) and provide real value for people.
20. Prepare content that appeals to your targeted audience.
Not every piece of content will be interesting for each and every user out there. Your website will get in front of a random audience from time to time. However, your job is not to please everyone, but to create content tailored to the needs of your customers.
Develop a buyer persona before you start investing your resources into content creation. Publish only those pieces of content that matter to your audience.
21. Carefully plan your content strategy.
Yes, you should have a strategy for content that you publish on your website. Not only should you know exactly what kind of information you would like to provide, but also how often. This applies especially if you run a blog within your website. Start with creating a roadmap for content creation.
22. Make your content easy to read.
On the Internet, people tend to scan text rather than read it from cover to cover. That’s why you should provide a clear structure of each piece of content. Use headlines, subheadings, bullets and bolds in the most relevant sections of your copy.
Also, try to make your content a bit more vivid – use pictures, real-life examples, infographics or videos to illustrate information better and make your content memorable. Also don’t forget to place proper keywords throughout the content.
23. Take care of all duplicate content on your website
Duplicated content – the same content that appears on multiple unique URLs – is not welcome by search engines and can cause a serious drop in a website’s rankings. However, sometimes it’s hard to avoid duplicating content, especially on ecommerce websites where the same product is presented on separate web pages with different size and/or color.
In cases like this, you should use a canonical tag that points out which page should be considered as original in relation to duplicated content. You can also use a 301 redirect to make sure that SEO juice is directed to one website address and not divided into several web pages.
Link building matters a lot
24. Build a healthy backlink profile for your site.
Inbound links that come to your site are the second most important SEO factor (right after content) that has great impact on your website’s rankings. From the first days of crafting a SEO strategy for your business, you should plan which link building strategies you’ll invest in.
Picking trusted and relevant websites that you’d like to receive backlinks from will be a good start.
25. When actively gaining links aim only for the quality ones.
Only links from quality and trusted websites that attract a high amount of traffic can have a serious and good impact on your website’s rankings. If an authoritative website links to yours, some of this “authority” is transferred to your site.
Search engines start to trust your site a bit more. And when they consider it as a good source of knowledge, they are also more willing to rank it higher in their SERPs.
Remember: quality is always more important than quantity when it comes to links, content, and SEO in general. Plenty of spammy links can only harm your rankings, not make them higher.
26. Don’t invest in sponsored links.
It’s far better to focus on reaching to authoritative blogs and providing them with real value rather than pay for a spammy or highly promotional articles with a backlink to your website. Such a publication won’t bring you much traffic, nor will it give you credibility in readers’ eyes.
It’s far better if you find a respected blog or media outlet from your niche and present your extensive expertise on a particular subject in the form of a blog post, case study, infographic, presentation, etc.
Real value generates traffic, followers, engagement and backlinks. When you give something worthwhile, you’ll get a quality backlink juice in return. No money will give you sustainable SEO results and quality inbound links like that.
27. Link to other quality websites.
If you link to other websites, you not only help to promote their content, but also you let others know that you exist. Simple as that. And if you provide quality content, people whose work you’ve shared will be more willing to promote your website as well.
Quality link building is more about creating relationships, not exchanging links.
28. Earn links by helping people
In the SEO world, the currency is links. When you help others, for example by sharing your knowledge, valuable insights, easy-to-implement tips and free tools, you always get something in return. Users usually feel gratitude and the need to give you something in exchange – they give links.
If you decide to spend money on paid campaigns, consider spending them not only in favor of gaining backlinks, but to actually help people. There are plenty of charity and nonprofit organizations that are looking for sponsors. In return, they will mention you on their websites.
The good news is that domains which end with .org (for organization), .edu (for education), .info (for information), .gov (for government) have higher domain authority than commercial websites and are far better trusted by search engines. Receiving links from them will give your website a lot credibility.
29. Create content that people would love to link to.
As it was mentioned above, if you give a real value to your visitors, they will be happy to share it with their friends and family. You won’t even have to ask for it. This way you will receive ‘natural’ links that search engines are fond of.
30. Build good relationships with websites from your niche.
Search engines have really smart algorithms. If you try to gain links from irrelevant websites (even the quality and trusted ones), you won’t receive any link juice as search engines will consider it as one of the manipulative techniques.
It’s far better if you invest your time in creating relationships with websites and companies from your niche. You could exchange valuable content with your audiences and grow your backlinks in a safe way.
31. Create your social media presence.
Ok, it’s true that links from social media are ‘no-follow’ which means that they don’t have the direct impact on your rankings. However, having a brand presence in social media channels can increase traffic to your site and build your reputation in general.
The more visible your content is on social media, the more chance that people will share it via blog posts, forums, social bookmarking sites, and other avenues, naturally increasing your link profile.
32. Seek for guest blog exchange opportunities.
Guest blogging is a popular and a rather safe method of gaining backlinks. A blogger offers to write a post on another blog from the same niche. He or she receives a valuable inbound link while the blog host gets a high-quality content for free.
However, if you want this technique to work for you, the only way is to target high-quality blogs that are also relevant to your site, rather than participating in generic blog exchange networks.
33. Don’t overdo guest blogging.
A large scale of guest blogging only for link purpose is considered as a violation of Google’s rules. Guest blogging should bring value not only to both sides (the blogger and the blog host) but for users as well. SEO has always been a long-term and time-consuming process, but nowadays it is also more about users, not website owners.
At the end of a day, it’s ordinary people who use search engines on a daily basis. If they can’t find relevant information there, they will stop using them and switch to other sources.
34. Monitor the quality of your backlink profile.
After implementing any SEO technique, you need to monitor your efforts. As for link building you should check what results you get. You should do it not only to know whether your hard work is paying off, but also to make sure that you’re not hurting your rankings with low quality inbound links.
And don’t forget to…
35. Find out what your competition is doing for SEO.
Always keep an eye on your competitors. Find out what keywords they optimize their websites for and monitor their rankings along with yours. Do it on a daily basis. Check what websites they appear on and what content they publish on their blog.
You should know all of those not to copy their SEO strategy, but on the contrary, to find your own unique way of optimizing your website. Also, don’t be afraid to change the strategy as soon as you know that it fails to bring you good, sustainable results.
Last but not least
We hope that those tips will be a good start for making your online presence more visible and user-friendly. If you already begun your SEO adventure, you can treat the above tips as a checklist that helps to keep your strategy relevant and effective.
If you have any suggestions, want to share other SEO tips or just want to talk about SEO strategy that worked for you, leave us a comment.
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12 SEO Trends Heating Up 2018
If your business isn’t taking advantage of using SEO strategies on its website, blogs and social media pages, you’re missing the boat in terms of ranking your business in internet searches. SEO is one of the most effective ways to ensure your customers find your business and buy your products.
As simple as SEO can be to utilize, it is a constantly evolving technique that needs a good understanding and a knowledge base of what is new or on the horizon for ranking schemes. This year is no different, as several SEO trends are coming to light that can help your organization achieve a top result in a Google search, giving your business an edge over your competition.
Twelve members of the Forbes Agency Council share the SEO trend or change that is impacting their work this year.
1. Voice Search
Voice search will change how we create content. Valuable content will have a more conversational tone that answers questions directly. The idea of creating content around a specific keyword bucket will no longer exist. It’s about creating content for searcher intent. Search engines can interpret context so that content that answers a question and contains information about a topic will win. – Loren Baker,Foundation Digital
2. Link-Worthy, Useful Content
In 2018, engagement will play an even larger role in achieving SEO success overall. Creating link-worthy, user-driven content that answers relevant questions and provides useful information to prospects is pivotal. Schema is another area that will continue to be a focal point in achieving measurable results within organic search online. – Bryan Shetsky, Lamark Media
3. Secure Links (SSL)
A couple of years ago, Google announced that secured website certificates (SSL) were starting to impact the ranking of websites. Recently, we noticed that browsers such as Chrome are flagging sites that don’t begin with HTTPS as being potentially unsafe. At $39/year, this is one of the least expensive and easiest fixes to boost SEO ranking in 2018. – Ahmad Kareh, Twistlab Marketing
4. Searcher Intent
Google’s focus on matching search results to the unique intent of a searcher’s query will most impact our SEO work this year. We now must look beyond keywords and traditional ranking factors to understand the types of content the search engines deem relevant for priority terms. We’re also looking beyond the first page to understand unique opportunities and threats by vertical. – Nina Hale,Nina Hale, Inc
5. Subdomain Versus Subdirectory
We recently migrated our blog from a subdomain to a subdirectory in our root domain. We have been seeing how this can be beneficial for our root domain to increase domain authority. We have also put all of our efforts into our blog to not have the benefit of increased visibility for our top-level domain, which is the most important one in the long run. – Martha Madero Gonzalez, GROU Crecimiento Digital
6. Video SEO
A study done by Cisco last year predicted that by 2021, video will account for over 82% of all consumer internet traffic. That means in the next few years, video content will by far surpass all forms of other content. On top of that, YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. The massive opportunity to get your brand in front of your prospects is creating optimized video content. – Marc Hardgrove, The HOTH
7. Battle Of The Snippets
The biggest change is the expanded Google SERP features. In addition to achieving page one, top three rankings, our goal is to have our clients be featured with expanded schema usage, as well as varied featured snippets. – Charles Kim, Executive Digital
8. SEO-Rich, Long-Form Content
We are writing more long-form content in 2018. Content pages of 1,500 words or more are performing better in the search engine rankings and drawing more organic traffic than shorter pages. Studies show that users stay on these pages longer and long-form content receives more backlinks and social shares. Focusing on evergreen topics and high-quality writing is key to success. – Peter Boyd, PaperStreet Web Design
9. The Power Of Social Media
While this may not be news to many, it certainly is to others. Google and other search engines are placing a seemingly ever-increasing priority on content engagement across platforms, making likes, retweets, shares and social clicks more important than ever before. Ensure you have a strategy that incorporates social media and that you are posting content your audience will engage with. – Jacob Hanson, PR with Panache!
10. Site Speed
While there have been numerous hints leading up to it and we’ve been preparing clients for it, Google has officially announced site speed as a ranking factor. Users want results and they want them fast. Site speed also drives higher conversion rates so it’s an investment that can make cents (see what I did there). – Jon Clark,Fuze SEO, LLC
11. Mobile Renaissance (Again)
The change from a desktop-based to a mobile-based Google index is imminent, requiring responsive design or better alignment between content on mobile and desktop sites. Google officially announced that page speed is a ranking factor for mobile results, making its AMP technology more appealing. Lastly, Progressive Web Apps will have greater support on iPhones, impacting mobile design trends. – Paul Shapiro, Catalyst, a GroupM and WPP Agency
12. Proliferation Of Smart Devices
The one overall thing I can think of is the proliferation of smart devices like Alexa, Google Home and Apple Home Pod, in addition to the smart assistants on our devices like Siri and Google App. There is more natural language search and voice input going on, and it’s how one sets themselves up for SEO success in a voice-driven search world. – Timothy Nichols, ExactDrive, Inc
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