Back in 2012, we created an article about SEO. Just as time has passed on, SEO has actually changed and grown and that article is really no longer applicable to a proper way of doing SEO. Many of the tips and methods that were in that article have been banned by Google and things have just changed on the whole. What we wanted to do was to create a new article to help everybody get used to doing the new way of doing SEO from the ground up in one long article. Contained within this article we’re going to go over things like research, proper on-page SEO, and the forms of link-building that are still useful. Many of the previous link-building methods no longer work.
Laying the Groundwork for SEO
Before you start SEO you need a better understanding of why you are doing SEO and how; we’re going to do this from an actual client-perspective. If you were doing SEO for a client, the initial work is really going to start with a client-questionnaire. You want to find out more information about the company you’re going to be doing SEO work for. If you’re doing this for your own company, this is going to really focus on what you’re trying to target with your SEO for your business.
You’re going to want to know things like:
What is the company about?
What part of the site do you really want to drive that traffic to?
Now, you’re normally going to want to drive that traffic to the part of your site which is going to make you money or make conversions for your clients (and in turn, make you money.) You’re also going to want to find out who your main competitors are, not only for your business, but for whatever keywords you may have in mind as well.
These keywords that you have in mind we are going to refer to as seed keywords. Basically, these are starter-keywords, and as we go along we’re going to find better keywords that are a lot easier to target and a lot better to compete with.
Education and Preperation
The next thing we need to do is provide some basic education about SEO. Many people think that SEO is about rankings and the way to get the number one position for any given keyword. That’s really not the best way to do things, and in our modern day SEO and search engines, rankings are not as essential as they used to be. We’ve seen cases of people sitting side-by-side do the exact same search and in turn getting completely separate results. If you sign into your Gmail account or another Google account, Google is able to look at your previous search engines and things that people within your Google+ circles have done, your geographic location and various other data. What then happens is that the search results are adjusted to present you with more relevant results; each search is always specifically tailored to you. When you do keyword research, or the “SEO of the future,” what we want to do is make sure that we sign out of our Google account to ensure we’re getting a more precise set of results.
The next thing is to check if the company has had previous SEO work done, if so, then we need to go back and analyze that. Things have changed with SEO and previous companies probably followed older SEO practices just like many people have. Depending on what the SEO company did—it could be some black-hat SEO, bad links, spamming, or improper linking practices—and depending on the depth or damage of those linking practices, you might have to go and disavow those links and get rid of back-links. Some additional clean-up work may be necessary as well.
The next stage we’re going to talk about is research. This can be the researching of our keywords and different things we may actually do for our site. Our keyword research breaks down into a few different areas, and we’re going to look at page keywords and article keywords. Normally when we talk about keywords, each page should have a separate set of keywords. Normally you’re going to have a single main keyword and some supporting LSI keywords. LSI keywords are basically keywords related to your main keyword but phrased differently.
In the past, people used to talk about keyword density and one would try to get a really high keyword-density–but that can look spammy. Modern SEO is all about looking natural or making it natural. From an SEO perspective, we can’t always make things natural, but we can make them look natural. If you have a keyword showing up over and over again, it’s just not a natural appearance. It used to be that a keyboard density of 3 to 4% was recommended, but now it’s more along the lines of 1% recommended. By using LSI keyboards we’re able to tell Google, “This is what our main keyword is and here are related keywords to it,” so it’ll help you show up for those extra keyword queries.
When you do keyword research, there are a multitude of different methods out there, and here I’m going to go over two methods. The first one is “the manual method,” which involves using the Google keyword planner tool and using seed keywords. We’re going to place those seed keywords into the Google planner tool and tell it that we want to target a certain location.
Manual Keyword Research
In most cases, your business might just be targeting the U.S.A., Canada, and perhaps maybe a few other countries. Many times, you’re not going to target the world. If you leave it as just targeting worldwide, what’s going to happen is that the number of searches per month are going to be skewed because they’re not going to typically match the area you’re targeting. You might see a huge number of searches, but when you get down into the nitty-gritty, there might be only a small number of searches for your actual area, so be sure to specify your location.
You can set further filters at this stage or after you’ve done your search, but remember what we’re looking for–low to medium competition keywords and at least 500 to 10000 searches. If you get less than that, you might be wasting your time. If it’s a really competitive keyword or a small keyword, you might go to get further down, but you really want something with at least 100, but preferably 500 searches for your keyword per month. This will be the best return on your time.
Once we actually do our search for that, it’s going to pull back a list of keywords. There will be two tabs, the ‘Ad Groups’ tab and a ‘Keyword Research’ tab. We’re going to go to our Keyword Research tab, and at the very top we’re going to see all of our seed keywords. Below that, additional keywords will be displayed. What we can do for manual research is determine if the seed keywords look like a good choice and fall within those ranges, we can add those to an excel spreadsheet and then go and do further research to verify if these are good keywords.
The next thing we’re going to do is grab any additional keywords that are in the bottom that look as though they might fall into that same category, possessing the proper number of searches and the proper level of competition, and we’ll also add these to Excel.
In our Excel spreadsheet, the information we’re going to copy is our keyword, the number of searches, and our competition level and then we’re free to ignore the rest of that information. We’re going to create new columns for PR for the domain, PR for the page, backlinks for the page, backlinks for the domain, and we can also create additional columns to help us track information. Normally we create columns to see whether there’s a website such as eBay, Wikipedia, Microsoft, Facebook–any major website players that show up those results that we might not be able to outrank–and then we’ll have our notes column for recording notes while doing keyword research.
The next thing we’re going to want to do is pull up a new browser tab. We use Firefox as our recommended browser and use a plug-in called “SEO Quake.” What this plug-in does is pull SEO information into our search results on Google. We’ll sign out of our Google account and clear our cache (so that Google isn’t looking at any previous data we might have in there) and then we’ll go and start our searches. We want to make sure that SEO Quake is turned on, and what we’ll find is that for each search result there’s going to be a bar below that will give us information such as PR back-links, domain age, and various information of that nature.
We’re going to copy and paste the average numbers into our Excel spreadsheet so we can look at the data. Does this page have a high-number of backlinks? Are we looking at PR-8 websites and our website is only a PR-0 which would difficult competition? This data will give us an idea of whether or not we can really actually compete for that keyword.
As we’ve said before, ranking is not much of an indicator of whether we can compete, but it does give us a good idea of who we’re competing with for a keyword, which is what is most important to us right now. We’ll fill in this information for all the sites. When we pull these results, we want to make sure we’re only looking at 10 pages at a time because if we’re looking at more pages, we’re going to start hitting the Google spam filters and then a bunch of Captchas to fill out. Eventually, you might even get blocked and have to wait a few hours in order to start doing the searches again. Looking at the top-ten is usually the ideal method. Once we’ve retrieved that information we can go through and determine which keywords we’re going to use.
While this method is very time-intensive, there are automated processes I’ll go over which will save you a lot of time and avoid this mess.
Automated Keyword Research
A few main tools have a lot of exposure out there; tools like Market Samurai, Longtail Pro and a tool that we personally use and recommend called “Stealth Keyword Competition Analyzer.” Market Samurai has been around for a long time and some people do like it for keyword research, but for me personally it has the same issue that Longtail Pro does, and that is the difficulty of seeing these actual competition values–you’ve got to go into each individual keyword and run additional reports which consumes a lot of time and requires you to go more in-depth on things. With Longtail Pro, a monthly subscription is required to access that extra information about your keywords and whether to go after them. Stealth Keyword Competition Analyzer is the cheapest of all the tools and the nice thing is that you can import your data from Google keyword planner. It’ll grab all that extra information we were looking at and come back with all the information we need in the Excel spreadsheet with indications of whether a keyword is good, bad, amazing or terrible. It’s just a nice plain English representation of which keywords are worth pursuing.
With any of these tools you’ll want to analyze any additional information that may not be included there, so just double-check those findings. Just like with any kind of piece of software, there may be bugs, so always double-check your research.
Once you’ve got your research phase in place and you’ve got a good list of keywords you’re going to go after, maybe some good keywords for articles, perhaps some keywords such as “how to” and then your keyword, or the word “best” and then your keyword, or your keyword and then the word “review,” and this approach basically allows you to target multiple areas for those article keywords. This can, in turn, help drive traffic to your site and boost your rankings.
Creating and Optimizing Your Website
Once you have your keywords, it’s time to start optimizing your site. If you’re just starting a site, we usually recommend WordPress as the platform. It’s a very easy-to-use platform, not only for you, but for clients as well. There are a vast number of plug-ins for SEO as well as plug-ins for your site which make your job so much easier. That’s not to say you can’t do this with a static HTML site; I know plenty of people who do just that. The downside is that a static HTML site is a lot more to manage and can be a headache as the site gets bigger.
If you are using WordPress, we recommend the following plug-ins:
HTML Page Sitemap
XML Sitemap & Google News Sitemap Feeds
WP Super Cache
Each of these has a different purpose.
SEO Ultimate will enable us to replace Yoast or all-in-one SEO pack and manage our meta-tags. The nice thing about SEO-Ultimate is the ability to change descriptions and titles across all the pages, tags from a single location without having to go into each individual piece and allows you to change those extra items that you might not find within other items.
SEOPressor is a good tool for people who are new to on-page SEO. If you are already familiar with on-page SEO, you probably won’t need this plug-in, but it does serve as a reminder of how to properly optimize a page. It is a paid plug-in requiring a one-time fee or signing up for their subscription model to use it. If you are using it for clients, there is a developer or Pro edition will allow you to use it on unlimited sites so you don’t have to pay that same cost over and over again.
HTML Page Site Map is going to present you with the ability to generate a HTML representation of your Site Map so that people can easily traverse through the site.
XML Site Map and Google News Feeds create site-maps for the site in XML format so you can in turn present it to Google and other search engines so they can understand what’s on your site and spider the site more easily.
WP Super Cache is used for decreasing page load times and allows the system to actually cache pages. When a user visits that page, it’ll actually pull up that cached version which decreases the demand on the server and the page load time.
WP Smush.it actually uses Yahoo’s Smush.it service, shrinking the file size on images and other files stored in the media library. This also helps with page load times by reducing the bandwidth without losing out on the quality with those images (the compression is lossless.)
The rest of this will be the process of getting set-up and optimizing the site. We’ll want to set up various outside accounts such as Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools, and if you’re doing local optimization, you’re going to need a Google Places account. You’ll want to get your social media account set-up, such as Twitter, Google+, Facebook and YouTube (if you plan on doing videos) and then finally another website that we recommend is HootSuite, which is designed to allow you to post all your social media accounts and manage them from a central location without the unnecessary need to log into multiple sites. You can schedule all out all of your posts ahead of time and what many people will do is schedule out an entire week or an entire month’s worth of posts at a single time so you don’t have to constantly go to each site on each day that you want to post.
Optimizing the Structure
At this point, we will want to optimize elements on our site itself, such as HTML errors. When the site is spidered, it’s important that Google can properly analyze the content on the site and determine what the proper tags are and what our site’s about. We’ll want to add any kind of schema mark-up or ‘H-Card’ markup, and this mark-up is basically going to be used to show things such as reviews, music, business information, menu items for a restaurant and various things like that which will help your search results and display extra information that normally wouldn’t be displayed.
Add any kind of social-media share buttons if your theme doesn’t support it already and add your analytics tracking code from Google Analytics so that you can actually see what’s going on. You can go one-step further from that and actually add a event-tracking, which is a special feature in Google Analytics that allows you to determine if a person performed a specific action. For example, if you have a product demo page and someone clicks on an image to watch a video or if they’re looking at screenshots or even just clicking on the button to head to the shopping cart, you can track each of those individual events which will give you extra information to determine what a user is actually doing on the site. This is optional but does give you some extra information you wouldn’t normally have.
To optimize your site load time (in addition to WP Super Cache) there are changes you can make in your htaccess file to add G-zip compression, extra caching, or things of that nature. Optimized load times are a very important part of modern-day SEO and also in the delivery of the best overall user experience.
Finally, we want to make any kind of external links from the site are no-follow. By making them no-follow, we’re not passing on our keyword information to them, so if our site is about website design and their site is about dog-kennels, they’re not necessarily related and you don’t want to pass that information on to Google, saying “Hey, look, this site is also relevant to our keyword.” It helps keep our link juice within the site.
Now it’s important to optimize your on-page content and make sure links are not broken. If Google is spidering a site and comes across a broken link, it will stop spidering and if they continue to hit broken links, you’re inclined to see penalties for that. To Google, it looks as though you’re not updating the site and fixing problems that are prevalent on it. We’re also going to want to go ahead and submit our site-map to Google and Bing so they can determine if there are any updates to our site. If we’re doing any kind of local SEO optimization, we’re going to want to make sure that we can use local optimization on the site itself, and again, adding that schema or H-Card markup really does help with that.
Optimizing the Content
It’s time now to undergo the process of optimizing our keyword pages. For on-page optimization, our main concern is whether the quantity of words is within the proper range. Basically we want to look at the length of an article or the length of a page. It used to be that you’d target 500 words for page, but with the modern websites, Google is looking for a lot more content—at least 800 words per page should do. If you’re doing an article, 1400 to 2000 for articles is even better. Google is looking for really high quality, high length content.
The next stage would be getting your keyword in your H1 through H6 tags. Again, we’re trying to look natural. You don’t want to put in all those tags in the site just to get them on there. You use them so you can break it the content logically. You can only have a single H1 per page, which is going to be your main keyword and what the title of the page is and basically what that page is about. Then your H2 through H6 will basically be subheadings where you can break up that content into smaller areas.
The next thing you want to do is if you’re using images on your pages (which you should be doing) each image should have an alt tag. For that alt tag, if you can use your keyword in there, it’s going to help you out. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to use your keyword on every single image. Alt tags were originally designed for screen-readers, for the visually impaired, and for when your image breaks—so if you put in a bad URL or somebody accidentally deletes the image, it’ll show that text instead. For a screen readers, as it reads through the site and hits an image, it’ll read that alt-text to the user, letting them know what that image is about. So if you have a picture of a dog, you don’t want to call it “SEO,” and if you have a picture of a lawyer, you don’t want to call him a dentist, things of that nature. But if you have a picture that’s actually related to SEO or actually related to dentistry, by all means, definitely use your keyword there. Remember, we’re trying to be natural; we’re not trying to cheat Google or anything like that. It’s worth mentioning that if your image name, too, contains your keyword, that will also help as well.
The next item that you want to adjust is the meta-title and description. The meta-title and description are not only important for on-page optimization and SEO value, these are actually what are going to show up in your search results, and here it’s your first conversation with a potential client. So if a client is looking for web-site design, you don’t want to go talking about graphic design or SEO because what they’re truly looking for is that website design. So, as you build each page, keep in mind what each page is about, and as you write your title and description, write it from the point of your conversation with your potential client, reasoning with them as to why they should click your site and what they can expect to find there once they click on that link.
The next item is that we’re going to want to use our keyword and LSI words within the content of the page. Without using those words, Google really doesn’t understand what our page is about. Now, there is a meta keywords tag and I know that some people are still using this, but we don’t recommend using it. It’s not used by search engines anymore. About the only thing it’s going to be good for is telling your competition, “These are the keywords we’re targeting, please try and compete with us,” and most businesses really don’t want to do that. It’s just something we don’t recommend.
The next item is that we’re going to want to put our keyword in bold, italicized, and underlined. Again, only if this is natural and actually makes sense for a page. We don’t want to do it just to get the numbers for doing it as far as SEO goes. We want it to look natural.
Finally, if we can have a keyword in the anchor text for an inside link from within our site and to an outside linking area which is kind of an authority in that content, it will help out our page considerably.
Finally, we want to think about the structure of our website. As we build the website, we want to have a web-like structure where pages interlink to each other. You’ve probably also heard this called a silo effect where you basically have a top-level category which goes to smaller categories to smaller categories and then finally to individual content pages, and of course that page will link back up to the main page. What you’re doing is making pathways throughout the entire site, so each thing links to one another. This does happen with the navigation bar and breadcrumbs, but if you can have those links within the actual body of the content, it helps out a lot.
A couple of other things: the links within the footer are pretty much ignored now as far as SEO goes. They have somewhat of an effect but are largely ignored. What matters is actually the content of the site. Google is smart enough to discern how your website separates into blocks and understand where the content blocks are, the header blocks are, the footer blocks are, etc… As you make changes to your site, your sitemap is going to be updated with any kind of new pages you make, and as long as those site maps are actually within Google Webmaster tools and Bing webmaster tools, then basically through every update they’re going to spider that new content for your site. There are ways to kind of force that to happen more quickly and you usually see this referred to as ‘ping and indexing’ changes to sites or ‘ping and indexing’ pages. There are plenty of resources out there for that, but basically this revolves around trying to get Google to see that there’s a new page and pull that information into it.
Link directories (for the most part) have been done away with because people have been very spammy, submitting anything and everything to get their link out there. There are two that are still very important, and that’s Dmoz and the Yahoo directory. Dmoz is free but it can take a long time to get listed; normally, I tell people that it can take up to a year or more to get listed from the day that you first submit. It kind of depends on your category and what your site is about and whether or not they choose to list you. Yahoo directory is a paid service; I believe that the last time we checked it, the cost was $249. It’s not a guaranteed listing and the cost is paid every single year. It’s very expensive and if you have the extra money, by all means, feel free to do it, but if you’re a smaller company starting out, it’s not a high-recommendation that you do this. It’s really up to you, but I do suggest actually submitting to Dmoz at least.
Finally, you want to check any kind of current backlinks from our previous research. We want to check and see if any of those backlinks were on spam sites, if those sites had too many links on the page. Excessive pages, again, make it look very spammy, and as far as your backlinks go, your anchor text should be very spread out and look very natural. You should not just have your keyword all over the place, but when you split it up you want to have your keyword, your website URL, your website name, as well as various texts such as ‘click here,’ ‘our website,’ ‘visit us,’ and give them things that make them look as though someone went out there and created a link for you without following any kind of SEO parameters.
Once we’ve got our on-page stuff tackled, we can focus on the next kind of work that follows, and that’s our ongoing outside work. This is what’s going to drive that traffic to our site and help us build followers. It used to be that you could do things like forum profile, blog commenting, article directories, guest blog posting and a bunch of other practices that you could consider ‘spammy.’ Google has come back and cut out most of this and what we’re left with is manual link building (that’s not of a spammy nature), pay-per-click (whether that’s Ad Words or something else), and social media.
That’s pretty much it. Basically, we would be constantly updating our site to ensure that fresh content is always making its way onto the site.
With our social media accounts; we want to engage our potential customers. Not only to drive traffic to our site, but to engage with them on social platforms and foster a sharing of information which can in turn lead to conversions. What we want to do is go ahead and make sure our social media accounts are actually optimized. We want to have a nice, clean looking header, optimize our user logo, our user profile, the backlink to our site, information about what our site is about, and what we want to do is actually go out there and try to get followers.
You’re naturally going to get followers in, of course, and you can also pay for Facebook ads to get a like campaign going on for additional new ‘likes’ for your website. A good way to help get extra followers is to go and find other leaders in your niche areas. If your niche is web design you might target popular website design companies or individual website designers and add them on Facebook, Google+, YouTube, any of those kinds of sites, and by following them, many people will respond by following you. It helps create a kind of web-like structure and boosts your influence in your market area. Once that’s done, you want to make sure you’re making posts often on your account. I recommend at least once a day. If you can get away with three a day, that’s even better, but if you’re using something like Hoot Suite you can schedule these out in advance.
As far as what to post for your social media, you can post things such as questions, interesting topics in your niche, you can post meme images, some kind of funny images, and of course you can post marketing information about your site. You don’t want to overload it with information linking back to your site, but you want to kind of spread it out. You don’t want to shove things down people’s throats but guide them to the proper area and help them find it on their own.
In addition to social, you can go ahead and look at other back-linking opportunities. Now, guest posting and things of that nature are pretty much dead because people have spammed it. You can still do guest posting, but don’t try to do it just for SEO purposes. Try to do it to boost the interest in your brand and increase that brand awareness. It’s basically to get your name out there; it’s not just for SEO. We found that in the past that as many people go out, they try to get as many backlinks from as many sources as possible using things such as ‘spun’ articles, and in turn, the result is horrible quality content which is just not good for a site.
In addition to doing that, since backlinks are pretty much dead, there are a few other things that you can actually do to increase traffic to your site. One of those things is to have very in-depth articles. You just have a lot of content and you want to make sure you have that proper article markup language in there from Schema. You want to have any kind of Google+ authorship, pagination, local markups, anything like that to kind of boost your articles. You want to make sure that users are actually happy with what you’re providing them and make sure you’re kind of targeting those proper user areas. You can also make sure that you have the rich snippets from structure data, so if you’re doing things like songs, videos, breadcrumbs, you want to make sure that all of that follows along with that same kind of information from schema, taking care to ensure that everything goes together.
Another thing you can do is video optimization through YouTube. A lot of times it’s easier to rank a video for our keyword than to rank a website—and again, rankings do change. Many times, for a complicated keyword or even smaller keywords, you’ll find that videos show up for those keywords just like Google local results show up as well, but if you optimize a video, what you can do is take that video and within the description of that video create a link to an article to your site, and on the article on your site you can use that video link. So basically, anybody going to either one of those is going to find the opposite page and as you watch that video on the site it’s going to help out YouTube, and if you’re watching the video on YouTube, they might come to your site, creating a loop where you can get potential customers in as well as improve your rankings.
Additional Optimization and Considerations
You can also do Google authorship. When you use Google Authorship, you’ll want to make sure that you use a real face and some kind of company logo, a cartoon or an icon. You’ll want to use images that really stand out and catch the attention. Make sure your image targets your audience. If you’re going after a business audience, you don’t want to be standing around in a hoody with sunglasses like you’re on the beach–you’ll want to target that business-oriented audience and vice versa as well. Consider who your potential customers are and target them with everything that you’re doing. Again, making sure that you have a high page speed, you’ll want to decrease that load time so that as visitors go through your site it’s very, very snappy and creates the best possible experience for the user.
In the modern web world, many people are using phones, tablets, various devices, perhaps even in the car to pull up websites and get information, so you want to make sure you’re not only targeting desktops but that you have a responsive website design where your site changes based on who’s looking at it. In the past, we used to do separate sites for mobile and you had a main website, but you had to keep up two separate sites and things would kind of lag. With modern websites, you can get a responsive design so that as the main browser window changes, it’ll actually change the site itself and adapt automatically. There’s a lot of information out there—Bootstrap is the really popular theme option and people have built on top of that and now there are so many different options for it.
Other things to consider are additional audiences. Maybe you’re currently targeting the U.S. but you might have traffic coming from other countries that you didn’t think about before and so you can go and try to target them as well. That’s where Google Analytics really comes in handy, it’s about finding out all this extra information.
You’ll want to keep up with your social media, which will definitely help to drive traffic, and you want to make sure your meta-titles and descriptions are still very much optimized. One thing to be aware of is with most SEO tools, they’re going to give your title and description as far as the number of characters you use, Google doesn’t really use the number of characters but the number of pixels. That number is usually around 500 pixels in length and it changes as Google changes its website design. There are tools out there to help you such as the online snippet optimization tool, which can help determine what that is. With most tools, the number of characters they allow is usually going to fall pretty close to that number, so try not to get too close to the max number of characters on your tools and you should be pretty much within that nice little area and your stuff is not going to get clipped off.
The last great thing to do is make sure that you have new, fresh content on the site pretty often. Try to keep a schedule where you’re updating the site every so often, and as you update those new pages and add them, make sure you’re doing that on-page optimization continuously with it–don’t forget to do those individual items!
That is pretty much the bare basics of modern day SEO. A lot of stuff has been cut-out and a few things have been added, but all in all I feel that SEO is easier now. There’s less work and fewer things that “may or may not” work, so all-in-all, it has basically given us a better environment where the competition is more level; the content that should rank and show up is usually going to rank and show up based on information like this.
Well, I hope this helped everyone, and if you have any questions, feel free to leave us a comment—we’d love to hear what you guys have to say about this article and what you’d love to see in the future. Thanks!
Also here’s the overall picture of this method: