Last updated on 23rd September 2020 by Cedric Bill
We shall be exploring in-details SEO principles so that you will understand what you need to rank your website. There are myriads of SEO strategies, all with various techniques, but with the same end goal; ranking your website in search engines. The good news is there are ample of SEO toolsets that can help us to do keywords research, site audits, site crawl, rank tracking and backlink analysis.
Ranking your website for the targeted traffic and leads is a long process. It is not impossible to rank in Google first page and what you need is the right steps with ample of patience. For me, the most important tool before subscribing any Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tools is our mindset. With strong mindset, you can always achieve your targeted goals. It is very obvious that being patient and keep on trying and learning about SEO strategies will further improve your skills and understanding.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
What’s covered in this guide?
Here are some of the benefits you’ll be getting:
- Updated SEO tactics
- Technical SEO
- Link Building
- Content Writing and Optimization
I have broken down everything in a nice table of contents, making it easy for you to go through each segment and apply those ideas to your website. I will update this entry from time to time, and please bookmark my website for later reading of you find it useful.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
SEO is defined as the art and science of optimizing a website for higher rankings in Search Engine Ranking Pages (in short, Google results). SEO is a vital component for any digital marketing strategy. To build the initial trust with new online customer, an online present is a requirement. Whether you have a new blog, an e-commerce website or a corporate company website, there is no point in building one if you cannot be found online.
In order to do that, you have to optimize your websites to get targeted traffic from search engines. What people search in Google is called keywords, which form the basis of any SEO strategy. These keywords are what driven your strategy and decide how you rank in search engines.
Just to give you a rough estimation, at any given time, more than 2 million blog posts are published every single day. That is a lot of content.
If we sum up ALL content published in a day on various platform available, it would definitely be a lot more. In so much noise, how do you stand out by creating content that ‘sounds music to Google’s ears’?
Before we move on defining SEO strategy and tactics, it is important to weed out some misunderstandings:
SEO isn’t a programming language
Regardless of what you think, SEO is NOT a programming language like CSS, Java, etc. Unlike how web developers create web and mobile applications, SEO is NOT the same. There is no “instruction” given to Google to rank a website. It is a long-term strategy with lots of trial and error involved in it. However they are many available tools online that will help us to make SEO easier such as SEM Rush, SpyFu, SE Ranking.
SEO doesn’t yield results overnight
Either you are doing SEO yourself, or hiring an agency/freelancer, remember that results are NEVER guaranteed in short term. If someone claims to rank you on all major keywords within a month, it’s a blatant lie.
Like we said earlier, it is not a programming language, nor an application through which you can pull free traffic. While you will get results in the long term, probably 3 to 6 months, please note that they won’t come overnight. You have to remain patient and focus throughout.
It is constantly evolving
SEO is an ever-changing phenomenon. What worked yesterday, may not work today. What worked today may not work tomorrow. The keywords you ranked for last month, may not be relevant anymore today! With persistent and unpredictable changes to Google’s search engine ranking algorithms, you also have to constantly update your SEO strategy.
This means to keep your website on Google first page, I recommend to always learning about SEO and periodically updating your contents to suit the current strategy. In short, be flexible!
Getting Started with SEO
The first five results on Google get around 71% to 92% of the combined traffic. That’s a LOT of traffic. Imagine you are one of these businesses getting his slice of 92! Would not that be great? Let us set 1st page Google rank as a target.
White Hat vs Black Hat SEO
As already covered, if you are like normal people, you would want long term returns on your investment in business.
This means you need a reliable SEO strategy that pays you in the long term for the hard work you do today. Unfortunately, not everyone is in it for the long haul.
SEO agencies and freelancers often deploy tactics termed as black hat SEO, which are not just detrimental to your website, you eventually will be wiped off the search results by Google as a result of penalty. White hat vs black hat SEO seems like a fancy name, but it’s quite simple to explain the difference between the two. Here is a diagram that explains them in both details:
White Hat SEO is a time-taking approach to long term results with minimal chances of penalties by Google. This is a Google-friendly approach that you must use to obtain quality and targeted traffic.
Gone were the days of early 2010s.
You can’t win fooling and spamming your visitors everytime they land on your website.
Black hat SEO is for businesses and agencies deploying shady digital marketing practices for short-term results often for quick financial profits. For example, many businesses sprung up selling PPE equipment to fight COVID19, and most of them are already out of competition.
They implemented black hat SEO methods for short-term, quick monetary gains and vanished into thin air. Unless you are planning to do that (which I don’t recommend), go ahead with black hat.
Sure, those businesses that were in for quick gains do not even bother about getting their websites banned, because that wasn’t their motive in the first place! They weren’t in it for a long haul!
Granted those businesses made a lot of money in a relatively short period of time, but if you were to deploy those strategies, you’d have to keep on looking for ways to continuously avoid Google’s ever changing algorithms.
Then there is a term called grey hat SEO. As you know, life isn’t black or white, but shades of grey. Nope, it is NOT 50 Shades of Grey (I know what you’re thinking). These grey hat methods are neither white nor black enough to penalize you.
For example, sharing your website on social media, guest blogging for links, etc. are not defined as White Hat by the published material of Google. But we all know that sharing links on social media and writing meaningful content for guest posts is a common strategy among SEO professionals. We are not talking about spammy backlinks, but ones developed by guest blogging quality content on various topics.
In this guide, we will only focus on using white hat SEO methods to rank your website. Hence, be patient and read it thoroughly!
The Basics | On-page SEO vs Off-page SEO
SEO can be broadly summed up in two different categories, on-page SEO and off-page SEO. Both are important, have their own merits, and vary strategically from expert to expert. On-page (also known as on-site) SEO means working on Google’s variables that directly impact your website and its organic rankings.
All of these variables are under your control and you are in charge of managing them. These are:
● Meta Tags
● Headlines and Tags (H1, H2, H3)
● Permalink and URL Structure
● Image Alt Tags (Image SEO)
● Keyword-rich meaningful content
● Schema and Structured Data
● Page size and load times
● Minimizing bounce rate
● Mobile-friendly Responsive website
Off-page (also referred to as off-site) SEO covers all Google variables to improve organic rankings that are not on your website. They are extremely time-taking but critically important for rankings.
While there are many of them, we will only be touching the ones that have been useful after the notorious Panda and Penguin updates:
● Email and PR Outreach
● Guest Blogging
● Social Media Marketing
● Natural backlink building through
● Influencer marketing
To illustrate how just 1 of the on-page factors have a deep impact on your website rankings, consider this:
You have a website that provides information on COVID19, given the current pandemic. Nothing fancy, just a blog with well-written content that educates on COVID19 symptoms, statistics, precautionary measures, etc. The content is awesome but your visitors are waiting for ages (which means, more than 5 seconds) to load your page. Now, they simply close your website and go to the next one which loads in less than 3 seconds. When visitors leave your website within the first few seconds of loading, it is called a bounce. A higher bounce rate is a signal to Google that your website is either:
● Serving irrelevant content OR
● Too big to load within 3 to 4 seconds
Google will use this signal to reduce your rankings and throw you to 2nd or even 3rd, 4th pages, till you are no longer found in the search results. It is therefore so important to have reliable web hosting and if you can afford, go with a VPS hosting plan. It is costlier than shared hosting, but the benefits in terms of site speed are far beyond than the initial costs. I personally recommend Bluehost or Kinsta if you want the best speed hosting with high security.
Most important Google’s ranking factors
Some ranking factors are outright defined by Google such as a responsive website, fast loading website, relevant useful content, etc. but that’s just 3 out of the 200 ranking factors that Google uses to determine your rank in search engine results pages!
Google doesn’t really share all of those 200, but here are some of them as per our experience and research:
● Domain age – While not highly important, an old domain with regularly updated content has usually seen better traffic and
rankings than a new one.
● Keyword in subdomain – MOZ research shows it helps in rankings
● Country level TLD domain – Helps in rankingsfor that specific country, such as .co.uk for UK, .in for India, .sg for Singapore and so on.
● Content Length – Usually content that is long-form, broken down into short paragraphs, means it is written in detail for audience seeking information, which further helps in higher rankings. Average preferred word count is 1800 to 2000 words for top rankings
● Linked Table of Content – Not only better for SEO, but also for helping Google in indexing your content
● Keyword Density – Not relevant anymore and should not be abused. The more keyword-stuffed, the higher your chances of
● Website loading speed – The faster your website opens, the better for you. Google and Bing rely heavily on how quickly your site loads in order to provide a flawless user experience searching for you!
● Image Optimization – Image alt tags are an important element for Google to “read” through your image.
● Outbound links to authority websites – It signals Google that you have a well-researched document and helps you in getting better traffic.
● Mobile-friendliness – Is your website mobile-friendly? Since most of the traffic is coming from smartphones, Google considers it an important signal for ranking.
● Site’s internal linking – When you link content to the inner pages of your website, it helps Google in identifying the importance of your inner-linked pages and is a good ranking signal.
● Broken links – Get ready to suffer because broken links provide poor user experience, which translates to lower rankings.
● Regular site updates – It means that your site is optimized for user experience and keeps getting updated every now and then.
Good for rankings
● HTTPS – Using HTTPS is a very important ranking factor as it had been confirmed by Google in their own blog post.
● Number of backlinks to your website – An important factor in rankings. The higher the number, the better your rankings
Why do people search?
The first and the most critical component of any SEO campaign is keyword research. It is what people type in the search engine bar to look up for relevant answers to their queries. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that all of your brainstorming sessions on how to run your business online, literally relies on this:
No matter how hard you try to get targeted traffic from social media or paid ads, nothing beats this! If you can master how to come on top in Google, you have already outdid your competition. In a world post COVID19, online marketing is now dominating with over 63% companies diverting their budgets from SEO to PPC. (Source: SearchEngineWatch)
It all boils down to the user intent.
What are people searching for? What is their intent behind each search? Are they looking for a solution to their problem? Or want an in-depth guide on how to tackle COVID-19 related issues?
Write high quality content and be genuine . Content marketing institute stated that
“Content should be valuable, relevant and consistent to attract readers and ultimately drive profitable customer action. “
How do Search Engines Work?
To understand how search results are shown to users, it’s imperative to first understand how exactly search engines work. What are the processes they use to index billions of websites and the algorithms to display the relevant organic search results?
- Crawling – Google, Yahoo and Bing send spiders, also known as bots and crawlers to scan a website for keywords, internal/external links, content, images, image alt tags, etc.
- Indexing – A giant catalog/database of websites.
- Ranking – Showing the results from the indexed databases for relevant keywords. It takes a mere second to pull up relevant results from millions to billions of websites for each keyword.
This 3-step process pretty much sums up the entire working of a search engine. And while all search engines are not the same, the process used to rank websites is not really different.
The algorithms used to rank websites in the last part are kept highly confidential, but many SEO researchers knew some of it by doing non-stop experiments and they shared the techniques with the whole world. What you see in the search results are links from websites that Google considers as the most trustworthy, reliable and relevant to the query.
Ranking for competitive keywords is like fighting an endless war, one with the algorithms, and the other with your competitors.
SEO Trends in 2020
Algorithms continuously evolve and what was relevant yesterday, may not be relevant today. Who knew there would be nearly 6 billion search results for just the keyword COVID19? All that happened in a span of just 7 months! Here, take a look:
Voice Search will be dominating the future. That’s said without a shred of doubt due to an influx of interconnected devices such as smart speakers (Alexa, Google Home, Siri) and smart TVs. A survey of Google found 85% of consumers consider voice search to be the future. To be ready for what’s coming ahead, focus on how you can help visitors by answering their questions.
Have FAQ pages on your website. Google pulls up information from the FAQ pages to answer questions. For example, “Hey Google, How can I stay healthy during the coronavirus pandemic?”. You should have a short snippet of 30 to 50 words answering that question precisely.
With over 1 billion active users, YouTube is the world’s largest video search engine, and the second largest search engine. And guess what? Youtube, and Google Search is all interconnected with that one gmail address you used to sign up for! It is natural that Google would prefer Youtube’s video for ranking as compared to Dailymotion and Vimeo.
With more people tuning in and watching live TV, and videos, it is getting harder to rank due to stiff competition. Hence, it is important to do video SEO by creating quality content consistently, and optimizing it for the right search terms.
Getting the SEO basics right – Keyword research
There are plenty of examples covering the basics such as title tags, meta descriptions, etc. But we want to start off with the most basic topic, i.e. keyword research, the foundation of any online strategy. Plus, we’ll be also covering technical SEO aspects of ranking your website.
There are several ways to find the right keywords for your website. You need to be able to write fresh content and optimize for keywords with the right user intent. For example, optimizing and ranking for a generic term as “COVID-19” would be much tougher than doing the same for “COVID-19 in America.”
First off, use Google Suggestions for the keywords you need. Type in any keyword and the suggestions that popup, will be helpful for you in knowing the right type of keywords to optimize for. Here, take a look:
If you want to write on “SEO Tools”, consider incorporating the suggested keywords in your topic. Are you going to focus solely on wordpress users? Blue host users? Or are you looking for information from hubspot? There is something called the Search Intent, which means the intentions behind every search. Someone searching for “seo tools free” is not going to be interested in a paid tool and you did be shooting yourself in the foot optimizing for the “Seo Tools Free” keyword whilst promoting a paid tool. It just doesn’t make any sense.
Another great way for keyword research is the suggested keywords. So, we searched for “seo tools” and at the bottom of page, the suggested keywords also work great that you can take into account for your digital marketing campaign:
Answer The Public
A rather unusual but great way of doing keyword research is by searching them through Answerthepublic.com service. When you enter a keyword, it shows you several possible combinations with different questions, all of which are autocomplete suggestions on Google. We did a quick search for “plumbing services in denver” and here’s what we found:
Optimize for long-tail keywords
Long-tail keywords are like the holy grail of digital marketing campaigns. It’s all linked to the search intent. For example, when somebody searches for “SEO”, it is nearly impossible to know the search intent for that keyword. Is the user looking for a tool? Perhaps some tips? Or just generic information on SEO? On the other hand, keywords like following are what you need to consider writing and optimizing for:
● What is the benefit of SEO?
● How mobile-responsive websites
help in SEO?
● Best SEO tools in 2020
● How to select a reliable SEO company?
Content and SEO – A Balanced Strategy
If you believe that SEO is for search engines and content is for human beings, you are totally wrong. This is a messed up concept that many SEO freelancers, agencies and even webmasters fail to understand. SEO and Content work in harmony with each other. Without solid content, there is no SEO.
When people search for something, they expect the best possible results, and Google is GOOD at showing them what they want. Without having a solid content strategy, which includes writing quality, fresh and unique content on a regular basis as well as optimizing it to your audience, do not expect your website to get organic traffic at all.