SEO strategy is constantly evolving.
There are always new tricks to learn, new hacks & better practices. One thing that remains the same are the fundamentals of SEO.
Today it seems the fundamentals are getting lost in all the noise.
Build a strong SEO foundation before you start with the new hacks & tricks.
Let's get back to basics and cover the following SEO fundamentals:
- Link building
- Site speed
- User experience
- Social media
Finding the right keywords to target is the first important step to creating an SEO strategy. There are a couple different ways you can find keywords to focus on, but it is important to note search intent. Search intent is best defined as what’s going on inside the buyer’s head as they are searching online.
I want to give you an example of what I mean. So let’s say you own a sports store that sells memorabilia. Maybe you live in Denver and notice there is a large amount of searches for the “Denver Broncos.” You may think this could be a valuable keyword to target but let's dig into the intent of this search.
Someone searching on the keyword "Denver Broncos"could be searching for a specific player, their schedule, their depth chart, recent breaking news- the possibilities go on and on.
The search intent is not clear & TOO general. You want to target people specifically looking to buy Denver Broncos merchandise. The keyword "buy Denver Broncos jersey" has a clear search intent and is a better fit.
So let's create a plan for finding your best keywords. There are a few different ways and I will quickly cover each.
1. Research the low hanging fruit
If you already have a website in place, there is a good chance you already have keywords you are being found for. These are what we like to call “low hanging fruit.” These can be great keywords to target because you have already built up SEO for that keyword. Optimizing pages for that keyword, could improve your rankings and move it towards #1.
The best way to find your current ranking keywords is by using the Google Webmaster. Log onto your webmaster account and click on “Search Analytics” in the “Search Traffic” section in the left sidebar.
There are many other tools you can use, but Google webmaster is free and should be set up on your site anyways.
Once you have a list of 'low hanging fruit' keywords, you will need to weigh how valuable each one is. This part is a little subjective- keep "search intent" in mind. Then Filter through your keyword research by search volume and competition
Look for keywords with high search volume and low competition (You could also use KEI, which we will discuss later). Find the search volume by using the Google Keyword Planner.
SEMrush is my favorite keyword tool and it gives information on competition and search volume. Now let's keep doing some research.
2. Building up your keyword research
You will have a ton of keyword ideas that did not show up in your “low hanging fruit” category and these may be beneficial. I'm sure you have your own Keyword ideas as well. Use the Google Keyword Planner to build on those.
Start by using the top section on the Google Keyword Planner which says “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category”. This is where you can input a keyword and select specific filters.
This is a rinse and repeat step. The more keywords you input, the more keywords you will find.
Remember to keep 'search intent' top of mind during your research!
3. Competitor keyword research
Your competitors are probably targeting the same keywords you want to target. Take advantage of this! Review their website and see what type of keywords they are trying to target. One great tool for this is the MozBar. It allows you to quickly review the page title, meta description, header tags, alt tags, and which words are in bold/italic.
Use Google Keyword Planner for competitor keyword research. You input a competitor’s website into the planner to get a list of keyword ideas.
4. Choosing your keywords
When your keyword research is exhausted, it is time to choose the keywords you want to focus on. One great way to do this is by calculating the KEI with relevance. This formula takes search volume, relevance & competition into consideration. It then outputs a score for each keyword.
The only quirk I don’t like about this calculation is that it does not take current rank into consideration. Now let’s move to onto the on-page basics.
My favorite quote from my boss is “You may be great at golf, but if you’re not wearing the right clothes they won’t let you on the course.”
The deeper meaning: your product could be the best product, but if you’re not setting up your SEO correctly then Google won’t let you play.
In this section we will review some of the basic on-page rules you should follow.
Before I begin I just want to emphasize one thing: You cannot just choose any keyword to be emphasized on a page. The keyword MUST be relevant to the information on the page. So if you don’t have a keyword that relates to that page, then go back and find one. Do not just try to rank for a keyword that isn’t exactly what the page is about! I cannot stress this enough. OK, now onto the rules.
7 on-page rules:
- Place keyword in page title – Placing the keyword into the title is a great signal to search engines that this page is about that keyword. I suggest placing the keyword as close to the beginning as possible. The title needs to be less than 70 characters.
- URL structure – Placing the keyword into the URL is an important signal to search engines and should be placed towards the beginning. The shorter the URL the better.
- Copy on page – Have keywords throughout the copy of your page as well. I do not like to specify a current keyword density because that tends to create an unnatural amount of keywords within the copy. Place the keyword naturally and make sure to incorporate other synonym keywords (or latent semantic indexing- LSI). These will bolster your main keyword by helping Google connect the dots to what the page is about. Adding these relevant keywords will keep you from over stuffing the copy with your one main keyword
- Meta descriptions – Meta descriptions indirectly influence SEO by click through rates. According to Survey Monkey, 43.2% of people click on a given result based on the meta description alone and click through rates are an important part of Google algorithm. So it’s important to make your meta description enticing. Placing keywords within the meta description does not influence Google’s rank. Any word a searcher places into the search engine will show up in bold in a meta description, which could influence a searcher's eyes. The meta description needs to be less than 160 characters.
- Image alt tag – All images should have a description to help give Google an idea of what the image is about. This is a great place to put keywords, but again you don’t want to use the same keyword every time and you want to make sure each alt tag has variety in the text. I usually try to describe the photo while using the keyword. And before uploading an image make sure the filename is relevant to the page and not something random like “orangeball1240%.”
- Header tags – Header tags have become less important in recent years, even to a point where Matt Cutts and Rand Fishkin have denounced their relevance all together. The reason I still place importance on them is because the layout of your page (header tags tend to be bold or italic) sends SEO signals. Don’t use more than one H1 tag per page and don’t repeat H2 and H3 tags.
- Linking – It is important to have both internal and external links. Just make sure the pages you are linking to are high-quality and relevant to the concept of the page. If it is not then make sure to make the link a nofollow link.
Building links to your site can be time consuming but it is very beneficial to your SEO strategy. Here are a few ways to go about it...
- One-to-one outreach – creating online connections and relationships to promote each other. Mostly done through email outreach or social media.
- Skyscraper technique – an in-depth link building strategy. It’s best understood by reading this --> Link Building Case Study
- Find dead links – Find dead links on other relevant sites. Create relevant content that would fit well in the dead link and then contact the webmaster to claim that link. Tada! Now that deadlink is going to your site!
- Guest blog – Write a blog for another website and place natural links in it back to your site.
Google likes a website with a good user experience. If your site takes forever to load, Google will move on and provide the searcher with a better option.
Google Pagespeed Insights will shed some light on your site speed. Below you will find a list of ways you could improve site speed.
- Images – Make the file size of all your images as small as possible because they will slow your load time. Use .jpegs over .pngs.
- Create a clean site structure – Don’t create a bunch of 301 redirects for one page. Make sure each redirect only redirects once. Utilize the rel=canonical tag for duplicate content. Search engines don’t like duplicate content, so make sure you always point the search engines to the most important pages.
- Use a fast web host
- Use a CDN (Content Delivery Network)
- Fix all broken links
These are just a few techniques. One great resource for increasing your site speed is here.
You should always be thinking about the user. Improving the user experience on your website helps keep the user on the site longer. If the site is hard to navigate, then they will quickly leave. Also, Google has improved the way they “read” sites and now review your site more thoroughly to make sure you are delivering a relevant experience to each searcher.
Mobile & Tablet Responsiveness
A responsive website is more important than ever. When Google released Mobilegeddon in early 2015 many sites lost ranking because their websites were not responsive. The rise of cell phones/tables has shifted searches from desktop. Having a responsive website will ensure that your website adapts to mobile and tablets BUT this does not mean the user experience is better. Understand the difference between responsiveness and user experience with this quick 60 sec video- mobile user experience vs. responsive website.
Social signals are highly debated and there are many studies with varying results. With all these studies, it is obvious that social media improves SEO in a few ways.
Social media aides in decreasing bounce rate and increasing user’s time on site, which are both factors in the SEO algorithm. There are many other ideas of how social signals help SEO, but until they are proven, I will not address the rest.
Bottom line: a lot of social shares is a sign of quality content -Google loves quality content & authority.
Schema has become a hot topic for many marketers and they believe it will become more important in the near future.
Schema is a shared search engine vocabulary which is coded on site pages to make it easier for Google to decipher exactly what the page is about and serve relevant results to users based on search queries. Few sites incorporate this technique, so it could be something that gives you the upper hand over your competition.
Stop ignoring SEO fundamentals. These core basics are what build a successful strategy.
"But the SEO world is constantly changing these fundamentals may not be the future."
Yes, things will change- keywords will change; some SEO signals will become less important while others will increase and new signals will appear. What your website is about and the pages you create are about will most likely NOT change and SEO fundamentals support that idea.
Get back to the basics.