The Art of Digital Marketing: The Definitive Guide to Creating Strategic, Targeted, and Measurable Online Campaigns - Ian Dodson (2016)
Chapter 2. SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION
Whoever controls the door to the Internet, controls the Internet. And now search engines have become the default entry point to the Internet. We start with a simple search by typing a few words into a search engine, often oblivious to exactly what happens behind the scenes. When we search in Google, for example, we are not actually searching the Internet; we are searching Google's index of the Internet, that is, the list of the sites that it has found online. So the challenge for effective search engine optimization (SEO) involves understanding how search engines work and how to play by their rules.
Formal definition of SEO: The process of refining your website using both on-page and off-page practices so that it will be indexed and ranked successfully by search engines.
Informal definition of SEO: Smell nice for Google!
Google is not a cheap date. You have to make some effort: take a shower, wash your hair, shave, and put on a spritz of aftershave and some deodorant. Optimizing a website so that it is found and indexed by search engines requires a considerable amount of grooming and this chapter will show you what to do and how to do it.
In this chapter you will explore the four key stages of the SEO process, as shown in Figure 2.1.
1. Goals. From the outset, it's important to be aware of the benefits of SEO. They will serve as key drivers as you navigate the development of your SEO strategy. You must decide upon and set up clear, realistic goals and targets for your SEO campaign. The benefits of spending time developing goals far outweigh the risks of walking the plank blindfolded into the competitive world of search marketing. Just one error could result in a six-month search engine penalization—with SEO, ignorance certainly is not bliss!
2. On-page optimization. This deals with the granular, technical optimization of the various elements on your website. It involves ensuring search engines can easily read, understand, crawl through, and navigate the pages of your site to index it correctly.
3. Off-page optimization. This refers to techniques used to influence website position in organic search results that cannot be managed by on-page optimization of your site. It's a long-term, iterative process focused on gaining website authority, as determined by what other websites say about you. To put it simply, it's about building a digital footprint and earning online credibility.
4. Analyze. This stage is very much a cyclical process. You're now looking at the data coming back, analyzing it, and deciding upon the adjustments needed going forward. This will help you tweak your goals accordingly as you implement additional goals and changes.
Figure 2.1 Four-Stage SEO Process
Key Terms and Concepts
This chapter covers the key concepts and terminology used within the field of SEO that will equip you with the technical know-how, understanding, and insight to build and maintain an effective SEO strategy. Upon completion of this chapter you will:
· Understand the meaning of SEO.
· Understand organic search listings.
· Understand pay-per-click (PPC) listings.
· Understand the mechanics of SEO.
· Recognize and utilize the three main drivers of SEO.
· Understand on-page and off-page optimization.
Search engine optimization is the process of refining your website, using both on-page and off-page practices, so that it will be indexed and ranked successfully by search engines. With SEO, the best and most cost-effective way to increase your website traffic is to have a high position in organic search listings. Organic search listings refer to the websites that appear in search results based on their relevance to the search term the user has typed.
Search Engine Result Pages: Positioning
Have you ever tried searching for your fantastic new website, only to find it has been lost in the depths of cyberspace and is trailing behind hundreds of other sites? This all comes down to search engine results page (SERP) positioning! After reading this section you will know how to save your site from social Siberia by:
· Identifying and understanding the features of a SERP.
· Appreciating the importance of a SERP.
· Implementing your knowledge to achieve a high SERP listing.
A SERP is the web page that a search engine, such as Google or Yahoo!, returns that lists the results of a user's search. A SERP is divided into core sections. At the top you'll always find paid listings. As you can see in Figure 2.2, these are marked with yellow flags that clearly highlight these entries as ads.
Figure 2.2 Google Search Engine Results Page
Source: Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google Inc.; used with permission.
But what about the listings that lie beneath the advertising? These are organic search results, or the listings that are featured on a SERP because of their relevance to the search terms that a user has entered into a search engine.
It's often said that the best place to hide a dead body is on the second page of search engine results, which is why it is essential to ensure your listing is as high as possible on the first SERP. Ninety-one percent of searchers will not click past the first results page, so it's time to adopt a competitive mind-set and strive to achieve a top-three organic listing. Your overall goal is to reach the number-one position!
Organic versus Paid Listings
Listings that are displayed on the first page of search engine results yield the highest search traffic—the higher the listing, the more clicks it will receive. Generally, paid listings will garner a 30 percent click-through rate (CTR), with organic listings making up the remaining 70 percent. While these statistics can vary depending on the market, generally this rule of thumb is widely applicable. It is important to note that as listing positions get lower, click-throughs drastically decrease. Approximately 67 percent of click-throughs on page one of a SERP occur in the first five results. A low listing will ultimately affect your overall conversion rate, so once again, it's important to strive for the top three positions.
Customers can seek information using a variety of different search practices, which is why focusing solely on text-based searches can hinder your SERP positioning and customer reach. Let's build on what we've just learned and take a look at the different ways you can optimize your SERP listings.
Search engines take into account the location of the person searching to deliver the most applicable search results. For example, with Google's My Business you can submit your business for display on a location-based search, so when John Smith searches for Italian restaurants in Tokyo, your chances of appearing in his SERP are increased. Be sure to complete all elements of the form by providing a category, description, pictures, videos, and so on to catch user attention. Google operates a five-star rating scheme, so customers should be encouraged to review and rate your business.
While listings with higher review scores and additional material, like those in Figure 2.3, won't necessarily increase SERP positioning, they most certainly will yield a higher CTR than those without these characteristics.
Figure 2.3 Location Based Search
Source: Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google Inc.; used with permission.
Knowledge Graph Listing
Google's Knowledge Graph tries to understand searchers' intent while anticipating their end goals. It tries to help people discover key information about a particular business that they may not have been able to discover through an organic listing.
For example, if a user searches for information on restaurants in New York City, Knowledge Graph will display both a variety of images at the top of the SERP and a panel on the right with a list of key information, a company description, reviews, related searches, and so on. It feeds on information from related websites, popular searches, Google local listings, and other sources.
Data Highlighter is a Google Search Console (GSC) tool that is very valuable when it comes to refining your SERP listing. With your mouse, you simply highlight the various data fields (title, description, image, etc.) on your page. This in turn allows Google to display your website data in new, more attractive ways both in SERPs and on the Knowledge Graph. While you cannot stipulate what data will display in a SERP, through Google Search Console, you can demote links to your site that decrease its chances of being listed.
By now you should have a strong grasp of the key terminology, mechanics, and practices associated with SEO and SERP positioning. So, let's combine this knowledge and use it to understand more about our customers and to analyze their online search behavior. By the end of this section, you will:
· Know who the three key players in search marketing are and what their impact on your SEO strategy is.
· Understand search behavior and DMI's 5P Customer Search Insights Model.
· Know what key snippets of information can be obtained from each of the 5Ps.
· Be able to leverage the value of the 5Ps in your SEO strategy.
· Appreciate the importance of relevancy for customer acquisition.
What is online search behavior? Every time users search, they reveal a certain amount of information about themselves. When this information is gathered, it can be classified into different search behavior categories to analyze customer needs. From this categorization, you can develop an effective SEO content strategy. In search engine optimization there are three key players:
1. The searcher. The goal is to have people searching for your product or service. More specifically, you want searchers to look for the keywords you are using. You want to understand a person's every search behavior in order to target a searcher appropriately.
2. The website owner. Your goal as the website owner should be to align the optimization of your website with customer search behavior findings. The competitive intention here is to outrank, outperform, and outbid your competitors.
3. The search engine. Ultimately, your goal is to ensure search engines have indexed your website, so they can understand what your site is about. This is crucial. If a search engine can't understand your site, it won't display it.
Each of these players is viewed as a stepping-stone on the route to reaching and engaging with customers. You must successfully address each component to reach your end goal, whether that is a click-through to your site, a contact inquiry, a sale, or something else.
Understanding your customers is the cornerstone of every successful business, which is why search marketing is such an important medium for gathering customer insight. With every search, users leave small crumbs of personal information behind. So by using DMI's 5P Customer Search Insights Model, you get a greater understanding of customers than you ever imagined! Let's take a look at the 5Ps:
1. Person. Information about the searcher can include age, sex, religion, language, and socioeconomic group.
2. Place. You can discover the country or city a customer is in and whether the location is classified as urban or rural.
3. Product. You can learn which particular topic, interest, or subject area of a product searchers are researching and the need or the pain being addressed.
4. Priority. The search query provides an indication of customers' purchasing time frames; that is, how urgently they need the product or service and the window for engagement.
5. Purchase. Most importantly, you can find out how and where users want to buy and what stage they are at in the consumer purchase model.
To expand upon this, let's look at Figure 2.4 and apply the 5P model to the search query Alaska romantic wedding venue December 2020.
1. Person. Here, you could make an educated guess as to the age and gender of the user. But to be certain, this data can be obtained using an important tool you'll become very familiar with, known as Google Analytics (GA). GA gives highly detailed information (in this case demographic data), and can provide key person information.
2. Place. From the search query we can see the searcher's targeted place is Alaska. But by using GA you can also see where this person is located.
3. Priority. The priority is very much December 2020 and the searcher's purchasing time frame and urgency have also been identified.
4. Product. The product the user is looking for is a wedding venue.
5. Purchase. The purchase in this case is going to be direct. It's not something that the user will book online.
Figure 2.4 The 5P Model
Ultimately, the key to all this can be summed up in one word: relevancy. The most relevant search results will always be displayed to users, so make sure to focus the three key players of SEO towards each of the 5Ps to ensure that your website is a strong contender against competitors.
Customer search behavior is something you must take into account in all aspects of online optimization. It should influence your decisions on every detail, from choosing keywords to creating content for your site. You need to understand who your customers are, what their online habits are, and how to solve their consumer pain in order to convert them from website visitors into loyal customers. With a better understanding of your customer's online habits and behaviors, let's now use this information to inform stage 1 of the SEO iterative process—what your goals and outcomes for the search engine optimization of your site should be.
Stage 1: Goals
As with all aspects of digital marketing, the importance of defining and setting tangible, measurable goals cannot be emphasized enough. Goals will help you create plans, direct your day-to-day tasks, and, of course, motivate you to rise above your competitors.
Let's start with stage one of the SEO process, which is highlighted in Figure 2.5. Get ready to be an expert in:
· Analyzing the underlying needs of your business
· Converting these needs into well-defined goals
· Assigning key performance indicators (KPIs) to these goals—to assess if you're on the right track to achieving them
Figure 2.5 Focus on the first stage in the SEO process
While addressing consumer pain is important, you can't forget to address your own. If you assess the needs of your business, it will create a beneficial ripple effect on the three key players of SEO: the searcher, the search engine, and you, the website owner. You need to identify the business pain, view this pain as a goal, create a strategy to achieve the goal, and assign KPIs to the strategy to monitor your progress in solving the pain. It's very much a cyclical process. Let's use the example of a sports footwear retailer:
1. Business pain: A decline in online orders
2. Goal: Conversions
3. Strategy: Increase website visitors through on-page optimization (keywords, blog, etc.)
4. KPIs: Sales, online inquiries
In this example, the searcher benefits through an enhanced user experience and relevant content, the search engine benefits through being able to easily understand and index your site, and you, the website owner, benefits through achieving your goals.
Goals vary depending on the nature of the business. Types of goals include engagement, visibility, and the most common goal, conversions. Every business is different in regards to what it classifies as a conversion. On one web page a user watching a video might be considered a conversion. On another it could be an online inquiry. After you've decided what your goals are, you can track your progress towards achieving your goals by creating KPIs. You can define and monitor goals and KPIs, then analyze this data to adjust your strategy using the GA reporting tool. We'll show you how to do this later.
Following are some examples of some typical goals and KPIs.
Types of Goals
Types of KPIs
Staying motivated in achieving your goals will be difficult if you're oblivious to the benefits from your efforts. The ultimate goal of SEO is to achieve that number-one ranking on SERPs for your website. But what are the benefits?
· Increased organic CTRs. Organic CTR is the percentage of clicks your website listing generates, based on the number of organic impressions served. Organic impressions are the number of times a page from your website displays in SERPs and is viewed by a user, not including paid listings. A number-one position will increase your organic CTR, which in turn reduces your advertising spend and ultimately leads to conversions.
· Increased engagement. You want users to engage with your brand at different stages of the buying process, visit your website, and stay there! Like a dog to a bone, a number-one ranking will lure searchers to your site. Increased engagement means users exploring and spending longer periods of time on your site.
· Enhanced reputation. Top listings yield both online and professional credibility, status, and reputation.
· Market leadership and competitive advantage. Outshining your competitors is vital, so strive for a number-one listing to avail yourself of this advantage.
· Increased conversions. Whatever you consider a conversion, this is what it's all about. They've clicked on to your site, spent time navigating it, and had a pleasant browsing experience. Great! But now it's about transforming these factors into conversions. A high search-engine listing will do this for you.
Take some time now to assess to the needs of your business, and from this devise your own goals and the corresponding KPIs. You should be referring back to your goals and updating them as you progress through each stage of the SEO process. Goal setting is another ongoing process that will continually change, depending on the successes or failures of the strategies you implement. Just keep reminding yourself of the benefits of your hard work and the results will speak for themselves.
Stage 2: On-Page Optimization
With your goals in place and their accompanying KPIs assigned, the time has come to move to the second stage of the SEO process: On-page optimization, which is highlighted in Figure 2.6. At the start of this chapter, we briefly discussed the mechanics of this process. Now we can explore it further.
Figure 2.6 Focus on the second stage in the SEO process
Keyword research is often the first step in this process. Keywords have a very strong impact on the other elements of on-page optimization, so the level of research you conduct will determine if your site is a zero or a hero in terms of search volume!
After just a little more reading you will:
· Understand the terms keyword, long-tail keyword, and keyword research.
· Know how to conduct both online and offline keyword research.
· Be aware of the importance of keyword-rich content and the need for high-quality content.
· Be able to identify keyword research tools, the actions they perform, and the data they provide.
So, what exactly is a keyword? It's a significant word or phrase that relates to the content on your website. For example, if you're a freelance photographer, relevant keywords for your site could be photographer or affordable wedding photographer. Keywords are vital in ensuring your site displays in SERPs. They should be subtly incorporated into the content and meta data of your web pages in a way that reads naturally.
A search term is a commonly used phrase that users type into search engines to find you. Traditionally users typed in two to four words, but with ever-increasing digital literacy rates, much longer search terms are now being used. You must be able to know what customers are searching for and choose your keywords based on that. While generic search terms such as hotels in Paris will give tons of search results, they lack relevance.
Users now understand that the more specific their search terms, the more accurate and relevant their search results will be. This is where long-tail keywords come in. These are three- or four-word keyword phrases with low-volume search queries that are worth ranking highly. Why? Because searchers using long-tail keywords are usually closer to the point of purchase. Although long-tail keywords are quite specific, they have lower competition and bring much higher qualified traffic to your website.
Having covered the terminology, it's now time to do your homework and discover the keywords that people use when searching for information on the product or service you provide. This is known as keyword research. It means finding the search terms your customers most frequently use. There are two types of keyword research—online and offline. Typically, digital marketers will focus solely on online methods of keyword research, disregarding the abundance of excellent keywords that can be derived from offline research. But why should you bother with keyword research at all? Besides the fact that it will increase your ranking and impressions, it also helps search engines better recognize the intent behind users' search terms and bring them the most relevant results—which keeps all three key players happy.
Let's take a look at some key tools and practices that will assist you in your keyword research efforts.
Offline Keyword Research
1. Brainstorming. You really can't beat sitting down with your team to brainstorm keyword ideas. The best people to report on the common jargon being used in your industry are your colleagues. They are the people who interact with your customers, hearing and seeing the words and phrases they use when referring to your products and services. Something as simple as noting down common customer queries can be a huge bonus for keyword research. Using keywords composed of industry jargon can be tricky, so be very careful. Let's use the example of an IT solutions company. The standard, industry-accepted term for the service provided is managed IT solutions, and as such, the company will want to display in SERPs with this keyword. The problem here is that customers don't use this term, and search for outsourced IT services instead. The lesson here is that you should always select the keywords and search terms that your customers are actually using.
2. Marketing collateral. Open the office storeroom and gather your company's leaflets, brochures, posters, and the like. The content here can be particularly useful for generating low search volume keywords that are worth including. In addition, going one step further and sourcing competitor marketing material is an excellent competitor keyword research method.
3. Customer surveys. Qualitative research-based customer surveys are another method of establishing the phraseology and colloquial jargon your customer base is using.
4. Listening to customers. Substantial amounts of keyword data can be obtained by simply listening to your customers. Brief everyone in your company on the importance of listening to the words your customers are using. Collating these words into a list will save a lot of time and money when conducting your keyword research.
Online Keyword Research
In this stage of the process, generally we're talking about the use of key tools that allow you to perform filtered keyword research using the following criteria: custom date ranges, query volume, historical trends, levels of data, and related phrases by city or country. With such a wide variety of online keyword research tools available for free or for a fee, the web is your oyster! Researching and testing the countless tools available that work best for you is time well spent. To kick-start your efforts, the top four highly regarded research tools in the industry follow:
1. Google Autocomplete. This tool is probably the easiest online keyword research tool to use, and definitely the place to start. It's particularly good for long-tail keyword research; you simply begin typing into the Google search box. Once you start, you'll see that it will try to finish your sentence automatically, based on the most popular search terms entered. As you now know, Google scans your browser history to deliver the most relevant search results. If you're using Google Autocorrect for keyword research, make sure to clear your search history, cache, cookies, and temporary files—clear it all! That way it won't consider your previous searches when suggesting search terms, thus providing fresh data.
2. Google AdWords Keyword Planner. This is a tool built into the Google AdWords platform. Under the Tools section, you'll find Keyword Planner. The research and analytical functionalities are endless! After you've entered a particular keyword or search term and chosen the location you're targeting, click on Get Ideas. The Keyword Planner will return a report detailing the top listings containing that keyword or search term, plus other suggested keywords. In the listing you will notice two tabs, one for ad group ideas and another for keyword ideas. At this stage of the process focus on the latter. The ad group ideas tab concerns PPC ad campaigns and right now we're focusing on how to use this tool for organic optimization.
The listing will reveal copious amounts of information. For this SEO exercise, however, the only two data elements worth focusing on in Figure 2.7 are search term and average monthly searches. Start by looking at the search term and its corresponding search volume. Base your keyword selection on relatively high search volumes that are actually applicable. You want keywords with low enough competition so that you can get that all-important page-one listing. Again, don't disregard long-tail keywords. They use search terms with less competition and bring more relevant traffic to your website.
3. Google Trends. As with all aspects of digital marketing, popular keywords are ever changing, so it's important to keep informed and stay ahead of the curve. Google Trends is a great tool for analyzing the rise and fall of keyword trends. It's important to be aware of trending terminology and phrases so you're not targeting outdated keywords. This tool can also show how search terms are trending against each other and if there are any new trends you should be considering.
4. SEMrush. SEMrush is used widely by search marketers in the industry. It's an excellent tool for analyzing your competitors, the keywords they're targeting, and what type of estimated traffic volumes they're getting. Outperforming your competitors is one of your primary SEO goals, and to do that you need to assess their performance in comparison to your own.
Figure 2.7 Keyword Ideas in Google AdWords Keyword Planner
Source: Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google Inc.; used with permission.
Once you have chosen a solid list of keywords that allow you to rank highly in SERPs, it's time to incorporate those keywords into your website. Search engines encourage the use of keywords so they can display the most relevant websites on the first page of a user's search.
A Word of Warning
So by repeating a relevant keyword 50 times on one page, your website will rank number one, right? Wrong! Back in the day, search marketers thought it clever to try cheating search engine algorithms through a variety of disallowed keyword practices, such as keyword stuffing. This involved overuse of the top ranking keywords in their website content in order to rank highly. The Google gods are now smarter than ever and these kinds of forbidden SEO activities won't be tolerated. Websites found to be violating the rules will be severely penalized and could be removed from SERPs entirely. Nowadays, search marketers are wiser and times have changed. Keyword density, or how many times a keyword or phrase appears on a web page, is one aspect of SEO that is no longer important. Keywords should only be used to accompany high-quality, relevant content.
When the research is done and the optimum keywords have been selected, you must then decide where to place them. You should include your target keyword in the title tag, in the metadescription, and in the body copy of the web page (these mechanics will be covered in the next section).
Again, keywords should be used in combination with suitable content. When writing for your site, always focus on both the end user and the search engine. The content should be relevant, with keywords inserted into sentences naturally, so users don't realize they are reading SEO-optimized content. Most importantly, never compromise the quality of your content for keyword optimization. The penalties certainly aren't worth the risk.
The On-Page Optimization Process
By now, you should have carefully conducted your keyword research and chosen your optimal keywords based on this research. The next step is to incorporate these keywords into the on-page optimization of your site.
Your aim is to achieve a high first-page ranking and push your competitors into the barren wastelands of page two and beyond! Upon completion of this section, you will:
· Know the optimal content structure and hierarchy for on-page SEO.
· Recognize and appreciate the importance of each on-page mechanic.
· Learn how to conduct on-page optimization.
· Know about the key on-page SEO tools.
· Know how to create multiregional and multilingual versions of your website.
Style and Structure
With on-page optimization, the first thing you must be conscious of is the structure of your site. You should make sure there is a hierarchy among web pages and that the structure flows throughout your website, as shown in Figure 2.8. Think of it as a parent and child relationship. Every website should have a menu navigation bar, with the menu bar links acting as the parents. The subpages flowing from these parent pages are their children, and if these subpages have further subpages, they are the children's children.
Figure 2.8 Typical Site Structure
The example here details the hierarchal structure of a typical e-commerce website. As you can see, the Women's page is a child of the Home page but also a parent of the Clothing, Shoes, and Accessories pages. Got that? The number of levels your site has depends on the nature of your business. If your content is buried too deep it can be difficult for both users and search engines to reach it, which is why ideally websites should have no more than three or four levels. Remember, always try to keep the three key players happy. A user-friendly site will be appreciated by the customer, which will please the search engine that will ultimately increase your ranking in SERPs.
Utilizing structure and breaking up your content using bullet points, headings, images, and the like is where a lot of websites fail. If you have a page-one listing but it looks difficult to read, your customers will bounce faster than you can say keyword cannibalization. Bouncing is the term used to describe the activity of users who enter a website, don't interact with it, and exit back out to the SERP or close the window entirely. Google considers bounce rates in determining your ranking, which is why website structure is so important. High bounce rates can lead to search engines viewing a particular website as a bad match for the search term used, and they could potentially demote your website as a result. Getting people onto the website is the first step, but keeping them there is the next. So create structure on your site and allow the customer to see a visually pleasing site that uses a variety of media.
Search engines and users are very similar, in that both favor websites with unique, relevant, and up-to-date content. Use yourself as an example: If you were searching for on-page optimization articles and the SERP returned listings from this year and five years ago, which link would you click first?
Maintaining up-to-date content isn't just about text on the page—photos, videos, slides, and images are all examples of different forms of media you can use to keep your content fresh and attractive to the reader. You still need text on the page for search engines to understand your content, but remember that you're writing primarily for your customers, to keep them on your site. Start analyzing user media habits. If, for example, you discover a high volume of activity associated with users watching videos, start thinking about embedding videos into your website to build an extra level of interaction.
Optimizing the Technical Mechanics of Your Page
When you've decided upon the hierarchy and structure of your site, you then need to optimize the technical mechanics of your page and insert the keywords into them. They are listed here in the order in which they would normally appear on your website so that you can get a better visualization of the process—from the top of your page to the bottom.
Insert your chosen keywords into the URLs of each web page on your site. This is an indicator that search engines look for. Making sure your URLs are optimized in this way is extremely important. That means eliminating the string of numbers and the &=%? symbols from the URLs and replacing them with easily readable keywords, to assist both your users and search engines. Hyphens or dashes are the only symbols that should be used as word separators. For years industry experts encouraged the use of underscores; however, Google has stated that this is not recommended, as underscores make it more difficult for algorithms to identify what the page is about.
Take these two URLs:
You can see which URL is pretty and descriptive and which fell out of the ugly tree. Your URLs need to be descriptive in order to inform your users what they're linking to. If the second link was emailed or shared on social media, users would have no idea where they're being taken or what the page is about. In the first URL, the link destination is clearly described, the hierarchy is visible, and the keywords are prominent and separated by dashes.
“What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” While Juliet may have been onto something here, she certainly wasn't referring to web pages. Keyword insertion here can be tricky, but you must name your web pages appropriately to ensure they're relevant to the page content. Page names act as labels that help us distinguish content and create meaning. They usually have one or two words, and for that reason it's not always possible to optimize them in terms of keywords. On the plus side, this is not totally necessary. Naming these pages with relevance is the solution here. As users and search engines go deeper into the website, pages should get more specific to the keywords you're targeting. Again, it's about creating a user-friendly and informative browsing experience.
A web page is made up of hypertext markup language (HTML). Within the HTML are special tags, known as meta tags. Meta tags don't affect the web page layout, but rather provide important information about the page's content, which is used by search engines to index your site. By right-clicking on a page and selecting Source Code, you can see the HTML and meta tags of that particular page. Nowadays, higher rankings are given for relevance, user experience, and popularity than for meta tag optimization. In the industry, this topic is a bone of contention, and views on which meta tags carry higher importance vary greatly. Meta tags are an excellent additions to your SEO toolbox—just be careful not to waste your time on extraneous tags that add no SEO value and take up coding space! We've outlined the most important meta tags, which will assist your on-page optimization, below:
1. Title tag.Although technically not a meta tag, this tag will display the first part of your search engine results listing. Title tags help ensure your listings on SERPs say the right things about your business, contribute to click-through rates, and help search engines determine what the page is about. Have you ever noticed the name of a web page in the tab of your browser? That's the title tag. Most content management systems such as WordPress facilitate the creation of title tags. Again, think about your keywords for each page and incorporate this information into the title. When possible, front load your keyword—this means putting the keyword as close to the beginning of the title as possible. Search engines regard individuality highly, so be sure every page on your website has a unique title and remove any duplicate titles. Generally, titles should have between 50 and 60 characters in total. Google indexes the whole title regardless of character length, but the problem is that it also truncates titles that are too long—and this means part of the title is cut off. Not paying attention to your title's character count could result in the most important piece of information in your title being left out or shortened.
2. Description tag. While it may not contribute to your website ranking, this tag does make up the second part of your listing. Generally, you should aim for between 150 and 160 characters. Utilize your description tag as a sales pitch. Get your keyword in there, but also include a call to action, benefit, and unique selling point. That way you're telling people why they should visit your website, purchase from you, or make a query about your product or services. Snappy and informative description tags will engage your users and please the search engines.
This allows the user to return to previous sections on the website without having to use the main navigation bar to do so. As users go through each page, they leave a breadcrumb that is displayed on the top of each page—as shown in Figure 2.9—allowing them find their way home! So in the case of this particular page, you could return to the “Blog Posts” page very quickly by using breadcrumb navigation. It's something you should definitely consider. The name of your page is what will appear on your breadcrumb navigation graphic, so again, ensure page names are descriptive.
Figure 2.9 Example of Breadcrumb Navigation
Your pages should be divided into headings to facilitate structure and guide both the users and search engines reading your content. Headings range from H1 to H6 and indicate the most important parts of your page's content and how the content is interconnected. Your primary heading should be an H1 heading; its subheading will be classified as H2; the subheading of H2 will be classified as H3, and so on and so forth. In Figure 2.10, “Professional Diploma in Digital Marketing” is the main heading, or H1, of this page. “Course Overview,” the subheading of H1, is H2. By going into the source code of a website and searching for H1, you can see the headings of a web page. How many headings you want depends on how you wish to structure your content, although they usually don't go past H3. Try and get keywords into your H1s. From the users' perspective, when they click onto your page they will clearly see that this is the page they should be on. Search engines look at headings too, to get an indication about the page's content and what the keywords are.
Figure 2.10 On-page Headings
Under H1 lies your first paragraph, and ideally your chosen keywords should be within the first line of text. Users scan the first few words on every page, which determine whether or not they will bounce. So be smart with your first line and incorporate those keywords in a natural manner.
Body of Text
The industry-accepted standard for word counts varies, but the recommendation for general web pages related to the product or service you provide is at least 300 words. Articles, white papers, and case studies should have 1,000 words minimum. Blogs, on the other hand, are a different story. With blogs, you should be aiming for between 1,500 and 2,500 words. Research has shown that articles containing 2,500 words garner higher rankings than articles with fewer words. With all these guidelines, you should always bear in mind that both search engines and users are seeking relevant, fresh content that is informative and provides solutions. Writing just for the purposes of reaching your word count is not advised. You also shouldn't write more content just to be able to insert a high number of keywords. Keyword density is now outdated and seen as SEO malpractice. Help the search engines to understand what your content is about by inserting keywords once or twice into the body of text and its heading, but primarily focus on delivering a solid piece of relevant writing. Bolding keywords in your web page content in the belief that doing so will increase ranking is a common misconception. Doing so is perceived by Google as keyword stuffing and is taken very seriously. Most importantly, for user experience, bolded keyword text looks unprofessional and does not read naturally. If you're using long-tail keywords, where possible try to keep the phrase together on the page.
Interlinked content should be present throughout your site, allowing users and search engines to advance to the next page of your site with ease. This can be done with anchor text. Anchor text is a hyperlink shown as clickable text within your content. It's very important that all pages are accessible via a link somewhere on your site, so ensure your links are built into the content that navigates people through your site. Your goal is to find a balance between facilitating an excellent user experience and having a site that is optimized for search engines. Nowadays anchor text is more descriptive and contains your targeted keywords or phrases. For example, an alternative to the traditional click here anchor text could be click here for more information on our professional diploma in digital marketing. By being descriptive, users know where they're going, and the search engine is taking those keywords into account when it indexes the page and follows the link through.
Images and Alt Text
Alt text stands for alternative text, and it acts as an alternative to the image it describes. Its purpose is to describe the image both for users with accessibility difficulties and search engines. Users who are visually impaired might use software to help them read your website; in this case, the user won't necessarily be able to see the image on the screen. Providing alt text can allow these software programs to read aloud the descriptive alt text, creating a more positive user experience. Search engines also use alt text to determine what the image is about, which can improve your ranking and also helps with images being found in image SERPs. Be succinct and descriptive with your alt text; the maximum should be four to six words. When possible, insert keywords into the file names of your images (before you upload them), the alt text, and the image caption.
Build your page to be easily shareable by your website visitors. This helps with building a digital footprint, by getting people talking about your brand on social media. More importantly, by providing easily shareable links you're bringing people back into your website. Search engines are taking social sharing into account too.
The final element you must have on your site is an HTML site map. A site map is a page on a website that provides a map of the website's structure. The site map is in the form of text links to all the other pages on the site. It allows search engines to crawl through, index, and rank your website. Site maps should link to every page on the website and every page should link to it. You'll find they're normally linked in the footer of a website, and once created can be submitted for indexing through Google Search Console.
The Technical Aspects of SEO
Now that you know how to fully optimize the on-page elements of your website, let's venture deeper into the technical aspects of SEO that need your consideration, so you can prevent unforeseen issues down the line. Anybody who has worked on a late night essay or report knows how uncooperative technology can be sometimes—but fear not, soon you will:
· Understand the importance of browser compatibility and responsive websites.
· Be aware of structured data markup and schema markup language.
· Know how to fix and customize common technical page errors.
· Recognize the importance of secure websites to enhance user experience and site ranking.
When assessing the technical elements of your site, start by checking your website's cross-browser compatibility with Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Firefox. You can use Google Analytics to see the volume of traffic coming in from particular browsers. Browser compatibility is an essential element of a good user experience, so don't let your customers bounce over something as simple as this! There are tons of tools available to help with this; BrowserStack is the most highly regarded in the industry. Otherwise, compatibility can be achieved manually by installing these web browsers onto your computer.
Google's algorithm has shifted to include greater ranking emphasis on mobile friendliness. As such, responsive websites have become widely expected by users and search engines. Google is giving much greater SERP preference to websites that are compatible with mobile when users are searching on mobile. Generally speaking, search engines have a preference for responsive websites. These are websites designed to respond to the different sizes of screens that customers are using. Responsive sites contract and expand to the screen dimensions of the devices searchers are using—whether they are smartphones, tablets, or computer screens. Although responsive sites can sometimes inflict slower speed and loading times on your site, the pros far outweigh the cons.
An alternative to a responsive website would be a mobile-specific website, wherein you choose to build an entirely separate mobile website with its own unique URLs. These sites just include the vital pieces of information, content, and (most important!) call-to-action buttons. Search engines and users tend to favor responsive websites as they contain exactly what is displayed on the desktop version of the site and do not create the limitations on browsing for the user that mobile-specific sites do. Google's Mobile-Friendly Test, as shown in Figure 2.11, is a great tool that determines if your site is deemed mobile friendly by search engines. Type in your website's URL and the tool will tell you if your site is compatible. If not, it does give helpful indications as to why your site failed the test and provides tips on how to fix the problem.
Figure 2.11 On-page headings
Source: Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google Inc.; used with permission.
Structured Data Markup
Structured data markup is the next technical element of your site in need of optimization. It refers to the content on your site that is formatted in an easily readable way for search engines. Schema markup language is the result of a collaboration between Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex that allows you to easily implement structured data markup into your website to:
· Increase search result accuracy.
· Refine the way your listing appears in SERPs.
· Enhance the way information is displayed.
Basically, it enables you to better explain the content of your website to search engines. If, for example, you're writing a blog about bass, how is the search engine to know if you're referring to the guitar or the fish? Schema markup allows you explain these things to search engines. Have you ever seen a company's upcoming event or reviews displayed in SERPs? That's because the company has marked up their content, so that search engines will acknowledge these are listings of events and reviews and include them in search results and in the Knowledge Graph. In the next section, we'll cover the ultimate tool for schema markup, Google's Data Highlighter. Schema markup's influence lies in its ability to make your listings stand out from the crowd, increase your click-through rates, and help your customers discover more information.
Houston, We Have a Problem
When creating or redeveloping a website, changes can be made that inadvertently contribute to an interrupted user experience. Changing the URL of a page or removing it from your site entirely will leave users and search engines with something called a 404 error page. This is an indication to users that they have clicked on a page that has been moved or no longer exists—otherwise known as a broken link. At all costs, try to avoid 404 errors on your site. Users and search engines severely resent 404s and the consequences of them vary from demoted rankings to lost conversions. Should your site ever deliver a 404 error, it's best practice to limit the damage to user experience by customizing your 404 page. Try to reduce user annoyance by making light of the situation, as the cartoon shown in Figure 2.12 does. Replace the standard 404 error text with something novel, such as “Oops, we've got a problem.” Choose something that ties in with your brand's tone of voice and personality. You should also provide navigation link options to other areas of the site so as not to alienate customers and make them more likely to bounce.
Figure 2.12 Customized 404 Error Page
Source: Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google Inc.; used with permission.
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect from one URL to another, and is another method of limiting the negative impact that 404 errors create. Should you wish to change the URL of a page that has already been indexed, 301 redirects are the answer. You need to make sure that you're redirecting to the most relevant page on your website. Redirects can be carried out in two ways:
1. Domain level. Users type in www.example.com and the 301 redirects them to www.myexample.com.
2. Individual URLs. Users type in www.example.com/how-to-do-seo and the 301 redirects them to www.example.com/a-guide-to-seo.
The final technical element worth considering for your website is a secure certificate, known as an SSL certificate. These are small data files that you purchase and install on your web server, creating secure connections between the web server and the browser. You can recognize websites with SSL certificates by looking at their URLs in the address bar of your browser; the URL begins with HTTPS and is accompanied by a padlock symbol. SSL certificates are the ultimate certification that the website is secure and are specifically recommended for websites that involve the exchange of sensitive, personal, and financial information. Although not a critical ranking factor, Google has stated that it considers HTTPS when determining ranking. Everything in SEO is about getting an edge over your competitors, so these are certainly worth considering.
Site Maps and Google Search Console
Now that we've looked at the technical elements of SEO, we're going to explore a tool that will greatly assist with your on-page optimization. Formerly known as Webmaster Tools, it has since been rebranded as Google Search Console (GSC). Probably one of the most underused tools that Google provides, it helps website owners see how Google crawls, understands, and indexes your site. Use it to help find the technical issues that may be hurting user experience, or worse, your ranking! This section will navigate you through the various elements and tools within GSC that you need to know in order to have a fully optimized website. So get ready to become a Google Search Console expert and also to:
· Know the various forms of site maps and their importance for SEO.
· Understand what is meant by robots.txt and canonicalization.
· Be aware of and know how to use the functions, reports, and tools within Google Search Console.
You probably know that a sitemap is simply a list of every page on a website; that is, it provides a map of the site's structure. The majority of people will never use your sitemap, relying on breadcrumb and menu bar navigation instead. Regardless of this fact, search engines rely heavily on sitemaps to easily crawl your site and index it appropriately. Let's now take a look at the two types of sitemaps you can, and should, have on your site:
1. HTML sitemap. An HTML sitemap is the text version of a sitemap and shows text links to all the website's pages, as illustrated in Figure 2.13. They're easily readable by humans and excellent for internal linking, accessibility, and navigation purposes. When possible, always include every page of your site in the sitemap. For websites that provide a large variety of products it may not be feasible to list every product page in the sitemap. In this instance, a category and subcategory listing is okay, as shown in Figure 2.13. When search engines visit this page they will be able to easily access all the content on your site. Always remember search engines want to index your site, but it's your job to make sure they can actually find the pages!
2. XML sitemap. Figure 2.14 shows a sitemap written using extensible markup language (XML), which displays in a coding format. It follows the same rules as the HTML version of a sitemap but is preferred by search engines, which find the language easier to understand. You need to submit your XML sitemap to Google Search Console, and in doing so, it allows Google to inform you of any major issues on your site.
Figure 2.13 HTML Sitemap
Figure 2.14 XML Sitemap
Be extra vigilant with the creation of a sitemap; always check for minor mistakes, such as a missing homepage link. Common errors like this one happen oh so frequently, so ensure every page you want indexed is on that sitemap. There are a variety of free tools online that will generate whatever version of sitemap you require. The tools are normally automated, so that every time a page is added or removed the sitemap will automatically reflect these changes. Include your sitemap in your 404 error pages and in the footer of your site, and remember—while Google does rule the roost with search volume, don't ignore Bing. It generates a large volume of searches, so submit your sitemap there as well.
Robots: Helping You Hide
While it's great that sitemaps make indexing easier, what if there are certain pages you don't want to show up in SERPs? Robots.txt files are the solution. These are files or tags that allow you to dictate whether or not a page should be indexed by search engines. Take, for example, the login page for a website powered by WordPress. There is no benefit to user experience in having this page indexed, and furthermore, it could also pose a security risk. As such, the owner of this site can insert a robots.txt file into her site so this page will not display in SERPs. Robots.txt is also useful for advertisement landing pages that you may not want indexed for fear of content duplication that could incur penalties.
When your sitemaps have been created, the next step is to create a GSC account, register, and verify your website on it. This can be done in a variety of ways, including uploading an HTML file on your web server and adding a meta tag on your homepage. Once verified, Google will start pulling data into your GSC account. Crawl issues, indexing frequency, search terms, ranking, click-throughs, and penalization are all areas that will be analyzed and reported on. Within your GSC dashboard you'll find an area to submit your XML sitemap as well, so make sure you do this!
GSC Tool Reports
Out of the multitude of features of GSC, the tool reports are definitely one of its finest. For each tool it offers, extremely detailed information can be derived and compared in a variety of different ways. You can filter data by country, mobile versus desktop versus tablets, and so on. Let's take a look at some of the key tools and reports that will be beneficial to you:
The crawl error report is particularly useful for monitoring your website's technical performance. It provides information about the URLs that Google can't access—most commonly due to 404 errors. After reviewing and fixing your crawl errors, make sure they're removed by marking them as fixed. That way when you log in you'll know the errors shown are new and need action. Crawling errors are flagging issues that search engines are having with accessing your web pages, which could be hurting your ranking—so be sure to keep an eye on this report and always aim to have no errors displayed in it.
The inbound links report will be particularly useful during the off-page optimization of your site, but it's also very useful at the on-page optimization stage. This particular report will tell you which websites are linking to yours, how many links these websites are generating, and the most popular pages on your site that are being linked to. It will also tell you the anchor text being used to link to your site.
The page speed report is a great, addictive tool for awakening the competitive SEO beast within you! It works by grading your site on a scale of 0 to 100, taking various factors like server response time, compression files, and image size into account. The report will detail which fixes are absolutely necessary, which are worth considering, and the areas in which you don't have any problems. Aim for 85/100 and higher. Results displayed in green mean you're above the 85 mark, orange signifies you're below 85 (at approximately 60-70/100), while the red indicates you have big problems that need your attention. Studies have shown that for every one-second delay on your website, conversions can decrease by 7 percent! Users will not wait around for a page to load, so a strong focus on the areas that will improve your speed is vital.
The HTML improvements tool is an invaluable report for flagging issues with a website's meta data, such as meta tags that are too long, too short, duplicated, or missing. Most importantly, it also shows issues with canonicalization. This term applies to individual web pages that can be accessed from multiple URLs, causing duplicate content—search engines hate this! For example, if users of a clothing website could access a page for red shoes by visiting www.example.com/red-shoes, www.example.com/new/red-shoes, and www.example.com/ladies/shoes/red, the search engine will see these three pages containing the same content but be unable to decide which URL to display in SERPs. This causes a canonicalization error. Using canonical links, you can redirect two of these URLs to the one page you do want Google to index, thereby solving the problem and minimizing the risk of being penalized. Although there may still be multiple pages with duplicate content, canonical links help limit the Google gods' canonical anxiety!
Google's Data Highlighter is an easy alternative to using schema microdata markup. Built into GSC, it's a point-and-click tool that allows you to mark up the data yourself, to provide better SERP snippets. Data Highlighter is an easy way of telling Google about the structured data on your web pages and is especially useful for website owners who may not have microdata or coding experience. You can mark up a wide variety of things, such as events, articles, local businesses, and products. You can highlight things such as a product's name and its reviews, the imagery, the author and date of an article, and the contact details for a local business. Have you ever seen an upcoming event's time and location listed in a Google SERP? With Data Highlighter you can do this too, making your event easier for users to discover and allowing you stand out from competitors!
Stage 3: Off-Page Optimization
With the on-page element of your website covered, it's now time to move into stage 3 of the SEO process, as highlighted in Figure 2.15—off-page optimization.
Figure 2.15 Focus on the Third Stage in the SEO Process
In comparison to on-page SEO, off-page SEO requires an entirely different skill set. Here, you can leave the technicalities behind and focus on being opportunistic, proactive, and competitive. In other words, channel that inner hustler! The purpose of off-page SEO is to improve your website ranking, based on the amount and quality of links coming into your site. Get ready to embrace your inner extrovert and also to:
· Know the key off-page techniques you can apply to improve website ranking.
· Appreciate the various forms of links and be able to distinguish among them.
· Learn about content marketing and its influence on off-page optimization.
· Recognize the potential factors within link building that can cause problems and penalization.
Let's take a look at the four main off-page techniques you can use to maximize your site's SERP ranking.
The first thing you need to understand about links is that they have two elements:
1. Link text refers to the text that appears on the page.
2. The link URL is the destination to which that link text will take the user.
Internal links define linking within your own website content from one page to another. Consider them a vital element of the SEO process. They help spiders crawl your website and reach pages they wouldn't necessarily find, build digital footprints, enhance user experience, and contribute to ranking. Take a look at Figure 2.16 for an example of internal linking from DMI.
Figure 2.16 Internal Linking
The links all navigate internally to areas of the website itself, and the anchor text is descriptive—pleasing all three key players. Customers know exactly where they're going, search engines can use the link and anchor text to understand the page content, and you, the website owner, benefit from higher ranking.
An inbound link is one that comes from another website and directs a user to your website. It is considered a determining factor in your site's ranking. Search engines believe more in what others say about you than what you say about yourself, and they measure this through inbound links. Think of them as votes of confidence and popularity—the more a site has, the more authority and credibility it will gain. This makes their links more important and considered worthy of higher rankings in SERPs.
There are four different link formats you need to need to know about. Choose them wisely—your off-page SEO could be helped or hindered depending on the format you use.
1. Uninformative link. A link that says something like click here is an uninformative link. Don't be afraid to use these words in a link; they are, after all, a definitive call to action. Just try be more descriptive, so that both customers and search engines know where they're being linked to.
2. URL link. A link such as www.vidalsassoon.com is a URL link. Don't just link to the homepage, find the most relevant page and link to that.
3. Topic link. A link such as hair care is a topic link; it's a good way of linking to sites that contain the same subject matter as the page the user is on.
4. Keyword link. A link with keywords, such as hair styling with Vidal Sassoon, is a keyword link. This is an excellent way of inserting keywords into your anchor text for an SEO boost.
Once a hailed off-page strategy contributing greatly towards ranking, its influence is dwindling. Search engines are beginning to focus more upon user experience than the quantity of quality, inbound links. Regardless of this fact, a solid link-building strategy will still positively affect your ranking, but this will be entirely dependent on your level of commitment and good judgment. Start developing a strategy by asking yourself some of the following questions:
· Am I going to ask bloggers for links, and if so, how will I do it?
· Am I going to create valuable, relevant content and wait for inbound links to come naturally?
· Will I create my own links and where will I do it?
· Will I reach out to my customers and ask them to link to my website?
While inbound links are great, there is somewhat of a quality caste system, with some given higher priority and status than others. It's important that you focus on building high-quality inbound links so that you don't waste your time gathering links that aren't influential and contribute nothing to your off-page SEO. Take a look at the following suggested techniques you can use to develop your own strategy:
1. Evergreen content. This is content that will be forever relevant and fresh. Obviously if you're writing about the latest industry fad, that won't be possible, but keeping it evergreen is something you should always aim for. Evergreen content is of an extremely high quality, well researched, and will be used as a resource by others. It naturally develops inbound links and helps your domain become authoritative.
2. Influential blogs or social media. Links from these sites carry great authority and are widely sought after. While creating original, quality, entertaining content will help you get links on these sites, remember that popular blogs get hundreds of link requests daily. Increase your chances of getting that link by making yourself known in the industry and befriending the influencers. By networking in discussion forums and relevant sites, blogs, and social media, you can build rapport with like-minded people in your industry, making your link request stand out from the rest. Why not consider guest blogging? This is when you create content for publication on someone else's blog, which includes inbound links back to your own site. As always, only include links when appropriate and beneficial to the user experience. It's a great way of creating a public perception that you are a thought leader, helps ranking, and increases website traffic.
3. Local links. If you're running a local business, links from other local and relevant businesses, organizations, charities, social events, and media organizations are imperative. If you're a photographer, you could ask for links from florists, wedding planners, and wedding fair organizers. Seek out those who have authority and standing in your industry. Be sure to get yourself on local listing sites such as Google My Business, TripAdvisor, and Yelp. They will let search engines know key information about your business, such as proximity to the searcher, which will determine your site's positioning in SERPs.
4. Authoritative websites. These are the crème de la crème. A link from an authoritative website is the golden nugget of off-page SEO, so find out who is authoritative within your industry and chase that link for all it's worth! Government websites are automatically high authority but normally have policies about not linking to third-party websites. Contact companies you've used before, offering a well-written testimonial to be featured on their pages. They'll benefit from the positive review and you'll get an inbound link!
However, be aware that linking can be either one-way or reciprocal. A one-way link is when somebody links to you, whereas a reciprocal link is when you link to each other. When linking, think about the pages that you're linking to. A common problem with link building occurs when someone decides to link to your site. He naturally links to a homepage without spending the time to find the most relevant page. You should always be building links into the core sections of your website, not just the homepage. Control the link as much as possible by doing the work for the website you're requesting the link from. Provide a keyword link containing the URL of the page you want linked to with the anchor text you want used. By linking to the most relevant page, the digital footprint from all your web pages will expand—ultimately increasing your overall domain authority.
As if link building wasn't challenging enough, you need to be aware of the following factors that may cause problems with your link building strategies:
1. Flash content. Flash is an older method of creating movement in a website. Should flash content contain links, search engines may not be able to see or read it. A flash link is a wasted link, so be sure to flag any inbound links like this to the website owners. It could be the difference between a page one and page two SERP listing.
2. Brokers or sellers. With e-capitalism comes opportunists—some good, some bad. Of the bad variety are link-building brokers or sellers. Approach these companies with strong caution! While we shouldn't generalize, outsourcing this process usually results in a one step forward, ten steps back scenario. Here, inbound links generated tend to come from extremely low-quality websites that are irrelevant to your content. You will find that a lot of link-building sellers operate link farms—a group of websites set up solely for linking to one another. Algorithms understand these SEO malpractices and penalize for low-quality links. A sudden surge of inbound links will trigger suspicion, and should you be found to have links that are not organically built, you will suffer the ranking consequences!
3. Broken links. Always check for and replace broken inbound links. A website's link to you from last year could now be broken, costing you valuable ranking and conversions. Remember, pages you have deleted that haven't been redirected will result in broken links. If you happen to stumble across the broken link of a competitor on a high-authority site, use this to your advantage. Make the website owner aware of the issue and provide her with another relevant link from your site!
4. Damaging links. Not all links are good, and those that aren't can affect your ranking. Websites that are considered spammy by search engines will consider inbound links from these sites as unnatural and could penalize you as a result. Luckily, a disavow tool within GSC allows you to submit a list of links you would like Google to ignore. Should you discover damaging links, this tool will help claw back some of the ranking you may have lost as a result.
The next phase of your link building strategy is content marketing. This involves creating and sharing valuable, informative, and entertaining content with the aim of attracting customers onto your site—in order to drive sales and conversions. It's more about showing customers that you have an expertise and passion for what you do than trying to sell to them. Articles, case studies, white papers, infographics, and videos are among the popular media used—so start thinking about how you can inform, educate and solve problems for your customers. Having an article recognized and shared will help build credibility within your industry, increasing ranking and your domain authority. Aim to be an expert in your niche, so that people will immediately think of your site and link to it when that topic arises. For content marketing the same rules apply. Make sure to on-page optimize your content fully—with keywords, meta tags, headings, and so on.
The fourth element of off-page optimization involves getting people to share your content across their social media networks—in other words, social sharing. You probably will have already seen social-sharing buttons while surfing the web. These are the small icons on social media platforms that allow users to easily share content from their own social media accounts.
Whenever possible, support every piece of content you create with social-sharing buttons. They facilitate free advertising for your site, increase your digital footprint, and generate brand awareness at the hands of your customers. You've put your blood, sweat, and tears into creating compelling content that entertains and informs the reader. What's the point in doing that if your customers can't share it? Conveniently placed Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn share buttons should be positioned throughout your site to allow customers to share your content quickly and easily across their networks. Algorithms are placing increasingly more emphasis on popularity as a ranking factor, to help them distinguish between quality content and poor content. As such, search engines are now taking social endorsements into account. As with inbound links, the more shares you get, the better! The ideal scenario is to have many individual sites linking to you, rather than having few websites generating lots of links.
Off-page SEO is not too dissimilar to networking. You need to mix in the right circles, be ready to jump at opportunities, and try to engage in conversation with that top dog before your competitor does. Ultimately you're trying to optimize your site to increase ranking, but also try aiming beyond that. Aim to become that top-dog authoritative site that people will spend countless hours chasing for links. It does involve working from the ground up, but the benefits are worth the effort!
Stage 4: Analyze
We've now reached the final stretch, and by this stage your website should be fully optimized, yielding lots of organic traffic with conversions to match! Remember in the first stage of the SEO process you set well-defined goals? Now is the time to analyze and review your performance against these goals so that when you start this process again, informed changes can be made to them. This is stage 4 of the process, as highlighted in Figure 2.17.
Figure 2.17 Focus on the Fourth Stage in the SEO Process
Prepare for a big dose of déjà vu and the skills to:
· Know the analytics tools that allow you track and measure search traffic.
· Be able to identify the KPIs of SEO and measure success against them.
· Use specific criteria to measure your website's performance.
· Be aware of the key features, tools, and reports in GA that help with SEO performance analysis.
· Understand the laws and guidelines associated with SEO.
At this stage you need to be aware of the volume of traffic coming into your site, where it's coming from, what the users are doing there, what keywords or content is bringing them in, and what pages are driving or expelling conversions. Luckily, there are tons of analytics tools to help answer all these questions—Moz and HubSpot are great, but Google Analytics is definitely the most highly regarded. It's free, has a huge variety of highly detailed data, and is easy to digest.
Before you can start using a tool like GA, take a look at the following criteria against which you'll need to measure your website's performance. Answer these questions and you'll be guiding yourself in the right direction towards improving your SEO efforts and understanding your customers:
· Can your website be found? How visible is it?
· What position are you in SERPs?
· Is your on-page technical SEO complete?
· Which sites rank above yours?
· How many web pages are indexed?
· Which traffic is coming in via general keywords and which via more targeted keywords?
· How many conversions come from each keyword?
Recording your performance is the only way of rating your own SEO activities, so compile all this data and create a report on your findings. In the early days of a new SEO project, analyze your activities weekly or biweekly. Once things start falling into place you can start looking at performance on a monthly basis. Don't become complacent—competitors are always lurking around the corner, waiting to pounce on your position.
Once you have compiled a detailed criteria report of your findings, you can then measure your SEO successes or failures, using these three KPIs:
1. Position. Where are you ranking in SERPs? This KPI is significant because it shows the effectiveness of the SEO measures you've applied to get good search positioning, based on relevant search terms. Your position can be gauged by using SEO tools like Google Search Console and Moz.
2. Traffic. What traffic is coming in, where is it coming from, and what content is being visited? This KPI measures the search volumes achieved for relevant terms and is the basis for calculating conversions. Use GA to review traffic source reports, visitor numbers, and the volume of traffic achieved based on the keywords selected.
3. Conversion. Is your organic SEO creating conversions? This is another important KPI because it relates the volume and relevance of your search traffic with some predefined objectives. Using GA, you can find conversion information to measure goals achieved, sales, leads, and inbound calls.
Within a typical dashboard page in GA, goal and event tracking are among the most important features. Ensure you have these enabled, as these are the tools that will allow you to see where the traffic is coming from and whether or not you're getting conversions. Events are distinguished by user engagements such as video views, document downloads, social shares, and the like. Goals are actions like newsletter sign-ups, web-form submissions, purchases, and so on.
An Ongoing Process
As with all aspects of SEO, analysis and review is an ongoing process. Dedication and commitment will bring you far—so by regularly carrying out these three easy tasks, you can boost your site's SEO performance ahead of your competitors:
1. Maintain a weekly or monthly calendar measuring your website performance against your baseline.
2. It's important to be able to associate peaks in traffic to certain marketing activities. In GA people forget to record other marketing, PR, or competitions they're doing offline. Suddenly they see a spike in traffic, forgetting they've been carrying out other activities that are the reason for the spike.
3. Assess the impact of your SEO activities, spot any trends resulting from them, and identify any remedial action needed.
Customer retention is the key to conversion, so bounce rates should be minimized at all costs. If your GA dashboard shows a high bounce rate, don't panic—investigate! Find which pages, keywords, and traffic sources are causing the bounce rate and make the appropriate changes. With that said, a bounce isn't always a bad thing. A SERP will display the appropriate page for someone looking for your opening times. The user will visit it, check the information, and leave. This will be classified as a bounce, so spend time getting to know and understand your GA dashboard—if you don't, you could end up trying to fix something that isn't broken.
Law and Order: SEO
With cyberattacks and identity theft occurring every minute, data protection is something that has become widely expected by customers, search engines, and governing authorities. You need to be aware of the governing laws and regulations within your territory, not only to protect customers but also to protect your own website and reputation. Nobody will visit or buy from a site known to be unsafe.
So, What Have You Learned in This Chapter?
That's it! We've come full circle in the SEO process—you can go back to the start of the chapter and begin the process all over again! Now with the knowledge, skills, and ability to fully optimize your site, go kick those competitors far into page two of SERPs. As you do, remember these tips:
· Use the DMI's 5P Customer Search Model to understand customer behavior and ensure your content is relevant.
· When it comes to selecting your keywords, the more research the better!
· Remember that search engines have a preference for responsive websites, so adapt your site accordingly.
· Customize your 404 error page to limit the damage to user experience—stand out from the crowd!
· Make connections with the right people to optimize your link-building strategy.
Finally, be aware that the rules of SEO change frequently—stay ahead of the curve and educate yourself by reading industry-leading articles and blogs.
Go to www.artofdmi.com to access the case study on SEO as additional support material for this chapter.
You are a smartphone retail outlet selling to the U.S. market and want to research target search terms for your iPhone 7 accessories page.
Set up an account in Google AdWords.
· Under Tools, click Keyword Planner and Search for New Keywords.
· Select AdGroups Ideas.
· Type in five keywords or phrases; for example, iPhone 7 accessories, or something similar.
· Choose your target country and click Get Ideas.
· Visit the Keyword Ideas tab.
· Note how many average monthly searches have been completed for your chosen keywords or search terms.
Go to a website that you visit regularly and access the source code of the page. (Right click on the page text and select View Source Code.) Complete a search in the source code by pressing Ctrl F.
· Does the web page include an H1?
· Is the H1 the main page headline?
· Does the H1 include a core message for the user?
· Is there any sign that the H1 is optimized for searching (are there any keywords included in it)?
· Is the site using the additional headings H2 through H6? Is it creating correct page and content structure?
Using the same page as in the previous exercise, complete the following:
1. Search for the title. It should be placed near the top of the page (<title> title text </title>). This is the metatitle for the page.
· Is the target keyword included in the title?
· Is the title under 60 characters?
2. Search for the description. It should be placed near the top of the page (<meta-name=“description” content=“description text”/>). This is the metadescription for the page.
· Is there a description visible?
· Is the target keyword included?
· Is it under 160 characters?
Create a piece of search-optimized content for your website that will assist your customers during their research stage (to generate brand awareness). This content can take any form—for example, text, infographic, video, or audio—but must have a text element that can be optimized. Research your keywords and optimize all key on-page elements.
Visit www.opensiteexplorer.org. Enter the URL for your website and click search. Note the domain authority and page authority. Now click Compare Link Metrics (on the left). Enter the URL for a competitor's website and scroll to the domain authority section.
· Who scores the best domain and page authority?
· Which site has the best quality links (check MozRank and MozTrust)?
· Which site has the most followed linking root domains?
Action Plan: Search Engine Optimization
Digital Marketing Planning Scheme for Search Engine Optimization
Positioning, engagement, conversions, competitive advantage
· On page: Keyword research, content updates, metadata, UX
· Off page: Link baiting, cross-linking, directory listing, guest blogging, search engine submission
· On page: Daily and weekly content updates with relevant keywords
· Off page: Weekly and monthly actions and review (outreach and inbound links)
Measurement Tools and KPIs
· Analytics, Webmaster Tools, Moz: Position, rank, click-through rate, visitors, conversions, website performance
· Diagnostics: Error 404 pages, blocked robots.txt, faulty backlinks