Here are a few suggestions, both inside and outside of your site, that you can focus on to improve your site’s ranking. This is by no means a complete guide of factors, and it is aimed at a middle of the road webmaster, not an expert in SEO. I hope it helps, and I welcome feedback!
A Brief Explanation of SEO
What SEO Is
It’s not just for the big guys – It’s something every webmaster should be at least moderately well-versed in.
The good news is:
- you can learn most of what you need to know with a little reading over the course of a month
- you can do most of the basics of SEO yourself pretty easily
Search engines do two things: crawl or map the web, and (by using that map) provide answers to the user’s query. They are answer machines, and they exist to provide good answers every time a user asks them a question. If your site provides the answer that solves the user’s problem/question, the search engines will love you for it, and reward you by ranking you more highly.
That’s because SEO is not only about optimization and strategic keyword use, but really about the entire user experience. If you take nothing else from this page, remember it’s about user experience.
There are hundreds of search engine ranking factors. These factors are used in a complicated algorithm to determine your rank. Relevance + popularity = your site’s rank in the SERP (Search Engine Ranking Page). If popularity is one measure of how good a site is, the search engines are kind of eating their own tail: They like you because you’re popular , and you’re popular because they like you….
You can expect it to take 3-6 months for a lot of movement/improvement in where you rank. Don’t be discouraged, it’s worth the work using white hat hat methods during this time. Your gains will stick around and frequently compound, unlike a quick, fake boost by black hat methods (eg, a link farm).
How SEO Works
Since we want our sites to rank highly in the search engines, it behooves us to figure out who the big players are and how to make them happy. It should come as no surprise that – for North American sites aimed at NA customers – Google is calling the shots. They’ve come down a little in recent years, to approx 78% of all discrete searches in NA; Bing is the next biggest engine, and others like Yahoo, AOL and Duck Duck Go are vanishingly small. Google represents a very large majority of mobile searches.
Search engines are answer machines. They need to crawl the Internet, so you need to make sure your site is does not have any crawl errors and you should go ahead and submit a site map to Google and Bing. (Google in the Search Console and Bing in Webmaster Tools).
Remember, only about 4-5% of all visitors will go to the second page of search results. It’s very important to get on that first page! Furthermore, you want to be in the top few results. 32% of all visitor traffic goes to that first result on the page
As mentioned above, there are hundreds of factors that go into creating the algorithms for the engines, and it’s a lot of information to try to assimilate. Here are some resources to help you:
- Google Webmaster Guidelines, formerly Google Webmaster Tools) is a big help, as are Bing Webmaster Guide
- Moz (here’s a beginner’s guide to SEO)
- Neil Patel (here’s some good stuff from him)
- kissmetrics and various others. I also like Matt Cutts old videos and Google’s Youtube Webmaster channel.
There are said to be approx 200 ranking factors for Google, but you can start by focusing on the following 15. You’ll be most of the way there.
SEO Factors Inside Your Site
Good User Experience
This encompasses so many of the other things on this list, it’s not really even correct to call it a ranking factor. It IS SEO.
Use a keyword planner tool, several available or can just see what other search terms Google recommends at the bottom of the page. In case anyone is confused, keywords are 2-5 word phrases that people type into the search engine to find an answer.
Keyword density myth. No stuffing! Search engines have come so far from when you could just stuff keywords. Focus on good helpful content don’t discount using synonyms for your keyword phrase. The search engines are getting better and better, so that doesn’t hurt and might help.
• in the title tag
• Two or three times in the body
• In the meta description, though this doesn’t really affect ranking but does help visitors
• Once prominently in the top of the page (H2?)
• At least once in an alt attribute for an image on that page
While “head” keywords are important, what really matters is your long tail (3 or more words) key words. 30% of searches are shorts, 70% of searches are longs, and longs convert better. There is less competition to rank highly for your long tails, so focus your efforts on those.
Site Content Quality
Make it good, easily navigable, handicapped accessible, translation ready. Write intelligently and clearly. Update your stuff on a regular basis. There’s evidence that the search engines are beginning to frown on jargon and hard to understand acronyms, remember, they want things to easily answer the user’s question). Yet another example of good user experience.
A subcategory of quality content is making sure your content has enough words. The Yoast plugin will encourage you to hit a certain length to check off this box. (Yoast is saying 300, torque.com is saying 1,00-200 words tend to rank higher).
These are a lot of what helps a search engine to know what your page is about.
Optimal format for title tag:
Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Brand Name
8-foot Green Widgets – Widgets & Tools | Widget World
Write a nice one, 160 characters, some say the meta description doesn’t affect the ranking but it does help use experience so it indirectly helps your SEO. Yoast SEO plugin helps with this!
Always put them on images, very easy to do in WordPress and the search engines reward accessibility. At least one alt tag should have your keywords or domain name!
Also, if someone takes your image, it is a way to get some reflected love if your alt tag mentions your brand.
Clear and Straightforward URLs
Basically, no duplicate content and make sure all of your content has unique url’s, don’t spread your strength out too thin and confuse search engines with duplicates, just do a 301 redirect for other pages or the rel=canonical tag, in all links.
Rich Snippets / Schema markup
Rich snippets, schema.org help search engines understand your site better and know what is worth showing. Essentially, schema markup is a way to manually tell Google you want to highlight or clarify certain content on your page. The main idea is that it will display useful information directly in the SERP, improving the user experience. Very small percentage of sites use rich snippets, but if you want to look into this, it will likely give you a leg up. After all, schema.org was developed by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Yandex, so it behooves the wise webmaster to do this.
There’s 2 ways to do your markup, Google has tools and there are plenty of plugins to help you.
Mobilegeddon tipping point in North America was 2015. It goes without saying that a lot of people are viewing your site on phones. Making sure your site loads well on a small device is important for speed and user experience, so no wonder the search engines reward having a mobile version of your site.
This affects load speed and accessibility and mobile, see above.
SEO Factors Outside Your Site
Secure Sites https vs http
Get that SSL certificate! First Google announced they wanted it and would give a boost in rankings to those that had it, and now soon they will punish those that don’t have it (July of 2018). Often your host will have a free certificate included with your plan (thanks, InMotion Hosting!) or you can get a free one from Let’s Encrypt. If you are confused on how to implement it, there are some very simple plugins for WordPress sites, like Really Simple SSL and Velvet Blues.
Site Load Speed
3 seconds or die! Largely affected by hosting and/or a CDL (you can pay by the month if you just have high traffic times). Consider a caching plugin and optimizing images and a well made theme.
Per toggl’s bluntly titled “SEO for Dummies” page and Hacker Authority – between 2 equal sites, Google will serve the faster loading first. Site load time will definitely be a ranking factor as of this year.
Test your speed at Gmetrix. Aim for 3-5 seconds, preferably under 3. After that, people bounce and high bounce rates, while not that important to Google, still aren’t so good. Bouncing is when a person visits and leaves your site before spending an amount of time that is deemed significant by an SE.
Quality Back Links
An oldie but a goodie! Used as a ranking indicator since the 90’s. The better the site linking to you, the more it seems to matter to the search engines.
Make that anchor text good! Try to get links from sites that are in the same subject as yours; i.e., if you sell shoes, a link from the American Podiatrist Society or runners world magazine might weigh more positively than a link from your college roommate’s blog. Just as you must update your content, you must keep earning new links. A good strategy might be to genuinely and valuably participate in a discussion forum for your subject matter, and maybe you or maybe others can link to your site. You can also guest post on someone else’s blog, sort of like when the cast of Happy Days appeared in an episode of Laverne and Shirley. Everyone wins then. Another suggestion is to look at your closest competitors back links and see if you can get linked to from similar sites.
Social Media Signals
No longer deprecated, so get out there! 80% telling, 20% selling. People do business with those they know, like and trust, and it’s a great way to build links.
Search is still king for referral traffic, but social is no slouch, and likely to continue increasing.
Domain Authority and Trust
Domain and page authority – basically it’s a reflection of how highly you’re ranked by the SE’s and how “trusted” of an authority your domain is. Eg, Wikipedia has a high trust rating.
Relates to age (so renew domain for 3 or 5 years at a time).
Moz.com has some good tools to give you a sense of a domain’s “authority” or general ranking. Also checkmoz.com shows a few metrics at once.