Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is more straight-forward and digestible than most SEO agencies would have you believe. The use of common acronyms and phrases that come along with SEO and SEM make the learning curve look a bit more difficult to overcome than it really is. The reality of the situation is that the internet is still new and expanding fast with websites incorporating modern designs accompanied by people thinking in a more digital format. These fast advancements bolster the creation of a virtual world with users operating under a virtual mindset, wanting useful content and interfaces that are relatable and user-friendly. That’s the key component to advancing SEO – User Friendly Experiences.
If you browse online in 2019, you’ll still find thousands of websites that look like they were created in the early 1990’s and many probably were last updated around that time. At the very least, it becomes quickly apparent that mobile-friendliness was not taken into consideration when these sites were created. Between 2010 and 2019 websites served on mobile devices increased from 2.9% to 52.2% worldwide while internet usage continues to skyrocket in developed and developing countries. Internet usage worldwide could be close to 100% in the very near future if pioneers such as Elon Musk push forward with their global wifi initiatives. The number of people connected throughout the world only increases the need for a service such as Google Search to help sort through the influx of new webpages—the end goal for Google Search is to showcase only the most user-friendly content and website interfaces. Due to consumer demand for user-friendly websites and phone applications, demand for SEO and web design services is increasing—especially in developing countries. This is why it is important for everyone to understand how to advance their SEO efforts with or without SEO agencies and professionals. This article should help to get you started.
There are four main components to an effective SEO strategy, listed by priority are: Content, On-Site Optimizations, Technical & Off-Site.
Content is crucial. It is the only way to effectively describe your business, products or services to consumers as well as educate and inform your target audience within an industry or niche. Business owners often overlook many content opportunities, especially if a topic doesn’t directly relate to their product or service. I’ve had many conversations with clients that simply do not want to have content on their website that doesn’t lead to a direct sale or lead. For example, it is perfectly fine for me to write a lengthy helpful article about how to create an effective SEO strategy even though my business goal is to acquire clients looking for SEO services. Many businesses would see this as giving the user the product for free, but in actuality there are many businesses that simply don’t have the time to work on an SEO strategy and will outsource regardless. Having this article only helps build trust and authority on the topic and if a business does decide to outsource SEO in the future they can recall back to my article. Even though I didn’t form a relationship immediately, it eventually lead to a successful partnership.
Content strategies take time. They require competitive and keyword research, an understanding of a specific market and an excellent content writer that can effectively deliver your message. If you do unlock your abilities within these topics, you’ll find it’s fairly quick and easy to come up with a content strategy. It all starts with competitive research.
Competitive Research helps you understand which types of content perform well for your business. Most business owners know who their direct competitors are, but there are often many competitors that perform well that are overlooked. The best way to find competitors that perform well on Google search is to perform a simple keyword search. If you’re an online marketing agency, search “online marketing agencies” in Google to see what comes up first.
After scrolling down past the paid ads and the Google Map pack, you’ll find organic Google search listings. These websites are likely where you’ll want to start your content research. Using a few paid and free tools, you’ll be able to find content ideas fairly quick.
SEMRush is a paid subscription tool ($100-$200/mo) that allows you to view SEO success metrics for all pages on a competitor’s website. SEMRush is the primary tool that Conductor, a premium paid SEO tool that typically costs between $2,000 – $10,000+ per month, uses to pull keyword and URL data into their system. Considering the large contract prices associated with Conductor, I like to view SEMRush as a $100/mo subscription that gives me all of the insights Conductor does, at a 99% discount. That being said, it doesn’t visualize a content strategy the same way Conductor does and doesn’t come with a dedicated support and marketing team. The data you can pull from SEMRush is extensive which is why I recommend starting here for competitive research.
In the visual example above, we identified a few SEO agencies that rank well. In order to get content ideas from these websites you’ll need to run each URL into SEMRush.
I pulled the top 2 in the list above:
As you can see above, even though JellyFish.net ranks better for “Online Marketing Agencies”, it does not rank for nearly as many keywords in total. From here, I would pull organic search data for StraightNorth.com in SEMRush by clicking [Organic Research] then [View all Organic Keywords] and finally exporting the full list.
Once I have the list, it’s as easy as putting everything in a Pivot Table and seeing which URLs rank best.
In Excel, hit [Insert] & [Pivot Table]
Now we can see which pages generate the most traffic for StraightNorth.com and which have the most search volume opportunities. Adding the “Keyword” field to the [Rows] section under [URL] would then show us which keywords have the most potential for that specific page or topic.
This data helps:
- Determine which pages perform well
- Which keywords to use once you’ve selected a competitor topic to write about
- Give you the insight you need to create top-level and blog-level pages on your website
This method is one of many you could use to generate content and topic ideas that resonate well with users – you could also use a tool such as BuzzSumo.com to pull social media shares per URL for each competitor to determine which article topics are Facebook and LinkedIn friendly.
On-site SEO basically means you need to optimize a few internal components of each page on your website in order for each page to be found on Google search easily. The three main on-site elements you’ll want to make sure you optimize are: Title Tags, Meta Descriptions and Header Tags. If you have these three things optimized, alongside user-friendly content, you’ll be able to rank for anything you choose.
You should be able to edit all of these tags within the HTML of your website. This can be done via a FTP client if you’re hard-coding your website, or within your CMS if you’re using a platform such as WordPress, SquareSpace, Magento, Wix or any other system. There are usually native options within your CMS but in some instances you might need to install plugins. For WordPress, the plugin “Yoast SEO” is typically the go-to for marketing professionals.
Title tags are what you see when you Google a keyword or phrase. They exist in the HTML of a page and are outwardly displayed on search engines and social media websites.
as seen above, the title tag for AdRavel’s home page is shown in the first search result. The SEO Management page is found right below that with a different title tag “SEO Management Services | Content Creation Strategies – AdRavel”
The title tag gives you an opportunity to tell Google:
- What the contents of the page are about
- What keywords you want this page to rank for
It also helps a user understand where they will go if they click on the search results link.
The two most commonly used formats for applying title tags are:
- Main Keyword | Secondary Keyword – Business Name
- Main Keyword – Business Name
There is a 70 character limit for title tags so you might run into instances where only one keyword phrase can fit. If you have room, then I suggest utilizing the pipe character “|” to separate the main keyword and a secondary keyword you would like to rank for. The title tag usually ends with the business name, though some businesses have very long names so you can either shorten or abbreviate or leave the business name out altogether. The reason for putting a business name in the title tag is to build trust – a user would know by clicking the link they’re going to a business website.
If you’re an eCommerce store then these formats usually apply for Products, Sub Category Pages and Category Pages:
- Product Name | Product Category – Business Name
- Sub Category Name | Category Name – Business Name
- Category Name – Business Name
Meta descriptions are shown on Google search results right under the Title tag and URL. This tag does not impact your keyword rankings but rather gives you a place to put a description for each page to help inform a user before they click through to your website. These descriptions are limited to 160 characters or less.
As seen in the screenshot above, the title tag for the AdRavel home page is:
“Find out how to optimize all areas of your online presence to make your site profitable, generating an increase in revenue through SEO and Paid advertising.”
I wouldn’t call this a masterful piece of art, in fact I will likely change this in the future but it does follow a format you should consider for each page on your website. Each meta description should include a call to action and a phrase that captures attention. The goal is to entice a user to click through if they find your services useful. To clarify, in the example above you would not want every user that searches “Online Marketing Agencies” to click through to your website. Some users might want to know what Online Marketing Agencies are, or might be researching job opportunities and by clicking through they would land on this page, get confused and leave. Meta descriptions offer a place to help the user figure out if your page is a page worth visiting.
One additional note worth mentioning is that while Meta Descriptions don’t increase keyword rankings directly it does improve click through rates which do directly impact rankings. If a higher percentage of users click on your link when searching for a phrase, your keyword rankings for that phrase could go up. You can actively increase click through rates by improving your meta descriptions.
Header tags can be described as headers and sub-headers on a page—very similar to book titles, chapters and sections within a book, these tags help Google understand the main topics on a page. Each tag is an HTML element that is formatted on your page and appear as headlines and sub-headlines throughout each page. There are a few various tags you can use on a page including: H1, H2, H3, H4, H5 & H6 tags. Best practice is to use one H1 tag (the main title) and as many H2, H3 and H4 tags as necessary. You’ll usually only need the one H1 tag and a few H2 tags throughout but some topics require multiple hierarchal header sections to breakdown topics and sub topics. In this article, I use one H1 tag, four H2 tags (Content, On-Page, Technical & Off-Site) and a few H3 tags to break down topics and subtopics. It is important you utilize these on each page of your website.
There are a few scenarios where placing H3 or H4 tags in your Header or Footer navigation is recommended. If you have a complex navigation with text headings we recommend utilizing H tags to mark up these headings.
Page speed insights is a tool developed by Google to help you identify problems with your website. While many SEO professionals use clickbait articles claiming you should achieve a 100% pagespeed score, this is not true at all. In fact, even this article published by Neil Patel has a score of 54/100 and ranks very well for page speed performance terms. This raises another concern within the SEO industry, which is using misleading information to confuse customers, gain clicks and generate leads but that topic can be discussed in another article.
What you do need to know, is how to improve your overall page speed and Google has some great recommendations to do that.
There are a few common recommendations Google gives you to boost your website load time.
This basically refers to delivering critical JS/CSS inline (in the HTML) and deferring all non-critical JS/styles. This is harder to fix right away, but this article found on Kinsta does a great job explaining how to fix this issue.
Shubox explains what next-gen image formats are but this is also not extremely straight forward and is evolving as new formats emerge. Using next-gen formats is definitely recommended, but one primary way to improve actual load time that I find across every website I’ve worked on is to simply resize large images and save images for web in PhotoShop.
A great WordPress plugin for compressions images is WP Smush which resizes and compresses all images on your website for you. If you do run on WordPress, I highly recommend using this plugin as it usually improves load time drastically.
Use a CDN
If you’re a model or Photo Studio and typically use large images on your website to showcase your work, I recommend delivering these images with a CDN. A CDN or Content Delivery Network stores a cached version of its content in multiple geographical locations and delivers your website to users in different locations through their local PoP. This essentially allows your website to load much faster all over the world.
Use a Cache Plugin
If your website runs on a CMS platform such as WordPress, utilizing a caching plugin can greatly improve load time. WP Rocket is my personal favorite for WordPress and is fairly easy to understand—it is very common for websites to improve their load time drastically by implementing this plugin or other plugins such as W3 Total Cache.
Other technical SEO optimizations
There are a few other technical SEO components, such as placing 301 redirects that you would need to understand if you are making a site migration (moving one site to a new website) or if you are actively removing pages on your website. Check back later and I will link to a more detailed article explaining how to best utilize redirects for your website.
URL rules refers to how you display your URLs. Best practice is to keep URLs very clean and to use lowercase characters when you can. Some CMS platforms don’t always allow you to follow these rules, but any workaround to achieve a SEO-friendly URL structure is always advised.
Off-site SEO is essentially link building. We don’t have to call it that, though as I understand it’s an outdated term and no one actively looks for links in 2019. Link authority and trust flow have always been a ranking factor and will continue to be. Link building refers to the process of having other websites link to your website. You typically want only established brands linking to your website to avoid spam and being penalized by Google. Penalizations do not happen as nearly often in 2019 – way back in 2010 onwards, Google put a huge focus on flagging spammy links and penalizing websites for using spammy links to influence keyword rankings. When Google became the number one way users searched the web, other businesses found ways to manipulate their algorithm to rank #1 for nearly any phrase regardless of if it had anything to do with their business. This worked really really well for many businesses and some SEO professionals abused this system to make easy, fast money for a few years. Nowadays, Google has cracked down on spammy websites and spammy link practices and while it isn’t perfect, many spam tactics do not work as a form of search result manipulation.
So how do we link build in 2019?
The main way to build trusted links to your website is to produce trusted, useful user-friendly content. There are many businesses utilizing mass content creation as a marketing link building strategy, but one particular company comes to mind for me: snacknation.com.
I actually came across this website while working for company that focused on Employee Training and HR technology. Why would I come across this website that focuses on selling Workplace Snacks when looking for HR related content? Well, they created a bunch of HR and Engagement in the Workplace content that ranked for keywords my company wanted to rank for. That’s right, a workplace training company now found itself competing against a snack company for keyword rankings.
More specifically, my company wanted to rank for the term “Employee Engagement” and while doing research I came across the page found below:
This page ranks #3 for the term “Employee Engagement” while being a company that primarily sells snacks… and I can’t come up with a better example than this to explain why it is important to think outside of the box. If you think about it, it makes sense – an HR professional is usually in charge of ordering workplace snacks and will likely be reading up on Employee Engagement ideas. They have content here any HR professional would love to read—depths and depths of content to help HR professionals improve employee engagement in the workplace. They also have their cookies, or data that they can use to retarget these same HR professionals with retargeting ads. They also use White Papers in the article for email capture that can lead to future engagement.
How does this relate to link building?
If you read the article, you’ll notice they utilize quotes from business owners and professionals. They reached out to business professionals and asked them a few questions about Employee Engagement and because they have a trusted brand, many professionals were more than willing to help out and be featured in this article.
There are over 50 different companies listed in this article, most of which engaged with this article on social media and many linked to this article on their company’s website.
This is how link building is handled in 2019. The key is to collaborate with other businesses to produce content and to establish a mutually beneficial marketing strategy for everyone involved.
After identifying content and companies you can collaborate with, you should be able to produce long-form content that users will find helpful and if they do, you can nearly guarantee a spot on the front page of Google.
From time to time, I’ll come back and add to this article, but I firmly feel if you follow each of these recommendations you will create an SEO launchpad for your business to appear all over Google search.
If you are a business looking for SEO services, AdRavel is a full-service SEO, SEM and Social Media agency that has years of experience working within a variety of industries. Please feel free to submit your website for a full, free SEO audit and we will set up a time to review what an effective SEO campaign looks like for your business.