Your Search Engine Optimization Basic Knowledge Base
Everything You Need to Know About Search Engines
Search engines make our online lives much easier - instead of having to remember exact web addresses, or even exact names of business or services we’re looking for, we can go to a search engine and simply type in a word or phrase related to what we are looking for. What results is a host of information related to whatever we typed in. But how does that information get populated?
How do search engines work?
A search engine has three primary functions.
Crawling, or discovering content
Indexing, or tracking and then storing that information
Retrieval, or populating relevant content related to a user’s search query.
Crawling is the first step. This means the search engine has scanned the website and collected as much information as it can from each page. It has scanned titles, images, keywords, linked pages, and other relevant things to gather the information needed.
Search engines use what are referred to as spiders, which are automated bots, to visit pages as quickly as possible. Today, Google bots can read thousands of pages a second. They use page links to figure out where to go next. So, the spider will collect all the links of a page to create its list of pages to visit next. This repeats, and the crawling bots will revisit past pages to see if any changes may have occurred.
Some people like to compare the internet to a big subway system - each stop is a unique page, either a webpage or another type of file on a website. The search engines use the links to crawl through all the stops along the way. Non-text files, such as videos, images or audio files, cannot be interpreted unless meta tags are attached. Google offers a complete list of the types of files that can be indexed here.
Once the bots find a page, they then decipher the code in them, and stockpile this information to be used later when someone submits a search query.
The History of Search Engines
Prior to search engines, the web consisted of File Transfer Protocol (FTP) sites. Users would navigate them to find specific files. But as internet usage increased, there needed to be a way for users to quickly and easily find the information they needed. Search engines were created to make it easier to navigate.
Archie was the first such engine created. In 1990, Alan Emtage, a university student in Montreal, created Archie as a school project. Archie essentially created an index of computer files stored on FTP sites. In 1991, another college student named Mark McCahill created Gopher, which also searched plain text references in files.
Mosaic followed in 1993, but these still didn’t look quite like what we’re used to today. Around the same time, Wandex was the first technology to crawl the web, indexing and cataloging along the way. In 1994, WebCrawler began to index the full texts of sites, rather than just web page titles.
Yahoo has been around since 1994, and was originally a directory of sites cataloged by human editors. In 2002 it shifted to be crawler based, and in 2004 it created its own search index.
Google wasn’t born until a few years later, in 1997. As Stanford PhD students, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin started researching search engines based on relevancy ranking. They believed that search engines should be able to analyze and then rank websites based on how often certain search terms appeared.
Other search engines have come and gone over time, and a few are still active today. Windows Live (formerly MSN Search) and Bing are also used today. But, according to Net Market Share, Google accounts for nearly 73% of search engine users.
Anatomy of a search engine page
In short, a search engine is a software program or script that searches for keywords, and then offers the user results based on those keywords. How search engines are set up to operate is an important way to learn more about what you need to do to operate a successful SEO campaign.
The search begins when a user types in a search query. Google bots have already indexed and canvassed the internet, storing the information you need. Google will then look up the information you searched for from its vast index of information found from crawling the internet.
Since Google is the most commonly used search engine, let’s take a look at what a simple Google search is like:
Searching the index
Your work is done when you type in your query and hit the Google search button. But Google’s has just started. Google will turn to its billions of pages of content to find every page that contains the word or phrase you searched.
Not everything that contains your search term(s) will actually be relevant to you. But luckily for you, Google will screen the web pages to find the ones most likely to contain the information you are looking for.
Not all sites are created equal, and Google knows this. Google can determine how popular or useful a site is, and the better they are, the more likely Google is to have it show up in your results.
This is what many people in the SEO world live and die by. Google, using its algorithms, will then rank the results of your search in the order it deems to be the most relevant to you.
When your Google returns your search, you’ll see something much like the above. So, what exactly are you looking at?
The shaded areas at the top, as well as the side bar, consist of ads, or sponsored results. We’ll explain these in a bit more detail in a bit.
Next, you’ll find Google+ local listings. The results found here are localized to the location of the person searching.
Finally, the organic results will appear. These are natural and unpaid listings that appear when your website is found to have relevant, quality content that matches the search. Good search engine optimization can help you show up at the top of this list.
Sponsored results vs. Organic results
When Google returns your search, you’ll find two different types of results. We refer to these as organic or natural results, and paid or sponsored results.
Organic results will be the ones Google finds based on relevance. Paid or sponsored results are those that are paid for by a company. They are essentially advertisements that a company has paid to have show up when internet users search for certain terms. You’ll be able to tell the sponsored results from the organic ones because they will typically be set apart from the organic results.
Sponsored posts are auction-based, so the location your ad will appear will depend on your bid on the keyword you want to appear for. If a company has a higher bid per keyword, they will appear before yours. But these posts aren’t only decided by bid amount, but also on other factors such as quality score, CTR and relevancy.
Research shows that the majority of internet users prefer organic results. In fact, 70% of the links users click on are organic, and 70-80% of users ignore paid posts and go directly to the organic listings (https://www.imforza.com/blog/8-seo-stats-that-are-hard-to-ignore/). However, if you are selling a certain product or service, paid ads may work better in your favor. “High commercial intent” searches outperform organic results. Commercial intent refers to transactional searches - the keywords the searcher uses signal a strong intent to conduct a transaction. This could mean the searcher wants to buy something, learn more about a service, or something else that could lead to a future sale.
Sponsored posts push the organic posts down, meaning a user will need to scroll to find the organic posts. On a mobile device, which is more and more becoming how people search, users typically need to scroll quite a bit to find the organic results.
But which one is better? It isn’t necessarily a one or the other - in a good SEM program, organic and sponsored posts can work in tandem. While a sponsored post won’t make your organic post appear higher in organic searches, the two can complement each other. Utilizing both will provide you with more real estate on the search engine, making your name appear more often in front of users.
But, there are some things to keep in mind when it comes to search engine users. Because paid or sponsored results are actually ads, they often work better for shoppers, rather than an internet user who is doing research. Internet users who are gathering research may most likely prefer organic search results. Organic search results are important because they will return content relevant to what the user was searching for.
How do people interact with search engines?
In order to have a successful online marketing program, it is important to think about internet users. What is your target market looking for, and how will they find you?
MOZ.com, one of the leaders in search engine marketing information, explains that there are typically three ways in which users interact with a search engine. These three types of queries are:
such as “I want to buy a bike” or “I’m looking for a pair of red shows”
such as “best restaurants in Chicago” or “pediatric dentists in New York City”
such as “major league baseball” or “Disney World”
The search engine’s job is to then determine whether a user will be happy with the information they find on your site - will it meet their search query? The search engine wants to provide relevant and useful information to its users, so your job is make sure your customers will be happy with the information returned to them. That means you need to build your website and fract your content with users in mind. When building your website, if you think first about what a user wants, you’ll also be satisfying the search engines.
So, build for users first and then Search Engines when you build or optimize a site. Each search begins with the intention of seeking information (either finding a place, finding a product, finding an answer to a question, etc..) The site that fulfills this quest for information will most certainly rank the best (at least it deserves to rank the best) and search engines such as Google are getting smarter everyday and can easily identify which content or site is worth ranking higher or not. Relevancy is the key for search engines as it is directly connected to how much users will be happy with the returned results.
So a user will have a need that can be met by searching for it online. Then, the user will formulate the search query - it can be a keyword or phrase, or a question that includes keywords. One the query is submitted, the search engine uses its warehoused information to return relevant search results. The user browses the results for the best match, and clicks on that. If the user is unsatisfied with the information, they’ll return to begin a search all over again. 75% of users won’t scroll past the first page of results (https://www.imforza.com/blog/8-seo-stats-that-are-hard-to-ignore/).
And that leads us to section 2 - is search engine optimization and marketing really necessary?
Is Search Engine Optimization and Marketing Really Necessary?
Is search engine optimization and marketing really necessary? In short, the answer is a resounding yes! And that is especially true for local businesses.
Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimization are the strategies employed to increase a website’s visibility through search, and therefore generate more users. SEM and SEO can employ the use of paid search, organic placement, and contextual advertising to promote the website and increase visibility on the search engine results. Contextual advertising consists of blogs or news articles, or other targeted writings, that can help increase a website’s visibility.
When people are in need of a product or service, research shows that the internet is where they turn. And with smartphones and tablets on hand 24/7, finding your business is at their fingertips. SEM, which consists of paid ads, can target potential customers based on what they are searching for. That then results in your business being right in front of them in seconds.
The internet is full of information that can be hard to wade through on your own. But search engines streamline our access to information for us. It’s crucial to be seen first - brand awareness is key. Then, you’ll want to stand out and ensure you are chosen. With SEM and SEO, you can drive quality traffic to your site. If your goal is conversions, it’s not enough to just drive traffic to your site, but to ensure that traffic is relevant and will result in conversions.
SEO and SEM experts use the term “zombie traffic” to refer to an uptick in user traffic that doesn’t result in an increase in conversions. It isn’t always apparent where this traffic is coming from, and it can be hard to get rid of it. A zombie visitor won’t interact with your website, but it will still eat up your server resources.
High quality traffic will be comprised of your target audience, who spend time navigating your site and who take action - such as filling out an online form or appointment request, calling you, downloading a document, or leaving a comment on a blog.
A good SEM approach will use searches that are important to your business to increase your site’s rankings and visibility. Chances are good if you aren’t showing up for the searches that are important to your business, your competitors are - and you can be missing out on that business.
According to SmartInsights.com’s Search Engine Statistics 2018, 3.5 billion Google searches are performed each day. Of course, most of these searched won’t relate to you, but for the ones that do, SEM and SEO allow you to be sure you’re being seen by the right customers. Using targeted keywords, along with geo-targeting, device targeting and ad scheduling (if you’re using paid searches), you can precisely target your users.
If you’re a children’s dentist serving the Kansas City area, you want potential patients in only that area to find you - you don’t need to worry about ranking nationwide, but you will want to be sure you can be found in the greater Kansas City area. Geo-targeting can ensure you are reaching people in your market area. Likewise, if you’re an orthodontist, you want to be found when someone in your area searches for braces, but you only want to appear when someone is looking for orthodontic braces, and not, say a knee brace.
Likewise, if most of the people searching for your product or service are using mobile devices for searches, but you’re not yet mobile friendly, you may be missing out. BrightEdge found that 79% of keywords rank differently in search on mobile versus desktop. And in 2017, SmartInsights.com says that in 2017, mobile accounts made up 50.3% of web-generated traffic around the world. And in some countries, including the US and Japan, more Google searches take place on mobile devices than anything else.
Search engine optimization is crucial to businesses for several reasons.
The top organic search results are most likely to get the clicks. Research shows that users are most likely to click on one of the top five results returned in the search .
SEO isn’t about “tricking” the search engines or using what we refer to as black hat techniques, but about improving the user’s experience and helping searchers know the results returned are in fact relevant and useful to them.
Research shows that users trust search engines and the results they return. But, that will only continue to be the case if Google returns relevant information. If you can be found in the top positions for a user’s keyword, the more likely they are to see you as an authority on the subject they are searching.
SEO can put you ahead of your competitors, literally. If you have a strong SEM and SEO program in place, you can find yourself listed ahead of your competitors, hopefully ensuring users click on your website first. SEM and SEO work together to provide you more real estate to get your brand noticed.
It’s trackable. With SEO and SEM, both paid and organic, you can use analytics to see what keywords are creating conversions, where users are located, the types of devices they are using, and even the times of day they are finding your site. With call tracking tools, you can also track calls and where the originated from. This allows you to then customize your program even further.
Your website is your best salesperson. Users can access information on your website 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Make sure it can be found easily, and that it will return what the user wants. Uptime is important, and tracking your website’s uptime will be crucial.
Google and other search engines need your help to understand your business. And that’s why SEO should be seamlessly woven into your website. If you know what your potential customers are going to need while building your site, you can plan your site’s structure around being as user friendly, and there by search engine friendly, as possible.
If you aren’t utilizing SEO, you may be ignoring potential customers. People are turning to searches to find their answers and purchase products or services, and if you aren’t showing up, they may be turning to your competitors.
SEO puts the power into your hands. One piece of a good SEO program utilizes title tags and meta descriptions to include the keywords you want to appear, instead of just allowing the search engine to generate random text to show up in searches. It’s up to the user to choose between your link and your competitor’s link, so you want to be sure your messaging stands out. Search engines may sometimes modify your search snippet based on what users are searching for.
Top rankings not only get your business found, they set your business apart. Think of the number one ranking like a the training to get to the gold medal - it sets your company apart as the “go to” source on whatever the search query was, but then it is up to your website performance to bring the medal home (i.e. create conversions).
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO helps businesses market their products and services to local customers. But better than that, it brings your business to the user at the exact moment they are looking for your goods or services.
Local SEO employs a variety of strategies to ensure you are seen everywhere your local business is looking. That means woking to get your site a good rank on Google local results, but also turning to online directories, such and YELP and Google My Business, as well as managing online reviews and ensuring relevant, quality content on your website.
If 3.5 billion Google searches are performed each day, how many of those are in your area, and for a business like yours? You want to be sure you are showing up when your potential customers are looking, and SEO can help with that.
The beautiful thing about local SEO (and SEO in general) is that it allows you to be seen by customers exactly when they are looking for you. You won’t be blindly throwing information out, but rather positioning yourself to be found when a customer is looking for you.
How you rank locally depends on a few factors, and the quantity and quality of citations is one. NAP citations are a very important to local SEO. NAP means name, address and phone number. NAP citations influence what search engines show for local searches. A NAP citation is when your information appears on an online directory or local listing site.
NAP is important because Google and other search engines use this information when formulating local search results. It’s crucial to be sure your NAP is correct, not just on your site, but on all of the important local listing sites. Your NAP will be cross referenced to validate that you are in fact a true business. So it is important to be sure that wherever else your information may be found, like online directories or YellowPages, it is accurate. The more consistent NAP citations you have, the better it will be for your site. Citation consistency is actually one of the most important local SEO factors there is.
Why consistency matters
Citations are valuable because they mention your business, and the every time Google finds one of these mentions, you get credit for it. And the more mentions there are, the more prominent Google will think your business is. And that in turn will improve your local rankings. But how can you guarantee consistency?
Begin by thinking about your business and its history. Has your business undergone a name change, a move, added additional locations, or added or changed phone numbers? Write down a list of all of this information, including call tracking numbers, toll-free numbers, cell numbers, and anything else that could potentially appear in a NAP citation.
Nexunom has a great NAP citation scan tool to help you find any variations that may be out there on most important local listing sites. You can also turn to Google to search for other variations you may not have realized existed. You can search just by phone number to find any variations that may exist, and then also do the same by putting in just the business name, or just the address.
Before you submit a NAP listing to a site, you want to be completely sure you don’t already have a listing on there. Multiple listings will confuse the search engines and negatively affect your local SEO. This can be a time consuming process while it is crucial to helping your site rank better locally, but you can simply let your local SEO provider to take care of it for you.
Local SEO Factors to Consider
Local SEO is powerful and necessary for local businesses to grow. But, there are several factors that go into helping or hurting your local rankings.
The first is content, and it is only going to grow in value. Think of all of the ways potential customers can find your information - Google search, Google maps, local search, review sites, social media, video or display ads, question and answer sites, and many more - can all bring your information to user. So, be sure you are the answer to whatever question the user is asking by ensuring your content is exactly what they need.
Relevance and prominence are also important factors. Relevance refers to how well your local listing matches what the user is searching for. Prominence refers to whether your business it well-known and trusted. It takes into consideration things like inbound links, contextual links, directory listings and reviews and positive comments.
An accurate and complete Google My Business listing is also important for Google local listings results. If you haven’t already claimed your listing, do it now. Then, make sure your business is listed, and listed correctly, on other local directories where potential customers are likely to find you. According to Nexunom these are the important NAP local listing sites that you shouldn’t be missing:
Yellow Pages City
Chamber Of Commerce
Go Local 247
Yellow Pages Goes Green
Vote For The Best
2 Find Local
My Local Services
If your website isn’t mobile friendly, you’re missing out on a lot of traffic and potential customers. We’ll talk more about why this is so crucial in a bit, but responsively designed sites or sites that are optimized for mobile use are crucial today.
Google My Business plays an important role in local SEO and can be a huge help if you are utilizing it properly. Google Posts is a new addition to Google My Business that gives you the opportunity to share relevant content and information directly on your Google Business listing, thereby making your Google local listing more relevant. You can share news, offers, videos, photos, and other information right on your Google My Business listing using Google Posts. The more information you share that is specific to what you do, as well as your location, the better. You have the opportunity to publish your information directly to people who are looking for your business.
According to Moz’s 2017 Local Search Engine Ranking Factors Survey, reviews make up about 10% of how Google is thought to rank search engines. So, it is important that you include reviews and ratings as part of your overall SEO strategy.
Reviews and Ratings
Reviews and ratings are a great way to show your relevancy and prominence, but we know businesses often worry about this because you can’t control the conversation. But, you can make all reviews, good and bad, work for you. You can read our blogs on online reviews here and about negative reviews here to learn more in depth about reviews and our review tool. Here, we’re going to discuss why they are so important to local SEO.
According to Moz’s 2017 Local Search Engine Ranking Factors Survey, reviews make up about 10% of how Google is thought to rank search engines. So, it is important that you include reviews and ratings as part of your overall SEO strategy.
Part of Google’s goal is to provide search results from trusted businesses, and verified reviews do just that. And when combined with the rest of a good SEO footprint, they work to make you appear as a trusted authority. MyTestimonialEngine.com reported a study that shows 88% of consumers use online reviews when deciding whether or not to make a purchase or use a company’s services.
Google even states “Responding to reviews shows that you value your customers and the feedback they leave about your business.” And Google wants the most credible businesses to show to users - and what is a better indication of credibility than reviews from actual customers?
So, it is important to build both the quality and quantity of your online reviews. The more reviews and ratings you have (and hopefully positive ones!), the better for your local SEO. Chances are good your competitors know the importance of reviews. So make sure you aren’t missing out on new business because your potential customers turned to your competitor, who is ranking higher because they have more reviews. Also the potential customers might choose your competitors over you because of having more compelling reviews and rating.
While you work to build the quantity of reviews, the quality of your reviews is also important. Google doesn’t just want to show consumers businesses that have a lot of reviews, but businesses that have a lot of positive reviews and five star ratings. Think of it this way - your business may only have 12 five star reviews, while your competitor has twice as many reviews. Even though they have more, Google will still want to rank you higher because your reviews and their content are more relevant to the user’s search term. That means the content of the review and what people have to say about your services is also a playing factor.
You interact with your customers at several contact points, Nexunom’s review tool makes it easy for you to capture reviews at the best time - when a customer has just received your services and is happy about the experience. But not only that, we help make sure the reviews are posted on the sites that matter most.
Proximity, Relevance and Prominence Factors
What every business should be striving for in their local SEO program is a combination of proximity, relevance, and prominence. Google itself explains that local results are based on relevance, distance and prominence, all combined to find the best match for a user’s search query. And that means we have to continue to stay at the forefront of how Google applies weight to these factors.
Many believe that proximity to searcher is the number one ranking factor in local searches today. But, the weight of a factor like proximity may also be dependent on the type of query a user submits. Proximity will be much more important for an implicit geolocation search, meaning one where the user types in what he or she is looking for, without adding a location, such as “pizza.” In a search query such as this, the search engine may assume you want pizza places located near your geolocation, so the results you see may be what is physically closest to you. Once you add a location, however, say “pizza Chicago” you may see different results because you aren’t only getting results based on proximity to your location. Google explains that “if a user doesn’t specify a location in their search, Google will calculate distance based on what’s known about their location.”
So, how does proximity impact local SEO? Many believe Google gives such strong weight to proximity to make its results more relevant to what geolocal users really want to get.
But, relevance and prominence are also very important factors in local SEO. Relevance refers to how well a local listing matches what the user is searching for, while prominence refers to how well-known and trusted the business is. Ensuring you have complete, accurate and detailed business information listed will help Google know more about your business, and thereby be better able to match your listing to local search queries. In fact, being sure you’ve selected the proper business category is one of the most important determinations of relevance factor. Prominence is also reflected by the real, offline world - how well known a business or entity is offline can result in better local rankings. Also, the amount of information Google is able to learn about the business, such as its links, articles nap citations, will help build your prominence.
So, how can you use relevance and prominence in conjunction with proximity?
First, know who your audience is and be sure your website, as well as your local listings all around the web, are properly optimized for your most relevant keyword queries and service locations. Quality and consistency of your NAP citations as well as your inbound links can help with this.
Have a healthy review profile. This means plenty of positive reviews with relevant content and that are properly handled (meaning responded to by the business).
Ensure your Google My Business page is always up-to-date and complete with accurate hours and information.
Google also explains that organic web results play a factor in local SEO results.
Together, proximity, relevance and prominence can help you get found on local search.
Is your website search engine friendly?
You can’t build a healthy SEO profile if your website isn’t search engine friendly. It’s not enough to be user friendly - it has to be easy for search engines to crawl it and properly index it as well. Let’s look at some of the best ways to ensure your site is search engine ready.
Indexable content - the search engines can only crawl what they can find - and that means if you have a site heavy on Flash files, images, or anything other than HTML text, the search engine might not know what it is looking at. Be sure you utilize alt text for all images, and provide supplemental text for any Flash or Java plug-ins you may have. If you have video or audio files, it can also help to have transcripts available.
Use the right keywords . Information retrieval by search engines is based on keywords. Search engines like Google are constantly crawling and indexing the web, and keeping track of these keywords in a database. Millions of smaller databases, centered on particular keywords or phrases, allow engines to return data in a fraction of a second. So, if you want to rank for certain keywords, those keywords must be able to be found by the search engines when they crawl your site. Use the keywords you want to rank for prominently on your pages. That means not just in the content, but in titles and metadata, as well.
Avoid keyword stuffing. Search engines are savvy and can tell when keywords are being overused, or stuffed, onto a page. Your keywords should be used strategically, which means they should also appear naturally. It is important to remember that the keywords you use should be the ones you want to help you rank high in search engine results. Moz.com offers the following advice for how to properly use keywords:
Once in the title tag
Once near the top of the page
Two to three times, naturally and including variations, in the body text of the page. Use your judgment on placing keywords more than that if your page has a lot of text.
Once in the alt text of an image, if there is one on the page.
Once in the URL
Once in the meta description tag
Make good use of title tags. This is one of the most important components of optimizing your site for search engines because it provides a clear description of what can be found on the page - or at least it should. Search engines only display up to 75 characters, so keep your titles clear and concise. Try to use keywords towards the beginning, to ensure they’ll be shown and will be helpful in ranking. Because this title may be a potential customers first interaction with you, be sure the content is readable and will help sell your business.
Learn about meta tags. Meta tags can be used on your site to help control how the search engines crawl your site . Not only that, they will give insights to search engines on what the content of the page is, without being displayed on the page (they can only be viewed on the source code of the site.) Meta tags come in the head section of the HTML code of the site. They are visible to search engines but not users There are several different types to know and understand.
index/noindex - Using the noindex tag will exclude the page from the index.
follow/nofollow - All pages are assumed to be follow, unless the nofollow meta tag is used. Then, the search engines will ignore any links on the page.
Noarchive - tells the search engine not to save a copy of the page
Nosnippet - tells the search engine not to display informational text from the page when that page’s URL appears in the search engine results.
Hreflang - tells Google the language you are using on each specific page so that Google can then return the search to users searching in that language.
Canonical Tag - tells search engines that a certain URL is the master copy of a page. Using this type of tag can help prevent duplicate content issues on multiple URLs.
Meta descriptions - Curious how Google decides what information to post under your link in a search result? Meta descriptions offer a short description of what can be found on that page, and are where search engines will turn to for the information they will display. If you aren’t using meta descriptions to draw readers to your site, you’re missing out on a big opportunity. But it is important to note that the content of your page must still be relevant because Google may not always use the meta description in search results. Depending on the keywords a user searches for, Google may return a section of content on your page in the search engine results.
Page URLs - Your URLs to the pages of your sites should help potential customers know right away what information they are likely to find on that page. Use a targeted keyword or phrase, but keep the URL short and easy for users to remember and share.
Be sure your pages all have quality content. We’ve said it a million times, and we’ll say it a million more - content is king. This is the opportunity for you to present yourself as the expert you are, to both customers and search engines. You need quality, relevant writing on your page that will set you apart from your competitors. Does the information you provide on your site actually deliver value to customers? If your content is bad, no matter how much time or money you spend on SEO, you are just setting yourself up for failure.
Avoid duplicate content. Google defines duplicate content as “substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match content or are appreciably similar.” In most cases, duplicate content is not malicious, but can be the result of a printer only version of a web page, or a storefront site that has items that may be described and linked on multiple URLs. But, some people may try to deceive the search engines and try to win higher rankings by using duplicate content across multiple pages of a site. Not only does this make for a bad user experience, it doesn’t trick the search engines - Google will choose only one page with duplicate content to list. And if Google believes the duplicate content was done to purposely attempt to manipulate its search engine, it will penalize the site. Google says they will “also make appropriate adjustments in the indexing and ranking of sites involved.” Your rankings can take a big hit, and Google and even remove your site altogether from is index, meaning the site won’t show up anymore. There are things you can do to fix both internal and external duplicate content. For external duplicate content you need to rewrite the pages or part of the pages that have external duplicate content, however - first, avoid duplicate content as much as possible. For internal duplicate content, you can redirect duplicate pages to the primary page either by using a canonical URL or by using 301 redirects to redirect users and bots to the main page on your site with that content.
Use Schema markup. Simply put, Schema markup is code that you place on your site to help search engines return more information to their users. Schema markup can be a valuable SEO tool because it tells a search engine not only what your data is, but what it actually means. Web expert Neil Patel explains it this way “Schema markup uses a unique semantic vocabulary in microdata format.” A team from Google, Yahoo and Bing worked together to create schema.org to provide a collection of schemas that can be used to label HTML pages to allow the search engines to improve the results they display. Basically, Schema is a set of code markers that tell the search engines what they should do with the data on your site. There are hundreds of markup types, so no matter what kind of content you have, you can use Schema markups to help your site rank better.
Mobile friendliness is crucial. More searches now take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries around the world, including the United States. In 2017, mobile devices accounted for 50.3% of all web traffic generated worldwide. And 57% of users say they won’t recommend a business if it has a poorly designed mobile site, or none at all (SocPub.com). So that means if you don’t have a mobile site, and one that is user friendly, you may be missing out on customers. Be sure your mobile site is optimized to give users the best experience possible.
Optimize for voice search. With devices like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa in more homes, and users who can simply say “hey Google” to find what they are looking for, paying attention to the role voice search plays in SEO is important. When someone asks Google Home a question, it responds with information it has found on the web, using the name of the website the information came from and also sending a link to the user’s Google Home app. Google Home and Google Assistant (hey Google) use the snippets that have been granted a featured position. A Moz.com study found that in the 1,000 searches they analyzed the answers to a voice query came from featured snippets 87% of the time. These featured snippets are the Google search results that show up in a block near the top of the results page, and provide a summary of an answer. So, it is important to appear on these snippets for your high value search queries. And mobile friendliness also ties in here - 20% of mobile queries are voice searches. That means you need a mobile friendly website that can rank high, and keep visitors engaged. Schema markups are also a great place to start, as is optimizing for long-tail keywords. A frequently asked questions page on your site can give you the opportunity to answer the questions users may ask, helping you rank for those questions. Also be sure your Google My Business Page is optimized. One thing is for sure - voice search is only expected to continue to become more important, so be sure your SEO company is ready.
AMP refers to the accelerated mobile pages project that was launched in 2016. It’s goal is to allow publishers to load their sites more quickly on mobile devices. Since more users are turning to their mobile devices to browse the internet, websites have to respond accordingly by making the user experience as good as possible. And that means ensuring pages load quickly. If you have a blog, news, or updates section of your site where you offer good content for users browsing the web, it is probably in your best interest to provide an AMP version of those pages because speed and readability are the top priorities of AMP.
Off-page factors vs. on-page factors
SEO experts compile ranking factors frequently, and there is currently a list of more than 200 factors that these experts believe Google uses to help rank sites. So let’s take a look at some of the most important ones.
We will continue to say this over and over again - without great content, you don’t stand a chance at ranking well. Google will reward content that is helpful and relevant to users. Google’s job is to give search engine users the information they are looking for, and if your content can’t deliver, it won’t rank well.
Keyword stuffing is a common mistake made in the SEO world. You want those keywords found in your content, but they must flow naturally and actually make sense in their use. Create good content that uses the correct keywords in the correct way, and Google will notice.
This refers to everything that can be done directly within the site in order to improve rankings. The use of meta descriptions and title tags, proper URL structure, and properly laid out pages with relevant content are all examples of on-page optimization.
Schema markup creates structured data to allow for the search engines to interpret the content on your site. It may not seem important, but it can help ensure the search engines know exactly what they are looking at when they are on your site.
If your site isn’t optimized for mobile use, you can forget about good rankings. Google’s mobile first indexing shows how important a user friendly mobile site is - so much so that Google will go to your mobile site for indexing first. Adapt your site for mobile with the user experience in mind.
One in five searches today is done via voice, and we can only expect this to grow. Be sure the keywords you’re using are helping you be found via voice searches.
Load-time and speed optimization
We know that search engine users are looking for answers, and they want those answers quickly. The longer it takes your page to load, the more likely a user is to leave your site. Blue Corona tells us that if it takes up to three seconds for your site to load, the probability of a user bouncing from your site increased to 32%. If it takes 5 seconds, that number goes up to 90%.
You want to use the right mix of images and content on your site, but if your images aren’t optimized, Google doesn’t know what to do with them. Be sure the files are the correct size so the page will load quickly, use a descriptive name that includes your keyword, use an alt tag to help the search engine be able to interpret the image, and use a title and caption to provide a better user experience.
Security (SSL Certificate)
Google has confirmed that encryption is a ranking factor. Google needs to ensure that they sites it sends users to are secure and won’t pose a security risk to the user once on the site. As hacking continues to be an ever present threat to online security, take this necessary steps to encrypt your site.
Let’s Talk Google
Let’s face it, Google is where the majority of us turn for web information. Google has become a verb in today’s lexicon, and for good reason. Google processes nearly 40,000 search queries PER SECOND! So let’s talk about how your relationship with Google can make or break you.
A Google penalty negatively affects a site’s rankings. It can be the cause of a new update (we’ll talk about those in a minute), or it can be the result of black-hat SEO techniques. Manual penalties are given by Google after your site has been reviewed and been found to violate one of Google’s quality guidelines.
Unnatural links or Link Schemes - if Google finds that a large portion of the links on your site are paid links or part of a link scheme in any way, this penalty can be applied to you. These are types of link schemes Google may penalize you for:
Buying or selling links that pass PageRank, including any money exchanged for links - even posts that contain links; providing goods or services for links; or offering free products in exchange for links.
Partner pages that are used exclusively for cross-linking or an excessive amount of link exchanges
Utilizing automated programs to create links
Using guest-post campaigns or large scale article marketing that use keyword-rich anchor text links
Unnatural links that Google may detect can include:
Text advertisements that may pass PageRank
Advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank
Articles or press releases on other sites that contain links with optimized anchor text
Low-quality directory or bookmark site links
Low-quality, hidden, or keyword-rich links that are embedded in widgets and then distributed on various sites
Links that are distributed widely in the footers or templates of sites
Optimized links in a post or signature line on forum comments
There are three types of action Google may take.
“Unnatural links to your site - impacts links” means that Google found unnatural links, but it doesn’t appear that they were created by you. These links won’t factor into your rankings any longer. This isn’t actually a penalty, so there isn’t any action you need to take, but your traffic could take a small dip.
“Unnatural links to your site” - this means your site has been penalized because Google has discovered these links and believes you are responsible for them. Google can choose to penalize just certain pages of the site, or the entire site.
“Unnatural links from your site” - this penalty is applied when Google finds you linking to specific sites with an exact anchor text each time, or if you have too many links pointing away from your site.
Spam - Google doesn’t like spam, so they’ll look for sites that are filled with filler text, scraped content or other noticeable signs of spam.
“Pure spam” refers to a site that is very clearly just spam content, or is full of backlinks that are spam.
“User-generated spam” - If you have a site that allows users to create content, you could be hit with this penalty if a user creates any spam, either in content or links. This includes spam comments and posts.
“Spammy freehosts” - If your hosting site also hosts for a lot of spam sites, you could just get unlucky enough to have your site lumped in with theirs. It’s a good rule of thumb to avoid very low priced or free hosting sites.
Thin content - content is king, so your content must be deemed valuable and relevant to users. A site thin on content, scraped content, or automatically generated content is looked at the same as spam.
Keyword stuffing - You want your content to flow naturally and be as readable as possible, so that means avoiding throwing keywords in unnecessarily. Using your keywords too much is considered “stuffing” and it can penalize your site. Your keywords should be used in a way that they actually make sense on the page, not just randomly throw in.
Hidden text - don’t think you can hide text in order to manipulate your Google rankings. This is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and if found in violation, your site will be penalized.
Cloaking is an attempt to deliberately show a search engine a different version of your website than what a visitor would see. If you use redirects to show different pages to users than to Google, you can be penalized. This can also apply to images.
Penalties from Algorithms
One way Google keeps SEO experts on their toes is by constantly introducing new algorithms in an effort to always provide users with the best search results possible.
Panda was first introduced in 2011, and has continued to run over the years. Its purpose was to prevent sites with low-quality content from appearing in search results. SEO experts believe Panda affected websites that were poorly written, had thin content, and/or were mostly comprised of duplicate content.
Penguin was introduced in 2012, and looks mostly at links to identify unnatural link patterns. If a site has gotten its links naturally, there will be a mix of both high and low quality links. But, if the site obtained links using black hat techniques, there could be a ton of links, but they’ll all be low quality links. Likewise, a natural link building profile will see a steady increase over time. But if your site gets a lot of links in a very short period of time, and then it stops, Google will take notice. And finally, if your links all come from the site sources, it can be a red flag, as are links with the same anchor text.
Mobilegeddon or Mobilepocalypse refers to Google’s 2015 announcement that it would look to mobile friendly sites to return results for mobile users. Google Webmaster Tools console allows you to search for errors on your mobile site. This update was intended to boost rankings for mobile friendly sites, so if your pages aren’t, you may not see a huge drop in your traffic, but your pages may fall below mobile friendly ones in searches
Top Heavy penalties can affect sites where the content is pushed below the fold. Users want to be able to find the content they are looking for, and that they searched for, quickly. If your site is overloaded with ads that make the content hard to find, this penalty could apply to you.
Mobile first indexing was announced in March 2018. Google announced that after testing, they were beginning to migrate sites that followed their best practices for mobile first indexing. Before, Google’s crawling bots typically used the desktop version of a site, but Google realized this might be an issue for users if the desktop version and mobile versions were very different. And since more users are turning to mobile search, Google realized they need to start using mobile first indexing - going to the mobile site first.
Google Ranking Factors
There is so much that goes in to a good SEO program. Good rankings are the results of careful work, attention to detail, and dedication. Google uses a variety of factors to determine which results will offer the most helpful answer to a search query. The algorithm change frequently because Google wants to constantly be providing the best information possible, and to prevent black hat SEO techniques. Google has to identify the user’s search intent in order to provide the information that will best match the user’s search. There are four main types of queries
Know queries, where the user wants specific information on a topic
Do queries, where the user wants to take an action
Website queries, where the user wants a specific site
Visit queries, where the user wants a physical address
So, Google’s algorithms must interpret what the user’s intent was, and then offer the most helpful answer. Likewise, if you know what your customer may want, you can help tailor your SEO strategy to ensure your content matches the intent of your customer.
What are keywords? They are the words and phrases that can be found in your content that make it possible for visitors to find your site when they look via a search engine. They are essential to SEO. In order for your keywords to guide users to your site, you have to know what people are searching for when they are searching for goods or services like yours. For instance, if you are an orthodontist, you want to rank well for the word “braces” - but, you want to be sure you are only ranking for orthodontic braces, and not knee braces or other types of braces.
Creating a list of keywords is one of the first steps in implementing an SEO plan. Your keywords need to be targeted towards your audience. What you may use to describe a product or service may be different than what the average user is searching for. That means that in order to drive traffic to your site, you have to know what the searcher is going to search for. To ensure you have the right keywords, it is important to do your research.
There are different types of keywords you may want to use in your content to drive traffic to your site. Broader keywords are usually called head keywords, while long-tail keywords refer to a combination of terms, which may often be more effective.
Head keywords often have the most competition because people assume since they have a high search volume, it will be easier to be found that way. But, that isn’t always the right way to think. First of all, you may be pitting yourself up against stiff competition. If you are a local bakery who specializes in custom cakes, you may not want to simply use the term “cake” or you may find yourself competing against national companies such as Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker.
Likewise, a singular term may be too broad. If you are a vet, you may not want to use the singular term “cat” for your clinic. People searching using the term cat may just be looking for funny cat videos, or may be researching breeds of cats.
Using long tail keywords allows you to pinpoint what people are searching with a clear intent. You can use the term “affordable vet Chicago” or “best vet for puppy Omaha.” Long tail keywords may have less competition, but may help you bring the potential customers you need to your site.
There are many keyword research tools to help you determine if the keywords you think are right will actually help drive traffic to your site. But, you can start by doing a bit of research yourself.
First, think about the keywords you may want to use, and then think about their relevancy to your site. If a searcher uses that keyword in a search and your website comes up, will the user be happy with the information they find? Will the keyword help convert a visitor into a customer?
It can also be helpful to go right to Google and type in the keywords you want to use. Then, you can analyze what comes up for those keywords. Not only can you discover your competition, you can also see how you might be able to size up or if it may be too hard to rank for that term.
When searching, look for ads. If you find a lot of ads associated with that keyword, it may be an indication that it is a high volume keyword. So, if your site doesn’t rank well for that word, you can look into purchasing ads to see if that keyword results in conversions for you. You can then use your analytics data to determine the value of that keyword.
When it comes to using your keywords in your content, it is important to remember that these words should appear naturally. Previously, keyword density was important because it was the only way Google could determine if a page was relevant to the keyword being searched for. But as Google’s algorithms have gotten more sophisticated, the use of keywords must, also. Keyword stuffing may have worked for a long time, but it won’t anymore.
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords are keywords that are generally related to your primary keyword. Google researches user search patterns and behavior and can then determine how one keyword search is related to another. If you back up your targeted keyword with the LSI keywords it is related to, you can improve your chance of ranking better. Curious how you can determine what LSI keywords might work for you? Type in a Google search using your keyword, and then scroll to the bottom of the SERP. You’ll see a section that says “searches related to” and then you can get an idea of what other keywords or phrases users type in.
Once you’ve got an SEO program in place, how can you tell if it is working? Your SEO company will be tracking everything you need to tell if you’re having any success - rankings, links, referrals, and everything else you need to know.
One of the first things you want to know is what kind of traffic is coming to your site, and where it is coming from. Direct navigation tells you who comes directly to your site, either by having bookmarked it, but typing it in, or following an email link. Referral traffic comes to you from different links around the web, or from an email link that has a tracking code, or a campaign link created by you. Search traffic refers to anyone coming to your site via a search engine. Knowing where your traffic comes from can help you identify any weaknesses, and show you where you may need to focus efforts.
If you keep an eye on where your traffic is coming from, you can look for trends, and also notice when something may be off. For instance, if you see a huge uptick in traffic to your site, but with no conversions or interactions, it can be an indication you have been hit with zombie traffic.
Zombie traffic is when someone (maybe bots or a real person) comes to your site, but doesn’t really interact with the site much at all. They may visit one or two pages, but will mostly just sit. They can make your traffic numbers increase, but won’t help your conversion rate at all.
Speaking of conversions, let’s look at why conversion rate matters. It’s not enough to just rank well for keywords, and then have a lot of traffic on your site. All that traffic means nothing if those visitors aren’t becoming customers.
It is important to know which keywords convert the most visitors for different pages of your site, and then you can focus on improving those pages even more for those keywords.
Conversion may not always equal a sale, but rather, may refer to a visitor performing a desired action on a page. Do you send an e-newsletter and you have a page dedicated to having people sign up for it? All of the people who complete that action are then conversions. Conversion refers to the visitor to your site completing the action you wanted them to. Conversions can come by means of actual sales (for e-commerce sites), phone calls, form submissions, chat inquiries, downloads, etc.
Rankings are another way to tell if your SEO efforts are working. If your site goes from several pages back to page one or two on a search, it can be an indication that something you are doing is working. Likewise, if you go from page one or two to page ten, you’ll know something has gone wrong. A drastic drop could mean your site has done something wrong and been penalized, a new algorithm has been introduced and it no longer favors your site, or that you have somehow blocked access to allow bots to crawl and index your site.
It is important to remember that Google changes and introduces new algorithms regularly, so there may be fluctuation in rankings. Small fluctuations are typically not a cause for concern, but drastic ones may warrant you to take a closer look at what is happening.
It’s also important to note that no one can guarantee you specific spots in search engine rankings. The goal of SEO is always to help a business rank as high as possible for their search terms, but no company can guarantee specific spots, or even offer a specific timeframe for gaining those spots. If a company tells you they guarantee you’ll be at the number one spot for your keywords in 30 days, or makes another similar promise, investigate further to ensure the company does not use black hat techniques to fulfill these promises.
Impressions refer to the number of times a page has been listed in a search engine results page, or an ad has been shown. Impressions are important because they can increase a brand’s awareness. The more you are seen, the more people recognize you, and the more times that happens, trust can be built.
Other factors that affect visibility
Your website’s visibility on search engines can be affected by your website’s usability and user experience, too. In general a website’s visibility is defined as how well users can see your website on search results for your different keywords if you want to attribute a single figure to this visibility instead of just reporting the ranking for each individual keyword. An average ranking for all your tracked keywords can be a good indication of your visibility. But there are other ways to calculate weighted visibility by giving more weight to keywords that are more important or more sought-after. The goal of the search engine is to produce results that send users to high quality websites. While that may seem subjective, there are several things that contribute to this.
Is the site easy to use and navigate?
Does it answer the user’s search with relevant information?
Does it look professionally designed and appealing to users?
Is it mobile friendly and accessible on all browsers?
Does it offer high quality, relatable and sought-after content?
Usability and user experience
Usability and user experience can have a direct effect on your success with search engines. Google’s goal is to provide results that are actually useful to searchers, so if your site isn’t well designed or easy to navigate, and doesn’t deliver on content, you may be missing out. How much time users spend on your site, how many pages they visit, and if they leave the site quickly can all tell Google if a site is useful or relevant to certain searches.
What is the difference between usability and user experience?
Usability refers to how friendly a site is, or how easy it is to use. Can a user navigate easily? Can the searcher actually find what it is he or she was searching for? Are all of the features of the site available and easy to find?
User experience refers to the visitor’s perception and then response to your site - how does the user feel about the site? Is the design appealing, or is it too cluttered? Do the pages load quickly and efficiently?
Usability should make a site easy to use and navigate. User experience should make a user want to come back to the site again and again. These factors should work together to ensure your site is appealing and easy to navigate, contains valuable information, and is accessible across all platforms. By designing a website with both usability and user experience in mind, you can ensure that you have a site potential customers will enjoy.
Google search quality raters
Just like any good business, Google wants to be sure it’s products are working and effective. To that end, they employ search quality raters around the world to help evaluate search results.
Raters conduct actual search queries, based on searches that actually happen, and then rate the quality of the pages that are returned in the search.
This information is then used to improve Google’s algorithms, but the information itself does not directly have an impact on Google’s search results. For instance, if a quality rater happened to rate your site poorly, it wouldn’t necessarily impact your rankings right away. But, the ratings will then influence changes to Google’s algorithm, and that could alter your site’s rankings.
Google has a set of guidelines for quality raters to follow, including the quality of the website as wells as if the results returned actually meet the needs of the searcher.
There are other factors that can have effects on website’s rankings that are derived from website’s usability. They include:
Bounce rate - this refers to the percentage of visitors who then leave, or bounce, from the site after viewing only one page. A high bounce rate may indicate to Google that your site doesn’t have the high quality content or user experience it looks for. But, it can also mean that the user found what they were looking for on that page, and then left. For instance, a high bounce rate on a contact us page may not be cause for alarm - it could be an indication that the user found the contact information they were looking for and didn’t need anything else at that time.
Click through rate – Generally CTR tells you the number of people who click on your listing, ad or hyperlink. It can help measure the effectiveness of your SEO campaign, paid search, email campaigns, etc. Unlike impressions, which just tell you how many people view it, CTR tells you how many people actually followed through and clicked. Your Google CTR tells that how many people have clicked on your listing when your site appears in the search results. The higher CTR indicates that people have found your site more relevant to their search query.
Time on page - This metric tells us how long the average user spends on a page before leaving. Hopefully, the content you have on your page is good enough to engage the searcher and keep them on the page. Depending on the type of page it is, and the amount of content on the page, time on page can vary greatly among pages of your site. This can be another factor that helps Google and other search engines to identify if the content is relevant to what the user had searched to find your site. Highly irrelevant sites might have very low time on page values.
Engagement – on social media sites, engagement is referred to as how much users have liked, commented or shared your ad or content. This can also play as a determinant of highly popular content and thus indicate to Google and other search engines that this particular content has to be ranked high for its pertaining keywords.
Load time - This refers to how long it takes to load the web page, and Google uses it as a factor in rankings. Not only can slow load times affect your position on Google, it can also be harmful to a user’s experience. If you have pages with long load times, most likely those pages will also have higher bounce rates and lower time on page.
The Ins and Outs of Link Building
Backlinks have for many years been the most important ranking factor for Google and other search engines and still a website’s backlink profile is one of the major ranking factors for it. Link building or link acquisition is the process by which other websites link to yours. Links are an important component of SEO because they show Google and the other search engines that your site is valuable enough for others to link to it. But, just like anything else in the SEO world, there is a right way and a wrong way to build links.
Natural link building
Natural link building takes time and patience, but it is worth it in the end. Google tells us that your content will most likely rank higher for your targeted keywords if you have other sites linking back to your pages. But, how can you do that organically?
Content promotion - It all starts with great content. Once you’ve created that content, then promote it! Once you start spreading the world, people will find it, and then if it is compelling enough, they’ll want to share it and link to it.
Don’t forget reviews and mentions - We’ve talked about the importance of reviews for your overall SEO strategy, but mentions can be as important. Don’t be afraid to reach out to influencers in your industry, especially those with big social media followings, to help get your name out there.
Trusted partners - Do you have trusted friends or partners in the industry, or a related one, who can link back to your site? Competitors won’t want to promote you, but seek out friends in the same general industry as you. For instance, if you are an orthodontist, ask referring pediatric dentists if they’ll offer a link to your site on theirs.
Infographics - Not only can infographics add valuable info they can help you gain valuable backlinks. Create easy to read, compelling infographs that can be shared and backlinked to your site.
Guest blogging - Look for sites that offer valuable information and accept guest posts, and you can not only expand your audience, but gain backlinks at the same time.
Reach out to bloggers - Turn to bloggers who cover your industry, and show them quality content and they may opt to link to your site.
Social media - don’t forget to utilize your social media pages to leverage links.
Check for broken links - as websites come and go, links will, too. You can search websites you’d like to be linked from, and if you find broken links that yours could be replaced with, contact the site’s owner. If your link can offer valuable information that the site’s users would find relevant, they may appreciate you offering to help.
Natural links are valuable not only to your SEO, but to your bottomline, as well. If you can get natural links from trusted websites, not only will it help increase rankings, it may also drive more traffic to your site via the linking sites. Think of them as referrals from a trusted friend. If a friend asks you for a restaurant recommendation, you’ll take the time to offer a suggestion you find relevant and of value. Web users will think the same of a site they trust that links to your site.
Anchor text refers to the clickable text of a hyperlink. The keywords you use in your anchor text are one of the things search engines will use to determine the content of the webpage. Your anchor text should be relevant to the page you are linking to. Anchor text is also known as the link label or link title.
Internal link building
Internal link building allows you to have control over the links being created. When linking to your own pages from your own content, you can control what gets seen by the search engine. And it all starts with research.
Before building internal links, start with a bit of keyword research. That way, you can see not only the keywords that are relevant, but also popular. Then, use those keywords naturally in your content. Then, target your anchor text and be sure you are linking to content using those keywords.
Exact match anchor text would utilize the same keyword as the targeted keyword of a webpage. For example, let’s say we’ve created a blog on anchor text - the exact match would be “anchor text” hyperlinked to our blog. Anchor text that is SEO friendly is short and relevant to the target page.
Partial match anchor text includes a variation of the keyword on the page you are linking to. Branded anchor text uses a brand name as the anchor text, while a generic word uses a generic phrase, such as click here, as the anchor.
Search Engine Tools
The search engines offer services to help you analyze your website, and improve your SEO, all for free. It’s important to the search engines that the websites they offer users in their search queries are of good quality, so they want to do all they can to offer assistance.
Google Search Console - this free tool allows you to track your site’s performance, but also search for webmaster resources to help you improve your site. If there is something wrong with your site, you can refer to Google’s issue list, look for support documentation, and use testing tools. There are courses and guides to show you how to build user friendly, appealing websites, and their list of guidelines will show you what you need to do to help show up in searches. With Google Search Console, you can see a list of backlinks to your site, you can explore your website’s search analytics, you can submit a sitemap, you can find your website’s crawling issues and indexing problems. You will be also notified by Google if there is a problem or in some cases when your site is penalized.
Google Analytics - This is another free tool that shows you exactly how your site is performinGoogle collects, processes, analyzes and then reports exactly what you need to know to understand how your site is performing. It will tell you where traffic is being generated from - who is visiting your site from a referral link versus who found you from an organic search versus who found you from a paid ad, etc. There will also be some demographic information about your visitors - where are they from, what type of device are they coming to you from, etc. You can also see which pages seem to be performing the best, then analyze what sets those pages apart so you can mimic that throughout your site. Bounce rate, traffic flow, and so much more information is at your disposal, and you can set date ranges to look for patterns.
Google Tag Manager - This is a tag management system that allows you to easily update your website or mobile app’s code snippets or tags. It provides a dashboard through which you can manage your tags, without the need for additional code, making it much easier to make changes.
PageSpeed Insights - This free online tool allows you to see your pagespeed score, and then offers suggestions to improve it. The PageSpeed Modules can automatically rewrite and optimize your site when it’s run on your Apache or Nginx server. It also allows you to leverage Google’s infrastructure to improve your security.
How to choose an SEO company?
Now that you know the groundwork of how search engine optimization works, you’re probably wondering how you can choose an SEO company that is right for your business. How can you be sure you’re hiring a company that employs only white hat techniques, and who can really deliver on their promises?
The first place you are probably thinking of turning to is Google, right? We’ve explained that Google wants to show you the most relevant information that matches your search, so it would make sense that the best and most trustworthy SEO firms would rank really well. But, that isn’t always the case. The best SEO companies may not need to focus on their own rankings because they are so busy doing that for a full load of clients. And their clients stick around, so they have very high retention rates - which means they are so busy working for their clients, they don’t need to spend the time making sure they are ranked high.
Likewise, if you find lists that say “Best SEO Companies” or “Top SEO Experts” you may want to be wary. These are often pay to play aggregator sites, which means they aren’t really the best, they just simply had the money to spend to get on the list.
Avoid companies who tell you they have an “in” at Google, or that they have a special and secret “formula” to get you to the number one spot. Google does offer a number of certification programs, but it doesn’t offer any secret information to those who receive it.
There is a Google AdWords certification - to earn it, one must pass an exam and have followed certain criteria. Becoming a Google Analytics Partner, on the other hand, is a bit more of an involved process and demonstrates that one has successfully managed Google Analytics programs for clients.
These programs may show a company’s or individual’s mastery in the field that the certification is related to, but it does not mean Google offers them secret information or special help.
Likewise, if someone tells you they have a proprietary and secret method they’ve created to ensure you top rankings, it’s a good sign you may want to look elsewhere. While there are many tricks to the trade, the only guaranteed way to get you better rankings is through consistence research, compliance with the rules of the game, hard work and patience.
Building a successful SEO program takes time, energy, and dedication to details. If someone tells you they can quickly gain you an increase in ranking, you may need to be concerned about what type of practices they are using. Quick gains may seem great at first, but if they are using black hat techniques, your site may be penalized and even banned. Be sure the company you hire follows Google’s webmaster best practices.
Create a list of goals you hope to achieve through an SEO program. Perhaps you want to increase traffic to your site, or increase sales, or increase signups for your newsletter. Whatever your goals may be, clearly define them.
Next, create a list of SEO agencies that may be able to help you meet those goals. How do you find those agencies? Think about what is important to you. Is it important that you have a company close to you so that you can meet in person regularly? Do you have a price range you have to stick to? Figuring out what is important to you before you begin the process will then help weed out firms that can’t meet those needs.
To find SEO companies, you can turn to friends and colleagues, non-competitor’s in similar fields, etc. If your direct competition is have great success, chances are good they won’t want to share their company. But, you can look to businesses that are similar to yours and ask for referrals.
When interviewing SEO companies, you want to be sure you are working with a company who is interested in you, and what your business is trying to achieve. While you are asking questions, does the company take the time to ask questions about you and your business?
Always ask for references. Go right to the source and speak to past or current clients to learn about their experiences. Was the SEO plan effective, and did the team help you understand what was happening as it was happening?
Listen to what the SEO company is telling you they think needs to improve to help your SEO. An audit will tell them (and you) what issues there may be. This audit should include any technical issues that could be damaging your rankings - things like broken links, poor internal linking structure, etc. Then the company can make suggestions on how to improve , including what your investment will be and how it can improve your business.
Maile Ohye, a developer program tech lead at Google, says “ A good SEO will try to prioritize what ideas can bring your business the most improvement for the least investment, and what improvements may take more time, but help growth in the long term.”
It is also important to discuss what happens if you decide to part ways with the SEO company. You should maintain ownership of all optimization and work you paid for, so be sure the contract clearly states that your business owns all content.
Important Search Engine Optimization tools
There are a lot of free/Paid tools out there to help you with your SEO. We’ve talked about the free tools Google offers, but there are a host of other things that can help, as well. Nexunom recommends the following SEO tools:
Keywords can help make or break your online marketing game. You want to choose powerful keywords that will be both long-term and long-lasting, but how do you know if the keywords you’ve chosen are actually working? Let a keyword rank tracking tool help you know which keywords are working, and which should be tweaked.
Keyword Analysis Tools
Which keywords are the best to attract customers to your business and help you rank higher? It is important to be strategic about the keywords you’ve chosen to ensure a successful campaign, but knowing where to start can be hard. Luckily, there are several tools to help.
Complete SEO Suites (All-Inclusive SEO Software)
SEO is important to helping grow your digital platform and attract new customers. But there is a lot that goes into it, and every business has unique needs. All-in-one tools, can help those new to SEO, as well as those who’ve been at it for a while, strengthen their online presence.
Reporting and Analytics Dashboards
You can put all the “right” things in place for your SEO strategy, but it means nothing if you aren’t monitoring what is actually happening. Reporting and analytics tools can give you in-depth insight into how you’re performing, what needs to happen next, and what needs to be tweaked.
Back-link Research/Analysis Tools
Backlinks help show search engines that a website is both popular and important. Having a solid backlink profile can boost your rankings by showing search engines that you are trustworthy.
Local SEO Suites
A collection of tools to help you improve your performance on local/maps results.
Online Reputation / Review Tools
Online reviews are more important than ever. But in order to get reviews, you have to be willing to ask for them. These tools make it easy to encourage your customers to leave you reviews.
While it is important to have a healthy SEO program in place for your business, it is equally as important to know what your competition is up to.
Listing Distribution (Citation Building Services)
Your information can be found in dozens of online distributions but tracking them all down to ensure your listing is accurate can be time consuming. These tools help eliminate extra steps and ensure customers can find the correct information.
White Label Marketing Tools
White label marketing services are fulfillment services, where one company essentially outsourcing work to another company. It can help marketing firms lower their overall costs, scale portfolio services, and add additional revenue source.
NAP Citation Scan Tools
An N.A.P citation scanner or a local listing scan tool is a tool that scan a business on different local listing sites, internet yellow pages, local data aggregator, maps data provider, local review sites for accuracy of name, address and phone number as well as to check if the business exist on important local listing sites.
Site Speed / Uptime Tracking Tools
Site speed is important for a positive user experience. If online visitors have to wait too long for your site to load, they’ll move on to a competitor.
Schema Markup Generator
Adding Schema markup helps improve the way your page displays in SERPs to return the most useful information to users.
Social Media Marketing Management
Building and maintaining a social media strategy can be a job all of its own. These tools help you monitor and build your social profiles.
Navigating pay per click advertising can boost traffic to your site, but can be confusing to navigate. These tools can help you craft targeted ads using the right keywords to drive more traffic to your site.
Call Tracking Tools
Call tracking is important so you know how to attribute your leads. Which campaigns are working, and which aren’t? Call tracking tools can help you be sure you’re spending your money where it counts.
Be sure your website is free of SEO errors to be sure you are ranking as high as possible, and converting visitors to customers with these tools.
Duplicate Content Checkers
Having duplicate content on your site can result in a Google penalty, and negatively affect your rankings. Use a duplicate content checker to be sure your site has fresh content.
On-page SEO Checkers
These tools help spot issues within your webpages that might affect your SEO, and therefore affect your rankings.
Search Engine Webmaster Tools
Are useful toolsets provided by major search engines such as Google and Bing to provide webmasters with valuable information about their site and how it performs on search results and also to notify them about the potential problems and issues that might affect their rankings on search engines.
Misconceptions about search engines
Confusion about how search engines operate and rank pages can be damaging to businesses. Here are some common misconceptions about search engines.
SEO companies should and can guarantee rankings. No SEO company can guarantee higher rankings, and if you find one that does, look elsewhere.
Rankings are the most important performance metric. Sure, higher rankings will increase your visibility. But, if those rankings aren’t turning into conversions and increased business, what are they doing?
A webpage can be optimized for countless locations and keywords. Attempting to add too many keywords and locations to a single webpage isn’t only going to confuse your users, but the search engines, as well. If you use more than one keyword, be sure they are matching keywords - meaning keywords that naturally make sense together and things a searcher would find natural together on the same page.
Google AdWords can replace SEO. While paid ads are wonderful for gaining visibility and brand awareness, internet users are savvy and can tell the difference between a paid ad and an organic search result. For many people, organic results may seem more trustworthy because they know they aren’t paying for that ranking.
A redesign is vital to improve your rankings. A properly functioning, attractive, and easy to navigate website is crucial to user experience, which is crucial to SEO. But, a redesign alone cannot boost your rankings.
Your brother-in-law (or friend, or old college roommate, etc.) who has a computer science degree can handle your SEO. Anyone is capable of reading a few blogs and thinking they can become an SEO expert. But, there are so many tricks to the trade that it is best to leave your SEO in the hands of a professional. Someone with good intentions but little experience can do more harm than good.
SEO can improve your rankings overnight. SEO takes patience. Rankings won’t be achieved overnight, no matter what you may hear (or want to hear). There is a lot of work that goes in to search engine optimization, and being patient is important.
Your web design company can handle your SEO. Creating a beautiful website and understanding SEO can go hand in hand, but won’t necessarily be found under the same roof. They complement each other, but just because your design company can deliver a beautiful website doesn’t mean they have the skills or knowledge to deliver on SEO.
Negative reviews on Google will decrease your rankings. If you have an imbalance of negative reviews to positive, then you may have a bigger issue to worry about than rankings. But, a few negative reviews sprinkled in to plenty of positive ones won’t hurt your business. And, if you handle them properly, they may even help.
SEO is all you have to do market your business. SEO should be one aspect of your overall marketing plan, but can’t be the only trick you employ.
You can stop SEO once you’ve gained high rankings. You may think once you’ve achieved that high ranking, your work is done. But, it’s important the work continues in order to maintain those rankings. If you aren’t, your competitors are and you may find yourself losing ground to them.
If your current SEO company can’t achieve high rankings for your target keyword, no other SEO firm will be able to. Just like with every industry, not everyone within the SEO field will have the same knowledge and skills. Just because one company was unsuccessful doesn’t mean the next one will be, as well.
I get most of my business referrals from Yelp, so I don’t need to be optimized for search engines. People may be contacting you from Yelp, but they may also be looking at you through a search engine first, or doing more research online after getting referrals. It’s never a good idea to put all of your eggs in one basket.
How to measure and track success
Once an SEO program is implemented, how do you know if it is successful? This is when you turn to analytics. The three main areas you can look at to track success are traffic, rankings and conversions.
First, look at where your traffic is coming from. Understanding this, and watching for trends, can help you determine what is successful and what may need more work. Next, look at your search engine referrals. It can be helpful to know the percentages for each search engine, so you can tell if there is a big drop-off. If you have an equal drop-off over all the main search engines, it may be a problem with accessibility. But if all of the sudden there is a huge drop in your Google traffic, you may want to check for penalties.
You also want to analyze your traffic. If your bounce rate is too high, or visitors aren’t staying on pages very long, it may indicate there is an issue with your site - the visitors don’t find the information valuable, or easy to find, or another issue with the design of your site.
You will also want to track your rankings to see if you are gaining ground and moving up. If you started on the second page and have now made it to the first page, that can help greatly in gaining more visibility for your business. And as you continue to see gains, you should see more visibility for your company.
You will also want to track your rankings to see if you are gaining ground and moving up. If you started on the second page and have now made it to the first page, that can help greatly in gaining more visibility for your business. And as you continue to see gains, you should see more visibility for your company.
Search engine optimization should result in increased conversions - meaning more business. The true measure of SEO success is an increase in revenue for your business.