When you’re looking for something—a good restaurant to eat at, the name of a good tax attorney, or just a random fact about the movie you’re watching—you usually turn to Google. Everybody does. And everybody clicks on one of the first entries in the search engine results pages (SERPs) they find.
Wouldn’t it be nice if your site was at the top of that list?
This is the goal of search engine optimization (SEO), but getting your site to rank that high—especially in a competitive environment—isn’t exactly straightforward. Google only reveals ambiguous descriptions of how its main algorithm works (to prevent spammers and manipulators), and over the years, we’ve discovered hundreds of potential ranking signals. Add in the fact that algorithms are always changing and improving, and it’s easy to see why SEO seems so confusing to so many.
That’s why I’ve assembled this extensive list of 101 different ways you can improve your search rankings, boiling down our SEO knowledge into concrete, executable points that are easy to understand even for a novice.
For organizational purposes, these are split into categories:
Without further ado, let’s dig into these 101 ways to improve your site’s search rankings!
Your first job is to optimize your domain name with keywords you intend to target. The process of choosing keywords is a bit complicated—in fact, it’s worthy of its own monster post which I recently wrote, titled Keyword Research: The Ultimate Guide for SEO and Content Marketing—but for now, I’ll assume you’ve already gone through the process of picking target keywords relevant to your brand with high search volume and low levels of competition. Including one or more of these keywords in your domain name can be helpful in boosting your search rankings, as you’ll get added relevance for related queries. For example, if one of your keywords is “replacement windows,” a domain name like bobbysreplacementwindows.com could be advantageous. Obviously, this is much harder to do if you’ve already got an established domain—generally, it’s not worth changing your domain, but if you’re starting from scratch, it’s definitely worth considering.
While you’re in the process of choosing your domain name, it’s also a good idea to keep your domain length as short as possible. As you’ll see in some other URL-based optimization techniques, Google prefers to keep things as short, simple, and as straightforward as possible. The more characters you add to your domain, the more complicated it is for users to figure out what you do and the harder it is to remember or access a domain. When it comes to domain names, shorter is better.
Not all brands or websites have subdomains; these are hierarchal distinctions within the coverage of a broader domain and can be used to distinguish a separate area of the site or a different brand entirely. For example, you might have example.com and blog.example.com domains to keep your eCommerce platform and blogging platform separate. Again, for the sake of pleasing Google with simplicity, you’ll want to keep your subdomains as concise and clear as possible; describe the nature of the subdomain in as few words as you can, and use target keywords when possible. For the record, I don’t recommend using a subdomain for your blog; instead, host your blog in a subfolder of your domain, so it looks like this: example.com/blog.
WHOIS (pronounced “who is,” appropriately enough) is a protocol for registering and finding various resources attached to a given website. For example, you might be able to look up a website’s IP and contact information for the webmaster. As the creator of a site, you’ll have the option of publicizing this information or blocking it from public record. You might be tempted to choose the latter under ordinary circumstances, but it’s actually better to go public. If you hide your information, Google may think you’re attempting to do something sneaky.
(Image Source: WhoIs)
On the surface, most hosting providers seem the same. They all offer the same service, and for close to the same price depending on what other services and features you get. However, your choice in hosting provider could play a crucial role in how your site appears in search engines in a number of different ways. For example, in a worst-case scenario, if your host is accused of engaging in suspicious activity, it could reflect poorly on the authority of your site. On a more common level, if your hosting is unreliable, site outages could disrupt your site’s appearance in SERPs. I’ve used a number of different hosts, and currently have SEO.co hosted at WPEngine, which I’ve been very happy with (note: that’s an affiliate link. If you use it, thank you, I really appreciate it!). It’s on the pricey side, but it offers really good customer support, security, speed, and so far, zero downtime.
There will likely come a time when you need to migrate your site to a new domain, a new hosting provider, or build a new website entirely. When this happens, it’s absolutely imperative that you migrate with SEO best practices in mind. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of search bots getting confused; they may see two versions of your site and register them as duplicates, or they may search for nonexistent pages, or they may even rob you of your domain authority entirely—like what happened to Toys R Us in a major SEO blunder back in 2014.
Though there is some debate on the subject, it’s generally accepted that the age of a given domain has a bearing on that domain’s authority. Conceptually, this makes sense; the longer a domain is around, the less likely it is to be a spam or gimmick site. The boost you get from this is fairly minimal, so you don’t need to sit on a domain for years before you start reaping the benefits of an SEO campaign, but at the same time, the older your domain gets, the higher your authority will rise.
This is an ambiguous statement, and it might not make sense to someone who isn’t intimately familiar with web development. The basic idea here is this; just as there are an infinite number of paths from point A to point B but only one “optimal” path, there is an infinite number of ways to code any function, but some are more efficient than others. Unnecessarily complicated code has a number of disadvantages, including slower site loading times and more legwork for search engine crawlers, so take the time to “clean up” your code.
This step may or may not apply to you, depending on what your intentions and goals are in the indexation of your site. Ordinarily, search crawlers will track down and index every page of your website, but you can change this based on instructions you give those crawlers in what’s known as the robots.txt file of your site. Here, you can block crawlers from indexing certain pages—which is ideal if you have intentionally duplicate pages or other content you don’t want search engines to see. Just don’t use this to try and cover up black hat tactics—Google will find out.
(Image Source: Robotstxt.org)
Your site isn’t going to be up 100 percent of the time. You’re going to have server crashes, and your pages will occasionally be prone to individual errors. This is a reality of modern web development. All you can do is keep a close eye on the status of your servers, and respond to errors as quickly as possible to keep your domain up and running.
If you’re not familiar with dynamic versus static URLs, this terminology may seem strange to you. It’s easier to describe dynamic URLs first; these are URLs that provide different content depending on the nature of the query to the site’s database. Static URLs, by contrast, only change if someone manually makes a change to the site’s backend code. With very few exceptions, your site’s URLs should all be static, only changing when you push manual changes to them. This is generally a more trustworthy practice, and will help keep the authority of your domain and individual pages high.
You should also keep your URLs logically organized by using a breadcrumbs trail. In the realm of website development, breadcrumbs trails are strings of sectioned-off extensions to the end of your URL. For example, you may list out the categories and subcategories where a page is located. For example, you might have example.com/maincategory/subcategory/page instead of just example.com/page. This gives you the opportunity to optimize for more keywords, provide a more convenient user experience for your customers, and give more information to Google about how your site is organized. There’s no reason not to do this (and it happens automatically for most template-based CMS’s like WordPress).
For the same reasons that you shortened your domain name, you should shorten your URLs. This is as much for your own benefit as it is your users’, as it’s going to make organizing your site much easier. For example, if you have a “products and services” subcategory page, consider shortening it to just “products” or “services.” If you have a long blog title like “how to recover from an embarrassing situation at work,” consider shortening it to “embarrassing-work-situation” as an extension of your URL. Remove any unnecessary additions or extensions whenever possible and focus on what really matters. I realize this seems to counter-act my advice from #12 (adding a breadcrumb trail increases the length of the URL), so to be clear, what I suggest is using breadcrumb trails and keeping them short and concise, while also making an effort to keep URLs short after the inclusion of the breadcrumbs.
An HTML sitemap is a way to organize your site easily for users—not to be confused with an XML sitemap for SEO, which I’ll cover in the next bulleted tactic. Here, your goal is to make a comprehensive list of all the pages of your site, organized logically so users can follow it—and follow its links to those specific named pages. Generally, webmasters include a link to the HTML sitemap in the footer, where users intuitively seek to access it.
An XML sitemap is a more technical version of the HTML sitemap, marked up with code so that search crawlers can make sense of your data. Creating one is easier than it seems, and some WordPress plugins do it automatically for you. When you have your XML sitemap complete, you can upload it to Google Search Console to instruct Google about the exact layout and structure of your website. Note that Google will crawl and interpret your website without this sitemap, but this can accelerate and increase the accuracy of the process.
(Image Source: Sitemaps.org)
Your site is going to go through changes, whether you currently know what those changes are or not. You’re going to add pages, remove pages, and possibly restructure entire swaths of your site. When this happens, it’s easy to forget about updating your sitemaps—so establish a reminder to keep your sitemaps up-to-date. Forgetting this won’t crush your rankings—Google will eventually catch up with what you’ve done—but it’s a way to help your web strategy run smoother.
This is a major step of the process; make sure that all of your content is loading, correctly and fully, on every possible device and browser. Most web developers go through a testing process to see how your site looks, but are they using older versions of their browsers? Different browsers? Different devices? An image that doesn’t load on Internet Explorer could make your page less authoritative due to “broken content.” You can use a service like BrowserStack to help you out here.
You also need to optimize for mobile devices. The majority of all web traffic now happens on mobile devices, so it makes sense from a pure user experience perspective, but it’s also important for Google’s consideration of your site (thanks to the Mobilegeddon update and several algorithm changes before it). Thankfully, Google offers a free test that will tell you not only if your site is mobile-friendly, but what’s wrong with it if it isn’t. Just keep in mind that mobile optimization is about more than just meeting the minimum requirements of Google—it’s about giving the best possible experience to your mobile users. For more information, please check our comprehensive guide on Mobile SEO.
You can also improve your navigation bar to improve your search rankings. Google takes user experience seriously; the search giant rose to dominance because of its commitment to connecting users to the best possible content for their queries. Google wants users to have a convenient, straightforward, interpretable experience, and part of that includes being able to navigate the site easily. Organize your site into categories and subcategories, and make your menus accessible and easy to click. This may seem like a simple feature, but it’s one that’s commonly neglected and much more important than most people realize, because of the way PageRank ‘flows’ throughout a site. Try to put only your most important pages in your navigation; they’ll be the ones that get a significant ranking boost.
Google’s Knowledge Graph is continuously growing in size, able to answer more user queries with short, concise answers pulled from sites across the web. How can you get your information featured in these boxes, which automatically take visibility priority over organic search results? The key is to use structured markup, organizing your site’s content in a way that makes sense to search engines. org has plentiful tutorials to help you figure out exactly what to implement and how to implement it—you just have to take the step of committing it to the back end of your site.
The navigation of your site is partially dependent on how your internal pages link to one another. For example, it might be easy for a user on your homepage to jump to whatever page is most relevant for him/her, but can he/she quickly and easily jump between pages to explore your site further? Try to include at least one link to another page on your site within every page you develop; some of your blog posts might have several or even many links to other pages on your site. Internal linking won’t just increase your search rankings; it will keep your users engaged on your site for longer, which increases the likelihood of a conversion.
Internal links are just the beginning—it’s also a good idea to link out to other external sources to back up the information you present. For example, if you’re referencing a statistic, fact, or other piece of specific data, it’s important to cite the source you got it from. Doing this also adds to the trustworthiness of your site; it shows that you’re not just making information up, and that you have verifiable primary and secondary sources to vouch for you. Just make sure you’re choosing high-authority sites, as linking out to low-authority sites could have the opposite effect.
It’s good to have images throughout your site, whether they’re entries in a photo gallery or supplementary material for one of your blog posts. However, not just any images will do; some images are better than others when it comes to suitability for the web. For example, some formats may not load properly on some devices, and others may drag down your loading speed. As a general rule, formats like JPG, PNG, and GIF are reliable choices. Beyond that, you’ll want to make sure your images are reduced to a smaller size to keep your site speed as fast as possible. For more information, please visit our comprehensive guide on images & SEO.
Going beyond the simple formatting of your images, you can also optimize them with text and descriptors to increase their chances of appearing in Google Image search. This won’t have a direct bearing on your domain authority or general SERP rankings, but can give you another outlet for search optimization. First, give your image an appropriate title; keep it short and simple, but relevant to what’s happening in the image. Then, include an alt tag (which isn’t a literal “tag”) that describes the image in more detail. Think about what a user would search for to find this image.
(Image Source: Yoast)
Next up, you’ll want to improve the performance of your site. The shorter your page loading time is, the better, and even a fraction of a second can bear a significant improvement. This isn’t as big of a ranking signal as some of the other factors on this list, but it is worth optimizing for—especially because of its peripheral benefits. When a user clicks through to your site, he/she will make a decision of whether to stay within seconds of arriving. According to KissMetrics, 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less, and 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load, while just a 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions. Make sure your content loads within that timeframe, or your bounce and exit rates will suffer—even if you’re sitting on a top search position. You can conduct a site speed test on your website using this tool from Pingdom.
This is a small ranking signal, but it’s worth optimizing for in part due to its surprising simplicity. Google introduced SSL encryption, a way of securing the information on your site, as a ranking signal back in 2014, and it may increase in significance as the years go on. Contact your hosting provider, and you can apply this encryption for a small additional fee, earning you the “HTTPS” designation and making your site more secure. Even if you don’t do this for the search rankings, it can keep your customers’ information safer. Note that I haven’t experimented with switching established domains/websites to https, as I’ve seen anecdotal reports of websites doing so and losing significant ground in the rankings. That’s why SEO.co hasn’t been switched over (our search traffic is great, and I don’t want to imperil it for a shot at marginal improvement). With that said, I would recommend any new website or domain to utilize SSL encryption. It may also be more important for websites that transmit data frequently, such as e-commerce sites where users must login and input personal or credit card information to complete a transaction.
Google hates to see duplicate content, for somewhat obvious reasons. If a chunk of text already appears somewhere on the Internet, why does it need to exist again somewhere else? Plus, it’s sometimes an indication of plagiarism. However, it’s possible (and, in fact, quite common) to have duplicate content on your site even if you’ve never plagiarized a word; sometimes Google indexes two separate versions of a single webpage, such as the HTTP and HTTPS version, leading it to “see” duplicate content where there isn’t any. You can use Google Search Console or a third-party tool such as SiteLiner to quickly and easily check for these errors and correct them by eliminating one version of the page.
Sometimes, there’s actually a justification for having duplicate content on your site. For example, you might be running two distinctly designed versions of a page that has identical content between those versions. If this is the case and you don’t want to be brought down by any duplicate content issues, your best bet is to use rel=canonical tags to resolve the issue with Google. These tags instruct Google which page should be categorized as the “canonical” or official version of the page and which one should be ignored; note that this is distinct from using the robots.txt file to ignore one page completely.
Next, you’ll want to make sure all of your content is well-organized in categories and subcategories. Create an ongoing list of your main blog topics, and assign at least one of those categories to each blog. Google is able to see this information and use it to figure out what your content is about; it’s also a valuable opportunity to showcase some of your target keywords and phrases.
This isn’t a huge ranking factor, but it’s something Google takes into consideration—plus, it’s a general best practice for optimizing a user experience. You should offer prominent contact information throughout your website, preferably with at least one obvious means of contacting you (such as a phone number in the header of your site). You’ll also want to create a designated contact page, with your company name, address, phone number, social media information, and a contact form at a minimum.
Google Search Console is a goldmine of information about how your site is performing and how it looks in search engines. It’s a Swiss army knife of diagnostic tools you can use to proactively identify any issues with your site that could interfere with your other ranking efforts. For example, Search Console can send you an alert when your site goes down, or you can get a first-hand look at how Google is currently indexing your site, making note of any erroneously indexed pages. Check this information often to stay on top of your site’s development.
This is especially important if you’re an e-Commerce platform selling products online. Give your users a voice by offering up customer reviews on various pages of your site. You can offer them the ability to give you a star or number rating, but the big draw here is giving them a platform to write their thoughts. This is a way of capitalizing on user-generated content (which will naturally be optimized for the types of products you sell), but you can also use microformatting to increase the chances that these reviews could be featured in SERPs directly.
On the surface, bounce and exit rates may seem like the same metric, but as explained by Google below, they’re actually distinct. Neither is a good indication of user experience; both imply that a user has left the site after visiting this particular page. A high bounce or exit rate could imply that the content on the site is unsatisfactory, and could play into how Google measures the relevance or authority of that page. Try to improve these rates by offering more unique, valuable content, and by keeping users engaged for a longer period of time, such as by offering longer, more in-depth, valuable content.
(Image Source: Google)
The good news is, by decreasing your exit and bounce rates, you’ll likely increase the time a user spends on that page of your site by proxy. You won’t have to do much else to increase the time spent on each page of your site. Google takes time duration as an indirect measure of the value of the content of a page; for example, if you have a blog post that averages 30 seconds of visit time versus one that averages 10 minutes of visit time, the latter is clearly a superior piece.
For the most part, SEO is about attracting people to your site who have never heard of your brand before; optimizing for commonly searched queries is a way of getting in front of people who have otherwise never heard of you. However, it’s in your best interest to optimize for repeat visitors as well; publishing new updates frequently, encouraging users to come back for daily or weekly specials, and rewarding repeat customers with accumulating incentives can all help your strategy thrive.
Not all companies will want or need to pursue a local SEO campaign; however, it’s crucial for businesses who have a brick-and-mortar presence and rely on customer foot traffic. Google’s local algorithm works differently and separately from its national algorithm, identifying the three most relevant and authoritative local businesses for a given query when it detects a local-specific indicator in what’s called its “Local 3-pack.” Chances are, Google will already know your location based on your business’s address and your presence in local citations (more on those later), but it could also be advantageous to optimize various pages and content entries of your site with local-specific keywords, such as the name of your city, state, or region. For help getting your business in the local 3-pack, our local SEO guide.
It should be obvious that you need a blog if you’re running an ongoing SEO campaign; as you’ll see in some of the coming strategies, the optimization work of your blog posts feeds into a number of SEO angles. However, before you start, it’s a good idea to set up author roles as personal brands in the context of your site. Personal brands will allow you to characterize various writers on your team, giving them each a unique voice and area of expertise. You can showcase these brands on an “author” or “team” page, but the real benefit is having these personal brands develop your articles. It will optimize your articles for author-specific searches and give you better options for guest posting and social media marketing (which I’ll dig into later).
Your title tags are the bits of information Google uses to fill in the headline for sites in its SERPs (like “SEO.co: Link Building & Content Marketing Agency” in the screenshot below). This tells Google much about the content of your page, so include at least one target keyword here. You’ll also need to make sure your titles are 70 characters or less, and try to make them catchy if you can. Remember, earning rankings in Google is only part of the equation—you also have to persuade your new viewers to actually click through. Most CMS platforms allow you to edit this easily for any page on your site.
Similarly, you should optimize the meta descriptions of your pages—these feed into the text beneath the green link to your website. Here, you have more wiggle room—160 characters—so make sure you include multiple target keywords that accurately describe the content you have on-site. Again, this is your chance to be persuasive, so show off your marketing skills and write copy that entices the user to actually click your result instead of the other 9 competing results on the page. While there’s debate about whether the meta description is actually a ranking factor anymore, there’s growing evidence that the CTR (click-through rate) of search results is a strong factor in the ranking algorithm, which means a good meta description could indirectly affect your rankings, depending on how well it compels users to click your result.
When you learn that every page of your site needs a title tag and a meta description, and that all of them should be optimized for target keywords, you might be tempted to create “templates,” which you can then copy and paste or modify only slightly to make quick work of optimizing each page. However, it’s actually in your best interest to develop unique titles and descriptions, from scratch, for every page. Having too many duplicates or near-duplicates can make you seem like you’re keyword stuffing. It will take some extra time, but it’s worth it. You can use a tool such as Screaming Frog to check the title tags and meta descriptions of each of your pages and identify duplicates or blanks.
In your website’s code, there are header tags, numbered sequentially (H1, H2, H3, etc.) to indicate where the main headlines and sub-headlinese of an article are. When evaluating the subject matter of content, Google looks at these tags to give it a better sense of the article’s structure. To optimize these, you’ll first need to outline your articles with headlines and sub-headlines, and then you’ll need to ensure they’re marked up with appropriate tags in the backend of your site. Finally, for each article, you’ll want to include keywords and/or highly descriptive phrases for these key opportunities.
I’ve already talked about general principles for URLs—they should be static, short, and featuring a breadcrumbs-style trail to help users with navigation. But on the page level, they should also be optimized to appropriately describe your on-site content. For example, if you have an article on how to make chocolate fudge, a URL ending in “how-to-make-chocolate-fudge” is more descriptive and therefore better optimized than “online-recipe-3331.” Generally, you’ll want to avoid any numbers or special characters, include keywords where you can, and strive for intuitiveness. If a user can figure out what a page is about just by looking at a URL (without even clicking it), that’s ideal.
Every page of your site needs to have some content on it—otherwise, Google may see it as a placeholder page, something worthless, or something designed to manipulate users or search rankings. Obviously, the length of content you can write for a given page is dependent on its subject of focus, but you’ll want to include at least a few hundred words of content as a minimum. Of course, you’ll also have to make sure this content is unique—don’t copy and paste paragraphs between pages unless you have a darn good reason to. This advice applies to product and service pages; for blog posts or other content, aim for at least 1,000 words. For homepages, you don’t need to worry about this; focus instead on creating a high-converting design that drives users to the pages you want them to visit (such as product or service pages) along with a strong navigation architecture.
Though some would argue this practice is somewhat antiquated, I still see positive results from it. For some of your most important target keywords and phrases, create dedicated pages with titles that correspond to those keywords. For example, you might create a page for “custom picture frames,” or one for “emergency vet clinics.” The only caveat here is that you’ll need to create pages that seem natural; in other words, if you have a strange-sounding page title (one that’s clearly just a play at ranking for a keyword), it could do your site more harm than good. Keep it natural.
There isn’t a specific rule for how Google evaluates the keyword density of your content—in fact, thanks to the Hummingbird update, it pays greater attention to your semantics than the actual words and phrases you use. Still, it’s a good idea to include your desired keywords on every page of your site. This will increase the perceived relevance of your content to queries that match those keywords and phrases, and increase Google’s understanding of your brand and site. However, your keywords still need to be worked in naturally; if they appear unnatural, Google could flag you for keyword stuffing, which could cause your rankings for that page to drop thanks to the Penguin algorithm.
There’s no hard rule for how long your content has to be. I’ve seen incredibly short posts circulate virally and earn tons of links and long-winded detail-stuffed eBooks get practically no attention. The quality and appeal of your work is far more important than the length, but the data points toward longer posts as being more popular for link building and SEO—that is, at least several thousand words long. These posts tend to be more detailed, more practical, and more unique than shorter articles, and therefore attract more attention.
Google pays attention to how often you produce new blog posts. You might have a large archive of valuable posts from 2012 and before, but if you haven’t posted anything in 4 years, you’ll probably see a steady decline in your organic traffic as time passes on. Increasing the frequency of your updates won’t be a major boon here—though having more high-quality content is always a good thing—so strive to update your blog at least once a week.
I’ve already casually mentioned that your content needs to be high-quality if it’s going to succeed; that’s because Google judges the quality of your piece when it considers how to rank your authority (both on a domain and page level). What does “high-quality” mean? A lot of things, actually—just take a look at the Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines Google publishes. However, one of the most important qualities is usefulness. How beneficial is this content to an incoming audience? Do you answer their questions succinctly and accurately? Do you give them instructions or directions where appropriate?
You’ll also need a degree of differentiation if you’re going to stand out in search engines. If you’re competing with several big-name companies with similar pieces of content, you’ll probably have a harder time getting that number-one position. But if your content features topics that no one else is doing, or if you explore those topics in new and innovative ways, nobody will be able to touch you. In many ways, SEO is just about being better than your main competitors. Take advantage of that.
Google also pays attention to how often you update the content of your site and how significant those updates are. For example, if you rewrite the entirety of your homepage with information about your latest products, that registers as more significant than only changing a few words around every few years. It takes extra work to consistently keep your site updated, but it will help you not only earn more authority, but keep your users up to speed as well.
Google has built-in quality detectors that can immediately evaluate the subjective quality of a written piece. For example, it can tell if the article was written by a native speaker of the language, and it can tell if the article is riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. In the case of the latter, Google may degrade the quality of your work—even if it’s well-written—costing you serious ranking opportunities. You don’t need to freak out over every little detail, but do take a few extra minutes to proofread your pages before publishing them.
Every content marketing strategy should have a place for multimedia content. Visual content, like images and videos, are naturally more engaging than written content because they require less focus for comprehension and indulge us in our strongest and most important physical sense. Make sure all of your posts have at least one visual element in them—even if it’s just a simple doodle or a photo of what you’re doing. It will increase the authority of your content and provide peripheral ranking benefits.
It’s also becoming more important to offer supplementary content features, such as interactive components. These could include calculators to help people estimate costs or project needs, checklists they can print out, infographics they can reference easily, or worksheets to help them put their new skills and knowledge to the test. Though there’s no direct evidence that there’s a specific ranking signal for these features, they will improve the engagement and quality of your content, which in turn will earn it more links, traffic, repeat visits, shares, and, as a result, higher search positions.
I referenced this briefly in bullet #40, but it’s worth revisiting in more detail here. This is a subject that’s been hotly debated over the years, but the most recent data seems to suggest that organic click-through rates (the percentage of people who see your entry in SERPs and click through to your site) does have a direct and significant bearing on the ranking of your site. For example, if you have higher-than-average CTRs, you’ll have a tendency to move higher in rankings; still, this is hard to measure because of the correlation between ranking and CTRs. Still, optimizing for higher CTRs is sure to be a benefit to you even if they didn’t have an impact on domain authority, so do what you can to encourage more people to click through to your pages with compelling, unique language. You can affect your CTR in search results by testing your title tags and meta description tags for each of your pages.
Google doesn’t like to find broken links on your site. If you have a link that points to an external source that source no longer exists (ie, it’s a 404 error page), it’s not a good user experience. It could also mean either your linked source wasn’t effective or worthwhile enough to stick around, or you don’t update your content frequently enough to keep it relevant. These aren’t good things. Take the time to occasionally comb through your old material and find any links that are broken; then, replace them with more modern, live equivalents. There are tools that can help with this, such as Screaming Frog. For more information on this topic, please visit our comprehensive guide to broken link building.
This is a way of categorizing your content, but on a smaller scale. With categories, you’ll select one or two big-picture themes in which your content topic fits. With tags, you’ll be selecting a number of different descriptors—sometimes into the double-digits—to assist in categorizing the blog post for searches. This is a key opportunity to tag relevant content with your target keywords—be sure to include multiple synonyms and variations if you have room.
(Image Source: WordPress)
Providing your users with bulleted and numbered lists is a great way to make your content more engaging; not everyone has the time or patience to read every line of your deftly considered and worded content; the majority of them will probably just skim, taking away only high-level insights. Lists allow them to glean these insights and takeaways easier, helping them save time, which provides a better user experience. It also gives you an opportunity to include more sub-headlines, optimizing smaller entries of your content’s sub-sections for your target keywords. Use <h2> tags for your subheaders to maximize the SEO benefits here.
There are dozens of reasons to set up a 301 redirect, and almost all of them have benefits for SEO. For example, if you have inbound links pointing to a page of your site that no longer exists, you can use a 301 (permanent) redirect to re-route that passed authority to a new, equally relevant page of your site. It’s a way of telling search engine crawlers that you no longer wish to index the old page, but the new page should take its place. Best of all—they aren’t that difficult to set up.
When someone attempts to access a page that no longer exists, it’s called a 404 error, and they can crop up for a number of reasons. You might have a server error or something wrong with your website, but it’s more likely that a page got deleted or removed. Some 404 errors are necessary to show that a page is gone, but others can interfere with your search efforts (if they appear as errors in search results or serve as dead-ends for older links). Correct these errors by restoring your old pages or setting up redirects.
A big part of success in SEO comes down to how many links are pointing to your site and where those links come from. Your domain authority is dependent on these metrics, but you can’t just go out and build links with abandon. Instead, your best bet is to use guest posts—custom-written content for external publications that contain a relevant, informative link pointing back to your domain. It’s hard to get featured as a guest contributor until you’ve built up some credibility, so one of the best places to start building links through guest posts is on sites relevant to your industry, such as industry news sites or forums.
As you gain more experience, respect, and followers in your specific niche, eventually you’ll want to move up to higher authority publications, where you’ll get more visibility and reach. Niche industry sites give you tons of opportunities to develop relevant content, but their authority scores tend to be on the low side. Instead, start making pitches to major national players that see hundreds of thousands of visitors a day. It’s hard to break into these sources, since they have high standards of quality to maintain, but even one link from a landmark source will justify your efforts. See The Ultimate, Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Business by Guest Blogging for help here.
While it’s a great thing to become a guest contributor or columnist at a relevant publication, you’ll see diminishing returns from the value of each new link you acquire from that publication. You probably don’t need more than three links from any single publication, from an SEO perspective (though there are still benefits to having more links if they are driving referral traffic!). That’s why it’s a good idea to seek new publication sources in order to diversify your link profile.
Some pages of off-page sources are able to pass more authority than others. For example, getting featured on the blog is a noteworthy achievement and you’ll earn substantial authority that way—but you could get even more SEO value or “link juice” if you’re featured on a “Partners” page, or if you have an entire page dedicated to your brand. Building links on more prominent, important pages can help you squeeze more PageRank flow out of every link you build.
“Authority” actually exists at both the domain and page level. A link pointing to a specific page of your site will pass authority to your domain overall, but also to that specific page. If you’re interested in getting higher rankings for one specific page of your site, you can use this to your advantage by funneling many of your links to that page. For example, if one of your products or services yields a significantly higher ROI or conversion rate, you can focus SEO efforts on that product or service by building more links to its corresponding page URL on your website. If you do this too excessively, though, it might appear unnatural to Google, so be sure to mix it up plenty.
Anchor text—the text that features the embedded hyperlink to your site—used to be a huge deal. Before Google’s Panda algorithm in 2011 (and then Google’s Penguin algorithm in 2012), anchor text manipulation was rampant because it worked so damn well. In those days, to get the most out of your link, you’d embed at least one keyword into your anchor text. Today, this could still theoretically be beneficial, but to a much lesser degree; aside from that, it’s actually the #1 way Google identifies link spam, so I recommend avoiding it altogether. Having too many links with unnatural anchor text (such as anchor text that includes a keyword within it) is the easiest way for Google to identify rank manipulation, and can quickly earn you a devastating penalty that can be extremely difficult to recover from. It’s far more important to ensure your anchor text flows naturally in the context of the article. Besides, assuming you’re building links through content marketing, like I recommend in SEO Link Building: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide, then you’re not only dealing with Google catching your fishy anchor text; you’re dealing with real editors at the publications with whom you’re working. Many of them are trained to look out for manipulative anchor text, and if they see something suspicious, they could either refuse to publish your content, remove your link, or refuse to work with you at all.
If you’re guest posting regularly, you’ll find that guest posting has a ton of advantages unrelated to SEO, including passing referral traffic and building your brand awareness and reputation. If you’re interested in doing more guest posting but don’t want to spam links back to your site for fear of being accused of exchanging links, rely on the “nofollow” tag, which tells Google to not consider the link as a vessel for authority. You can also use the nofollow tag on your own site, to link to external sources without Google associating you with those sources.
The rate at which a piece of content or a page earns links over time is referred to as “link velocity.” For example, the typical link velocity for a standout piece would be a high velocity in the beginning as links rush in, an average velocity after a few days, followed by a slow taper of links as the piece begins to age. If your content doesn’t have a link inbound link velocity, Google is less likely to consider it a “trending” or “timely popular” piece, and thus less likely to rank it highly in search results. What this means is you should focus on promoting your content extensively after publication so it can earn as many links – and as quickly – as possible. For help, see Content Unleashed: The Ultimate Guide to Promoting Your Published Content.
Wikipedia is a major authority, and earning a link there could be a major boon for your SEO. Wikipedia is also open to the public for editing, so you can link yourself wherever it seems appropriate. Keep in mind that the Wikipedia crowd takes their responsibilities seriously, so if your link isn’t 100 percent valuable, it’s probably going to be removed.
(Image Source: Wikipedia)
If you’ve ever built links or hired a company to build links for your website that could be considered spammy or questionable, then those links may be holding you back in the rankings. Unnatural links are algorithmically caught and monitored by Google – too many of them can cause a ranking penalty. That’s why it’s a good idea to routinely check your link profile and scan for any “bad” links. You can use Google Search Console (Search Traffic à Links to Your Site) to download a list of links pointing to your site, then analyze them using a tool like Screaming Frog or Scrapebox. When you find a spammy or suspicious link, first try to remove it yourself. If you can’t, contact the site’s webmaster and request its removal.
Sometimes, you’ll reach a wall—you won’t be able to remove a link at all, either manually or with the help of a webmaster. In these cases, use Google’s Disavow tool. It should only be used after you’ve already tried to get the links removed (which is optimal), but is a useful second-best option.
Google categorizes link exchanges as a link “scheme,” or a deliberate attempt to manipulate rankings. The “scheme” part of it comes into play when two sites agree to reciprocally link to each other to boost both parties’ search rankings. If you’ve engaged in a link exchange, either remove one or both links, or add the “nofollow” tag to one or both of them. If Google suspects you of engaging in link exchanges in such a way that it deems excessively manipulative, it will either nullify the value of the links, or, worse, hit your website with a ranking penalty.
Using a tool like Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, SEMRush or SpyFu, you can take a closer look at your competitors’ link profiles to see what sites they’re getting content posted on, how much authority they’re getting, and what types of content they’re getting published. Odds are, if they can do it, you can do it too. It’s not a good idea to straight-up copy a competitor’s strategy, but you can use this as a research and learning tool to fuel your own strategic approach.
Local citations aren’t “links” per se, but they are an important part of how Google measures your authority, especially in the context of local SEO. Broadly defined, these are instances of your business’s information listed in popular third-party resources, such as local directories and review sites. Google draws upon this information to gain insight on local businesses, and how you’re listed can have an impact on your visibility. For starters, you’ll want to hunt down and correct any errors you find in your existing local citations; make sure your company name, address, and phone number are correct at a minimum.
Like with links, local citations aren’t necessarily a game of quantity, but having more citations in more diverse places can help you achieve more authority—as well as earning you more visibility on other outlets. Take the time to build new local citations in directories and review sites where your business isn’t currently featured. As you might suspect, some directories have more weight than others, and are updated more frequently, so bear that in mind when searching for new places to establish references to your business. For most platforms, the submission process is free and simple—they’re incentivized to offer the most information.
On many of these local review sites, you’ll earn reviews from your customers; the more reviews you have and the more positive those reviews are, the higher you’re likely to rank in Google search results for local-specific queries, so take some steps to encouraging more positive reviews. You can’t pay for or modify reviews (if you do, you could be de-listed), but you can make your presence on Yelp and other review sites known by displaying their logos in your establishment. Furthermore, you can comment on good reviews to reinforce them and thank their respective authors, and reach out to negative reviewers to try and correct any regrettable situations.
Instead of building links manually or intentionally, you can go the route of attracting them naturally with the power of the content you produce. This method is far less predictable, but it also has great potential; if you can get a piece of your content to go viral, you could earn thousands of links in a single go. There are some factors that can increase the potential “virality” of your piece, such as making it long and detailed, adding elements of humor and surprise, and giving it an early push on social media, but it’s also a game of timing and pure luck.
If you have a piece of content that you’re using to earn more links (such as a research report), you can try to ask for links from people who use your research in their own pieces. Ideally, they’ll do this on their own, but the visibility of your request could be enough to make them pull the trigger. For example, at the end of your piece, you could say something like “like what you read? Feature our work in your own piece—just be sure to cite us.”
This isn’t a strategy that can increase your search rankings all by itself, but it can increase the effectiveness of your link and local citation building campaigns. When you start to see early momentum, it’s easy to get excited and think that you’ll see even more impressive, faster results if you just build more links in a short period of time. However, building links too quickly can work against you, because doing so often decreases their quality; instead, it’s better to slowly escalate the authority and frequency of your link posting efforts. Draw up a plan and stick with it.
Use Google Analytics or a similar platform to track the popularity of your best posts. What types of content seem to earn the most referral traffic? What external channels are passing the most authority to you? Which breakout features helped you earn the most inbound links? Learn which content qualities made these feats possible, and integrate them further into your ongoing efforts.
Optimizing your social media profiles won’t help the domain authority of your existing site, but it will boost the visibility of those profiles in search engines. For example, if you fill out your Facebook profile with keywords related to your industry, there’s a higher chance that your Facebook profile will appear in those types of searches, not just in Google, but in Facebook, too. Furthermore, having robust social media profiles will increase the likelihood that they populate the search results for searches on your brand name. This is crucial for online reputation management. Fill out every field you can for as many platforms as you have for your brand, and be as descriptive and concise as possible.
Having more followers won’t increase your rankings directly, but it will give you a bigger audience with whom you can share your content, which in turn will earn you more visibility on your content, which leads to more inbound links and social shares – factors that certainly do increase rankings. Make it easy for people to find and connect with your social profiles by including links to those profiles everywhere—on your site, in your emails, and in all your marketing and promotional material.
In a similar vein, include social share icons for all your individual blog posts, making it easy for people to share it with the click of a button. Most people won’t share your article, even if they like it, unless it’s incredibly easy to do so. This is a simple step—it takes mere moments to set up—so there’s no excuse not to have it for your site. Here at SEO.co, we use Social Warfare, a plugin for WordPress that I really dig and highly recommend.
The biggest advantage social media gives you is a bigger platform to distribute your blog posts, which aids in visibility and increases your chances of earning authority-giving inbound links. Whenever you publish a new blog, make sure you promote it on every social platform you have. You can even go above and beyond social media and leverage social bookmarking sites like Reddit or StumbleUpon. For a full walkthrough on how to promote your content, as well as a nifty checklist you can print out and use each time, see Content Unleashed: The Ultimate Guide to Promoting Your Published Content.
It may seem like a breach of etiquette to ask your users to share your content, but as long as you do it sparingly, it can be a positive tool to increase the reach of your material. Save these requests for only the best content you produce, and help it reach bigger circles of followers faster and more reliably.
Social publishing isn’t just about getting eyes on your latest and greatest pieces—it can also be a way to revitalize an older piece that has lost momentum, or make sure all your followers see all your content at some point in time. Keep a running list of all your “evergreen” pieces of content (which don’t have an expiration date or a temporary relevance), and work on syndicating them regularly, in a loop, over time.
Social media influencers are people, preferably in your industry, who already have large followings and a reputation to match. They have the potential to reach thousands of people with a single mention, so you can use this to your advantage to get more eyes on your content (or more followers). Engage with influencers by asking them questions, replying to them in discussion, or sharing their material. You can even ask them to share some of your material (if there’s an incentive for them). Getting their attention could earn you a massive boost in visibility, along with inbound links and shares.
Rather than asking influencers for favors or relying on their independent actions, consider collaborating with influencers on a shared piece of content. For example, you could conduct an interview or swap research to make a mutually beneficial piece. Regardless of where it’s hosted, you’ll earn at least one strong link to the piece immediately, and you’ll then earn the benefits of having two strong social media personalities sharing the piece in the future.
One of the best ways to build your following is also the simplest—simply reach out to new people who might be interested in your brand. Find companies similar to yours and access their list of followers, then follow those people to get their attention. Many of them will follow you back.
You can both attract new followers and retain the ones you already have by increasing your engagement. “Engagement” here is a vague word that refers to any type of social interaction—it is “social” media, after all. This starts with basic social media courtesy, such as saying “thanks” to people who compliment your work and responding to questions or criticism about your content. It also extends to finding conversations relevant to your industry and partaking in them to show off your expertise. The more you engage with your users, the more likely they’ll want to keep following you.
The majority of this guide has focused on Google as the main consideration in SEO, which is a good thing—Google still dominates the web with two-thirds of all search traffic—but there are other search engines to optimize for. For example, YouTube has its own ranking system. It’s somewhat similar to Google’s, drawing on keywords in the title and tags, as well as the quality and support for the content itself, but it’s worth considering as a secondary route of optimization. This is especially important because how you optimize your YouTube videos will affect how and whether they show up in straightforward Google searches. Post new videos on an occasional basis and optimize all of them for both modes of search.
(Image Source: SearchEngineWatch/TagSEO)
It’s also a good idea to build up your personal brands (such as your own, or your employees’) on social media. You’re already using them as ways to increase visibility of your content; optimizing their presence on social media is the next step. Work with the owner of each participating personal brand within your company and have them build individual social followings of their own. Ultimately, this will serve to make your blog content more personably syndicated (and therefore, more trustworthy), and also has the potential to multiply your overall social media audience a few times over.
Earlier in this article, I covered the importance of including keywords and keyword phrases in the body of your on-site content. This is a necessary tactic if you want to earn higher rankings. However, it’s also possible to over-optimize your content if you’re not careful. It’s easy to go overboard with keyword terms when you’re focused on making the most of your strategy, so take the time to reevaluate your content and eliminate any keywords that seem to stick out. Read your content aloud; if it sounds weird, revise it.
Hopefully, you don’t have any links to spammy sites anywhere on your website. However, if you do, remove them as soon as you find them. The term “spammy sites” here is ambiguous; it can refer to any type of site that engages in unseemly behavior, such as spam (obviously), schemes, or generally deceitful tactics. It’s unlikely, but possible, that an external force would build these links on your site pointing outward, (such as if your site got hacked or someone gained unauthorized entry to it) so do what you can to keep your site clear of them. Otherwise, Google could start to associate your website with these black hat practitioners. I’ve actually had this happen on another website I own (not SEO.co) – a hacker gained access to my site, and placed links to spammy sites throughout my own site. Google started displaying warning messages to users that my site had been hacked, and its search traffic completely dropped down to zero. It was only then that I realized the site had been hacked. It was an expensive and time-consuming hassle to clean it all up, so instead of letting it happen to you, prevent the problem by securing your site.
If you’re being sponsored, or if you’re linking to an affiliate, or even if you’re just reviewing a product that was given to you for free, make sure you disclose those relationships to your audience. Google has refined its rules for this over time, and it’s unlikely that you would face a harsh penalty for a violation here, but better safe than sorry. For example, let’s say you’re writing a review for a new tablet that was gifted to your company; in the body of your review, you can explicitly state how this was given to you and why, and make sure any links are nofollow links as an extra layer of security.
The more open you are, the better, and that rule applies to redirects as well. One formerly popular tactic was to set up “sneaky” redirects, which take a user headed for one page and lead them to something they didn’t originally want. As a scheme, this could serve to help you get more traffic to a sales page by poaching traffic from other, more organically valuable pages. Doing this, of course, is a violation of user trust, and is considered deceitful. If Google catches you doing this, they’ll make you regret it pretty quickly. Ensure you don’t have any sneaky redirects set up, and if you do, remove them.
There’s nothing wrong with placing ads on your site—and you wouldn’t think so, considering Google makes the vast majority of its revenue from advertising. However, the types of ads and placement of those ads can have a massive impact on your overall user experience. For example, advertising products your customers might actually be interested in the footer and sidebars of your website, away from your main content is ideal. Overwhelming your users with popup ads (especially on mobile devices, where they occupy the entire tiny screen) is not only frustrating to users, but it’s now a negative ranking signal to Google. This is about more than just improving your search rankings; it’s about keeping your users satisfied.
Lately, there’s been a trend of automatically generated content encroaching on the content marketing world. Because most webmasters recognize the need for ongoing content but don’t want to spend the time or money to have real content developed by humans, they rely on cheap, automatic bots or tools that either generate nonsensical content from scratch, or take existing content and “spin” it into a slightly different variation (usually by automatically replacing certain words with synonyms). These shortcuts might seem like a cheap way to trick Google and get more content for less time and money, but Google’s Panda algorithm is specifically designed to detect this sort of manipulation and penalize websites that use it.
Just like with keywords, this is actually a good strategy that only becomes burdensome when you abuse it. When you’re considering meta tags to describe your content, images, and video, you’ll likely run through the list of accurate descriptors and try to find as many target keywords as possible to include; after all, there’s rarely a technical limit imposed on how many meta tags you can assign to a piece of content. However, stuffing your meta tags with keywords can not only look unnatural to Google, but it can totally give away all your target keywords to any crafty competitor who wants to know exactly what keywords you’re targeting (since meta tags are publicly accessible in the HTML code of your site).
If you’ve followed all the strategies and best practices in this guide so far, and you’ve avoided any schemes, shortcuts, or other gimmicks in your strategy, it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll ever face a penalty from Google. That being said, if you choose the wrong SEO agency, or deliberately manipulate your rankings, or are the victim of rare, random chance, you might eventually encounter a penalty that sends your rankings plummeting. In this scenario, you can contact Google to file a reconsideration request and work your way to restoring your rankings to normal. If you suspect you’ve got a manual or algorithmic penalty and need help recovering from it, including filing a reconsideration request, see The Definitive Guide To Google Manual Actions and Penalties.
(Image Source: Google)
There’s one strategy more important than all the others, and it applies to the majority of these tactics in some ways. It’s a “golden rule” to your SEO approach, and if you follow it, you’ll be more likely to see your results improving over time. The idea is to measure, learn, adjust, and repeat; collect as much data as you can about your strategy’s performance, learn why it improved or was weakened, make adjustments to your strategy, and repeat the process again. The more you do this, the more you’ll be able to improve your approach—no matter what tactics you’re using. Believe it or not, this list is still not comprehensive. There are tiny ranking factors I haven’t mentioned, there are ranking factors we haven’t yet discovered (and ones Google hasn’t disclosed), and because of the nature of this post, I’ve deliberately kept some points brief that warrant a more thorough explanation in other formats.
This post isn’t everything there is to know about SEO, but it is relatively thorough in its approach. With the strategies and tactics you’ve learned in this guide, you should have enough ammunition to launch and maintain a healthy SEO strategy.