The term “search engine optimization” (SEO) has existed since the Internet gained public traction. Coined in 1997, the term refers to a strategy that drives traffic to a website by pushing it to the top of a search engine’s results. SEO can (and should) be applied in a natural way when incorporated into consumer-facing content.
Leveraging the benefits of SEO is free and, when used correctly, can significantly impact a brand’s search engine rankings, clicks, and ultimately even purchases. This is because SEO naturally boosts a business’s online visibility. No matter how good a product or service is, no one will buy it if they don’t know it exists. SEO is one of the best practices for keeping up with competing brands online, ensuring that a product or service has enough awareness to be successful.
Types of SEO
While all effective SEO strategies perform the task of boosting Google rankings and building brand visibility, there are a few different types:
- Technical SEO—works to help search engines spider crawl and index a website to improve rankings. Spider crawling, otherwise known as scraping, refers to automated programs (or “bots”) that browse the web to compile and assess data, making it more easily searchable.
- On-Page SEO—also known as on-site SEO, this form of SEO works to optimize a page’s content to improve the site’s search engine rankings. Titles, tags, and internal links may all be modified to increase online visibility.
- Content SEO—most common in the world of marketing and copywriting, content SEO refers to content (e.g. blog posts and articles) that includes strategic keywords to improve a site’s search engine rankings.
- Link Building for SEO—describes partnering with other sites to acquire hyperlinks from their pages to your site. These are also referred to as backlinks. Link-building strategies may include content marketing, email outreach, and PR.
- Social Media Strategy SEO (or social SEO)—considered more of an adjacent SEO strategy, social SEO acknowledges that social media links, follows, and interactions have a sizable impact on search engine rankings. Typically, social SEO is combined with other SEO strategies to improve a site’s search engine positioning.
What SEO Is Not
SEO can sometimes be confused with other internet sales strategies, such as PPC (or pay-per-click). These marketing methods are used to drive interest and traffic to a brand’s website, with the end goal of making a sale; however, they are pretty different.
We already know that effective SEO enhances a business’s online visibility and boosts its search engine rankings. PPC, meanwhile, refers to online advertising that allows advertisers to pay a platform—such as Facebook or Google—only when a person clicks the ad. In this way, business owners can avoid paying for ads that don’t perform well and at least benefit from the ads that do.
Ultimately, SEO is free and does not work like an ad. There is no cost for a website to be listed in Google’s organic search results, and website owners can tweak their SEO as needed to keep up with highly-ranked competitors.
How Local SEO Helps Local Business
Among SEO subtypes, local SEO is one of the most helpful strategies for improving search engine visibility for brick-and-mortar businesses.
Approximately 46% of all online searches are seeking local information. That means that people who live in a particular neighbourhood or city are likely to look up products or services that are offered by businesses in their area.
Local SEO makes these local brick-and-mortar businesses more visible when they still need to establish a popular name for themselves. A few of the most common local SEO mediums include:
- A Google My Business page;
- Social media (to engage with customers and potential customers);
- Up-to-date contact information listed online.
By harnessing the power of local SEO techniques, mom-and-pop businesses stand a better chance of gaining community traction, driving foot traffic to their stores, and keeping their doors open.
The Requirements of Effective SEO
For each type of SEO, there is a unique set of requirements that a website should use to optimize its results. By adhering to the necessary standards, websites will reap the benefits of SEO to the fullest extent possible.
Technical SEO Checklist
Security Sockets Layer (SSL) and HTTPS
For successful technical SEO, websites should have or install a protective protocol known as Security Sockets Layer (SSL). SSL establishes secure, encrypted links between web servers and web browsers, which is essential for protecting online transactions and customer information.
Big search engines like Google know when a website or webpage has valid SSL, which provides enough credibility for the site to secure higher rankings. In short, Google won’t promote a shady or outdated website if it doesn’t have an SSL certificate.
Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is another measure that search engines use to determine whether a website is trustworthy. It is a protocol that, like SSL, works to secure a connection between a web browser and a site and increases the security of data transfers for safe internet browsing.
More than any other factor, page speed plays a highly organic role in SEO optimization. This is because fast loading times lead to traffic that is more likely to stay on a webpage versus those that load at a snail’s pace, try a user’s patience, and send them in search of other options.
Google’s Algorithm Speed Update easily detects whether a site’s loading time is quick or whether it lags. Google has indicated that more than half of all mobile visitors will leave a mobile site if it takes longer than three seconds to load; thus, those who wish to improve their website’s SEO should ensure that pages load within this time frame.
A few ways to address and improve a website’s page speed include:
- Activate browser caching;
- Enable image compression;
- Optimize media files;
- Minimize HTTP requests;
- Use the right web host;
- Check the site’s coding and optimize if necessary;
- Eliminate unnecessary page elements.
If a website is mobile-friendly and—better yet—has an app, it is much more optimized to rank on search engines.
When it comes to surfing the net, user experience trumps all; if a website is highly navigable and easily accessible, it is more likely that a person will visit and stay on that page longer than sites that are difficult to view. This is especially true when it comes to mobile access since statistics show that 59.5% of all website traffic comes from those using mobile devices.
Building a mobile app or simply making a website compatible with mobile devices automatically puts that site in a much better position for strong SEO.
Sitemaps are an essential component of technical SEO because they show search engines which pages are most important, making it easier for search engines to crawl and index sites. After this occurs, the content can be ranked, become visible to its intended audience, and enjoy the traffic that drives potential sales.
A good sitemap acts as a blueprint for the entire website, giving users a bird’s eye view of its pages and where they might access certain information. Of course, smaller websites with just a few pages might not need a sitemap; however, it is a tool that should be leveraged for larger sites to improve SEO.
Also called “structured data,” schema markup is a type of microdata that communicates a website’s purpose to search engines via code. Search engines are then able to provide better results for users.
Schema also creates a description called a rich snippet that enhances search engine results, improving visibility and click-through rates. The rich snippet draws most users’ eyes, as this description gives them more information at first glance without having to click the link.
There are various categories of schema that Google recognizes. A few include:
A website’s schema markup helps websites crawl more efficiently, naturally boosting SEO.
E-commerce optimization relies on a design and layout approach to improve a website’s conversion rate. It all boils down to removing any hindrances to easy navigation, reducing the “clunkiness” of a site, and making it easy for people to visit and use.
Checking a site’s crawl budget is pretty straightforward, thanks to Google Search Console (which is explored further in the section below). Simply:
- Log in to Google Search Console and select a website
- Navigate to Crawl > Crawl Stats for the number of pages that Google crawls each day.
Analyzing the crawl budget and adjusting as needed goes a long way toward improving SEO and site visibility.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a tool that helps site owners measure analytics, improve performance, and troubleshoot technical issues. It is also another way to improve technical SEO.
In the past, Google Search Console hasn’t been the most intuitive or user-friendly platform; however, site owners who use Search Console the right way can help track and strengthen SEO performance in the following ways:
- Keyword rankings, organic traffic, impressions, and click-through rate (CTR);
- Ensure that Google crawlers are indexing the site’s pages properly;
- Submit sitemaps;
- Correct issues with page experience or mobile access;
- View and correct security issues that Google locates;
- Analyze backlink data.
These metrics are crucial for gauging a site’s SEO standing, and site owners who are aware of them can take steps to optimize these elements.
In SEO terms, navigation refers to a website’s internal link architecture or the links within a site that connect to each other. A strong website navigation set-up ensures that site visitors can find the content they need, making it more likely that they will remain on the site for longer.
Navigation can be understood in more detail by breaking the term down into two crucial components:
- Refinements decrease the time it takes for a site visitor to find what they’re looking for. They typically allow users to break down their search by specific products or characteristics so that more efficient searches can be completed (see image below).
- A breadcrumb trail is a type of refinement that allows visitors to see the original search terms and refinements they’ve made to their search. This helps users understand which words display results and which terms should potentially be removed.
Larger websites with lots of information benefit from data validation, which verifies a site’s product data and other details. Verification matters for SEO, of course, because the validity of website content also determines how well it ranks with search engines.
There are several tools available that offer data validation. A few of the most popular include:
- Google Analytics—this tool provides free insights into a website’s traffic. By accessing the dashboard, users can see which sources are drawing the most people (i.e. social media, blogs, affiliate links).
- Microsoft Clarity—this platform provides web usage statistics, session recordings, and heatmaps to help website owners understand how traffic is finding and interacting with their site. It tracks visitor clicks and scrolls across mobile and desktop machines.
- Plerdy—similar to Microsoft Clarity, Plerdy offers features such as heatmaps and session recordings to provide insight into website users and their behaviour. It is a conversion rate optimization software (CRO) that aims to convert site visitors into customers. The multifunctional tool allows click tracking and ways to improve site design.
- Oracle—the computer technology corporation Oracle produces software that enables data validation and SEO functionality for website owners. The company is primarily known for offering a range of services that help businesses scale.
- Innovative Systems—innovative Systems offers data-driven solutions that “empower, protect, and scale.” The company prides itself on data quality, management, and AML compliance solutions that allow organizations to analyze their data, harnessing the findings for a competitive advantage.
Of these tools, heatmaps and session recordings are two invaluable features that are commonly offered for effective data validation. Heatmaps act as a data visualization technique that allows users to see website activity in a two-dimensional format, depicted by separate colours that vary by intensity. Heatmaps provide an immediate visual analysis of how website traffic trends and how a site performs overall.
Session recordings are another big data validation staple, record videos of people using a website so that site owners can analyze and understand visitor activity: the feature tracks clicks, scrolls, forms, and more.
Data validation is an essential component of strengthening technical SEO, and these are just a few of the tools available that work to improve SEO organically.
On-Page SEO Checklist
Strong meta descriptions are essential for successful on-page SEO. Because this type of SEO specifically pertains to the quality of a page’s content, the meta description should be optimized to reflect what the page will be about clearly. It should be compelling enough to increase clicks organically, serving as a type of advertising copy or “teaser” for web browsers.
A meta description relates to meta tags—short descriptors that live in a site’s code—and typically falls between 160 and 275 characters. It should use targeted keywords for SEO purposes, communicate the benefits of the product, service, or idea communicated on a page, and instill a sense of urgency in users. The meta description should also play on emotion and portray the value of the thing being sold.
HTML Title Tags
The HTML title is yet another vital component of on-page SEO. Also called the “title tag,” this text serves as the title of a page and is displayed in a browser’s title bar or on the page tab. It will also be the default title when users save a page as a bookmark and will be the clickable link featured in a Google search result.
Title tags should be accurate and precise—ideally no longer than 50-60 characters, including spaces. A good title tag will also be relevant to the content of a page and give priority to the most important keywords, using them early in the title. Thoughtful keyword research helps with this.
Finally, it’s recommended that a title tag be different from a webpage’s initial headline. A title tag with strong keywords and an H1 (header 1) with different, albeit still-strong keywords will be more valuable and drive more traffic than using the exact keywords for both.
Using proper website headers is an integral part of an on-page SEO strategy. By ensuring that Header 1 (H1), Header 2 (H2), etc., are all used correctly on a webpage, Google can more easily crawl a site and rank content accordingly. Proper header use also makes a page more reader-friendly—it is more likely that visitors will stick around to digest well-formatted content.
Typically, headers are numbered up to H6, though it is rare that content will call for that many headers per page. Instead, for strong SEO, site owners and designers should count on including one solid H1 per page, followed by an appropriate number of H2s and even H3s and H4s to break down ideas into separate categories further.
Headers are a great way to break up a large text block, increase content readability, and boost SEO without too much effort.
When images used on a webpage are optimized, they become easier to find/more visible in search engine results. A few ways that site owners can optimize images include:
- Alt tags—these appear in place of an image in the form of text if the image fails to appear. Alt tags are helpful for those who are visually impaired and also for optimizing search engine crawling.
- Format and size—the format of an image is important. Typically, supported files include PNG, JPEG, and GIF. Additionally, the size of an image matters; site owners should strike the right balance between size and resolution.
- Pagination—this optimization method focuses on spreading digital content across the pages of a website to create a better user experience. It is most commonly used to organize and categorize images or articles.
- Above-the-fold content—working similarly to a page break in a physical book, above-the-fold content describes the part of a webpage that is shown before scrolling. Content that requires scrolling to see would be located above the fold. This concept can be optimized for SEO if, for instance, a business places an ad above the fold, making visitors more likely to see it. Above-the-fold content is beneficial because it is the first thing a user sees on a webpage—and if the content matches their search intent, they are much more likely to remain on that page for longer. This naturally improves SEO.
Duplicate content is exactly what it sounds like: using exact or very similar content from other sites or pages of one website. When used strategically, duplicate content is good; Google won’t penalize sites for it. However, sites that use duplicate content in overwhelming amounts or spammy ways can expect a dip in search engine rankings.
Despite not being subject to Google penalization (in most cases), it is advised that websites avoid using the same content across multiple pages. The reason for this is that they may experience a decrease in SEO rank, as those pages will struggle to compete with each other (search engines will struggle to identify the “original” of those pages, leading to diminished rankings across the board).
Well-implemented Semantic HTML makes it easier for search engines to decipher webpage content by providing a clear structure for both Google and site visitors and by appropriately designating certain keyword terms. By employing semantically correct HTML, website owners can improve their SEO drastically.
For example, if a high-ranking keyword is designated as <h1>, that keyword will be prioritized on a page over a word enclosed in <a>. Similarly, if a word is marked with <strong> tags, it will appear as bolded on a webpage and will also be ascribed additional importance by a search engine.
With this hierarchy of code and a clear document structure, search engines can more easily crawl websites and understand why a site exists, what it offers, and who might be interested in its content.
Content Strategy SEO Checklist
When it comes to content strategy SEO, keyword research is paramount. Without it, an article, blog post, or other content isn’t optimized to drive traffic to a site.
Keyword research involves understanding what people—namely, a website’s target audience—want to discover when they search. Website owners and developers can then apply this knowledge to optimize their pages with relevant keywords.
For successful keyword research, it’s crucial to consider which topics apply directly to a website. This step is a great starting place for further exploration of what the website’s target audience might be searching for. For example, a pet supply company might have topics such as the following:
- Pet care;
- Animal pet shop;
- Pet food suppliers;
- Puppy pet store;
- Pet grooming products.
These more significant topics then become umbrellas for SEO terms, which are derived from related searches that people might perform. For the topics listed above, applicable SEO might include:
- Best dog shampoo;
- Cat litter box training;
- How to clean a saltwater fish tank;
- Organic dog food;
- How to prepare for a cat.
Effective SEO keywords may be either short-tail or long-tail. Both types are used in the example above.
Short-tail keywords are generally 1-3 words, cover a broad topic, and have a higher search volume than long-tail keywords. This is because they are more predictable, frequently used by people looking for the same result, and quick to type.
Long-tail keywords have their benefits. Because they are more specific than their short-tail counterparts, they lend more detail to search engines (and consequently to those performing precise, detailed searches). Long-tail keyword searches are more than three words long.
Whether a website owner chooses to use short-tail keywords, long-tail keywords, or a combination of both for their content depends on their strategy. For websites with a lot of competition, there might be better choices than short-tail keywords (albeit the most obvious). With thousands of other sites on the Internet offering similar content, it’s too easy for repetitive sites to get buried. This is an excellent example of where long-tail keywords might be beneficial and speak to what makes a particular site unique.
Pillar Pages & Clusters
Pillar pages and clusters are an excellent way to demonstrate to search engines that a website is reputable and an authority in its space. As a result, these types of content give SEO a natural boost.
A pillar page provides a comprehensive overview of everything there is to know about a particular topic. These pages usually fall anywhere from 2,000 words on the low end to 10,000 words on the high end, with the sweet spot existing somewhere in the middle. Pillar pages should provide as much clarity about a topic as possible without dragging on for so long that the reader loses interest.
Clusters pick up where pillar pages leave off. A pillar page, for instance, might briefly address some subcategories of the larger topic (e.g. the topic is “healthcare,” and one subcategory is “privatized”). A cluster page would take the subcategory (“privatized healthcare”) and provide an even further, in-depth look at that area to shed more light on the original topic of the pillar.
Data suggests that since 2015, 64% of search queries now contain four or more words. This marks a significant change in SEO and signals to search engines that users are looking for more detailed, specific content. That’s why pillar posts and clusters have become an SEO secret weapon.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Though it might be one strategy that slips under the radar, showcasing FAQs on a website is an excellent way to enhance SEO naturally. One reason for this is that, apart from demonstrating interaction and authority with visitors, a well-constructed FAQ page compiles the most commonly-asked questions—which are often the very same as people typing into Google.
In short, FAQs work for SEO because they play on keyword searches that people are already typing into search engines to find a website that addresses their needs. Of course, this assumes that an FAQ page is strategic and not just a random dump of questions.
Ultimately, every major benefit of having a well-designed FAQ page ties back into SEO, from improving Google rankings to earning “fraggles” (Google’s combination of “fragments” and “handles” that rank in a search). A few tips for crafting a robust FAQ page include:
- Grouping questions;
- Keeping it up-to-date;
- Using internal links;
- Answering questions straightforwardly;
- Using FAQ schema to earn Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) space.
Images and Video
Statistics suggest that websites with product videos or demonstrations are twice as likely to make a sale. People like to clearly understand what they are investing their time or money in, which is why high-quality images and videos go a long way toward improving SEO. They also tend to convince more effectively than a brief description would.
In addition, a study originally published by Forbes showed that content that uses graphics or images could generate up to 94% more views than text-only content. That statistic is staggering and is one that website owners should take advantage of to drive traffic and sales.
Another vital factor of incorporating media into content is that more and more people are turning to faster means of digesting information. Images and videos convey need-to-know details efficiently and are more likely to capture a person’s attention than a text block.
When it comes to SEO, the main argument for adding images and videos to a site is simply that these content mediums have significant potential to drive traffic, and more traffic converts to higher search engine rankings in the long run.
The infographic is an extension of image and video content but is nonetheless important as a standalone topic.
First: what is an infographic? In layman’s terms, it is a visual that can convey complex content through timelines, bar charts, pie charts, graphs, and more. Rather than website visitors parsing through dense chunks of information, an infographic can depict the need-to-know highlights without becoming overwhelming or off-putting.
Infographics are good for SEO because they have better odds of becoming viral than mere text and have the potential to reach wider audiences. Take Pinterest, for example; the social media platform lists myriad infographics in almost every search for any topic. Take “nutrition and wellness”; the following are displayed in the results:
Infographics make it easier for website owners and visitors to share information in more than just the form of a block of text or a link. With ever-increasing social media platforms that promote graphics and videos, infographics are another great way to get content noticed and shared.
Of course, there are natural ways to boost SEO and more direct paths. SEO research tools are the shortcut of the two, generating popular topics and keywords that people commonly search on major search engines.
There are free and paid SEO research tools. Depending on a website’s needs (and budget), either may be suitable. Some of the best programs across the board include:
- Semrush—an SaaS (cloud-based) platform that enables competitor and keyword research, backlink building, and evaluation of analytics (i.e. search volume, cost per click). Semrush isn’t free but offers a 7-day trial.
- Ahrefs—known for its free keyword generator and SEO tools like content auditors and backlink monitoring, Ahrefs offers valuable insights to rank higher on Google and get more website traffic. The platform offers both paid and free SEO resources.
- Surfer SEO—Surfer SEO is a paid service that provides everything a content strategist needs for keyword research and SEO optimization. High-ranking keywords are logged into the program, which it then keeps track of how many of each keyword is used throughout the content. It also ranks the content based on how much it is optimized for SEO.
- Frase—like Surfer SEO, Frase is another SEO strategy tool that helps blog writers optimize content. According to their website, Frase generates full-length briefs in just 6 seconds and offers automated features to make the writing process more efficient while harnessing the power of strategy. The SEO tool offers three tiers of subscriptions, all paid.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI content generation describes high-tech automation tools that create content for websites, social media pages, and more. Most AI generators will require human input to craft intelligent, relevant content, regardless of their goals, to reduce the need for human involvement. That’s because these types of generators are still in their infancy and need many tweaks and improvements before being able to effectively take the place of content writers (if ever).
One of the most sophisticated AI content generators is the GPT-3, which stands for the Generative Pre-Trained Transformer 3. It is a natural language processing system designed to understand text and speech to process information and develop content. It was launched by Google in 2017 and is the most advanced GPT model to date for producing convincing, organic text that resembles human-created content.
That said, the system has its drawbacks. Without any human direction, the GPT-3 produces illogical, inaccurate, and unintelligible content that a person will later have to correct. It also has limitations when it comes to developing truly original content. These negatives, however, are negatives across the board for all AI content generators. No matter how well they perform, human intervention is still needed for AI software to work effectively.
Murmurings of the release of the GPT-4 have begun, though there is not yet an official release date. Google’s latest AI technology plans are expected to be unveiled sometime in 2023. The GPT-4 will offer better performance as a text-only language model and features like code generation, text summarization, language translation, and grammar correction.
Apart from the GPT models, there are other, more accessible AI tools that website owners and writers might harness for more efficient content creation. Examples include:
- Jasper/Jarvis—this popular AI content platform was formerly known as Jarvis before becoming Jasper in January 2022. The tool is a content generator that assists writers in creating strong web content, ranging from art and images to sales emails, social media, and SEO. Jasper helps with conversions and helps scale content to drive more traffic and keep followers engaged.
- Scalenut—scalenut focuses on efficiency to make content production quicker and more seamless. The software provides a blog introduction generator, topic clusters and grading for SEO optimization, and more than 40 AI templates for creating high-quality content. Users can try it for free before graduating from a monthly or annual pricing plan.
- Frase—as an AI writing assistant software, Frase assists with pinpointing and organizing content opportunities based on search results. Its ability to create SEO-optimized posts is intuitive, and the resulting content does not get flagged as “AI generated” by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Those who regularly use short-form content will benefit most from Frase, as the software only allows 10,000 characters per day across their plans.
With the capacity to automate specific content requirements for small-scale content (think social media posts and notifications), there’s a lot of good that AI has done for the content realm. Though it’s true that people can only produce the strongest content, AI does a good deal to help the process along, assisting in everything from keyword research to SEO optimization.
On the flipside, AI needs to be able to create strong enough content on its own, despite its goal to reduce the need for human intervention. In fact, it’s been proven that AI content generators will make up facts as they collect available data and incorporate high-ranking keywords in copy, articles, and posts.
Ultimately, even though content produced by an AI generator doesn’t classify as plagiarism, it is simply not original content that offers unique data, insights, or opinions.
Content creation, in general, is the best way to boost SEO rankings, primarily when written strategically. Without good content, what would drive visitors to a website? There’s always the obvious: the product (or service) would have to speak for itself. But websites need compelling copy that sells a visitor or at least engages the potential customer somehow, and websites are at a severe disadvantage.
Writing top-quality content and structuring it correctly on a site can make all the difference for SEO rankings. The linking structure, in particular, is critical, as internal linking (to other pages within a website) helps set up a hierarchy of page importance. Search engines will use this information to rank content accordingly, and will be able to locate a website more easily if it employs internal links.
If a website is linked to another site that you frequently visit and trust, would it give the linked website more credibility than if you’d found it in a run-of-the-mill search?
If you answer yes, you are in good company—Google feels the same way! Backlinks play an integral role in whether a search engine deems a website trustworthy and valuable and are an essential part of building an effective, long-term SEO strategy. Link building continues to be one of the most organic SEO strategies a website can use because the Internet was designed to operate via a network of links. In 2022, that’s something that remains unchanged.
But how can a website owner or content strategist take advantage of link building in a way that truly works? Let’s take a closer look.
Outreach or “Cold-Emailing”
While it may not be the first (or most desirable) strategy that comes to mind, reaching out to popular websites or blogs can effectively establish backlinks. With a personalized email that shows some knowledge of the website, as well as why your site is worthwhile for them to backlink, “cold-emailing” can result in more leads than you’d think—especially when it comes to sites with high domain authority.
Domain authority is a ranking ascribed to a website by a search engine between 1-100 and is a strong indication of how well it performs and how many impressions it gets. The domain authority of any website can be checked by pasting the URL into a domain authority checker, such as this free one by Small SEO Tools.
When reaching out to high-ranking sites for backlink requests, it is usually a good idea to offer something in return. The offer does not have to be monetary (though it can be); website owners can offer to feature the partnering site on their blog or promote them in some other way to thank them for the favour.
Writing guest posts for other blogs is an excellent link-building strategy that increases exposure and is its own favor to the host website for providing that exposure (essentially, a free blog in exchange for promotion).
To find guest posting opportunities, website owners can perform searches that include their site’s industry or niche, followed by some relevant keywords:
- “[keyword] + contribute to our blog”
- “[keyword] + write for us”
- “[keyword] + submit as a guest blogger.”
Guest posts may be subtly optimized for link building by interspersing mentions of the writer’s site in the form of links or references in the body of the article. Of course, the article should still read as a high-quality piece that doesn’t translate as spammy or overly-promotional; it should be written to add true value to the host site.
Because guest posting can be a time-consuming backlink strategy, it’s recommended that website owners select sites that will be worth the free post. Start by searching for guest posting opportunities with sites that are established authorities in industry. Writing for these sites will be well worth the time spent creating the content.
As with any important project or business venture, proper research is crucial for good link-building. A website owner should spend time exploring their competitors’ activity for potential opportunities to follow similar linking strategies and look into the type of content that attracts links.
It can feel daunting to perform this type of research from scratch, which is why several helpful tools exist to make the process easier. A few of these include:
- Google Alerts—allows you to more easily discover quality links via notifications when specific keywords are used on newly-published pages. It’s free to use and provides valuable insight into how people are searching for topics that are relevant to your site.
- Semrush—Semrush makes it more efficient to research competing sites, find high-traffic keywords, build quality backlinks, and track performance on social media. The software can be used for free with limited functionality or with a monthly or annual subscription for users to take advantage of all available features.
- Ahrefs—described as an “all-in-one SEO toolset,” Ahrefs is a platform that offers both paid and free features to boost SEO rankings, check backlink data, display top-ranking keywords across 10+ search engines, and much more. Some of its tools can be accessed for free, such as Webmaster Tools or the Backlink Checker, and others may only be accessed with a paid subscription.
As part of successful link building, using strong anchor text can give potential website visitors an idea of what to expect after clicking a link. Anchor text is the clickable blue text in a hyperlink, often underlined. It should serve as an accurate descriptor of the website it references.
*Image source: Moz.com
Though forming anchor text may seem seemingly elementary, there are a few things to remember when constructing it.
For one, the anchor text of a link should speak to what the site is all about and should make sense of the surrounding content. Secondly, contrary to some opinions, using text that mirrors the corresponding page (also known as “exact match”) isn’t bad. Google even suggests incorporating keywords describing what the visitor will see after navigating the link. Doing so makes it easier for search engines to crawl, and provides greater transparency to website visitors.
The exact match strategy should be used sparingly for link building. If a website uses exact match anchor text for guest posts across dozens of different sites, Google labels this a direct link scheme, and the website may be penalized. However, the exact match anchor text that occurs organically with natural backlinks is excellent and typically won’t be targeted as a direct link scheme by search engines.
Ultimately, anchor text should always relate to—or, in some cases, match—the content of the link it references. Avoid overkill regarding the exact match technique, and audit anchor text from time to time to gauge whether it is performing. Make changes as needed.
Link building is an excellent SEO strategy but only does its job if it improves rankings. Website owners should not only set their sights on establishing backlinks with high-ranking pages but periodically check the progress of their efforts to ensure links are working to the greatest extent possible. This is where monitoring backlinks become necessary.
Backlink issues can arise from broken links and website structural changes, such as those implemented by a new owner. In this case, backlinks become “lost,” often leading to a 404 page when clicked rather than their original page. It’s vital to ensure that wherever a site’s backlinks live, they function to boost awareness, direct traffic, and avoid penalties.
If a website owner is hosting backlinks, they should also check for spam backlinks that originate from less-than-reputable pages. These might include penalized domains, links from link directories, links that lead to seedy domains (porn or online gambling), or any link that is low-quality or irrelevant to the host website.
Toxic links can be removed with the help of Google Search Console’s disavow feature, which allows users to upload a list of links for removal. This is an excellent last resort if the website owner refuses to respond to a request for link removal.
Backlink monitoring can be a manual process or may be automated with assistance from tools like Ahrefs, SE Ranking, or Monitor Backlinks. These platforms make the process more manageable for a site that has acquired many backlinks, rendering manual checking tedious and time-consuming.
Automate Link Building
Link building isn’t always the most efficient process, especially when performed manually. Hours of crafting personalized emails to site owners and writing guest posts can quickly add up, leaving little time for other essential website maintenance.
Fortunately, automated link building exists and provides a straightforward process for establishing backlinks while saving valuable time. There are several mediums for automated link building, including:
- SEO SpyGlass—this software is great for monitoring and identifying competitors’ backlink strategies. It also offers the ability to run link audits, locate and discard toxic links, and locate backlinks to just about any website.
- Mailshake—this software does the heavy lifting of the outreach process for more efficient link building. Rather than starting from scratch for each email pitch, Mailshake allows users to select message templates, personalize emails, and send them. It also tracks responses and impressions, keeping all outreach correspondence organized.
- HubSpot’s Link Builder—the well-known HubSpot name offers a link-building tool that automatically tracks the number of links and displays improvements to SEO efforts. The link builder tool is not a standalone software but is part of HubSpot’s inbound marketing offerings.
- SEMRush Link Building—SEMRush automatically compiles prospective link-building opportunities, generating lists of potentially-interested sites through strategic keyword analysis. The tool also delivers site contact information, offers a built-in workflow to keep track of outreach communication and progress, and is easily integrated with Gmail and Google Search Console.
We already touched a bit on local SEO, but it deserves more emphasis because of just how much of an impact it can have on websites and businesses.
Since local SEO allows smaller, lesser-known neighbourhood businesses to compete in a cutthroat marketplace—from both the walk-in and online perspectives—it can be an extremely beneficial strategy. That’s because local SEO doesn’t just target generic online visibility; instead, it focuses on a specific geographical area to connect with nearby searchers. This means local businesses have an automatic leg up in their communities over larger, well-known businesses elsewhere.
Of course, local businesses will still have to compete with other businesses within the same location. Knowing and understanding the market in a particular community is crucial for solid local SEO results.
Why should business owners take the time to engage in competitor SEO analysis?
Analyzing local SEO competition provides the opportunity to gauge competing websites’ rankings and learn their strengths and weaknesses. For example, business websites that don’t have well-crafted, compelling copy are at a disadvantage over a competing website that does. These disadvantages become windows of opportunity for local businesses that take advantage of them by offering a stronger customer experience than their competitors.
By conducting a local SEO audit, business owners can also learn what other businesses are doing better than online and work to fill in any holes. Competing on any level—whether local or global—often means ensuring the best possible product, service, or experience over comparable businesses, which means knowing where those other businesses stand.
Conducting a Local SEO Audit
Any process involving the word “audit” may seem a bit daunting, but software programs are available to make the experience a bit easier. There are also local SEO professionals who specialize in the below steps:
- Identify Local Competitors—this step is generally easier for local SEO purposes than regular SEO, as a business may already know of several competitors in their town without performing much additional research. However, it’s recommended that online research is still conducted to learn which competitors use relevant, high-ranking keywords.
- Analyze relevant SEO keywords—since keywords are the bedrock of SEO strategy, it’s important for businesses to use keywords that rank well for their industry on search engines. Keyword strategy should be a mix of 1) leveraging high-ranking words that competitors use and 2) using different variations of keywords that rank but may not already be used by competitors.
- Check competitor backlinks—by reviewing the backlinks on competitor sites; businesses can better understand who their competitors have relationships with, as well as the type of customer that may be navigating between that site and backlinked sites. This all boils down to a better understanding of the competition.
- Study competitors’ social media presence—do competitors have robust social media platforms with lots of customer engagement? If so, businesses should reflect on what they can do to build brand awareness and relationships with customers through their own social media channels.
- Perform a SERP analysis—by studying SERP metrics, business owners can get valuable insights into how well their competitors are performing and what it will take to surpass them. Analyzing data such as page authority, social shares, and backlinks paints an accurate picture of how other businesses are doing. Metrics like these will set the bar for where a business ought to be to keep up with competing companies.
Accurate & Updated Contact Information
For strong local SEO results, a business should feature up-to-date contact information on its website and across social media channels. This also includes other important information, such as hours, location, and anything else that will help customers find and patronize a business.
Moreover, when an address, phone number, or store hours are listed incorrectly on a business website, Google will eventually detect this—either by crawling and identifying inconsistencies or by way of a disgruntled customer who reports the incorrect information. A business website will then inevitably be deemed as less credible, which has the potential to lower SEO rankings.
Google Business Profile (Google My Business)
To improve their local ranking on Google, businesses should claim and update their business information using Google Business.
Claiming a business is a quick and easy process and may be done via Google Maps. Type the business’s name into the search bar, choose the correct business, and click “Claim this business > Manage now.” From here, Google will provide a verification prompt, which may be completed via phone, email, or other options.
While the claiming process is short, managing and optimizing a Google Business Profile for SEO requires additional work. The following are recommended:
- Filling out a business profile completely and accurately (for credibility and customer research purposes);
- Checking for business information consistency across the web;
- Selecting the most strategic and relevant categories;
- Uploading high-quality pictures;
- Getting customer reviews (or providing a customer incentive for reviews).
A Google Business profile is one of the best ways to increase awareness and visibility, especially for new businesses just starting in a community. It is also a huge contributor to local SEO, as it makes a business more easily searchable.
Social Media Posting
Few outlets are as beneficial as social media regarding business or brand exposure. It is one of the most effective, primary forms of advertising today—and it’s free (unless, of course, a person pays for formal ad placement on Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
For community businesses especially, social media pages are an excellent way for locals to discover a business. They act as a hub of valuable information about a company and an online gathering place for both new and satisfied customers alike. However, social media doesn’t directly impact local SEO. This may be a surprising fact until one considers that search engines can’t efficiently crawl the tens of thousands of social media posts uploaded every second.
Although social media doesn’t seem to have a direct impact on local SEO, there are a few ways that it positively affects rankings, such as:
- Brand expansion and awareness—a business can quickly gain traction on social media and has the potential to enjoy virality with stellar content that is shared on different platforms. If enough followers are interested in a brand’s content, there’s always the possibility that the business may end up being discussed on a blog or in an online article. This would be an example of social media indirectly contributing to local SEO ranking.
- Business details and information—social media pages are where essential business information should live, such as location, hours, phone number, etc. These details typically live on “about” pages and may or may not be indexed by search engines. Since it’s not entirely clear whether this occurs, optimizing the “about” section of a business profile on social media is important.
- Redirecting traffic—people often go on social media only to venture down fifteen different rabbit holes. On Instagram, for instance, if a business creates a post that says “link in bio” (prompting followers to follow an external link to learn more about the post’s topic), social media users often find themselves on a website they hadn’t originally expected to visit. In short, social media has the potential to drive traffic to a business’s website, resulting in higher SEO rankings.
We’ve mentioned the significance of consistency across the Internet when it comes to business information, but there is, in fact a formal name for it: NAP.
NAP is an acronym for “Name, Address, Phone number” and refers to the accuracy of a brick-and-mortar business’s contact information on every site listed, including directories, social media, and other websites. It factors into local SEO rankings because search engines ascribe a confidence score to every existing business with a physical location.
A confidence score is exactly what it sounds like: a search engine’s certainty that a business exists. This confidence score is then combined with a relevance score that, together, contributes to a business’s ranking. Unfortunately, a business’s confidence score goes down when NAP consistency looks more like inconsistency.
NAP consistency is relatively simple to control, and since it impacts local SEO so much, it’s a factor that should be routinely monitored. A good place to start is by:
- Checking all available phone numbers of a business;
- Checking all business addresses (for those with more than one location);
- Performing a search for the business name (use the same name every time, whether abbreviated or full-length);
- Checking Google Keyword SERPS to ensure location accuracy.
By periodically checking NAP consistency, business owners can exercise more control over their local SEO rankings and enjoy increased brand awareness and visibility.
Business citations are any online mention of a business, from directories to social media to other websites. Citations matter for local SEO because they could help business sites rank higher in local search queries and contribute to new patrons.
It is not certain whether business citations directly affect local SEO; instead, their impact is more indirect, similar to social media exposure. If enough websites, blogs, or articles mention a business, this helps search engines verify its existence and credibility.
A few different types of online mentions qualify as business citations. These include NAP details, which are classified as “structured citations,” and contextual references to a business also called “unstructured citations.” Unstructured citations are typically casual mentions of a business in online posts.
Generally, business citations aren’t considered to be the end-all-be-all of a business’s reputation, nor do they greatly affect local SEO. However, it never hurts a business to get the exposure that accompanies a citation, no matter how minimal the impact.
A few ways to increase business citations are:
- Become visible on major data aggregators (Express Update, Neustar Localeze, and Factual);
- Get exposure on other major sites (Apple Maps, Facebook, Yelp, YellowPages, and BBB);
- Ensure a listing on relevant industry platforms (i.e. Bookings.com for hotels, OpenTable for restaurants);
- Explore opportunities for business mentions in local articles, blogs, or the online local newspaper to gain unstructured citations.
Positive reviews from customers can go a long way toward helping a business’s local SEO ranking. Whether on Yelp, Google, or elsewhere, reviews demonstrate a company’s credibility and ultimately boost its confidence score.
A business’s responses to those reviews matter more than just receiving good reviews. The more activity that occurs on a page about the establishment—often including both structured and unstructured citations, which also boosts SEO rankings—the more likely search engines are to view that page as reflective of a legitimate business.
Getting customer reviews can be a process and usually occurs over time. Building a glowing portfolio of solid customer reviews can take months or years. However, there are ways to expedite the process:
- Verify the business profile. This is necessary for responding to customer reviews.
- Remind or incentivize customers to leave a review. Offer $5 or $10 off their next purchase after they write a review.
- Respond to all reviews, including negative ones. Doing so not only helps build customer trust but search engine confidence.
Local Search Directories
Local businesses can improve their SEO ranking by ensuring their websites are listed on local search directories. These directory sites act as catalogues for the world wide web and commonly feature personal or business entries.
When a business is listed online—and has a robust online presence—it renders itself much more accessible to customers. If it is listed in a popular local directory, the business enjoys even greater visibility and a potentially enhanced SEO ranking.
There are various online directories. Some, such as Angie’s List and Zomato, are industry or location-specific; others, such as the popular Google My Business, Yelp, Foursquare, or Yellow Pages, provide general listings and are more widely used than niche directories.
To truly experience an improvement to their local SEO status, businesses should carefully consider which web directories are worth pursuing for listings. Not every directory makes sense for every business, and incompatibility between the business and the web directory type can result in a lowered SEO ranking.
Once the appropriate web directories have been identified, businesses should approach those sites with their business name, website URL, street address, phone number, hours, logo, and images of the premises or products. These details will help customers learn more about a business and contribute to NAP consistency.
Overall, listing a business in a local directory is an excellent way to get more leads, receive more customer feedback, and improve local SEO.
Local Business Schema and Structured Data
We briefly discussed schema and structured data earlier on, but not from the standpoint of local SEO. Let’s revisit.
The term “schema markup” refers to a group of tags used in a website’s code that point search engines in the right direction for specific information (for example, NAP details). This information is then used to deliver the best results to web browsers. Schema appears on the front end of a web search as the descriptive line or two beneath a recipe, product, or establishment.
Local business schema optimizes a business’s site by applying a structured data markup code that makes it easier for search engines to crawl. In this way, Google can more easily interpret what the company is all about.
Local schema markup also improves how a business is displayed on Google, with important information more readily presented in the “three pack” section that lists a business’s address, hours, and phone number. All of these assist in NAP consistency and in driving up local SEO rankings.
There are technically hundreds of different kinds of schema markups, but a few of the most prevalent include:
- Microdata—used to house metadata within web page content, and is visible on the front end of a webpage.
- JSON-LD—refers to structured data that is held within the <script> tag and can be used anywhere on a page without altering other HTML components. JSON-LD is Google’s preferred schema markup format.
- RDFa—recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium, this markup enables the addition of attributes to several codes. It dates back to 2004.
Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean specializing in code, so if this looks Greek, take heart in the fact that there are online services that get the job done easily. Tools such as Schema WordPress Plugin, or Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper can assist with adding schema markups to a business website.
Optimizing landing pages is another excellent way to boost SEO, primarily when keywords are used strategically throughout the copy.
Landing pages are typically standalone pages used as marketing and advertising tools. Often, a person will navigate to a landing page when clicking a link in an email marketing campaign or a Google, YouTube, or social media ad.
The difference between a landing page and a standard webpage is that a landing page is created with a clear CTA (call to action), driving the visitor to make a sale, visit an establishment, donate money, or just about any other request. This funnelled focus makes the landing page successful in increasing conversion rates and spurring visitors to action.
Service Area Pages
For a considerable boost in local SEO, businesses can take advantage of service area pages.
Service area pages (SAPs) are a content marketing strategy for brand or business discovery. They resemble a type of landing page about a business’s location, and web browsers might stumble upon it before they even make their way to the homepage. SAPs are located on a business’s website and are typically housed under the “contact us” tab’s dropdown menu.
When an SAP is well-assembled, it has the potential to increase consumer awareness of a business in metropolitan areas greatly. That’s because these pages are created around unique content that describes how a business has served a particular city, news-related events occurring in that specific area (and industry), and more about how the business is involved in its local community.
Making use of an SAP can be beneficial for any local business, but are highly recommended for:
- Businesses with more than one location;
- Businesses in big cities or metropolitan areas with lots of competition.
For businesses with alternative locations, having an SAP for each branch can boost local SEO and avoid search engine penalties (Google will allow individual pages for each location, but not lists of the cities that are served. This is interpreted as spam).
In addition, businesses with lots of competition in major cities like New York or Los Angeles will find that SAPs are a constructive way to enhance SEO—especially because not all of the competition will know about or use this strategy. It’s a simple way to improve search engine rankings, increase visibility, and connect with other locals.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the no-brainer organic strategy for improving local SEO: content.
Most of the mediums and strategies that we’ve mentioned thus far are technically a type of content. However, there’s something about a local business’s blog that has the potential to connect with others in that city truly. It’s personal, relatable, and demonstrates an understanding of customers in a community that big conglomerates can’t compete with.
Business blogs can touch on any number of topics, from local events to store expansion to charities it partners with. Strong blogs should also research and incorporate high-ranking keywords related to that particular area to optimize it for local SEO.
Business owners can also benefit from a seasonal content audit, which gives entrepreneurs an idea of the types of content that have worked for them previously by analyzing the metrics. For example, a person conducting a content audit might review a high-ranking blog post and ask questions such as: Why did my audience find this to be of particular value? What did I do here that I can repeat in future content?
Though it may seem small, this simple step can help business owners meet their marketing goals for the year.
The opportunities for SEO implementation are numerous and completely worthwhile. SEO is one of the primary strategies for having a successful online presence, and there is no sign of it being phased out anytime soon. Understanding and applying it to your website is more than worth your time, and it can drive more traffic and new customers through your doors (both in person, and in the online sphere).
Most business owners find that they have their plates full regularly. It’s enough just to operate a business without having to worry about marketing strategies. While it’s entirely possible to apply the fullest extent of SEO benefits to your business’s online presence, it’s also entirely reasonable to want to leave that task up to the pros. The results could make all the difference to your bottom line.
If you’re ready to reap the rewards of strategic, professional SEO, reach out today to learn about our services.