What Google Wants
We don’t normally advise anyone to listen to the Spice Girls, but when it comes to SEO, we’ve got to make an exception. If you wanna be Google’s lover, then YES, you do have to get with its friends. In this case, Google’s friends can be thought of as authoritative sites that Google already ranks high in the search engine results. If these sites link to your content and mention you, that is going to make your rankings soar.
But keep in mind that this only works with sites that are focused on the same topic as your own. If you run a sports equipment shop, it’s not going to matter much to Google if a high ranking fashion site decides to link to your site. On the other hand, if Sports Illustrated Magazine linked to your site, it would be Google gold. According to Google, if an authoritative, on-topic site links to your content, that must mean that it’s very relevant for anyone searching for related keywords.
But Google doesn’t just trust the word of these authoritative sites. It still scans yours as well, checking if your content is keyword rich without being spammy, up to date, properly tagged, and linked well internally. We’ll get more into implementing specific SEO techniques in the sections ahead.
Overall, Google wants to reward sites that are focused on producing great, relevant content, not tricking the search engines. And if you couldn’t tell already, Google especially likes fans of the 90’s girl groups.
Onsite SEO consists of all the SEO techniques you use on your actual website. These are all the handy little tools and signposts that let the crawlers know what your site is about, and what keywords it is most related to. It’s absolutely necessary to have it done right if you have any hope of ranking well in the search engines. All of the following concepts and tools should be the main points of your onsite SEO.
First and foremost, the key to great onsite SEO is great content. This may seem like a no-brainer, but many sites skip the work involved to create good content. Instead, they attempt to fool the search engines into thinking their site is more relevant than it really is. Don’t do this. No one likes a trickster, and if people come to your site thinking that they’ve found helpful information, only to be met with meager, spammy content, they’ll click away faster than you can say “bounce”.
You can get good content by making sure that it fulfills the needs of your target audience. For example, a company that sells vegan snack foods will do well if they have information that vegans find useful. Nutrition tips, recipes, and even article guides for transitioning to a vegan diet are all useful pieces of content that could ramp up that site’s SEO, not only because they’re likely to be loaded with hot keywords, but also because such content is what vegans and those who are interested in veganism are looking for. Chances are that blogging about the deliciousness of bacon won’t help improve that site’s SEO rankings, at least not where it matters.
Don’t stuff your site’s text with keywords, but do make an effort to incorporate the keywords that fit best with the topic you’re covering. Keyword density (the ratio of keywords to normal text in your content) should ideally be kept somewhere below 5% to keep the spam alarms from firing. Use different keyword forms and phrases, and don’t forget to add in the long tail keywords where they work. The rule is to use keywords naturally. Good SEO copywriters make sure that every keyword and key phrase fits normally in the sentence it’s used in.
Making sure that your site content is maximally shareable is a must. Many sites cut off their SEO potential by putting up barriers that make their content hard to access, quote, or spread. These site owners may think that they’re protecting profits by ensuring that people can’t steal their content or view it without signing up for something, but they’re really just shooting themselves in the foot. For good SEO and general brand awareness, you want as many people viewing and talking about your content as possible. Unless you’re running a site for the illuminati, forget the exclusivity.
Add social media sharing buttons to each article and page of your site. Remove the paywalls and need for registering or logging in. Enable viewers to comment on your blog posts. Encourage engagement!
Yes, even the words and format of your site’s URLs are important for SEO. Having a URL filled with gobbledygook or undescriptive text provides no information to the search engines, in addition to making it hard for users to determine whether your link is click-worthy. It’s best to keep your URL’s structure simple for readability, and also to make it easier for crawlers to index your site.
If your site has multiple sections and sub sections, you need to pay attention to the format of your URLs. Try to organize them as logically as possible, with topics (pages or categories) coming first, subtopics (sub pages or categories) second, and so on. Forward slashes are used to mark separate sections, and hyphens are used to separate words for readability. Don’t go overboard on the hyphens, and don’t use underscores or other characters instead.
This is an ideal URL structure, followed by an example URL:
Tag, You’re It!
Tagging is the use of HTML code to signal to the crawlers what specific parts of your content contain the information that they should pay most attention to. There are multiple types of tags for onsite SEO, and you should be making use of them all.
Title tags are arguably the most important tags of all, if not the most important type of onsite SEO in general. They signify what the title of your article or web page is, and that title itself should be a good representation of what that particular piece of content is about.
This is what a title tag looks like:
Titles are the first thing users will see when your link comes up in search engine results and shares. Therefore, it should be compelling enough to show them that your content is worth clicking on. Incorporating the most important keywords in your title is the best way of doing this. Keep in mind that your title should be less than 60 characters if you want it to show up completely in search results and share links.
Heading tags are the runner ups to title tags when it comes to onsite SEO. They signify important sections of your content and should also be rich in keywords.
There are 6 different types of header tags, H1 through H6. 1 is the most important and 6 is the least important, but still more significant than the main body of your site’s text. You can use these headings multiple times throughout a piece of content to mark parts that the crawlers should take notice of. But beware. Overuse of header tags can make your content seem like spam to them.
This is what header tags look like:
Your heading 1
Your heading 2
Your heading 3
Your heading 4
Your heading 5
Your heading 6
Tags used to mark and describe images are called Alt Tags. It may seem like images would be hardly useful in terms of SEO, but they are! Making sure that your captions and image titles have proper alt tags adds yet another layer of signals that helps the crawlers recognize your content’s relation to certain keywords. Additionally, users who can’t or won’t load the photos on your site can at least read a description of the images, and blind users who need to use audio screen readers can have the image descriptions read aloud to them. That’s why they’re called “alt” tags – they provide an alternative way for users to experience images.
This is what the code for an image with an alt tag looks like:
Offsite SEO is explained pretty simply: it consists of all the SEO techniques that you’d use outside of your website. If you’ve got good onsite SEO, it will make implementing offsite SEO techniques a whole lot easier.
On the internet, the lone wolf does not survive. At least not in search engine results. You’ve got to make connections with other sites and get people talking about yours if you want Google to take notice. Remember what we said earlier about Google checking if authoritative sites link to you? Yeah? Well don’t forget it. Your success depends on this fact.
The Internet High School
Think of Google as the coolest kid in school. They’re so cool, that they won’t give the time of day to anyone who isn’t already approved by the other cool kids. But once you’ve got that stamp of approval, you’ve got it made. (Sorry Google, we know that makes you sound like a jerk, but hey, when an analogy works, it works!)
These other cool kids are the highest ranking sites within your niche. If they link to your site, you’ve officially been accepted into the exclusive in-crowd. The act of getting such sites to link to yours is called link building. This is where the usefulness of good onsite SEO comes in. It helps links to your site show up in the most appealing and helpful way possible.
Link building also entails placing links to your site in other locations, including forum posts, forum signatures, blog and social media post comments, or social bookmarks. This can be done on your own, or by unrelated internet users. The latter is the best option, and the more people who are naturally spreading your links, the better!
The following things also boost offsite SEO: putting up online ads, issuing regular press releases that include links to your site, and creating company social media accounts that link back to your content while engaging with users. Keep your offsite SEO techniques diverse. Having a good mix will get you higher rankings and better visibility than focusing all of your efforts on one tactic. You know what they say about eggs and baskets.
Feeling enlightened? You should! We’ve just given you the lowdown on all the SEO basics. It’s exactly what you need to form an understanding of how to improve your site rankings, and most importantly, to understand what the heck we crazy SEO nerds are talking about when you hire us to work on your site. SEO is the foundation of all good digital marketing, and will enable you to have success with all of the other tools and techniques we’ll be covering in the chapters ahead!