What is SEO?

The goal of Search Engine Optimization is to maximize the number of visitors to a website by making sure that the site appears high on the list of search engine results for specific queries.

Search engines, like Google, Bing and Yahoo, help humans access the wide array of content on the internet by providing search results based on a user’s specific query.

But before you even begin to optimize your website, you need to make sure you have a solid foundation in place.

Indexing vs. Ranking

In order to rank, your website first has to be indexed by Google and other search engines. When your site is indexed by Google, it’s saved in the search engine’s database, or index. If you add any new content or pages, they have to be indexed as well in order to rank. Google will automatically crawl your website on a regular basis, looking for updates, but you can also request Google to index a specific page by using Google Search Console. 

Once your website is indexed, it can then be ranked. Your site can rank for a variety of keywords. Google looks at over 200 factors to determine how relevant your website is to specific search queries.

Web Hosting

Your web hosting company provides the technology needed for your website to be viewed online. The web server your hosting company uses determines the speed of your website, page load times and the amount of data that is in a queue to deliver that request to the client.

There are several different types of web hosting, and it’s important to know the differences between them before you choose a web hosting service.

  • Shared Hosting – With this type of hosting, you have no control over who is on the server and how many sites are hosted with the same IP address.
  • Private Hosting – This regulated environment means more bandwidth and less demand on resources. Private hosting is usually managed by someone you know and trust.
  • VPS Hosting – VPS stands for virtual private server. This means you have your own IP address and space on a server where it is only you and your sites. This option is also more expensive.
  • Dedicated Hosting – With this type of hosting, you are responsible for managing the server yourself, which requires advanced technical knowledge.

Server Performance

A variety of factors can affect the performance of your web server and thus your website and ranking.

Speed & Performance

Search engines pay attention to how long it takes for your webpage to load.

Website Downtime

If your website goes down for an extended period of time, such as a few consecutive days, Google could potentially remove your website from its index. Even if the site comes back online before that, it can get flagged as unreliable, causing your site to rank below its previous position.

Shared Hosting Services

If you use shared hosting services with big companies like GoDaddy, HostGator and BlueHost, you will share the web space with various other sites that could potentially cause harm.

Server Load

Server load refers to how many processes are waiting in the queue to access the computer processor. This is calculated for a certain period of time and the smaller the number, the better.

Slow Performance

Slow performance is usually caused by system tasks that need tuning or might indicate a memory, disk or network bottleneck. Indicators of slow performance are issues like 503 error service unavailable or your website taking a very long time to load.

Top Tools to Check Your Website Speed & Performance

  • Pingdom
  • GTMetrix
  • Google PageSpeed Insights

Before you choose a web hosting company, be sure to take a look at what is included in the pricing and what isn’t. For example, do you have to pay for your own SSL Certificate or is one included? With some hosts, you will have to install your own SSL Certificate and manage the renewal process on your own, which can result in your SSL Certificate going down and creating an error message that your website is not secure.

You should also take a look at the company’s technical support to make sure they will be available to help you out with any issues you may have. Ask yourself the following questions about each web hosting company you are considering:

  • What is their availability?
  • Do they have good reviews?
  • Is it someone you can trust?
  • Are they easy to get a hold of?
  • How can you contact them (phone, email, chat, etc.)?
  • How quickly do they respond to your questions?
  • How often do backups run on your account?
  • Is this something they manage for you? (If not, it’s your responsibility)
  • How long are backups stored?

Website Architecture

Your website architecture is the approach used to design and plan out your site to meet both your business needs and the needs of your users. The design you choose will have a huge impact on how both visitors and search engines interact with your website.

When it comes to website architecture, there are multiple important factors to consider for SEO.

Site Crawlability

Search engines “crawl” websites, going from one page to another incredibly quickly like speed readers. When a search engine crawls your site, it makes copies of your pages that get stored in what’s called an index, which is like a massive book of the web.

When someone types in a search query, the search engine flips through this big book, finds all relevant pages and then picks out what it thinks are the very best results to show first. To be found by search engines, you have to be in the index. To be in the index, your website has to be crawled.

Crawl Rate Limit

The crawl rate limit is designed to keep Google from crawling your pages too much and too fast, which can hurt your server.

Crawl Demand

Crawl demand refers to how much Google wants to crawl your pages. This factor is based on how popular your pages are and how stale your content is in the Google index.

Crawl Budget

Crawl budget is determined by taking the crawl rate and crawl demand together.

Factors to Consider for Search Engines

Mobile-First Indexing
You want to have a responsive website where the primary content and markup is equivalent across both mobile and desktop versions of your site. If your content is not mobile-first or responsive, your indexing ability in Google will be limited. 

Avoid Duplicate Content
Duplicate content is defined as content that appears on the internet in more than one place. “One place” is a location with a unique web address. Therefore, if the same content appears at more than one URL, it is considered duplicate content. 

If you have one page that is accessible by multiple URLs or different pages with similar content, Google will see these pages as duplicate versions of the same page. Google will then choose one URL as the canonical version and crawl that page, while all the other URLs will be seen as duplicates and crawled less often.

You should avoid duplicate content because search engines won’t know which version to include or exclude from indexing. If a search engine is not told which version to use, it may give all versions equal weight or pick a version for you. As a result, your page may be less likely to rank. 

Use Descriptive URLs
By using keywords you want to rank for in your domain name or page URLs, you can improve your chance of ranking for those keywords. While descriptive URLs are not considered a major ranking factor, they do send signals to search engines to help them determine what your page is about.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Expired Certificates
Make sure that your SSL Certificate is always up to date. It’s a good idea to have your web host set your certificate to auto-renew to ensure that your certificate never expires. 

Crawling Issues
Don’t block your site from crawling using robots.txt. 

Indexing Issues
It’s critical to allow indexing of your pages by search engines wherever possible. Avoid using the noindex meta tag (more on this later). 

Mixed Content
Be sure to embed only HTTPS content on HTTPS pages.

While your website architecture can have a significant impact on your SEO, it’s important to focus on user experience to ensure that human visitors to your site can easily navigate and find the information they’re looking for. Search engines are modeled on human behavior, designed to prefer experts and look for popularity, trends and traffic. 

As you review the performance of your website architecture, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can users find things quickly and easily on your site?
  • Are your users happy?
  • Do they link to you or share your content?
  • Are they spending a lot of time on your site?
  • Do they visit more than one page?
  • Do you have reviews with keywords in them? Are they the same keywords you use to describe your pages?
  • Are they talking about you on external sites (e.g. FB, IG, Pinterest, Twitter, Yelp, Google, etc.)?

Auditing & Analytics

Monitoring the performance of your website is essential to creating a positive user experience and improving your SEO and ranking. A Website Audit provides you with a full analysis of all factors that affect your site’s visibility to search engines. You should perform a complete website audit at least every six months and keep the reports so you can compare changes and see what’s working and how your site has improved.

In addition to regular website audits, use these tools to monitor the performance of your website:

Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools)

Google Search Console is a free service that helps you monitor and maintain your website’s presence in Google Search results. You don’t have to sign up for Google Search Console for your website to be included in search results, but doing so can help you understand how Google views your website and enable you to optimize its performance in search results.

Google Tag Manager

This is a tag management system that allows you to quickly and easily update tags and code snippets on your website.

Bing Webmaster Tools

Don’t forget about Bing! This free service helps you monitor and maintain your website’s presence in Bing and Yahoo! search results.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a freemium web analytics service that tracks and reports website traffic. There are a wide variety of tools available on Google Analytics, including traffic insights, conversions and goals and search terms used to find your website.

Keywords & On-Page SEO

On-page SEO involves optimizing individual webpages to help them rank higher on search engines. Put simply, on-page SEO is anything on the page, including content and the HTML code, that you can improve to increase your page’s visibility to search engines.

To ensure the quality of your webpages, there are several tactics you should avoid: 

Sneaky Redirects
If you display content to human users that is different than the content made available to crawlers, then you are violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Don’t be deceptive—instead, focus on creating quality content. 

Before creating a redirect, consider the intent behind it. You can redirect URLs to another page with good reason, such as a new website address, consolidating several pages into one or changing a URL link’s name. 

Automatically Generated Content
Automatically generated content is text that makes no sense to the reader but contains search keywords. This automated text is typically generated by a tool that hasn’t been reviewed or curated by a human before publishing the content. 

Link Schemes
Any links, incoming or outgoing, that are intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and are a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. 

This can include buying and selling links that pass PageRank, whether that involves exchanging money or goods or services for links, or even sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link. Link schemes also include excessive link exchanges (“I’ll link to you if you’ll link to me”), using automated programs or services to create links to your site, and advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank.

Other examples of link schemes include:

  • Creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links
  • Text ads that pass PageRank
  • Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites
  • Low-quality directory or bookmark site links
  • Keyword-rich, hidden or low-quality links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites
  • Widely distributed links in footers or templates of various sites
  • Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature 

Instead of resorting to these kinds of practices, the best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the internet community. The more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.

Cloaking
Cloaking is presenting different content or URLs to human users than you present to search engines. This is considered a violation because it provides users with different results than they expected. 

Examples of cloaking include presenting a page of HTML text to search engines while showing a page of images or Flash to users and inserting text or keywords into a page only when the person requesting the page is a search engine, not a human visitor. 

Hidden Text & Links
Hiding text or links in your content to manipulate Google’s search rankings can be seen as deceptive and is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. There are several ways to hide text like excessive keywords, all of which should be avoided:

  • Using white text on a white background
  • Locating text behind an image
  • Using CSS to position text off-screen
  • Setting the font size to 0
  • Hiding a link by only linking one small character, like a hyphen in a paragraph of copy 

Non-Accessible Content
Search engines have difficulty accessing content like JavaScript, images or Flash files, so you can improve your site’s accessibility by providing descriptive text for these items. Descriptive text doesn’t only help search engines; it also helps human visitors who use screen readers, mobile browsers or browsers without plugins or have slow internet connections.

You can test your site’s accessibility by turning off JavaScript, Flash and images in your browser or using a text-only browser. 

Doorway Pages
Doorway pages are websites or pages created specifically to rank highly for specific search queries. These types of pages are bad for users because they can lead to multiple similar pages in user search results, where each result ends up taking the user to essentially the same destination. Doorway pages can also lead users to intermediate pages that aren’t as useful as the final destination. The primary purpose of doorway pages is to attract visitors from search engines in order to send them to other places.

To determine if you are using doorway pages, ask these questions:

  • Is the purpose to optimize for search engines and funnel visitors into the actual usable or relevant portion of your site, or are they an integral part of your site’s user experience?
  • Are the pages intended to rank on generic terms yet the content presented on the page is very specific?
  • Do the pages duplicate useful aggregations of items (locations, products, etc.) that already exist on the website for the purpose of capturing more search traffic?
  • Are these pages made solely for drawing affiliate traffic and sending users along without creating unique value in content of functionality?
  • Do these pages exist as an “island”? Are they difficult or impossible to navigate to from other parts of your website?

Scraped Content
Some webmasters use content that is taken or “scraped” from other, more reputable sites because they assume that increasing the volume of pages on their website is a good long-term strategy, regardless of the relevance or uniqueness of that content. 

Scraped content may not provide any added value to your users and may even constitute copyright infringement. It is definitely worthwhile to take time to create original content that sets your site apart and will keep users returning to your website.

Examples of scraped content include websites that copy and republish content from other sites without adding any original content or value; websites that copy content from other sites, modify it slightly and republish it; websites that reproduce content feeds from other sites without providing some type of unique benefit to user and websites dedicated to embedding content such as video, images or other media from other sites without substantial added value to the user.

Affiliate Programs
While there is nothing wrong with occasional affiliate links, pure affiliate sites that consist of content that appears in many other places online are highly unlikely to perform well in Google search results and may even be negatively perceived by search engines. Unique, relevant content provides value to users and distinguishes your website from others, making it more likely to rank well in search results.

Irrelevant Keywords
Keyword stuffing involves overloading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results. These keywords often appear in a list or group or out of context, instead of as part of the natural prose of your site. Keyword stuffing not only results in a negative user experience, but it can also harm your website’s ranking. Instead, focus on creating useful, info-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.

Examples of irrelevant keywords include lists of phone numbers without substantial added value, blocks of text listing cities and states a webpage is trying to rank for and repeating the same words or phrases so often that it sounds unnatural.

Malicious Pages
Distributing content or software on your website that behaves in a way other than what a user expects is known as malicious behavior. This includes anything that manipulates the content on the page in an unexpected way, anything that downloads to a user’s computer without their consent or anything that does not comply with Google’s Unwanted Software Policy. Google’s goal is not only to provide relevant search results for users, but also to keep them safe while they’re browsing the web. 

Examples of malicious behavior include changing or manipulating the location of content on a page; injecting new ads or pop-ups on pages or swapping out existing ads on a page with different ads; including wanted files in a download that a user requested; installing malware, trojans, spyware, ads or viruses on a user’s computer and changing a user’s browser homepage or search preferences without informed consent.

User-Generated Spam
Spam can be generated on a website by malicious visitors or users. This spam is usually generated on sites that allow users to create new pages or otherwise add content to the site. 

If you receive a warning from Google about this type of spam, the good news is that Google generally believes your website is of sufficient quality and didn’t see a need to take manual action on the whole site. However, if your website has too much user-generated spam on it, that can affect Google’s assessment of the site, which may eventually result in them taking manual action on the whole site. Since user-generated spam can pollute Google search results, we recommend you actively monitor and remove this type of spam from your site.

To prevent comment spam, consider whether it is worthwhile to enable a guestbook or comments on your site. If you are unable to monitor comments, is it worth it to enable them? If you do enable comments, be sure to moderate them for any content that appears spammy. 

Page Structure

When building out pages on your website, it’s important to pay attention to proper page structure to help your pages rank.

Page Title

A unique and attractive page title intrigues human users and lets search engines know exactly what your page is about. You should create a unique title for each page on your website, and your title should accurately describe the page’s content and be brief but descriptive. Avoid using extremely lengthy titles or stuffing unnecessary keywords into your title tags.

For your user, your page title shows up in three main places: the browser tab, the search engines result pages (SERPs) and shared links. That’s why your page title is so important: Its goal is not only to describe the content of the page, but also to encourage users to click. 

Keep in mind that, if your page appears in search results, the contents of your title tag may appear in the first line of results. That’s why it’s important for your page title to clearly describe what users can expect to find on the page.

Optimize Your Content

Make your site interesting and useful to visitors by creating compelling, educational content. Users know good content when they see it and will likely want to direct others to it. 

When you’re creating content for your site, it’s important to know what your readers want. Think about the words that a user might search for to find a piece of your content. Remember that users who know a lot about a topic might use different keywords in their queries than someone who is new to the topic. Consider these differences in search behavior when writing your content.

Your text should be easy to read. Users enjoy content that is well written and easy to follow. Avoid copy with many spelling and grammatical mistakes and awkward or poorly written content. Be sure to organize your topics clearly so that visitors have a good sense of where one topic begins and another ends.

Take time to create fresh, unique content. New content not only keeps your existing visitor base coming back, but it also can help bring in new visitors. Be sure to avoid rehashing (or even copying) existing content or having duplicate or near-duplicate versions of your content across your website.

As you are optimizing your website content, remember to focus on users, not search engines. Designing your site around visitors’ needs while making sure your site is easily accessible to search engines usually produces positive results.

Use Links Wisely

Make your site interesting and useful to visitors by creating compelling, educational content. Users know good content when they see it and will likely want to direct others to it. 

When you’re creating content for your site, it’s important to know what your readers want. Think about the words that a user might search for to find a piece of your content. Remember that users who know a lot about a topic might use different keywords in their queries than someone who is new to the topic. Consider these differences in search behavior when writing your content.

Your text should be easy to read. Users enjoy content that is well written and easy to follow. Avoid copy with many spelling and grammatical mistakes and awkward or poorly written content. Be sure to organize your topics clearly so that visitors have a good sense of where one topic begins and another ends.

Take time to create fresh, unique content. New content not only keeps your existing visitor base coming back, but it also can help bring in new visitors. Be sure to avoid rehashing (or even copying) existing content or having duplicate or near-duplicate versions of your content across your website.

As you are optimizing your website content, remember to focus on users, not search engines. Designing your site around visitors’ needs while making sure your site is easily accessible to search engines usually produces positive results.

Optimize Your Images

The “alt” attribute allows you to provide a descriptive filename and description for the images on your website, allowing you to specify alternate text for your images if they cannot be displayed for some reason. If a user is viewing your site using assistive technology, such as screen readers, the contents of the alt attribute provide information about your images. Optimizing your image filenames and alt text makes it easier for image search and users to better understand your images.

To optimize your images, use brief but descriptive filenames and alt text and avoid using generic filenames like “image1.jpg” whenever possible. If your website has thousands of images, you might want to consider automating the naming of images.

Be sure to use commonly supported file types for your images, such as JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP and WebP image formats. The extension of your filename should match with the file type of that image.

Make Sure Your Pages are Mobile-Friendly

Mobile browsers are similar to desktop browsers in that they can render a broad set of the HTML5 specification, although their screen size is smaller, and in almost all cases their default orientation is vertical.

Google recommends making your site mobile-ready by creating a Responsive Web Design (RWD). With a responsive design, the server always sends the same HTML code to all devices, and CSS is used to alter the rendering of the page on the device.

Use Google’s mobile-friendly test to check if the pages on your site meet the criteria for being labeled mobile-friendly. You can also use the Google Search Console Mobile Usability report to fix mobile issues.

Use the Description Meta Tag

A webpage’s description meta tag gives Google and other search engines a summary of what the page is about. The page’s title may be only a few words or a phrase, but the description meta tag might be a sentence or two, or even a short paragraph.

Google Search Console provides a handy HTML Improvement report that will tell you about any description meta tags that are either too short, too long or duplicated too many times.

Like the page title, Google might use the description meta tag as a snippet for your page, especially if it does a good job of matching up with the user’s search query. Adding description meta tags to each of your pages is a good practice in case Google can’t find a good selection of text to use in the snippet.

Your description meta tag should accurately summarize the content of your page, both informing and interesting users if they see the description in search results. While there is no maximum or minimum length, it’s a good idea to keep your description to between 50 and 300 characters so that it does not get cut off if it shows up in search results.

Use Heading Tags to Emphasize Important Text

Heading tags typically make the text contained in them larger than the normal text on a page, providing users with a visual cue that the text is important. There are multiple heading sizes that can be used to create a hierarchical structure for your content, helping users to navigate your page more easily.

When using heading tags, imagine that you are writing an outline of your content. Consider what the main points and sub-points of each page will be and use heading tags appropriately to convey those points.

Be sure not to overuse headings on your page and only use them where they make sense. Do not use heading tags just to style text. Heading tags are designed to present and define the structure of your page.

Plan Navigation Based on Your Homepage

Navigation is important in helping visitors quickly find the content they want and can also help search engines understand which content the webmaster thinks is most important. Although Google’s search results are provided at a page level, Google also likes to have a sense of what role a page plays in the bigger picture of a website.

All websites have a home or “root” page, which is usually the most frequented page on the site and the starting place of navigation for many visitors. Unless your website has only a handful of pages, you should consider how visitors will go from a general page to a page containing more specific content. Do you have enough pages around a specific topic area that it would make sense to create a page describing these related pages?

Use a Simple URL Structure

Your website’s URL structure should be as simple as possible. Consider organizing your content so that the URLs are constructed logically and in a way that is most intelligible to humans. Remember, you want to focus on human users, not search engines. Whenever possible, use readable words rather than long ID numbers.

Google recommends that you consider using punctuation in your URLs and suggests that you use hyphens instead of underscores. By creating descriptive categories and filenames for the documents on your website, you not only keep your site better organized, but you can also create easier, “friendlier” URLs for those who want to link to your content. Keep in mind that visitors may be intimidated by extremely long and cryptic URLs that contain few recognizable words and that the URL to a webpage is usually displayed in a search result in Google below the page title, so the easier your URL is to read, the better.

Create a Simple Navigational Page for Users

A navigational page is exactly what it sounds like: a page on your website that displays the structure of your site, allowing visitors to easily navigate to a specific page. A navigational page usually consists of a hierarchical listing of pages on your site. While search engines may visit this page, its primary purpose is to assist human visitors.

When building out your website, it’s important to create a naturally flowing hierarchy.   Make it as easy as possible for users to go from general content to the more specific content they want to view on your website. All of the pages on your website should be reachable through links and should not require an internal search functionality to be found by visitors. 

You can control most of the navigation from page to page on your website through links within the text on your pages. This makes it easier for search engines to crawl and understand your site. 

You can also create a navigational page for users, as well as a sitemap for search engines. An XML sitemap file ensures that search engines discover any new and updated pages on your website by listing all relevant URLs together with their primary content’s last modified dates. Be sure to keep your navigational page updated so that there are no broken links on the page, which can create a negative experience for users. 

Schema.org Markup

Schema is structured data or code which is added to your site to improve the way search engines read and represent your page in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). Schema.org is a result of the collaboration between Google, Bing, Yandex & Yahoo! to help you provide information that their search engines need to understand your content and provide their users with the best search results possible. Adding schema markup to your HTML improves the way your page displays in SERPs by enhancing the rich snippets that are displayed beneath the page title. 

Google Structured Data Markup Helper helps you mark up elements on your webpage so that Google can better understand the data on the page. Once Google understands your page data more closely, the search engine can then present your website more attractively and in new ways in search.

Data Highlighter is a point-and-click tool inside of Google Search Console that allows you to show Google the way you have structured data on your pages without having to modify the pages themselves. Google then uses this structured data to provide better search result snippets to users.

When using schema markup on your website, be sure to check your markup and make sure there are no mistakes in the implementation. You should also monitor how your marked up pages are doing. You can do this by using the Structured Data report in Google Search Console, which shows you: 

  • How many pages on your website Google has detected with a specific type of markup
  • How many times those pages have appeared in search results
  • How many times people have clicked on the pages over the past 90 days

Local SEO & Choosing Keywords

Google uses stemming technology, which means that it will search not only for you specific search terms, but also for words that are similar to those terms. For example, if you search for “wedding photos,” Google will also search for “wedding pics,” “photography” and other variations of your search terms. Just like your actual terms, any variations will also be highlighted in the snippet of text accompanying each search result. 

If your website does not show up in search results for a specific keyword, then you will need to take time to optimize your pages for that keyword. The best way to ensure that your website shows up in search results for your preferred keywords is to include those words and phrases on the relevant pages of your site. Google and other search engines will crawl your pages and analyze the content to determine which search queries your keywords are most relevant to. So, if you create an information-rich website that clearly, accurately describes your topic, your site will likely show up in search results for your desired keywords. 

Search Analytics Report

This report shows how often your website appears in Google search results. By running this report, you can see how your search traffic changes over time, as well as where your traffic comes from and what search queries are most likely to show your website. The Search Analytics Report also shows you which pages have the highest and lowest click-through rate from Google search results. You can even learn which queries are made on smartphones and use this information to improve your mobile targeting. 

Links to Your Site

This report provides you with a list of links that Googlebot discovered during the crawling and indexing process, as well as the most common link sources and pages on your website with the most links. You can also see the most common anchor text found by Google. While not all links to your website may be listed in this report, it can still provide you with a clearer picture of how users are getting to your site. 

Internal Links Report

This report reveals the number of internal links pointing to a page, which is a signal to search engines about the relative importance of that page. If an important page on your website doesn’t appear in this list, or if a less important page has a relatively large number of internal links, you should consider reviewing your internal link structure. If you are deleting or renaming pages, check this data first to help identify and prevent potential broken links.

Crawl Errors

Google recommends that you regularly review the Crawl Errors page to check for any 404 errors that Googlebot may have encountered while crawling your site. Set a reminder on your calendar to review your Google Search Console at least once a month. 

Google My Business Page

Your Google My Business listing can have a huge impact on your local ranking and help potential customers find your business and learn more about your services. 

Google determines local ranking based on relevance, distance and prominence. A combination of these three factors are used to help find the best match for your search query. For example, the Google algorithm may decide that a business that is farther away is more likely to have what you’re looking for than a closer business and therefore rank it higher in local results.

Relevance
Relevance is defined as how well a local listing matches what someone is searching for. By adding complete and detailed business information to your Google My Business listing, you can help Google better understand your business and match your listing to relevant searches. 

Distance
Distance is how far each potential search result is from the location term used in a search.  If a user doesn’t specify a location in their search, Google will calculate distance based on what is known about their location.

Prominence
Prominence is how well-known a business is. Some companies are prominent offline, and search results try to reflect this in local ranking. Google bases a business’ prominence off information from across the web, such as links, articles and directories. In addition, the number of Google reviews you have and your overall review score are also factored into your local search ranking. The more reviews and positive ratings you have, the better your local ranking.

Your Google My Business listing pulls information from four main sources: you, your website, users and third-party sources. 

  • You - This includes information you have added to your listing about your business. You can add, edit and remove information as it changes in order to keep customers and searchers up to date and to showcase your products and services. 
  • Your website - Google pulls information from your business’ official website and incorporates it into your Google My Business listing. 
  • Users - Information from people who use Google services is also added to your listing. Your listing is updated when someone takes action, such as leaving a review, uploading a photo or reporting a problem. User-generated information includes reviews, popular times and photos.
  • Third-party sources - This includes information from other places online outside of Google, such as links to your business’ social profiles. If Google finds information about your business that could be helpful to customers, it may add that information to your listing. 

Choose a Business Category

Categories are used to describe your business and connect you to customers searching for the type of services you offer. For example, if your primary category is “wedding photographer,” Google may show your business in local search results to people who search for “photographer” or “Wedding Photographer” in their area. 

Your category is just one of many factors that can affect your local ranking. Depending on the type of business you have, your category may also be used to assign a place label to your business. A place label is a feature of Google Maps that provides information about landmarks, businesses and tourist attractions. The Google algorithm determines place labels based on a large number of factors, including the accuracy of your business information and the richness of the content associated with your business.

Improve Your Local Ranking on Google

Local search results appear for people who search for businesses and places near their own location. Google uses your business’ information to provide relevant local search results, not just in Search but in other products like Maps as well. For example, if you own a photography business, your listing may appear in local search results for people who search for “family photographer near me” because you have provided information that includes your address and hours. 

Add complete and accurate information
It’s important to enter complete data in your Google My Business listing and to make sure that your information stays up-to-date. Local results favor the most relevant results for each search, and businesses with complete and accurate information are easier to match with the right searches. Be sure to enter all your business information in Google My Business so that customers can learn more about where you are, what you do and when they can visit you. 

Verify your location
In addition to providing complete and accurate business information, make sure to verify your location. Doing so gives you the best opportunity to appear for users across Google products like Maps and Search.

Provide your business hours
Keep your hours accurate by not just providing your regular operating hours, but also including special hours for holidays and events. This lets potential customers know when you’re available and gives them confidence that, when they visit your location, you will be open for business. 

Manage and respond to reviews
One of the best ways to engage with customers is by responding to reviews that they leave about your business. Responding to reviews shows that you value your customers and the feedback that they leave. High-quality, positive reviews from your customers can help improve your business’ visibility and increase the likelihood that a potential customer will visit your location.

When responding to customer reviews, keep in mind that all reviews are public, so it’s important to be kind and avoid getting personal. Your responses should be courteous, useful and readable. Double-check for any spelling or grammatical errors and be sure to thank each  reviewer. Remember that the point of responding is not to be a salesperson but to be a friend. Since your reviewers are already customers, you don’t need to try to sell them anything. Instead, provide them with useful information that can help make their experience with your business even better. 

Add photos and videos
You can show people your products and services by adding photos and video to your Google My Business listing. Use this content to help tell the story of your business. Accurate and appealing images and videos may also show potential customers that your business offers what the products or services that they’re searching for.

Let customers message you
With your Google My Business listing, you can provide a way for users to contact you through text messaging. Just keep in mind that your customers rely on your prompt replies, so don’t keep them waiting. People appreciate a quick response to their questions, so during listed business hours, respond as quickly as possible to messages that you receive from customers. 

Add posts to your listing
Posting through Google My Business gives you a way to publish your events, products and services directly to Search and Maps. You can post text, photo or video content, allowing you to get information about special offers and events in front of customers when they find your listing.

There are a variety of post types available, including Events, Offers and Products. When choosing a post type, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your post about an event, offer or time-sensitive deal?
  • Do you have news to share?

Consider what you want your post to do: encourage customers to visit your store, sell something or announce a new feature. You can also post photos and videos to reinforce your message and help your text post stand out. 

The Knowledge Panel

When people search for a business on Google, they may see information about that business in a box that appears to the right of the search results, known as the Knowledge Panel. This information can help potential customers discover and contact your business. While you can’t pay a fee or request to get your business listed in the Knowledge Panel, you can continue to provide complete, accurate information to Google to improve your business’ chances of being listed in this way. 

Links to your business’ social profiles may also appear in the Knowledge Panel. Google gathers information from a variety of sources and may include your social profiles to give customers a more detailed overview. Like being featured in the Knowledge Panel itself, you can’t request to have your social profiles added to your listing. Instead, this information will be automatically added to listings for eligible businesses. However, there are some factors that can improve your chances of having your social profiles added to your Google My Business listing:

  • Consistency - Use the same name to represent your business in both your listing and your social profiles.
  • Authenticity - If available, verify your profile using your social media site’s verification process. This helps Google determine that your social profile is managed by an owner or authorized representative of the business.
  • Structured Data - Use social profile markup on your official website to specify which social profiles link you would like to appear in your listing

NAP Consistency

NAP stands for Name, Address and Phone Number and is a critical part of SEO. A company’s name, address and phone number should be listed in the same way anywhere it appears online, including the business’ website, social media profiles and directory listings such as Google My Business and Yelp. Keeping your listings consistent involves not just ensuring that all listings have the same information, but making sure the spelling and formatting is the same across platforms. 

When human users see your business listed under multiple names with varying addresses or using inconsistent phone numbers, they get confused. If search engines find conflicting information about your NAP, they are not going to know for certain what your business is or where it’s located. Search engines then lose confidence in your business listing and are more likely to provide users with another listing that they’re more confident about.

Content Strategy for SEO

You may have heard the phrase “Content is king,” and it’s true. Your content strategy plays a huge role in ensuring that your website is optimized for search engines and that prospective clients find your business. 

Understand your buyers
With the abundance of information available online these days, prospects are much more informed about you and your competitor’s products and services. In fact, most customers have identified their own needs and know what they need to know before making a purchasing decision. 

Build content strategies around scenarios
Plan your content strategy around specific scenarios so that you can better serve your clients and meet their unique needs. Consider the following information:

  • Where do your prospects find what they’re looking for?
  • What pain points do your clients have?
  •  What are common questions they ask during consultation?
  • What stories can you tell your clients that relate to their questions?
  • How do your clients buy and what are you selling them?
  • What role does your website play in bringing in business?
  • Who and where are your target prospects?
  • What interests do your ideal clients have in common?

Create a plan
It’s important to create content that engages users and generates traffic to your site, so you need to be a master at connecting emotionally with your customers. Pay special attention to the headlines and titles you use for your content and use images that connect with your readers and convey emotion. In short, your goal is to be a great storyteller. 

Build smarter content
Creating and distributing quality content leads to better results. Content marketing generates three times as many leads at a much lower cost than traditional marketing. Your content should have a clear purpose that should be evident in the title. When creating content, be sure to define the objective of your content right on the page and support the main subject to help establish yourself as an authority in your industry. 

Use emotion in your content
By understanding the degree to which our brains rely on emotion when making decisions, marketers can appeal to the feelings of customers to boost leads and even sales. Both positive and negative emotions play a role in content marketing. Content that evokes happy emotions leads to more shares, while content that evokes sad emotions leads to more clicks. Mainstream media outlets tend to focus on negative emotions, while social media tends to focus on more positive emotions. 

Clearly define your target audience
When you have a clear understanding of the target audience you are trying to reach, you can produce more relevant and valuable content that they will want to read. As your business grows and matures, you may have to adjust your content to continue to stay relevant to your target audience, so plan to revisit your audience parameters every year. 

Figure out the need for your product or service and focus on what problem it can solve for your customers. You can then refine your target market by identifying who has bought your product or service already. 

How to identify and analyze your target market
To determine your target audience, ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the features of your business, product or services?
  • What benefits do your clients get from your products or services?
  • How does your target market shop, online or offline?
  • What is the typical age and gender of your target market? Do they usually have children? What is their average income & education?
  • What are their common interests? These can include attitudes, values and lifestyle.
  • Is your target market comfortable with using the internet? What web & offline marketing methods engage them?

Share the same values
Make sure you and your prospect share the same values. Remember that every product or service has a cultural value attached, so you need to clearly define the value your services offer to clients. Answer questions like: 

  • What do they get?
  • Do you have a guarantee?
  • What equipment do you use & why?

Audit your content
You should regularly perform an audit of your content to make sure it is working for you and your business. Check Google Analytics for content that is generating traffic and figure out how traffic is being generated to your site. Pay attention to what type of content your visitors enjoy, whether that’s blogs, videos or some other type of content, as well as demographic information, like what age groups and genders are interested in your content and the type of devices they use to view your website.

Types of Content

  • How-To’s
  • Content curation
  • Case studies
  • Charts/graphs
  • E-books
  • Email newsletters & autoresponders
  • Book summaries
  • Equipment reviews
  • Giveaways
  • FAQ sessions
  • Webinars
  • Guides
  • Dictionary
  • “Day in the Life of” posts
  • Infographics
  • Interviews
  • Lists
  • Memes
  • Videos
  • Templates
  • Surveys
  • Slideshares
  • Resources
  • Polls
  • Podcasts
  • Pinboards
  • Company News
  • Timelines

Set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

A Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively a company is achieving a key business objective. Organizations use KPIs at multiple levels to evaluate their success at reaching their targeted goals. Examples of KPIs include:

  • Traffic Volume – visits by traffic channel and source
  • Engagement – pages viewed per session, bounce rate and the average time a user spends on a webpage
  • Popular and Problematic Onsite Content – top folders, top landing pages and top exit pages
  • Content Effectiveness – goal and event completions
  • Resolving Audience Needs – onsite search queries

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO is the process of optimizing your brand’s online and offline footprint through the use of content, relationships and links to create an optimal experience for both prospects and crawl bots. Off-page SEO typically leads to gradual increases in positive brand mentions, search rankings, traffic to your site and even conversions.

Off-page SEO can help improve your brand’s reputation among users across the internet. A website that is high-quality and useful is more likely to have references (links) from other sites. High-quality sites are also more likely to be bookmarked and shared among communities of like-minded users.

By improving your off-page SEO, you can help get more traffic to your website and improve your click-through rate (CTR) due to being ranked higher in SERPs. You can also help increase your website in PageRank, a numerical measure that Google gives each  individual page on your website based on the number and quality of links to each page. Off-page SEO can also provide your business with more exposure, which means more traffic. More traffic leads to a higher chance of your target audience clicking on your website and contacting you. 

Link Building

Link building is the process of acquiring high-quality hyperlinks from authority sites that link to relatable content on your own website. Search engines will crawl the links between individual pages on your site and the links between entire websites. 

In order to engage in link building, you need something of value to build links to. In many cases, this is the homepage of your website, but you can also build links to specialized resources, such as blog posts, research studies or graphics. These assets may exist well before you start your link building campaign, or you may create them specifically with the goal of link building in mind. 

There are two types of links: 

  • Natural Links - These are highly valued links that take time to build and are picked up naturally by bloggers and authorities in your field.
  • Manual Links - This involves reaching out to other websites and bloggers and asking them to link to your content. 

No matter which type of link building you do, you need to give other site owners a reason to link to the content on your site. 

Link Building Tactics

There are multiple ways you can work on link building. You can guest blog on other websites by providing high-quality content that relates directly to your audience. You can also target a directory or list of top publications and send them relevant content that you have created on your website. 

You can also reclaim any links on your site that fail to provide any SEO value by improving the content. You can even find broken links on other websites and contact the webmaster with your own alternative content to post in place of the broken link. 

Define Your Audience

Use these questions to help determine your target audience:

  • Who is your current audience?
  • What does your ideal audience look like?
  • What sites do they visit?
  • What groups are they in?
  • What magazines do they read?
  • What Facebook pages do they like? 

Appeal to Your Audience

The best way you can appeal to your audience is to write amazing content that is purposeful and intentional. Research how your audience consumes content (e.g. video, audio, blogs, etc.) and find websites that match your niche and relate to the topics you cover. Contact these sites to write about your products and services. You should also pay attention to where your audience hangs out and be present in those places. You can even use social media to expose your content to your target audience. 

What Makes for a Good Link

  • Domain Strength is the cumulative value of an entire domain, usually displayed as Domain Authority or on a homepage as Page Authority
  • Page Strength – Calculated by Google and based on the number and quality of links pointing to a webpage, Page Strength runs on a scale from 0-10 with 10 being the highest.
  • Anchor Text can give Google an indication of the subject matter of the webpage being linked to. Google can then use this information as part of its ranking algorithms.
  • Number of Links – The raw number of links pointing to your site. This is considered to be a strong ranking signal. Make sure your links are from quality websites. 
  • Relevance of Linking Page – This can help convert visitors into leads. Be intentional on where these links are placed and what content they visit.

Avoid practices like buying and selling links and don’t waste your time trying to link to low-quality sites. Remember, when it comes to link building, the goal is quality over quantity. Links to a few high-quality, reputable websites are more valuable than dozens of links to low-quality websites. 

Important Definitions

URL
Uniform Resource Locator, used to reference a specific resource on the internet

Domain Name
The friendly name used to locate an organization or other entity on the internet

Domain Name System (DNS)
The internet’s system of converting alphanumeric names (domain names) into numeric IP Addresses

Web Hosting
A business that provides the technologies needed for the website or webpage to be viewed while using the internet

Web Server
A computer that runs websites

Website
A collection of related pages published on a web server

Webpage
A page that is visited or viewed using a web browser

Webmaster
A person who is responsible for the creation or maintenance of a website for a specific organization or company 

Website Architecture
The approach used to design and plan a website to meet both business and user needs

Hypertext Markup Language (HTML)
Standard markup language used to display webpage on the internet 

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)
Used to format the layout of webpages

JavaScript (JS)
Programming language used in web development, used to enhance interactive effects within web browsers

Page Load Speed
The time it takes to download and display the entire content of a webpage in the browser window (measured in seconds)

Content Delivery Network (CDN)
A group of servers strategically placed across the globe with the purpose of delivering static content to users much faster (CSS, JavaScript and images)

Varnish Cache
HTTP accelerator designed for content heavy dynamic websites that speeds up the delivery of content with a factor of 300-1000x

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