Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Table of Contents
The art of ensuring a website bubbles up to the first page of the Google search results for designated search terms (keywords) is what search engine optimization is all about. Ensuring said website hits one of the “olympic” spots – first, second, or third (gold, silver, bronze) is the holy grail of SEO. When creating your website, attention to SEO is critical throughout the entire process and forever after.
Bear in mind there are three main parts of this puzzle. The website you’re trying to rank, the keywords you’re trying to rank it for, and how other websites view your website.
So saying your site ranks first on Google really doesn’t mean anything if you can’t qualify that statement with useful (and valuable) keywords.
“My site ranks on the first page on Google for the keyword ancient dog paranoia of the Ming Dynasty” means very little because really, who is searching for that? Sure, you can spin up a site and probably rank for that tomorrow. But ranking for something valuable is more difficult and the competition can be very strong.
It’s also important to note that there are two more considerations and they are “on page” and “off page” SEO.
On Page SEO is what you do to your website to let Google know it’s relevance. This is 100% within your control and must be given a good bit of consideration.
Off Page SEO is how other websites interact with your site, linking to it with good strong links (hopefully). This is partially within your control.
You can ask for links, you can comment on blogs with a backlink, you can even buy links back to your site but the best approach to improving your off page SEO is to have a very strong site with excellent content that other people find and want to link back to. Pull that off, and your SEO rankings will soar.
Lets take a look at a few aspects of SEO
Aspects of search engine optimization / SEO
1. Keyword research
A critical aspect of ranking in the Google results is researching and qualifying the keywords you want to rank for.
There are number of tools to do this, some free but most are paid. Google has a free tool that provides excellent insights.
Here’s a screenshot of one of the tools I use (SEMRush). Notice the amount of detail I get just by entering in a search term – the numbered items are explained below the image.
- The term I search for: “best pizza in Atlanta”
- Local volume for this search term each month. So every month, about 4,500 people are entering this search term into Google.
- Global volume for this search term each month. Since I live in Atlanta, the local volume is fairly close to the global volume since not many people in San Diego or London are searching for “best pizza in Atlanta”.
- Keyword Difficulty – how hard it is to rank for this search term. 76% indicates there is a lot of high level competition for this search term so it will be somewhat difficult. If I have an aged and moderately well ranking site already, I could probably rank well for this term. If I’m starting a brand new website, this is out of reach for awhile.
- How many websites show up in the Search Engine results for this search term.
- Variations of the keyword I searched for. Notice the small text at the bottom indicates there are 129 keyword variations. I can click into them and check all of the same statistics as I see for this term
- More variations, this time in the form of questions
- More variations, this time in the form of related keywords
- The SERP analysis shows me the top ranking website for that term I searched for as well as how authoritative that site is, how many backlinks their page has, how much traffic it’s getting, how many other keywords the page ranks for, etc. All important information for me to make the determination if I want to try to rank for this search term or not.
I wanted to go into a good bit of detail on this as the subject of keyword research is critical but most companies don’t even realize it’s a thing.
A customer not too long ago (he owns 6 ServPro franchises) said he wants every search term regarding emergency cleanup to reflect his website in the search results. He said, specifically, “If Mary enters cleanup for sooty buildup after a fire into Google, I want Mary to see my website”. I had a bit of fun with this as I could certainly have ranked his site for that but, after I explained it made no sense to put forth the effort (how many people are going to search for exactly that?) he relented. In the end, we did some disciplined and exhaustive research on meaningful keywords (high volume and attainable) and put together a plan. He’s still a happy customer today.
So put serious thought into the keywords you want your site to rank for.
If you want to rank for “payday loans”, you have an uphill battle as that is one of the most widely used search terms (and therefore most competitive) of all time. Viagra, I guess, would rank close behind that.
Unless you have a very well established site with lots of existing positive on/off page SEO in place, it’s preferable to set your sights a little lower and then raise your sights later as your website becomes more powerful. For this, you’ll want to look into less common keywords and look at what are called “long tail” keywords – keywords with 3, 4 or more words.
For example, a keyword search for “knee pain” will find far more searches than “knee pain sitting to standing”.
The first will show a lot of hits and is much more competitive than the second.
Likewise, if you are doing SEO for a knee surgeon with offices in Atlanta, for example, it would be better to rank for “knee surgeon atlanta georgia” than for “knee surgeon”.
The second example has less competition and is more geographically targeted. It also indicates more “buyer” intent as somebody searching for “knee surgeon” might be researching a career choice or anything else. “Knee surgeon Atlanta Georgia”, however, indicates a person who is looking to have some work done.
Technically, in the above example, “knee surgeon” would be a standard keyword while “knee surgeon atlanta georgia” would be a long tail keyword.
There are tools you can (and should) use to also find more similar terms to use in your SEO efforts. Along side “knee pain” you might also want to include “patella” and “injury” in your content.
Google’s ability to understand similar phraseology these days is amazing and will reward you with higher search results when you use them.
The keywords you end up deciding on will be used in articles and posted on your site. These in depth, excellently written articles that are both easy to read and informative are the bedrock of what Google considers for ranking these days.
Gone are the days when you could just put a single search term 500 times at the bottom of your page and expect to rank. These days, Google penalizes for that kind of activity. Don’t do it. Write good, timely, relevant articles.
2. Choosing a domain name
When creating a website, there was a time when having your main search term as a part of your domain helped your SEO. These days it matters very little.
Four or five years ago, if you were trying to rank for “knee pain surgery atlanta” it would be great to buy “www.kneepainsurgeryatlanta.com”.
This is known in the industry as an “EMD”, or “Exact Match Domain” and these days, Google looks at that as a little fishy.
These days it’s much better to have a domain such as: www.drjonesorthopedics.com and then make sure the content on the page strongly supports the focus on knee surgery and/or other orthopedics.
It’s always best to opt for a “.com” name if you can find it. Don’t rule out buying an expired/expiring domain as you can inherit a lot of domain power that way.
3. Keyword density has an affect on your search engine optimization
When writing your articles, you want to keep the keywords you are trying to rank for in mind, but you don’t want to use them in a way that makes the article feel wrong. They need to be used in a way that they are a part of the natural flow of the article.
Again, in the “olden days” (several years ago) it was ok to “keyword stuff” but these days Google will penalize you for it.
Use your keywords naturally and remember that Google rewards your use of synonyms and such. The rule of thumb is that you don’t want your keyword density to rise above 3%, so if you have a 1000 word article, your keyword use should be below 30 times. You should freely use synonyms in place of your actual keyword. The SEMRush image from up above shows that most tools give you some kind of related terms to your searched for term. Pro Tip: When you type your search term into Google, Google gives you two valuable resources:
- Auto complete. When you’re typing, Google will give you a list of auto-finished search terms. These are a gold mine and you should note them and use them in your article.
- “Also searched for” entries at the bottom of the search results page. More gold, more stuff to use.
Screenshots of these are below. Probably not the best example but you get the idea. If you were entering a search term with more synonyms or related phrases, you’d get some good info.
4. Tags and titles
The title of your article is one of the single most important aspects to consider.
If your article is “knee surgery procedures”, you’ll want that to be a part of the page title AND you want to mention it verbatim within the first 100 words of the article as well as verbatim within the last 100 words of your article.
If you put yourself in Google’s shoes, remember that their #1 priority is serving up the very best results for every search. So you search for “knee surgery procedures”, you don’t get a list of sites that are about elbow surgery. If you did, Google would fail.
To do this, Google crawls all the sites and pages on the internet to find out what every site and every page on every site is about.
One of the key things they look for to help them understand what a page is about is the title of that page.
For this reason, your title should exactly reflect the keyword you are searching for, at least. It can also contain additional terms/synonyms, etc if there’s room, but at the very least, make sure the keyword you are ranking that specific page for is at the beginning of the title for that page.
Your page will eventually rank for other similar keywords, to be sure, but you want the title to be the main keyword you are trying to rank for. A quick way to determine the title of a given page is to hover over the tab of the browser as shown here:
One thing to notice about my title in the image above. What’s missing from my title is my business name. You’ll see a lot of websites that will have the business name as a part of the page titles. To me, that’s a bit of a waste of space in the title. I’d rather use that space for additional terms I’d like to rank for. Adding “SnugData” to my page titles will do what…help me rank for the search term “snugdata”? I don’t need that. I’m already #1 for that simply because nobody else is trying to rank for it. This is most likely the case for you as well.
Use keywords in the titles, not your business name.
5. Good internal linking drastically improves search engine optimization
When you want to link to other areas on your page, use keywords as the “anchor text”.
So instead of “click here” with “here” being the link, use “click on knee surgery for more information” with “knee surgery” being the link.
A link’s anchor text carries a LOT of weight with Google so don’t waste it.
You also want to ensure you mix it up a bit.
In the previous example, you can use “knee surgery” one time and maybe the URL (www.atlantakneesurgery.com) the next time. Google loves anchor text but not when it’s all identical as thousands of links all with exact same anchor text strongly implies “black hat” SEO has taken place.
So mix it up.
This applies to internal links as well as links from other sites coming back to your site (backlinks). If you think about it, you (should!) have very little control over how other folks link to your site so if there are 500 links and they all have identical anchor text, it’s very suspicious to Google.
Images in your articles help the reader understand what you explaining (a picture really is worth 1,000 words) and, at the same time, can be a bit of a black hole for Google if you don’t treat them right.
Think about those Google bots crawling your page. They are exceptionally smart at understanding the concepts and structure of your web pages by what is written but when it encounters an image, it can’t really “read” it (yet).
So those 5 images you have in your article aren’t really helping your search engine optimization efforts unless you add “alt text” to them.
Every image on every webpage has a field for alt text. This is a simple short sentence explaining what the image is about.
Google advises alt text explain the image to a person who cannot see it. This, then, becomes the way those Google bots can interpret that image and how it relates to the page overall. This therefor helps Google understand your page and more accurately rank it.
From the image above, here’s how I added it in WordPress:
Notice the alternate text of “Webpage title – Search Engine Optimization”. We already know my main keyword for this page is “search engine optimization” so I’ve included that in my alt text to help reinforce (to the Google bot!) what this page is about.
I recommend adding alt text to every one of the images you have on your web pages. Most SEO audit tools will highlight this for you if you miss some.
We’ve only scratched the surface here. Actually, we’ve only scratched the surface of a scratch. Search engine optimization is, on the surface, fairly easy to understand but as you dig in more it truly is the iceberg situation where 10% is on the surface but there’s another 90% that’s not so obvious that is out of site at first.
It’s worth noting that what you have learned on this page is, as I’ve said, a small percentage of SEO overall and yet most business owners don’t know as much as you now do. The tips here and elsewhere will enable you to elevate your website’s pages in the search results simply because most business owners don’t know about them.
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