The point of search engine optimization, SEO for short, is to increase the chances that a search engine like Google or Bing will show your website, or a specific piece of content on the site, when a user conducts a search for information that is somewhat related to the goods, products, or services your businesses provide.
It works through a combination of activities like increasing your page-loading speed on mobile devices, researching keywords, and laying out your content, and its headings, in a clear structure that will trigger the search engine to consider serving the page as a result to the user and that will answer the question that drew the user to the search engine in the first place.
What is on-page SEO?
On-page SEO refers to activities you do on the specific page itself to optimize it. Things like structuring the content with appropriate meta tags and descriptions, ensuring the target keyword is in the title and content headings, and answering the user’s query with high-quality content. The idea here is primarily to focus on optimizing the specific page to the best of its ability for the keyword(s) you are looking to cover with the post.
What is off-page SEO?
Off-page SEO refers to things that affect your website’s domain authority such as the links that pages of your site receive or your technology stack and its efficiency in rendering your website and content quickly on mobile. The idea here is that off-page has less to do with a specific post and more with your entire management system.
How do you do SEO marketing?
Search Engine marketing is the idea that you can use content to answer a user’s search question, and provide a result, establishing yourself as an expert in something the user probably doesn’t actually want to take care of personally, presenting you with an opportunity to upsell the user on your solution.
Sometimes it can be more indirect than that by just using content that is discussing things topically related to your business and trying to get users into your CRM by collecting their contact information to re-engage them later.
The strategy has worked because search engines rely on the words and phrases that are listed on a page to try and determine how well your page answers the question that users searched, but they also rely on technical details like how fast your page loads on the user’s phone.
SEO marketing has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. We remember when black-hat tactics like buying backlinks, and writing spammy, keyword-laden content that was incoherent to the end user, actually worked to drive organic traffic to your website.
With the advent of natural language processing, NLP, an engineering process has emerged of pairing semantics analysis with Bayesian observation matrices to enable these search engines to read a page’s content like a person and deduce the topic it belongs to. After categorizing the topic, it observes what users do after viewing the content to determine whether or not it was helpful in answering their question.
While all of these changes have been in the spirit and name of providing a better user experience, some of the other changes to the listing results page have been to Google and Bing’s financial benefit.
What was once simply the text snippets of the most qualified page ranks, best to worst with a couple of ads on the side, has morphed into a sponsored content feed containing multitudes of ad placements, knowledge panels, and miscellaneous results like products, images, videos, recipes, and maps that entice the user away from their original journey. This results in most organic results and listings appearing below the fold and out of consideration for the vast majority of users.
SEO like everything else is now primarily dominated by a pay-to-play mentality, and we believe this has forced SEO marketing concepts to collapse and reorganize into a combination of three separate activities:
- Technology Management – Optimizing your technology stack to serve your content in as efficient a manner as possible so that users have the best experience on whatever platform or network speed access they have.
- Content Marketing – Identifying topics relevant to your business and planning out a content strategy that you can then augment with keyword research to expand the coverage of your content and make sure that you clearly and concisely answer the searcher’s question.
- Paid Advertising – Leveraging your optimized technology stack with page-speed-loading efficiencies on mobile, your keyword-optimized content library, and the search engine’s dynamic advertising features, you can efficiently drive users to your site with a predictable cost and regularity, and have the secondary benefit of boosting that post’s organic visibility if the metrics provided by the paid traffic increase subject matter authority enough to leapfrog the existing content.
We do not see SEO alone, as a viable marketing strategy for most businesses, given that the content space is already saturated with low-quality, high-ranking content that answers the highest-volume, most common questions. However, the principles of SEO help reduce the cost of your paid advertising and are worth investing in for that reason alone; and if some of your content hits on a long-tail edge case keyword and answers that question well, it sure can help the rest of your other pages to start ranking higher if you don’t have the technical impediments weighing you down.
What is Black Hat SEO?
Black Hat SEO are tactics that try to exploit areas of how the search algorithms work to cheat your way to the top of the listings page. The most common approaches to Black Hat SEO have been buying links to point to your site in order to increase domain authority, and keyword packing, but also include things like reporting your competitors’ pages. All of these activities can have profoundly negative consequences on your own site or business, and are now easily detected by their systems. We do not recommend playing in the shadows.
What is White Hat SEO?
White Hat SEO is the conceptual opposite of Black Hat SEO, which is basically just exploiting how the search algorithms work, but in a way that’s a win-win for everyone. These tactics include structuring your meta data better, using content servers to deliver large media-based assets, caching systems, and reduced-code libraries all in the hopes of improving page speed. We highly recommend these approaches.
What are the benefits of SEO?
In 2022 the primary benefits of SEO have more to do with the cost-saving advantages in your paid advertising channels than your organic search visibility. That doesn’t mean content targeting long-tail keyword searches couldn’t pierce the veil and help drag all your content’s individual page ranks up eventually, but it would be a slow process.
Because Google’s algorithms for advertising, much like its organic search result algorithms, are tailored towards driving a user to a specific outcome, many of the ranking factors are shared between them. Making fast mobile-landing speed times and content that matches the user search, or at least the call to action messaging in the ad unit, as prerequisites to performing with high confidence in the system.
Higher confidence means lower costs.
Let’s Begin With Keyword Research
What are keywords?
The easiest way to think of keywords is to think about how you, yourself, search for things on Google. Sometimes it’s a brand name or concept like ‘Nike’ or ‘movie theater’, in the hopes of getting to the latest Nike shoe drop or seeing what’s playing at your nearest cinema. Though they also include straight-up questions as if the results are another person who can answer us.
Keywords then are the shortcut words, phrases, and questions that help us to navigate the internet quickly to the valuable content that will fulfil our request.
How do you choose the right keywords?
Now we won’t say there isn’t a way to choose the wrong keywords, but it’s pretty hard to go wrong deciding what keywords to target if you are somewhat familiar with the topics associated with your business. If that’s not the case, there are likely larger issues to address within your business.
Start by using a keyword planning tool, Google provides one right in their ad interface, allowing you to see the monthly search volume and the average CPCs that people are paying to obtain a click on their result from a paid placement.
How do you see competition for those keywords?
CPCs, or cost-per-click, tend to be the clearest indicators of competition on keywords. Once a keyword has a price associated with it, the visibility becomes a pay-to-play environment. You can predict the cost you are going to have to pay on an article directed at the topic and the sort of traffic involved with it. By using industry-specific standard traffic conversion rates, we can model all sorts of activities associated with revenues and profit.
There is opportunity in building brand authority in the long-tail keywords; things with between 500 and 10,000 monthly searches. There will often be some CPCs associated with it, but even then it will be a mix of organic and paid traffic in the result because it’s unsaturated.
In our eyes however, much of the organic visibility earned on search engines like Google is dead. Businesses have discovered how to take advantage of pairing advertising with their content posts to win on the same terms that SEO content strategies claim to support. The user doesn’t scroll past the four links of which at most one to three organic posts are considered above the fold for sure, it’s a tease of the true search engine results.
What is search intent?
Search intent is the idea that when a user is searching on Google, there are many more factors to consider than the literal keywords they type in. Because Google collects detailed profiles of all the users that flow through its network, it can decipher the difference between users searching for Pedialyte to cure their hangover and the ones purchasing for their sick toddler, and can present hangover cures instead of dealing with sick child suggestions in the results. Search intent is precisely why we advocate that quality of content matters and that tailoring the voice of the post to your ideal audience is a part of the SEO process that you cannot skimp on.
One Quick Hack for Selecting the Best Keywords
Analyze help forums in your industry or customer segment. It could be anything from an imageboard to a Facebook group. Look at the questions they are asking and take them to a keyword planning tool like the one provided natively in the Google Ads platform. Answer these questions thoroughly and in a voice that resonates with this community.
Next, Let’s Talk About Content
Quality content counts
We cannot emphasize this point enough when it comes to search engine optimization. Once you’ve invested in the requisite groundwork to have a strong technical SEO, you do not want to be taking any shortcuts when it comes to content production. The changes that have recently been made to the search engine algorithms will regard the highest-quality user content with the top organic slots, because their number one priority in that feed is to present the content that will best answer the user’s individual question, taking into account such potential nuances as their individual demographic details when deciding what content to present. You can always pay your way to the top, but again cutting corners on content will show in your inflated cost-per-click during the ad placement auctions.
Who is the content intended for?
This should be an important question that is incorporated into your content development strategy, because you are writing directly to that audience you want to engage. So it may mean writing posts in different ‘voices’ from basic to expert, and a range of tones from formal to informal in whatever is most effective at getting your main point across to the intended reader.
It’s important to keep content current
Using SEO as a perfect example, 20 years ago I would have been writing about how to take advantage of search engines to benefit your business and the main points would have been writing about the importance of getting backlinks and keyword stuffing, things that aren’t presently useful.
I’m not saying that an evergreen topical blog, sharing only reactionary commentary needs to be combed through, but your cornerstone pieces which answer critical knowledge gaps and drive a lot of valuable traffic to your site need to remain relevant to answering the question. It’s worth at least doing a sweeping read-through once and year and seeing if anything doesn’t still hold true or if a new utility has popped up to make your piece even more useful.
Here are 5 steps to create quality content
- Write from your topics of expertise first.
- Ask your customers or audience members for questions that they have about your business, and answer them like they know nothing about your business.
- Use tools like Clearscope to ensure that your post has strong keyword coverage and readability for your intended audience.
- Write with a partner. Neither of you needs to be a particularly strong writer, just to have enough savvy about grammar, spelling, and how it sounds when you read it out loud to help you rewrite your content and make it clearer.
- Hire bloggers or influencers who are already producing quality content for your audience to make content for you. We know a bunch here at Walk on Holdings 😉
Moving On, It’s Time to Discuss HTML
Without geeking out too much, we’ll just leave it that HTML is the programming language used to identify and layout different parts of the website, and when paired with CSS you get beautiful web pages like the one you are looking at now.
When it comes to SEO, these HTML code fragments add structure to the computer’s understanding of your content, primarily when it comes to Headings, Paragraphs, Links, and Lists, whether ordered or not. Search engines can now use many of these elements in the Knowledge Panels that save the user from needing to even open your site to see the answer, but also help them get to the search engine to “jump” the user directly to the part of the content that addresses the query.
Also the various Heading sizes can be thought of as like keyword flags, because this helps to emphasize the importance of them to the post to both readers and search engine algorithms.
What are title tags?
When you are on a web-browser, I am on Chrome, and looking at the page tab of whatever website I’m currently on, it will show the Page Title. Page Titles are managed using the title tag and are basically like the loudest heading tag the page will have in terms of importance for SEO.
What is a meta description?
When you see the search engine results page returned, you often see a snippet of text beneath the title of the page, and that is a meta description. If you don’t set a meta description for the page, most search engines will use the first 25 words of the content piece to create a description for you, but trust us, that is not the optimal way to go about it.
What is Schema?
It’s one of those buzzwords that lots of people say and always seem to be used differently when contexts change, but most commonly schema in SEO refers to the structure of your website and ensuring you provide an XML sitemap, a type of instructions, to help search engines find the pages of your site.
Schema can also refer to things like the structure of HTML elements on a single page, which SEO maximalists will insist is more than a best practice for managing meta tags.
The easiest way to understand a scheme is to think of it as a map to help computers navigate data.
What are subheadings?
They are headings that are increasingly less important as the numbers increase.
- H1 header tags are not subheadings, and should only be used once on a single page; some people even think that you should really only use them once on the homepage of the website, but we call it superstitious.
- H2 can used two to three times per page, but seriously a maximum of five. And yes that block quote would put you at six. People tend to overuse H2 so I’m over-emphasizing this, less is more.
- H3 are genuine Sub-Headings to the focal titles you placed on the page with the H2s. Remember if you are writing a novel, it’s better to give them their own separate pages as people prefer succinct writing to long-drawn-out posts.
- H4-H99. I don’t know, ask a graphic designer, I’m pretty sure it’s purely aesthetic related once you get past H4.
What is Alt Text?
It’s SEO for pictures. It’s a special SEO tag that allow image search engines to index the file and serve based on keyword queries. Essentially if you want people to find your site because you have great images you should have alt texts filled out with descriptive keywords, especially for ecommerce sites with lots of product imagery.
What is the URL Slug?
Truthfully this would be better answered with a picture just circling the answer out of the url, but it is the filename of the webpage.
It is usually very descriptive, and almost-human-readable, if not for the hyphens but ends before the question mark that signifies the start of all the tracking cookies.
Website Architecture is Key
Website architecture begins with your technology stack and the tools that you choose to deliver your website. From our perspective the most important things to consider are content delivery speed, especially on mobile devices, as well as the mobile design renderings. Google suggests that utilizing AMP, or accelerated mobile pages, is the most effective way to accomplish this, but there are few entry-level options out there to facilitate this choice.
WordPress and Shopify are among the most common content management systems that we see being adopted by the latest companies, because their ecosystems provide means to create websites without the need for costly webmasters weighing down your costs, but the tradeoff here has more to do with the limitations in the ability to optimize your technology stack over time.
At the end of the day, these optimizations only really help existing businesses reduce their cost more than they provide an immediate competitive advantage to the visibility of smaller upstart sites.
What are web crawlers?
Website crawlers are little mini code robots that companies like Google and Microsoft have created to regularly crawl websites to read the organized content and determine which queries and sections can be used for delivery in different user search queries.
How do you make your website easy to crawl?
First make sure that you don’t have robots.txt installed on the site or specific page in question, it’d be highly uncommon if it were, but this tag basically just tells the bots not to include the page in search engine results ever, effectively making it private to those without the URL path already known to them.
Assuming that weird edge case isn’t inhibiting your website’s discoverability, then having well-structured content that uses the various Paragraph and Headings tags to organize information related to your keyword research into logical sections will go a long way to increasing visibility on the page content.
Is it good to have duplicate content?
In short, duplicate content is a bad thing, but it has a very specific definition not related to having many posts that write about overlapping keywords in different ways. Duplicate content refers specifically to when you literally post the exact same content written on another site as your own, trying to pass it off as such. The indexes are aware of when the content was created and will easily be able to see your plagiarism for what it is. Many RSS feed aggregator sites have issues with precisely this content requirement, which is why adding the canonical HTML tag to a post that is duplicated content from elsewhere will help to prevent any negative SEO repercussions from distributing content on your site that doesn’t belong to you.
How should I make my website mobile-friendly?
If you are using a website builder on CMS like Shopify or WordPress, most of the themes and options available to you should have adapted designs that respond well for mobile. Mobile is all about leveraging the limited screen space you have to effectively display your content. Ad placements on mobile can really detract from the readership experience and usability of your content, however they are something most users have learned to deal with and accept. Beyond limiting your ad placements to minimize disruption to the content consumption, you should ensure that all content pieces render correctly on the range of screen sizes available and choose fonts, font sizes, and image sizes that increase the clarity of content consumption.
Let’s Take a Closer Look at Links
What is link building?
We’ve touched on this less formally above, but link building is the act of enhancing your domain authority, and establishing the usability of your content, by having external links provided to a piece of content on your site from other websites.
Essentially SERPs will recognize when other websites with established domain authority, meaning they have really strong SEO practices themselves, with content users trust, re-share links to content on your website. It provides a sort of goodwill halo that uses their brand to anoint yours.
Back during the Wild West days of SEO, one of the common things to do was buy links through bots that would comment your posts onto the posts of major domains in the space, but the search engines caught onto this practice and now ding your website if they see predatory practices like this propagating links to your site. Like every point we keep getting back to here, quality is the differentiator.
There’s an additional activity to consider from an SEO standpoint when it comes to link building, and that is internal links. Internal linking is the process of deliberately linking to other pages or posts of your site, natively through the content itself, and in the navigation you provide to your users.
One of the best internal linking strategies I’ve seen involves using anchor text links to drive directly to specific pieces of information or content on your site that speak directly to another post and contextualize it in more detail.
More internal links means more chances for users to discover more helpful content on your site that will increase your domain expertise on the subject. I think of it in terms of Wikipedia and how it uses internal linking to draw you further into exploring the pages that site provides. You can get lost in rabbit holes of content consumption and reading if you aren’t careful, and that’s great from an SEO perspective.
Be careful who you link to
Just as important to who’s linking to you is who you are linking to. Using low-quality PPC partners to monetize or subsidize your content, or just redirecting to a source with low domain authority and poor website practices will reflect poorly on the domain authority of your site.
If you are using questionable monetization partners, try to reduce the number of links on your site so that they represent a smaller portion of your outbound traffic to minimize the risk on your domain’s own authority.
You can combat comment spam with nofollow
To prevent third-party bots from abusing the comments section of your posts, we tend not to invite users to comment directly on the source page, but instead suggest that they share the post to the appropriate communities across social media for feedback from their peers. Utilizing the Facebook post commenting plugin is a great way for WordPress sites to filter all comments through users with Facebook accounts and provides the added feedback of social visibility to your channel.
Comment sections are often more trouble than they are worth from a potential user harassment standpoint, but they also can provide valuable insights as a social listening mechanism to gauge a pulse of your readership.
If you do choose to implement a comment section, you can utilize the nofollow functionality of most blogging software to help reduce the negative impact of bots commenting on your posts and hijacking domain authority from your site.
Optimizing Images Is Important
Just like with written SEO, image optimization is part technical and part keyword focused and oriented.
The technical parts are pretty clear and simple in principle, but harder to execute without a technical team to support you.
The first set of technical improvements revolves around file choices like .JPEG and .PNG, which are lighter-weight than computationally heavily formats like .GIF, .SVG, and obviously .MP4.
Beyond smart choices of file types, maximizing the compression of the image without reducing the quality is an important step toward minimizing file size. I brought up .MP4 because the idea or concept applies to all media.
The true alpha strategy would be to leverage a content server optimized for delivering that form of media, separate from the servers that render your site, which sort of feels like a hybrid of all of the above, and it is, but that’s why you’d need a strong technical team to execute it, and it’s not an option for most small businesses.
One of the quickest hacks to maximize the value of the images is to leverage the alt description to keyword pack on image SERP that you’d like to show up on for your product. Google is even working to provide ways to actually tag products within your product imagery to help train its AI to make image SERP even better, so this is an optimization strategy worth looking further into.
How to use HTML images
The image tag or attribute in HTML works the same as any other software program. It presents the opportunity to display images somewhere specific within the content. The image the tag points at could be static or dynamically populated using a scripting language, but the key is to make sure that your media is well organized, making it easily discoverable by crawlers, and utilizing all the meta characteristics possible to present the most context for the media and maximize the chance that it will get served.
How to use the alt attribute
We covered this above, but the alt attribute or alt text is what enables the search engine to associate the image with search engine keywords and themes. Image recognition software is continuing to make this item less of a requirement, but often the tools to help visually impaired individuals navigate the internet use the alt text description to describe the image to the individual and failure to have that level of support can leave your property open to lawsuits due to lack of compliance with ADA regulations.
How to help search engines find your images
A well organized and labeled media folder system for the images, in addition to leveraging available meta tags that describe your content, will increase the discoverability of them on search engines. A site map that includes a pointer to your media content buckets wouldn’t be the worst thing to include.
Here are the formats you should use
- Image Files: .jpeg, .png
- Video Files: YouTube, or video host, with a lazy loaded embedded player on site and a title cover image over top
- Music Files: a lazy loaded embedded player, same as video
What are Google’s EAT Guidelines?
Back in 2014, because of much of the Black Hat SEO industry that had blossomed over the prior decade, Google decided to introduce some best practices that would help website publishes gamify SEO in a way that was considerably more White Hat in nature, meaning reputable growth hacking.
One of the founders of Clearscope actually provides a strong video explanation of how he believes EAT guidelines are changing under natural language processing algorithms, and Google’s latest approach to advertising in general, which revolves around relying on the contextual nature of content on sites rather than user specific metrics to drive performance.
The TL;DR is that EAT still matters, but it matters because the principles of it are always important to producing quality content. Users prefer familiarity, so they flock to brands or domains with an established authority because they’ve liked the information they’ve gotten from them in the past, creating a virtuous feedback cycle in they eyes of Google search console, of sharing expertise and gaining trust over time.
EAT plays to the intangibles of the SEO process regarding quality.
Google is intentionally vague about what goes into calculating an EAT score, but the acronym itself is very telling about what it’s attempting to quantify; they are looking at the quality of your content from three lenses:
- Expertise – your websites’, or your own, credentials for making the claims that you are in the post they are considering. This is the most declarative component, but you should be demonstrating this through a consistent choice of topics to post about, or through calling it out directly to the reader in multiple places on the site.
- Authority – this appears to most closely be associated with the back links, and the quality of the sources linking to your site. I think of it as Clout, you get more of it when those with it already extend just a little bit of it your way.
- Trust – This seems more to do with the reputation and behavior of your websites domain. Having email addresses associated with it being flagged for spam, or websites with plagiarized posts score low on trust here.
Here are ways to improve your EAT score:
Align your content with your target audience and present it in the clearest way possible to them. Sometimes it’s even worth getting feedback from the specific audience on how you can improve the quality of the concepts you are trying to communicate in your posts to improve the ability of the content to address the search queries they were set up to target.
How to determine if your website is on Google
You’ve done all the hard work in planning and executing your SEO strategy so making sure you show up on Google is essential. The quickest and easiest way to see if your website is on Google is to search for it by name and seeing where it shows up in the results. You can do this from an incognito browser to estimate the effects of a user Google knows nothing about to see how the results change. You can pay for tools like Yoast SEO, Clearscope, SEM rush and others that can tell you how strong particular pages are from an SEO standpoint that would all alert you in their own way if for some reason pages weren’t being indexed.
How do I get my site on Google?
Through tools Google provides like Google Analytics, Google Ads, or Google My Business, you are presented with the opportunity to register your domain name with Google Search Console. Claiming it as the owner and providing a declarative interest to Google, that they should index the site in their search results.
An added benefit for registering your website with Google My Business is regarding local SEO traffic, and the advantages of having your physical location included in Google maps, mostly because of the extra visibility and property that it provides you on the search engine results page when people are looking for a solution local to them that you provide.
How to promote your website
Promote Your Website on Social Media
Just like tailoring your content to your audience is important, selecting the social media channels you choose to distribute your content on involves a lot of critical thought in order to produce quality outcomes. It helps to think about who will be consuming the content, where they already hang out on the internet, and what types of things they are involved in on that channel. You are looking for enough overlap to give your brand, and its voice, a chance to make inroads in the community it was created for, and can be a virtuous growth mechanism when done correctly.
For example, sharing consumer-facing brands on LinkedIn makes little sense unless you are talking about it from the perspective of a business operator because the brand has little context to be presented in a professional online community otherwise; it’s simply not why the users are on the platform.
Small niche platforms, and even large niche platforms like Twitter, appeal to specific audiences that can be leveraged for growth hacking.
One of the most important things is ensuring that your content and posts are optimized for Open Graph, which is how social media channels use the tags from your SEO to present the content more natively on their platform.
Reach out to community influencers
This is just a different flavor of link building. Like social media channels, you are looking for a strong fit between the influencer you partner with and their audience to ensure that they position the advantage of your company in a way that makes sense to their audience and is mutually beneficial. For many green influencers, these partnerships can also be unpaid just simply by offering free product trials to them in exchange for a public testimonial.
Digital marketing presents a host of tools you can leverage to create marketing campaigns to promote your website. Check out our article on paid media to jumpstart your channel strategy planning.
How to analyze your SEO
Evaluating search engine rankings and how search engines work is clearly a complex and convoluted endeavor. There is no quick or correct way to evaluate your search traffic and ensure quality SEO work has been done, but we believe that if you follow our above line of reasoning for how to approach the work, you will be able to maximize the value of the SEO work you do.
When it comes to evaluating our own SEO, we primarily use Google Page Speed Insights in order to find suggestions for how we can improve technical performance, while we primarily use Google Analytics to evaluate the performance of individual posts from month to month, looking for an increase in metrics like average time spent on page, and unique page views, which are highly correlated as signals for content quality.
- Clearscope – a text editor that evaluates your keyword coverage and the competitive nature of your post in real time against the latest top-ranking articles for that keyword.
- SEMRush – a keyword research program that provides users with keyword competition and coverage to plan content strategies accordingly.
- Yoast SEO – a WordPress Plugin that scores the posts on a variety of metrics after you’ve chosen a keyword for the focus of the content page.
If there were any all-encompassing tutorial to magically make SEO easy, someone probably would have turned it into a software system already. In 2022 SEO is primarily two separate activities with wildly different skillsets, content production and technical infrastructure optimization. You will need to invest in both of them, but content quality is probably the most accessible to most business owners just getting started.