Without targeted traffic your website might as well not exist.
Which is costing your business dearly. A well optimised website is an invaluable marketing asset. It builds brand awareness. It reaches people around the world. It gives a competitive advantage. And it attracts new customers.
But most neglect to acknowledge this fact.
Or resort to shady search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques designed to manipulate rankings. Many of these tactics including keyword stuffing and link building schemes actually worked until Google released major updates to their ranking algorithm.
Panda and Penguin.
These updates shook the online landscape. The changes penalised low quality websites in order to provide the most relevant results. And it proved the importance of on-page factors including content and site structure.
But this is also a good thing.
It raised quality standards. It forced many to acknowledge that quality reigns supreme. The only issue is the sheer amount of information available for SEO. Most business owners naturally feel confused about where to even start.
There are numerous factors which determine where a page ranks in the search engines and SEO helps to make sense of it all.
4 Crucial SEO Ranking Factors
Constant search engine updates and increased competition means that SEO is a continuous process. It requires consistent effort to rank for target keywords. But doing so gives a serious competitive advantage by building a solid foundation.
SEO can be broken down into four parts.
1. Keyword Research
2. Site Development (On-Page SEO)
3. Link Building (Off-Page SEO)
Websites must be able to combine these factors to be successful online. They form the basis of a powerful online marketing strategy.
1. Keyword Research
Not all keywords are equal.
Some will convert more than others. But attempting to rank for every keyword related to your business is highly ineffective. Otherwise you could be wasting time optimising for a keyword with little potential.
Identifying relevant keywords from the start is crucial. And ranking on top of the results for these keywords results in targeted traffic for your business.
Three types of search queries are most prevalent.
Transactional: The intent behind this type of search is to complete a transaction. Keywords such as “buy”, “reviews” or “shop” often signal commercial intent as the searcher is at the end of the buying cycle.
Informational: Informational search queries aim to seek specific information from learning how to do something to looking up movie times. This type of search could also lead to a sale.
Navigational: The purpose of navigational queries is to find a specific website such as a photo sharing service or a shopping website for books.
So which keywords should your business target?
All of them.
Targeting all three types of search queries ultimately leads to more targeted traffic and it also builds more trust from a search engine standpoint. Websites that are purely commercial rarely provide value.
But websites that provide value through informational content naturally acquire back links and rank for more keywords as a result.
Build a Keyword List
The next step is to build a list of keywords. One of the best resources available for keyword research is the Google AdWords tool.
The traffic figures are simply estimates and should never be taken at face value. Start by brainstorming keywords relevant to your industry and include them on a spreadsheet for competition analysis.
If you have a real estate business in Sydney, then attempting to rank for “real estate” would be counterproductive. Optimising your website for “real estate in Sydney” would yield better results in addition to “buy a home in Sydney” or “realtor in New South Wales”.
Careful consideration needs to be taken here. The key is to find some middle ground as highly trafficked keywords tend to be too competitive to rank for while keywords with low search volumes tend to be a waste of time.
2. Site Development (On-Page SEO)
Search engines rely on complex algorithms to deliver the most relevant results based on a search query. But your website needs to be properly structured so all pages can be indexed.
On-page SEO refers to factors on your website that you have complete control over including your content and structure. Optimising these factors can result in significant increases in your rankings. But it can also result in penalties if you overdo it.
The Google Penguin update specifically targeted websites that attempted to manipulate their rankings through shady practices such as keyword stuffing. The result was poorly written content at the expense of attempting to rank high for competitive keywords.
And it also completely ignored the fact that behind every search is a real person. SEO is focused with increasing rankings but quality should never be sacrificed.
A better approach is to focus on providing value with your website. And then edit the pages afterward by optimising the following.
Your title is perhaps the most important On-Page SEO ranking factor. It won’t immediately result in ranking number one but it matters more than you think.
Be mindful of the length as Google truncates the title if it exceeds 70 characters. Every page should have its own unique title with the primary keywords you are attempting to rank for; the title tag tells users and Google what the page is about; therefore Google places a lot of credence in the words of your title tag.
It also needs to be written to appeal to visitors and to offer a compelling reason to visit. Your title is what others see in the search results and can mean the difference between new visitors clicking through or going to a competing page.
Page headers do not carry as much weight as they used to but they are still beneficial to include. Research has shown that people rarely read all the text on a webpage. They skim to get the most important information.
And including headings helps to improve readability by breaking up blocks of text. “One secret of great copy writers is to tell the entire story of the page in the headlines, so even if your users only read the headlines. They will still have all the information they need to enquire for more or convert into a sale”.
Adding <h1> and <h2> tags also helps structure content and presents a perfect opportunity to include relevant keywords. The important thing is to include variation in a natural way and to not force the keywords in.
Meta Description Tags
Each page must have its own meta description. Search engines use this information to provide a snippet of your page in the search results.
Just like the title, the meta description should be written in a way that clearly describes what the page is about and why visitors should click through. It also needs to be kept to between 150 to 160 characters.
Websites with purely text on them are intimidating. Formatting is just as important as the actual content, if not more so. Pages that include images are generally much easier to read and engage visitors.
Search engines cannot actually read images but using the ALT attribute helps to better identify them. These tags should be written as short descriptions with just one or two keywords.
3. Link Building (Off Page SEO)
Backlinks are at the heart of Google’s ranking algorithm. All else being equal, a page with a thousand backlinks is more likely to rank higher than a page with a hundred.
But many webmasters quickly caught on and artificially boosted their rankings through link building schemes.
And one thing the Google Penguin update did was penalise the rankings of those websites that had a link building profile from questionable sources.
Backlinks are still an important ranking factor but the approach required now has significantly changed. Building hundreds of links through directory submissions or blog commenting may have worked well in the past but doing so now is risky.
How to Build Quality Backlinks
Links from trusted and authority websites have the most impact. Most websites fail to acquire these links mainly because of the effort involved. And this is where you can gain a competitive SEO advantage.
Guesting posting: Webmasters often struggle to come up with topic ideas for their blogs. And most are more than willing to provide a link to your website in exchange for a guest post. But it needs to be of high quality to be accepted.
Content marketing: One of the best ways to build links is to regularly post quality content onto your own website. The key is to provide valuable and useful information. Doing so will lead to natural links from other webmasters to those pages.
This is easier said than done; however either hiring someone to help you with this or investing your own time to learn how to create high value content will pay profitable long term dividends in many ways.
Social media engagement: Social media marketing cannot be ignored. New data shows that social sharing signals are directly correlated to higher rankings in the search engines. Sharing content and being active with your community is highly effective in building quality links.
Please take note this doesn’t only mean having a nice looking fan page with content on it; your audience needs to be engaging with you and talking about your brand. Which means your social community needs to be commenting on your content, liking it and sharing it.
A quick tip to get this moving along much faster is to go and add to other businesses fan pages that share the same market as you, yet don’t compete for the same dollar by liking, commenting on and sharing their content. Then direct message the business to start a conversation and request the same help in return; most will be more than willing. This leads to more than just a quality engaged community, it can also lead to new partners and revenue.
Before Getting Started
Link building is rarely a straightforward process. And the results can take weeks or even months to fully materialize depending on competition levels.
You could have the best intentions but you could also inadvertently penalise your website. There are important considerations before getting started.
Anchor text: This refers to the text contained in a hyperlink to your website. It tells Google what the page being linked to is about. But keyword variations should also be included. Sending too many backlinks with the same anchor text raises a huge red flag. The anchor text should always be varied to avoid penalties.
Link diversity: Relying on a single source of backlinks can see your entire marketing efforts crumble if Google decides to value it. And this is largely what happened when webmasters saw their rankings tank. They relied too heavily on one link building method.
Link velocity: SEO is a process that takes time. Building a high quantity of backlinks seems tempting but it is also a common spamming technique. Links should initially be built at a steady pace throughout amarketing campaign.
PageRank: PageRank (PR) is a scale from 1 to 10 that refers to the authority of a website. The higher the number, the stronger the page is. There is no shortage of link building services that sell backlinks from high PR pages. Buying links can carry serious repercussions as it deliberately manipulates search engine rankings.
Building links to your pages requires considerable effort. Doing so increases your rankings and builds your authority in the search engines.
The most important aspect of SEO marketing is to always focus on providing value.
Without analytics you would have no idea how your campaigns are performing. The data it provides is absolutely crucial to measure return on investment (ROI).
Analytics allows you to determine:
- Which keywords bring in traffic
- Which pages bring in the most revenue
- Which websites send the most traffic
- Where visitors are coming from
- How visitors are behaving
- Split testing results on landing pages
And more. Analytics helps to evaluate marketing campaigns and determines where efforts should be focused. Losses in traffic levels or a reduction in sales can also easily be identified. This information is absolutely invaluable to assess where improvements can be made.
This data combined with Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) will essentially transform your website into a conversion powerhouse. But you first need to understand exactly what is going on behind the scenes to make an informed business decision.
SEO has changed significantly just in the last 12 months alone with a heavy emphasis on quality and is projected to change even more in the following 12 to 24 months. You might hold top rankings for your main keywords but keeping them requires continuous marketing, education and staying a breast of the market trends.
Otherwise your competitors could easily take those rankings from you.
SEO is a crucial part of marketing but it also shouldn’t be your only marketing plan. Being competitive online and attracting new customers requires a comprehensive strategy that brings everything together.
But it all starts with building a solid foundation with the four SEO ranking factors above.