SEO Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide

Do you know how many blog posts get published each and every day?

Any clue?

WordPress users sees over 2 million posts published every day. That’s around 24 blog posts a second.

So, by the time you read these five sentences, around 216 blog posts have been published.

And that’s just from WordPress. If we were to count all blog posts, that number would surely be higher.

This makes it kind of tough to stand out. But to make your blog successful, you must stand out.

Most blog posts involve 4 to 5 hours’ worth of writing. But the ten minutes that’s often spent optimizing each post are easily the most important.

No wonder millions of people Google the term “SEO” each month.

Most days see the simple term “SEO” searched more than 2.2 million times. And that’s only Google — to say nothing of the other search engines.

What this means is showing up on the front page of Google is important. So important it’s the deciding factor that helps a business thrive or fail.

But what exactly is SEO? What does it mean, and what is it for?

It stands for search engine optimization, but what do you need to optimize?

Do you need to optimize the design? The writing? The links.

Yes, yes, and yes — it’s all of that and more.

But let’s start this SEO guide at the beginning.

Definition: According to Wikipedia, SEO is “the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s unpaid results.”

In more layman’s terms:

Search engine optimization (SEO) is optimizing your online content so search engines will have your content be a top result when certain key words are searched.

Here’s a good example:

Let’s say you have an article about how to make cake pops. You want search engines to have your article as a top result when someone searches for the phrase “cake pop.”

SEO is what helps your article become more likely to appear on Google or Bing as a top result when someone searches for that keyword.

This is going to be a lengthy article, so this is divided into different sections. Feel free to click on any of the following for more specific SEO related material.

 

Overview

Why is SEO important to begin with?

Again, most online experiences start with a search engine, Google in particular with 75% of searchers start on that platform.

Then you add on the fact that the first five results on Google get 67% of all clicks, and you can probably understand why search engine optimization is so important.

A pretty funny Internet joke goes something like this:

If you ever need to hide a dead body, you should place it on the second page of Google search results.

While humorous, it also applies to promotions. If your work doesn’t reach the first page of Google’s search results, no one will find and read your work.

How do you show up on the first page? Well, first you need to know how search works in the first place.

How Search Works:

Google guards and protects their search algorithm well and not all of the over 200 determining factors are public. However, Backlinko did a great job of compiling as many of them as possible into one big list.

But first, there’s one important thing to remember. There are two sides of SEO, and you need to choose the one that fits you right away.

White hat vs. black hat

When it comes to search engine optimization, there are two types of people. Those who try to get rich quick. And those who are in it for the long haul.

If you want to work SEO to get rich quick, you’ll probably end up doing black hat SEO.

This type of SEO focuses on optimizing your content for search engines and nothing else. There are a lot of ways to bend and break the rules to get your sites to rank high, all of which will help you make a few thousand dollars quickly.

The down side is that this results in spammy, crappy pages that often get banned very fast, and causes severe punishment for the marketer. It essentially ruining their chance of building something sustainable in the future.

And sure, you can make some money through black hat SEO. But now you have to look out for any search engine updates and have to find creative ways to dodge the rules.

If you want to build a sustainable online business, then white hat SEO is the way to go. Instead of focusing on search engines, you now have to focus on your human audience. I’ll let you decide which is the best way to go.

With white hat SEO, you’re now giving your audience the best content possible, as well as making it more accessible to them.

Read Inbound Marketing Inc.’s explanation.

In short, you’re only going to hear me talk about white hat SEO only.

But despite my praising of white hat, this one decision doesn’t magically make things easy.

As you know, life’s not always black or white.

The same holds true for SEO. Between black and white hat SEO, there’s something in the middle.

Gray hat SEO, like its name implies, is a little white and a little black.

So, it’s not as pure or innocent as the white hat SEO, but it isn’t as manipulative as the black hat SEO.

With gray hat, you’re not trying to game the system. You are trying to get an advantage.

Google’s standards aren’t exactly clear-cut. Sometimes, the company will have contradictory statements.

For example, Google has said they’re not a fan of guest blogging to build links.

But what about guest blogging to grow your brand? What if you do it to build awareness, generate high-quality traffic back to your site, and become a household name in the industry?

Those are all legitimate reasons to guest post.

 

How to Be a Guest Blogger And Sky Rocket Your Website’s SEO Rankings

 

Some have disagreed with that argument. And that’s perfectly fine.

The fun of SEO is that it plays out like a game. And like many games, two opponents can have different methods to win and earn great results.

SEO changes all the time, as new rules get made, and technology advances.

In fact, what are considered ‘the rules’ are SEOs making predictions or looking at data trends.

This is the reason why gray hat SEO exists.

Classic link building techniques, such as using scholarships, can also go either way.

Some people say it still works. Others say it’s dead.

If often depends a lot on how you do it.

Ross Hudgens of Siege Media, one of the most popular and brilliant SEOs, talks a lot about scalable link building tactics.

To generate ROI, every marketing tactic has to be scalable.

But here’s the problem with that notion.

The problem with that idea is that almost every ‘scalable link building tactic’ can be considered black hat, albeit borderline, depending on how you do it.

Ross has shown examples of this in the past. Even massive and popular brands like The New York Times have built links. Technically, this goes against Google’s rules.

It might be easy to build links in some industries. Stuff like technology or nutrition work perfectly in link building. There are thousands, if not millions of blogs about these industries that come out every day.

But what if you work for, say, a supplement company?

MailChimp won’t even let supplement companies use their email marketing service at all.

With the Internet stacked against them, how do supplement companies create connections, reach out to customers, and increase revenue (let alone build a few links)?

Law firms also find trouble with building high-quality links. More often, they use scholarship link building tactics to help their industry.

Also doesn’t help that as of right now, search engine rankings aren’t as good as they should be.

While new algorithm tools like RankBrain certainly help, we’re not out of the woods just yet.

People like Glenn Alsop have openly admitted to doing gray or black hat tactics to improve their SEOs. They create their own private blog networks, even though Google has often warned against this approach.

Glen points to a single search result page for the ‘Future of blogging’ query as an example.

His site ranks at the bottom of that example. However, Glen also mentions some important factors that benefit his SEO:

  1. He has more links to the page than the competition.
  2. He has a higher domain authority than the competition.
  3. He has better on-page markup than the competition.

So what’s happening here? Why is Glen’s site ranked so low?

Google admits that three indicators are the most important factors. SEOs all agree on that, too.

But he’s still not one of the top results.

The problem is that you can still game or manipulate the system.

While there have been improvement, the problem still exists.

Last year, WordStream founder Larry Kim gave a few unique SEO predictions for this year.

One of them focused on increasing search engine result page (SERP) click-through rates (CTR) to get more traffic.

Kim stated that ‘engagement hacks’ like this one will become a new gray hat tactic.

Another example is driving up your Facebook engagement. Doing that helps in boosting your organic reach.

Is gray hat good? Is it bad? That’s for you to decide.

I’m only shining a light on something people rarely discuss in public:

SEO is a zero-sum game.

Competitors will do whatever it takes to reach the top. That’s going to hurt you, as you get pushed farther and farther into obscurity.

Basically, you have to decide the path you’ll take and the amount of risk you’re comfortable with.

Cleaning inside your house and outside: on-page SEO vs. off-page SEO

There are two broad categories of SEO: on-page SEO and off-page SEO.

On-page SEO concerns all of Google’s ranking factors. They directly look at your page and your page only. They look at your headlines, your content, and your page structure.

Off-page SEO is similar, but it looks at all variables, including other sources that aren’t exclusively in your hands. These include social networks, other blogs in your industry, and the searcher’s personal history.

They’re different, but you need to understand both of them, so you can do well in SEO.

Using an example:

Let’s say you have a house with a garden in the front yard and a little pathway that leads through your front yard to your house.

Now, imagine these two scenarios:

Scenario #1: Your house is super clean on the inside, but your front yard is a mess.

What happens in this scenario? Well, no matter how clean and lovely your house may be, if your garden looks messy and not well-kempt, people won’t be interested to see your house. The inside may be clean, but the outside, the first impression for many, won’t be.

It’s the same if you haven’t optimized your page around on-page SEO. It may have great content and look stunning, but it’s likely that no one will give you credit for it or point to your page.

No one will ever see your beautiful masterpiece because you won’t get any traffic.

What about the other way around?

Scenario #2: You have neatly trimmed your lawn, but the inside of your house is a mess.

It’s the same scenario: You might get people interested to come to your house if your front lawn looks clean and organized. But when they walk into your house, and your living room looks like a tornado flew in, they’re going to leave right away. In SEO speak, it’s pretty similar to what’s called a “bounce”.

If a visitor leaves your site after viewing only one page, Google considers that a “bounce”, or a quick leave. The higher your bounce rate (number of visitors who leave your site instantly), the worse your page will rank on Google. You can see how that’s a problem.

That’s why you need to do both on-page SEO and off-page SEO.

For on-page, you can do several things on your page to get it just right. For off-page, there’s even more things you can do “off the page” to get it just right.

Let’s look at on-page SEO first.

On-Page SEO

There are three big categories of on-page SEO that you’ll need to take a look at. The first and most important is content.

CONTENT

“Content is king.” Bill Gates quoted this in 1996, and it’s as true as ever today.

Why?

Because when someone uses Google and finds the best result that ser is happy when he finds the result that serves his needs in the best way.

If a person googles “quick and easy homemade mac and cheese,” Google will put all its energy into delivering what the service thinks is the best recipe for homemade mac and cheese (that takes little time and uses few ingredients) on the entire web.

Not just the quickest recipe. Not just the easiest recipe. Not a bunch of online shops for frozen dinners. It’s all of the things searched for: quick, easy, homemade.

Google always tries to give you the best experience possible by directing you to the greatest content it can find.

When applied to you, this means that your main job when it comes to SEO is producing great content that people want.

In short, you still have to put in a ton of work in your content. It’s not that simple.

In fact, it’s no different than any other skill: great results always comes when you put in a big amount of effort.

No matter how advanced and effective your SEO might be, it’s useless if your content sucks.

Here are the factors that make up great content in Google’s eyes:

Quality – In the odl days, just delivering the best-quality content would make you stand out from the crowd. Those days are long gone, but it’s still a good starting point for any successful SEO effort (and any online business, really).

But great content is not an easy thing do.

However, you don’t have to start from scratch. Many get their start by piggybacking off of content that others have created while making it better, longer, and more in-depth.

Or maybe you have your own ideas already. If that’s the case, it’s worth brainstorming for a while and then come up with a compelling headline.

Once you start writing, make sure you include all the important ingredients of great content in your blog post.

Even if you’re a complete newbie, the best way to be a professional and make great content is by simply committing to make writing a daily habit and work your way up in increments from there.

Keyword research – Keyword research is a simple, but crucial part of great content.

You’ll want to include your targeted keyword in your post’s headline and throughout the article, but first you need to choose your keyword.

If you’ve never done keyword research before, you might want to take a look at Hubspot’s guide for beginners.

Out of all of the on-page SEO factors, this is the one you should spend the most time learning. You don’t even need to buy a book to find success. Backlinko’s definitive guide to keyword research will do.

When I say don’t sleep on this, I mean it. There’s a reason we took the time to compile the top 40 posts on keyword research on Kissmetrics.

Use of keywords – Google has gotten smarter over the years. It’s still important to have your keyword throughout your content, but forcing your keyword into your text as much as possible hurts your rankings instead of improving them.

Keyword stuffing is an absolute no-go these days.

Today, keywords are much more about semantics. Today, Google is so good at interpreting the meaning of searchers’ keywords it’s almost unsettling to say the least.

Not only does Google look at your keyword, it also looks at synonyms. It’s done to help understand what you mean when you type in something like “five guys nyc.”

Google will know that you’re probably not looking for five men, but rather, it guesses that you’re looking for the fast-food chain “Five Guys, Burgers & Fries” by looking at similar searches that may include the keywords “burgers” and “fries.”

Just have your keyword in a few strategically-important places (headlines, URL, meta description), and you don’t have to mention it all the time in your text.

Freshness of content – Hubspot has done a benchmark this year that showed, once again, that posting more frequently improves Google rankings.

However, simply posting new content regularly isn’t the only way to signal Google freshness. There are plenty of things you can do with content you’ve already published to make it more up-to-date.

Brian Dean from Backlinko, for example, has only published around 30 posts in two years. Yet, he all his posts get rewritten and added with new information to keep them up to date. This in turn improves Dean’s Google rankings, despite not adding anything all that new.

Of course it’s important to publish regularly, but you can still get great results by posting once a month as long as your content is thorough and in-depth.

Direct answers – Finally, Google will sometimes provide searchers with direct answers. If you your content is clear and obvious enough that Google recognizes it as an answer to a particular question, it will show up directly beneath the search bar.

Matt Cutts, former head of Google’s spam team and public voice for the latest in SEO and algorithm changes, announced last year that people who were cutting the jargon would be right on track.

It’s part of the reason long and detailed guides and how-to’s have become more and more popular. So try your best to clear up your writing. Fancy buzzwords and complex sentence constructions don’t make you sound smart and they don’t help you when it comes to SEO.

Moz has listed out all critical aspects you have to keep in mind if you want to do well with direct answers.

KEYWORD SELECTION

We briefly touched on keyword research.

But it’s so important to SEO that it deserves its own section.

This is because around 90% of SEO revolves around keyword selection.

Well okay, that’s a bit of a stretch. I don’t have an exact number, but you get the point.

Keywords dictate what each piece of content is about.

It dictates what you call your site or how you describe your brand online.

Keywords even dictate how you build links, from the tactics you choose to how you implement them.

Another common mistake people make is that they stop.

Maybe they’ll redesign their website or come out with a new marketing campaign.

They’ll just do it for a week or two, update their pages, and then stop.

They think keyword research is a one-and-done thing. But it’s not that simple.

The best SEOs constantly do keyword research.

They also try to reevaluate their keywords, making sure that their existing content makes sense.

Here’s how some people make bad keyword decisions.

Common keyword research mistake #1: Picking the wrong keyword

Let’s say your business revolves around consulting services.

Your service might cost customers $10,000 over the course of a year.

That’s a little less than a thousand bucks a month, so it’s not that bad.

But it’s still expensive.

Now, if you’re ranking #1 for “free business growth tips,” do you know what’s the audience you’ll attract?

People looking for free stuff! And when it comes to people looking for free stuff, they’re not going to hand over their credit card when they visit your site.

That one keyword could send your site thousands of people each month.

But this isn’t the audience you’re looking for. So it doesn’t make sense to rank for it!

It’s better to use a different keyword, even if it means less hits.

Even if just one or two people who read that support your company, you’re already ahead.

This isn’t the only common mistake I see, though.

In fact, this next one is even more common.

Common keyword research mistake #2: Ignoring the competition

You’ve selected the right keyword from the get-go.

It’s relevant and aligns with what you do and what you’re selling.

So what’s the next step?

You open up a keyword volume tool like the Google Keyword Planner or even a paid one like SEMrush.

You type in a few ideas and get the results back.

Its likely that you’ll gravitate toward the results with the highest number of searches.

But there’s one simple factor you need to remember.

Your rank for a keyword often depends on the competition.

Check out the keyword “content marketing,” for example.

It gets around 6.5-9.5k monthly searches. That’s pretty good!

Is it a very popular search? Not even close. But it’s still a very good start.

The problem happens when you compare your own site to the ones currently ranking.

Notice the domain and page authorities for these sites.

Notice the linking root domains and the amount they have.

It takes months, even years for most websites to get anywhere close to those results.

So your chance of pushing out one of the top three is almost impossible.

So what do you have to do?

Many people go straight to long-tail keywords.

They assume that because the volume will be low, the competition will also be low.

That’s not the case.

Check out the “content marketing agency” search query.

The volume is way less at only around 100 visits. With such low volume, then that means it’s the perfect long-tail keyword, right?

Well, there’s a problem. Look at the competition below.

All these sites have been around for years.

They have hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of links.

The competition is just as harsh as the first one, despite the lower volume

What this means is that this is worse than the first one. If you were able to rank at the top, you still won’t get any traffic!

The demand is too low, but the competition is too high.

So again, it doesn’t make sense to take advantage of this query.

How can you possibly find keywords that are:

  1. Relevant to your business
  2. Not too competitive
  3. But still provide enough traffic to be worth the effort?

It’s a simple, yet hard to pull off answer: you have to think outside the box. Here’s how.

Keyword research tip #1: Focus on search intent

Most people focus on keywords.

Right now, that’s what you want to do.

Don’t look at what people are typing in. Instead, try to identify what they’re searching for.

This is called “search intent”.

Search intent is the key difference between getting little traffic to getting real revenue.

Here’s a good example:

You own a job site.

You make money by getting companies to run job post listings on your site.

So, you need to have job pages ranking well so people will come to your site instead of sites like Indeed.

The more people find jobs through your site, the more you’ll get paid.

But look at what happens when youuse a keyword like “engineering jobs.”

The results are all over the place!

There’re mechanical engineer positions, software engineer positions, and entry-level positions all crowding around one another.

The intent behind each search is completely different.

This is your focus.

What is this user looking for? What is the engineering job they’re interested in?

The best way to solve it is by coming up with good keywords that aren’t too competitive.

Indeed.com is a tough competitor. So, you need to find different alternatives based on search intent.

Look at Google’s own suggested searches for that query.

These are common searches people perform.

Already, you have a few potentials.

“Mechanical,” “civil,” and “industrial” are already competitive. But what about “environmental” or “audio”?

Scroll down to the very bottom of the SERP to get even more suggestions from Google.

The “aerospace” one is especially interesting.

Let’s look at one last example. With this, you’ll finally understand why search intent is so important when it comes to keyword selection.

But let’s start this one with a question:

What is someone looking for when they type “best marketing automation tool” into Google?

The first answer might seem a little obvious: they’re looking to get a marketing automation tool. However, they aren’t ready just yet to commit to a tool.

Instead, they’re looking to evaluate different alternatives. They want a side-by-side comparison to compare all of the different tools.

Now, watch what happens when you run that search query into Google.

I highlighted the first paid result and organic ranking because they’re going after search intent.

They want to see what people are looking for. Then, they’re giving it to them.

The other paid results in the middle are just trying to sell you a tool. This is a problem, because people searching here want to look at multiple options.

Companies look at a list of keywords without considering the motivation of each user and why they are searching for them in the first place.

It’s like tunnel vision.

You pull up a list of keywords in some tool, rank them by search volume, and then you run down the list.

The better solution is to expand your options with Google’s own suggestions.

AnswerThePublic is a great tool to use, since it uses actual search queries to build a list.

Search for “best marketing automation tools,” and it will break the list down even further.

One of my favorite graphs will even help you segment exactly who’s searching for this.

This graph here shows the following people are searching for “best marketing automation tools”:

  • WordPress users
  • B2B professionals
  • Small businesses
  • Startups

They all have completely different audiences.

They all have completely different budgets.

They all have completely different needs.

WordPress users want a simple plugin so they can run their campaigns directly inside the application. A B2B professional is likely to be platform agnostic.

A B2B professional might also want to run their website through the automation tool so that there’s less to manage.

Understand the implications?

It changes the keywords you target.

The pages you build or the blog posts you create will address subsets of each one to compete for the best keywords in each space.

It also impacts the campaigns you plan to run.

If you want press mentions from WordPress users and you’re going after WordPress users, then you’ll target WordPress-specific sites and bloggers.

You’ll pitch or advertise on WPBeginner instead of Inc.com even though their readership is less.

Your chance of success will be higher due to less competition, while the audience will be far more interested in what you have to sell.

In short, not only will you get better links and better search rankings, you’ll also get more revenue.

HTML

Once you’ve made sure your content is evergreen, now you have to take care of HTML.

When it comes to HTML, you don’t have to be a professional coder. However, it’s unwise to run an online if you don’t know the basics of HTML.

Thankfully, with places like Codecademy or Khan Academy, there are plenty of ways to learn everything that you need to know about HTML in just a few seconds.

You can even learn it on the job by just using a simple cheat sheet like this one.

Let’s look at the four parts of HTML you should optimize.

Title tags – Title tags are the online equivalent of newspaper headlines. It’s the text that shows up in the tab of your browser.

This HTML tag is called title. For blogs, it often becomes an h1-tag, or heading of the first order.

Every page must have only one h1-tag to make the title clear to Google. We’ve shown you how to do this at Quick Sprout University, but the website First Page Sage has compiled a few more things that you can do to get these right.

Meta description – Meta description is the excerpt Google displays when your page is shown to searchers. It’s easy to spot who’s done their SEO homework and who hasn’t by the meta description.

If you optimize a meta description result, Google doesn’t cut it off with “…” or make it seem like it ends mid-sentence. Optimized meta descriptions also feature the content’s keyword up-front.

You can learn how to come up with great meta tags on Quick Sprout University, and should also check out some good examples to get a feel for descriptions.

However, don’t overthink the 160 character text snippet. When writing it, keep the searchers in mind much more than the search engines.

My favorite way to edit both of these is by using the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin.

I use it on all my websites for one reason: It’s a good, simple guide for SEO, making it the best plugin on the market.

It’s the most popular, is updated almost weekly, and features a lot of advanced time-saving features.

It helps you quickly edit titles and metadata, as well as:

  • Help set metadata for each social network so Facebook, Twitter, etc. will properly format your rich data, such as the images.
  • Dynamically create and update your XML sitemap as your site evolves.
  • Integrate with your Google Search Console out of the box so that you can quickly find and fix the biggest problem areas on your site.
  • And lots more!

For example, instead of having to customize each page or post manually, you’re able to create default settings for your titles and metadata.

Features can be added two. Two of my favorites are the Readability and Keyword analysis tools. They help make simple benchmarks to people you’re working with or outsourcing to.

Now, there are clear indicators for them to hit before ever publishing directly to your site.


Schema – 
Schema is a collaboration of several search engines. Essentially a subset of specific HTML tags that improve the way search engine result pages display your content.

For example, the author of the above example with Bitcoin used Schema to create the rating that Google displays on the SERP. It’s a small factor, but it’s good practice either way.

Moz has some good tips on how to get the most out of Schema. When you’re done, don’t forget to test your page to make sure everything runs smoothly.


Subheads – 
I’ve previously identified subheads as one of the seven things every great landing page needs.

Not only do they help format and structure your content and give your readers easy reference points, but they also affect SEO.

Compared to h1-tags, h2, h3, h4, and so on have less SEO power. But they still matter, so you should use them.

Plus, it’s one of the easiest SEO wins you can get on WordPress.

How to diagnose these HTML improvements – Google’s Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) has an “HTML Improvements” report that helps find some of the issues mentioned earlier.

Google uses your site’s metadata, as well as title tags and meta description, to determine your site classification and then tell users about it.

Inside this report, you’ll be able to quickly diagnose if:

  • You have duplicated them across other pages or posts on your site.
  • They are too long, truncated, or cut off before people can fully read them.
  • They are too short so that they’re not descriptive or helpful enough.
  • They simply aren’t informative enough and are lacking keyword intent.

The report will give you a sitewide analysis.

Then, you can click on the number by each one to dive into the specific page or post issue.

ARCHITECTURE

Third and last when it comes to on-page SEO is site architecture. This part’s pretty technical and complicated, but there are a few simple things everyone should do so they’ll improve their SEO rankings.

A good website architecture results in a great experience for the user navigating your site. It focuses on things like fast loading times, a safe connection, and a mobile-friendly design.

It’s recommended that you determine your site’s architecture before buying the domain. This helps you get into the head of your user and reverse-engineer your way to a great user experience (UX).

ConversionXL has published a great guide on how to make sure your UX rocks.

You also need to optimize a few things for a great “search engine experience.” The more accessible your website is to Google, the better it will rank.

Easy to crawl – Remember the spiders from the introductory video? These are the programs that “crawl” from one page on your site to the next through links.

It all depends on how well they can index all the pages on your site. The better they “crawl”, the more likely they’ll report back to Google that you’re a good result.

The thicker the web of links between pages of your site, the easier it is for the spiders to reach all of them, giving the search engine a better understanding of your site.

You can make this job easier for Google by creating a sitemap with a simple plugin if you’re on WordPress or an online XML sitemap generator.

To see a crawl in action, use this tool.

Duplicate content – There are a lot of myths ranking around duplicate content and how it hurts your rankings. Many make the mistake in believing everything on your page should be original.

The fact is re-posting your content on other websites or publishing your guest posts again on your own site doesn’t hurt your SEO unless you do it the wrong (spammy) way.

The wrong way goes something like this: say you re-post your exact same content to a big outlet like Medium. That hurts your rankings, because Google indexes your Medium article first, as it’s on the more authoritative and popular domain.

This is what’s known as a “canonicalization” problem.

And many times, it’s already happening on your site without you even realizing it.

Here’s a perfect example from my site.

Visit “NeilPatel.com/blog/,” and you’ll see something that looks like this.

This is the blog category page that displays the most recent posts.

Each post features a title, an image, and a share or comment count.

Now, compare that to another blog example like MarketingLand.com.

Here, the latest posts feature an image and a title, as well as a short post description.

This happens across pretty much all blogs.

That’s because the theme you’re using (like on WordPress) often pulls this excerpt automatically.

And it’s pulling it from the first few lines of the blog post.

Like I said, this happens automatically.

This is a feature that’s built-in by the theme’s developer, as it helps readers see what the post is about.

However, it also has the potential to create canonicalization issues.

Technically, that’s duplicate content.

The same exact information shows up in both the individual blog post and the blog category page.

Multiply that issue through thousands upon thousands of posts, and now there’s an issue.

Fortunately, there are ways to fix these canonicalization issues.

However, the exact solution depends on the original issue.

For example, removing some code lines from your blog theme will fix the issue very quickly.

Google Search Console or another tool might say that you have thousands of duplicate content errors. But in actuality, it’s really just one root cause.

If you have multiple versions of the same page, the canonical tag can help you specify which content is the original.

All you have to do is drop in a single line of code that references the original page URL like this.

Fortunately, plugins like Yoast SEO make this simple.

With Yoast, you’re able to set the default page or post version as the canonical, meaning it always adds this line by default.

Alternatively, you can specify it manually under the advanced settings options for each page or post:

I’ve also put together a guide to show you how to address the issue with rel=canonical tags for links on Quick Sprout.

Another time-saving WordPress tip is to use the Quick Page/Post Redirects plugin.

This plugin’s particularly helpful if you’ve had old pages morph into new ones, and also leaves behind several broken links.

Install the plugin, and you can add the old URLs in bulk and then the new version of each page.

Use this one with the Broken Link Checker plugin to see which URLs you need to redirect.

Most SEO-focused tools like Moz crawl your site like search engines to audit these common issues.

Duplicate content and broken links (or 404 errors) are the two most common crawl errors plaguing most websites.

If you’re not on a content management system like WordPress, you’re the one who has to edit the .htaccess file of your site to include 301 redirects. I’d strongly recommend educating yourself about 301 redirects and getting some professional help in this case.

Mobile-friendliness – Let’s face it: if your page isn’t mobile-friendly, you lost.

Over 54% of Facebook users access the network exclusively on their mobile devices. Faceboko now has 1.65 billion monthly active users. When you do the month, that’s roughly 900 million mobile-only users.

Thinking about mobile devices in your plan is an absolute necessity.

There are several ways to make your pages mobile-friendly, but I recommend you start by checking with Google’s tool how you hold up right now.

Most WordPress themes are mobile-friendly from the get-go these days, and if not, you can always install a plugin to take care of that.

You can also implement Google’s suggestions from the tool yourself or even hire someone to make the changes.

Page speed – Don’t fool yourself. Don’t try to ignore this. You know this is a very important tool.

I’m sure just a few days ago, you were angry at how the WiFi took an agonizing 20 seconds to load a page.

Today, we value our time more than anything. Long loading times can absolutely kill your conversions.

Google recently conducted research about speed industry benchmarks, which further proves my point. Their research shows that “the probability of someone bouncing from your site increases by 113 percent if it takes seven seconds to load.”

According to their findings, the average loading time was over 22 seconds. That’s over 3x longer!

You can use Google’s Test My Site tool to get a quick read on how well you’re doing (or how much work there is left to tackle).

Another one of my favorite tools to track page speed over time is Pingdom.

Pingdom monitors site performance in general including uptime.

You’re even able to track your site from different locations around the world to make sure it’s in tip-top shape for international and multilingual users.

ConversionXL has identified a few low-hanging fruits for increasing your website speed, and at Crazy Egg, we show you how to squeeze out that extra second to improve your user experience.

When it comes to problems or issues, here are the ones to watch out for.

Reduce the number of average requests to fewer than Google’s recommended 50 if possible.

When someone types your web address into their browser, they’re “requesting” that your servers send over information.

The smaller the data their shipping out, the faster you servers will send it.

Both the GIDNetwork and GZIP will help you figure out how to compress the information on your pages to reduce requests.

You should also “minify” your site’s code to reduce size. The WP Super Minify WordPress plugin can do it for you automatically, so you don’t even have to know how it combines stylesheet data.

Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) are another fast, easy way to reduce requests.

Most websites today are full of high-resolution images. However, the better they look, the bigger the size.

CDNs like Cloudflare take images off your own servers. They’ll host them on their own global network and deliver them to users from the closest point possible to decrease loading times.

WP Smush.it (WordPress) or Compressor.io (non-WordPress) can also help you reduce image sizes prior to uploading.

They’ll compress the file to reduce the size without sacrificing any visible quality.


Keywords in URLs – 
Including your targeted keywords in the URLs of your blog posts is a must. Never squander SEO points.

Of course, it’s possible that you have to change the structure of your permalinks on WordPress. You also need to keep your human users in mind. But including your keyword in your URLs is pretty much a no-brainer.

HTTPS and SSL – SEOs have considered security to be a ranking signal for some time now.

However, Google’s not stopping there.

They’re also now actively warning people when websites are not secure.

Basically, these notifications tell you not to give your website your personal information.

It’s even bigger problem since Chrome is the most popular browser in the world.

One of my favorite mind mapping tools is XMind. But check out what happens when you hit their homepage.

Fortunately, their product and checkout pages are secure.

Still, the last thing you want after trying so hard to get traffic to your site is for users to go away due to a big, red notification from Google.

There are two common security protocols: HTTPS (a secure version of HTTP) and SSL (Secure Socket Layer).

Both of them work and are worth considering even if they won’t up your SEO game too much.

Moving from a non-secure connection to HTTPS or SSL is a bit of work, but it’s worth your time. When starting out with a new domain, consider purchasing it as an option from your domain registrar or web hosting service.

Technically, there are five different SSL options to choose from:

  1. Single Domain: This option protects one single domain name. It won’t, however, work on subdomains (like “blog.neilpatel.com”).
  2. Multi-Domain: This protects multiple domains. But again, it won’t cover subdomains.
  3. Wildcard: This one does cover subdomains. So, as an example, if you have something along the lines of “blog.neilpatel.com” and “shop.neilpatel.com,” this is for you.
  4. Organization: It’s like single domain, but it doesn’t cover as much security for e-commerce transactions.
  5. Extended: This one gives you a few extra benefits like the name showing in the green address bar. But this one takes a little bit more work.

Technically speaking, each one of those options is secure. The difference lies in how you’re going to use it.

These SSLS can be purchased directly from your domain registrar. Otherwise, many other hosting companies like WPEngine and A2 Hosting will help you set them up.

There are also WordPress plugins like Really Simple SSL that will help you quickly set one up.

 

Off-Page SEO

Well, you fixed up your house. Now you have to fix your front yard. I’ll now show you four big areas of off-page SEO.

If you want a solid overview on one page, consider looking at Shane Barker’s great infographic.

TRUST

PageRank, the formula created by Google’s founders, is not the only measure they take when ranking pages in the top ten search results.

Trust is getting increasingly important in their system, and many of the recent Google updates have hit spammy and obscure websites.

TrustRank is a way for Google to see whether your site is legit or not. For example, if you look like a big brand, Google will trust you.

Quality backlinks from authoritative sites (like .edu or .gov domains) also help. There are four parts to building trust.

Authority – Google determines your site’s authority through two different types you can build:

  • Domain authority, or how widespread your domain name is. Coca-cola.com is very authoritative, for example, because everyone has heard of it.
  • Page authority, or how authoritative the content of a single page (for example a blog post) is.

You can check your authority here on a scale of 1-100.

Two other popular authority metrics are the domain and page authority numbers from Moz.

Moz also bases this score out of 100. But this time, the scale’s weighted.

So now it’s relatively easy to go from 0-20. However, anything over 50-60 is pretty high.

And 80-90 is often the highest in a particular industry.

To improve your authority, use this cheat sheet to increase your authority without cheating.

But what’s the simplest way?

High-quality, editorial links almost always reign supreme.

For example, try to do things that will encourage mainstream media sites to feature you.

No, this isn’t easy.

Yes, it takes a lot of time.

But it’s worth it because links like these are virtually algorithm-proof.

Remember when we talked guest blogging, and how it could be white, gray, or black hat depending on how you use it?

Getting third-party validation like this from top publications is as white hat as it gets.

Bounce rate – Your bounce rate is simply a measure of how many people view only one page on your site before immediately leaving again.

Content, loading times, usability, and attracting the right readers are all part of decreasing your bounce rate. The math is simple – the right readers will spend more time on a site that loads fast, looks good, and has great content.

Video is another great way to do so, but you need your video content to stand out and deliver. Buffer’s 5-step process is a great place to get started with video.

These website usage metrics give Google indications of quality.

For example, let’s say you’re looking for “pizza” near your home. You click on the first three results to compare each one.

The second and third options look good, so you browse around for a bit. You spend at least five minutes checking out each of those sites.

However, the first one failed to meet expectations. Five seconds after clicking on the link, you hit the back button to open the other results.

To Google, it says something about the site in question. That something isn’t a good thing.

They’ll soon factor that information into their results and find users don’t think that first result is very helpful. And they won’t hesitate to drop them.

That’s why click-through rates are becoming as important, if not more important, than rankings.

Domain age – Remember the old days? You know, before young entrepreneurs like me were huge and all anyone talked about? Who were the most respected businessmen around?

It was the old guys. People like Jack Welch and Warren Buffett.

Internet domains are similar, as domain age matters even if only a little.

If you haven’t gotten your site up and running yet, try and use an affordable, expired domain.

What’s the one thing domain trust, authority, and age all have in common:

Your brand.

Identity – I mentioned this before, but having a brand or personal identity online is a huge trust signal for search engines. However, it takes time to build.

You know you’re a brand when you Google yourself and something like this pops up.

You don’t have to have a brand name. Creating your personal brand works just as well.

After all, building brand signals prevents you from future penalties through Google updates.

This is why Google gives big brands better and preferential treatment.

It’s not some crazy conspiracy.

Often, people just prefer brands they recognize over ones they don’t.

One study from Search Engine Land and Survey Monkey found “70% of US consumers look for a ‘known retailer’ when deciding what search result to click.”

To the average consumer, a brand they recognize was more important than the price or even the quality!

Picture this.

You need tires badly. Your personal safety is at risk on the road.

So what are you more likely to go with?

The tire brand you recognize, has been around for decades, has a blimp, and appears in commercials?

Or an unknown tire brand?

LINKS

If you’ve gone this far through the guide, you already know the common conception of “backlinks are everything” is wrong.

They’re only just one part of SEO. There are plenty of ways to get backlinks.

But no matter what you do, don’t just wait for people to link to you. That’s a fool’s game. You’re going to have to take the initiative and ask for them.

Consider these three factors when trying to get backlinks:

Quality of links – Links are not everything. But quality links are everything. They matter much more than the number of links you have.

Building quality backlinks is all about reaching out to the right sources and offering value in exchange for a solid link. I show you tons of ways to do this in our advanced guide to link building.

Most people only look at the total number of links.

That’s a problem for several reasons:

  1. Search engines might ignore most links if they’re low-quality or spammy
  2. Links from brand new sites are worth more than repeat links from existing sites
  3. Links from other websites are worth more than a bunch of links from your own site (from one page to another).

With that in mind, look at my site’s link profile.

Specifically, focus on the bottom half.

High-quality links matter more than low-quality ones.

“Total Linking Root Domains” tells you the number of unique sites that link back to you.

Followed, equity-passing, external links pass the most ‘strength.’

Often, the ratio of the numbers listed above when compared to the total links are a far superior indicator of success.

Anchor text – The anchor text is the text other sites use when they link to you. Yes, it matters. Differentiating between the types of anchor texts is part of the nitty gritty, but a good rule of thumb is:

The more natural the link text, the better.

Here’s an example: You could link to a guide on anchor text best practices by linking the words “click here”. Instead, you can naturally put a link in the flow of your writing (like I did in the first half of this sentence).

The second category is called contextual backlinks, and that’s the one you should strive for.

Number of links – Lastly, the number of total links you have is important, and you need to build high-quality backlinks at scale over time.

Again, it’s not total links that you’re after.

However, the site with the most high-quality links usually has a better edge to it.

It also depends on the pages you’re getting links to.

Let me explain.

Links to your homepage are good.

However, most natural links won’t be to a homepage unless they’re mentioning your brand name specifically.

Often, people will link down to pages or posts on your site.

Make sure the right sources are linking to the right pages.

What you don’t want is your privacy policy being your most linked-to page.

Why?

Because there’s nothing to buy from that page!

Visitors can’t give you their information. Vistors can’t subscribe to something. Visitors can’t buy something.

That’s the first mistake.

The second is ignoring how and where those links come from.

One of Crazy Egg’s most popular features is the heatmap.

The heatmap helps people pinpoint which site elements are aiding conversions and which are distracting people from converting.

So if you want links to this page, you have to get links from landing page or conversion-related sources.

That might change for other feature pages like Recordings.

Here, a design-related link wouldn’t make as much sense. It’s not as contextually relevant.

However, if the page or post were speaking about usability or interface design, then it would be a decent fit.

Basically the quality source of the link matters, as well as the place they’re linking to.

PERSONAL

The third category of off-page SEO is personal factors. Most personal factors are out of your control, but there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of reaching a certain audience.

Country – Searchers see results that are relevant to the country that they’re in. Open times of recommended stores and restaurants appear according to your time zone.

Search engines interpret words differently. If you search “comforter” in the US, you will see blankets for a bed. But if you search “comforter” in the UK, you will see pacifiers.

A way to tell Google you want to target certain countries is, of course, by including them as keywords. But first, ask yourself if it’s worth it to go multinational.

There are also different competition levels for each country.

Remember when keyword selection depends largely on the competition already ranking?

Well, Google Canada’s results will be very different from Google South America.

That means each country might have different levels of difficulty.

If you have a multilingual site, you’ll share information to more people in their native language, as well as help rank easier in other places.

I first saw the power of this when I saw a 47% traffic lift after translating my site years ago.

After that, my sites are now in almost every language, including a Portuguese version for my Brazilian readers.

Creating multilingual content is hands-down one of the easiest ‘quick wins’ I’ve seen.

But there’s one big catch.

Pulling it off isn’t easy.

Most of the web’s translation plugins aren’t very good.

Many will promise to automatically translate your content into different languages.

But the result isn’t always natural.

I’d personally recommend paying a little more to have native-speaking people translate the content.

The quality and accuracy increase, meaning people stick around longer. And that means my site usage data and rankings go up, too.

City – This kind of geo-targeting goes even further. It goes down to the city level. Through targeting cities, that’s why you’ll often see results from right around the block when you search for a fast-food chain.

Again, using city names as keywords helps. But don’t paint yourself into a corner, or you’ll end up looking like you’re only a local authority.

Searcher’s history – If the searcher has been on the same page before, or if they generally visit your site, you’re more likely to show up because Google thinks you’re a relevant result for them.

Socialization

Do you have a YouTube channel for your brand? If so, the more people like you, the better.

When Google sees somebody liking a brand on a social network like YouTube, they’re more likely to show results from that brand or from personal contacts that they have.

SOCIAL

Lastly, let’s look at the social factors of off-page SEO. Besides social signals from the searcher, there are other ways good social media results help your ranking

Whether directly through links or indirectly through a PR boost, social matters.

I’ve done several case studies on Quick Sprout, proving that social media is well worth your time.

There are two main factors of influence.

Quality of shares – Like with backlinks, who shares matters more than how often it’s shared. Google recognizes influencers and important online figures. So, when they share your content, their share has more SEO juice than others.

A great way to get influencers to share your content is by giving them a heads-up before you even publish it. Better yet, include them by quoting or interviewing them.

Of course, you should also tell plenty of online celebrities who are already interested in your topic.

How do you find these people? There are a few ways.

The first is with Follwerwonk. It’s an analytics tool for Twitter that can help you find influencers just by searching for keywords in their bios.

This tool is great as it sorts influencers by different metrics.

Just like total links are deceiving, so too are total followers.

Instead, I find metrics like social authority a much better indicator of value.

New influencer marketplaces are also popping up to make this even easier.

Tribe will let you search through a massive database of content creators.

Again, you can sort them by metrics. But this time, you get their costs as well.

In short, you can find ones that overlap or influence your audience and then you can pay them to promote you and your content.

Best of all, you get all the fine print taken care of before you even spend a dollar.


Number of shares – 
The secondary social metric is the number of shares. Landing a viral hit sounds great, and it’s what every marketer wants, but it is overrated.

There are a lot of tips and hacks out there to get shares.

But the truth is simple:

Make awesome content.

That means different things to different people.

For example, in the marketing space, long-form content almost always outperforms short-form.

But let’s talk about celebrity gossip sites.

The audience for those sites don’t want to slog through a whole bunch of words. The opposite is almost true here.

Their audience wants something succinct with a lot of drama. They want more videos and images with less text.

Just browse BuzzFeed.com or TMZ.com if you don’t believe me.

Makes sense, considering what makes content go viral.

Jonah Berger released a study years ago in the Journal of Marketing Research that found the following:

“Virality is partially driven by physiological arousal. Content that evokes high-arousal positive (awe) or negative (anger or anxiety) emotions is more viral.”

We started this article by talking about how many millions of posts people publish each day.

There’s a ton of competition.

Because of the competition, the stuff that sticks out is often at one extreme or the other.

It’s part of the reason fake news stories often go viral. They use outlandish, bogus headlines to get clicks.

Some of the top fake news sites are bale to get $500,000+ in ad revenue in just a short time because of all the traffic they recieve.

Of course, please don’t post fake news.

But what you should do is think long and hard about the angle of something before publishing it.

If you tap into the emotional triggers of your audience, you will almost always make your content get more attention in the long run.

Oh, and promoting it like crazy helps, too.

Conclusion

I hope this was a helpful guide and I showed you that search engine optimization isn’t optional anymore.

It’s very easy to get a few basics right, but it could kill your online presence if you don’t.

And you made some SEO mistakes in the past, don’t worry.

Just commit to getting started today.

Do some keyword research before you begin writing. Then, use your keyword data to optimize the basics, such as your title tags and descriptions.

And who knows – maybe the next time you press publish, you’ll stand out.

After reading this guide, how will you change your attitude toward SEO?

 

Geoffrey Purkis

About Geoffrey Purkis

Geoffrey is the Founder and CEO of Seattle Web Search. He’s a web developer and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) expert located in Seattle, Washington with extensive experience in the field. Geoffrey specializes in helping his clients find the right combination of web, search, social, and video content to get the best results from their online marketing efforts.

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