SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the most important tool in establishing a robust web presence. Massively effective, SEO can and should be implemented by anyone hoping to increase their traffic, improve their brand recognition and generally dominate the world wide web.
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To be precise, Search Engine Optimization encompasses a wide range of creative and technical elements that help websites achieve visibility through organic search engine results. Here’s how it works: Utilizing good SEO practices improves a site’s ranking and recognizability by search engines, thus attracting more attention and traffic from search engine users.
Achieving good SEO fundamentally means building a website that is easy-to-navigate, instantly-understandable, and otherwise conducive to a good user experience. It also means creating a site filled with content that is legitimately valuable to users. This then translates into a site that is found to be high-quality by search engine algorithms. The goal of a good SEO redesign is taking everything that makes your brand or publication great, and packaging it in a way that makes that excellence apparent to search engines and users alike.
SEO Through the Ages
Before you can understand the basic strategies of SEO, its important to have a general sense of the history of SEO. Here’s a brief history lesson:
The first website was launched in 1991. By 1993, there were so many websites that engineers realized the need for some kind of cataloging system. Search platforms arose that sorted information based on content keywords.
Then, in the mid 1990s, Yahoo and Google arrived and search engine optimization was really born.
In this time period, in order to improve your search engine results, you could simply stuff the same keywords into your content over and over again.
By the mid-aughts, search engines like Google started taking a stand on unethical SEO practices and began punishing websites that employed them. They also advanced SEO greatly by adding personalization and localization.
By 2008, Google Suggest started using historical data to assist users, while also cataloging media by news, images and video.
By 2010, Google began focusing on quality content as opposed to merely popular content. It started taking into account how content was shared, and what made content valuable.
Today, SEO is continuing to catch up with a world increasingly relying on mobile search, greater personalization, and quality content.
The Great & All-Powerful Google Algorithm
The all-powerful Google Algorithm greatly effects the use and practicality of any website’s SEO practices. Therefore, it’s no surprise that you can effectively track the history of best SEO practices by the history of the Google algorithm for SEO. Here’s a brief overview of the most important Google updates:
In 2003, the “Google Boston Update” became the site’s first official algorithm change, in which Google announced its plans to update its algorithm every month. It would quickly move to daily changes, making search engine optimization an ever-changing art form
In 2005, the “Personalized Search" began mining user’s search histories to help tailor results to individuals
In 2008, “Google Suggest” began offering drop-down panels with popular searches to help users quickly complete their queries
In 2011, Google’s “Panda” update began rewarding high-quality websites in attempts to limit the number of low-quality websites showing up in Google search results.
In 2012, Google’s “Penguin” began penalizing sites that were known to spam search results by using paid links or link networks. Penguin 4.0 debuted in 2016 and is even harsher: It immediately eliminates spammy sites from search rankings. However, if penalized sites remove their spam, they will return to the free world of SEO.
In 2013, the “Hummingbird” update appeared to accommodate the way google users tend to type complete questions or phrases into search boxes. As a result, Hummingbird optimists “long-tail” keywords and other “conversational search” friendly results.
In 2015, Google updated the algorithm to be more mobile friendly, by simply checking if websites were optimized for mobile and prioritizing ones that were. It became known as “Mobilegeddon”.
That same year, “RankBrain”, the artificial intelligence system, became linked to Google’s main algorithim, helping the site learn from user’s searches, and develop a better understanding of how certain words and searches relate.
In 2017, Google instituted its “Fred” update, which punished sites that centered monetization over user experience.
Is Your Hat White, Grey or Black?
In SEO lingo, the color of your hat has nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with strategy. Here’s a brief overview:
White-hat SEO simply means that you play by the rules as dictated by Google in their guidelines. This ultimately means making your site friendly to users as opposed to specifically tailoring it to appeal to search engines.
That also means competing in good faith – creating content that people are going to actually seek out and share.
White hat SEO means competing by keeping SEO in mind, without making your website fall into the realm of using prohibited tactics such as keyword stuffing or spammy backlinks. Simply put, white-hat SEO is made for humans.
This refers to SEO practices that do not typically abide by Google’s specific guidelines, but still manage to advance your rankings.
They are technically “unethical” in that they artificially boost your website over your competitors, not by increasing the quality of your site, but by misusing SEO practices.
Black-hat practices are used to appeal specifically to search engines, rather than to people.
They will frequently mislead users by cloaking, which mean presenting different content based on the specific IP address of the user, so as to artificially inflate their search results.
As the name implies, grey-hat SEO falls somewhere between white-hat and black hat practices. It means using practices that are not quite defined by Google’s published guidelines, ones that you could argue are not explicitly allowed by the search engine, but ones you could also argue are not explicitly forbidden by it.
Grey-hat SEO practices are a constantly morphing category because practices that are considered “grey hat” in 2017 could become “black hat” by 2018 if Google starts prohibiting them.
Using grey-hat practices can be risky, because it could compromise your site in the eyes of Google. That said, it is still less risky than black-hat SEO.
What’s Your “Type” of SEO?
Google takes into consideration so many different factors now when generating results for users. From personalization to quality of content to how frequently its been shared on social media sites, it can be overwhelming to fully understand the wide range of Google’s scope.
Because there are now so many factors involved in search engine optimization, it is helpful to categorize SEO practices into two main different types of SEO: “On-Page SEO” and “Off-page SEO”.
These strategies differ significantly, and both are critical to achieving good SEO.
On-Page SEO – Building Your House
As the name implies, “on-page SEO” refers to SEO techniques that can be employed on the actual website in question. Most importantly, on-page SEO techniques require access to the back-end of your website. Some of the main on-page SEO factors involved in optimizing your site include:
The four most important factors of on-page SEO:
Search engines interpret URL structure and make judgements from it about what kind of content your website contains, and for which searches it might contain essential information
Image Alt Text
Alt text is a description added to HTML code which explains the appearance and context of an image on a web page. Alt text is important for web accessibility, as it makes your site easier to understand for users who are visually impaired. At the same time, it also can provide additional information to help search engines to understand the content on your page. Which brings us to:
Your title tag is the first thing a user sees about your site, because a title tag is what appears on the search engine results pages (SERPs). It’s also what’s displayed on social networks, and web browser tabs. It’s important to create a compelling title tag that pulls the reader in, while also ensuring that it is keyword-optimized and less than 60 characters.
Ultimately, the content of your website is what’s most important to search engines. Quality content does two things, and it does them well: 1. It meets a user demand and 2. It is highly linkable. That means creating content that is informative, shareable, and provides a quality user experience.
Creating optimal content is essential to your on-page SEO. To make your content especially SEO-friendly, you need to consider many factors, including:
This involves both the research it takes to identify the proper keywords to be targeting on any given page and the process of optimizing those keywords, namely, placing each keyword in all the right places on your site so they can be recognized by Google.
Headings are the titles you use for entire works of content, while subheadings further divide sections of content. You want to plan your headings very carefully, as Google relies heavily on headings when determining what a given page of content is about, and what relevancy it has to any given topic. Your heading should be in H1 format, and should contain relevant words optimized with proper keywords. That said, you don’t want to overburden your heading with too many keywords, as this can be seen as a black hat strategy. Instead, distribute your keywords evenly throughout your subheadings to reinforce your SEO.
Internal links fortify your site, making it easier to use and making it easier for search engines to interpret what your content is about. Start by linking each page on your website to its respective category or subcategory and to your homepage.
Responsiveness is all about the design of your website, and whether it is adaptable to various devices people might be searching on. That means making your site desktop friendly and mobile friendly.
Page load speed
Page load speed means the amount of time it takes for a page on your site to load. You’d be surprised how impatient users are: 47% say that they expect a website to load within two seconds, and 40% will navigate away from your site after three seconds.
Off-Page SEO – Making your house fit the neighborhood
If On-Page SEO is all about getting the architecture of your site just right, off-page SEO is all about making that architecture fit the larger landscape of the Internet. The way to become a site that people trust is by garnering links from websites that people already know and love.
That’s why off-page SEO factors is all about building up your backlinks so as to enhance your site’s reputation and authority in the eyes of the Google algorithm. It’s also important to note that off-page SEO practices generally do not require access to the back-end of your site. Some important off-page SEO activities include:
Creating high-quality backlinks
This is the golden ticket of Off-Page SEO. Your site is defined in the online ecosystem by the quality of the websites that link to it. In this way, one link from an especially relevant and authoritative source can be more valuable than dozens of links from less reputable sites. Simply put: expanding the volume of high-quality links directing users to your website, enhances your website’s position in the Google algorithm. So, a large part of Off-Page SEO is creating a link-building plan that lays out a path for you to build links and establish connections.
Create and spread shareable content, particularly infographics, videos, or images
While plenty of Internet users are used to stealing ideas from other bloggers, they’re much less likely to outright steal an infographic, video or image, particularly if you’ve posted it via social media. If you are able to create highly-shareable content that people want to feature on their blogs, there’s a very high likelihood that you’ll receive a backlink.
Finding the right sites to approach for backlinks
Finding the right sites means taking an honest look at who your competitors are, determining where their backlinks come from, and approaching the same or similar sites with requests for links.
Adopt broken links
Scour blogs, particularly those of influencers, and search for broken links (there’s tons of them on the Internet). These orphan links are just waiting to be adopted! So, reach out to the site host with links to content you’ve written that can easily replace the broken link. By doing the work for the site host, you increase the likelihood of getting a response to your request.
Expand your online reach via guest blogging outreach strategies
If you’re trying to attract more attention to your website, consider joining up with another blogger or publication who shares your Internet niche and writing a guest blog for them. Guest blogging means instant link-building, as the host site will almost certainly link back to your site.
SEO: A Summary
As you can see, optimizing your website for SEO is a careful dance of incorporating strategies that are known to work for Google while also focusing on creating a website that facilitates a genuinely pleasant and meaningful user experience. Ultimately, Google’s many updates attempt to prioritize content based on what users actually want to see. That means artfully using best SEO practices while incorporating those practices into a genuinely positive user experience. It’s a careful, constantly-changing process that can only be learned through trial, error, and the help of some SEO professionals.
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