For many people SEO is a set of hidden tricks, performed only from some “SEO gurus” who know the secrets of Google. A few years ago, SEO was easier, as it was enough to create a landing page, add some keywords and build links, in order to achieve high rankings.
Nowadays, SEO became more complex and difficult, as it is required to optimize several different aspects of the website. In the following guide we will examine the major steps of a successful SEO plan.
1. Keyword Research
The first step of an SEO campaign is a keyword research. With a keyword research you try to find which keywords or phrases people are using to find your website or competitor’s websites and then decide which ones to target.
- Focus on high volume and low competition:
Ideally, the keywords with the higher potential are the ones with a high search volume, but with a low competition. Unfortunately, as usually also the competitors are doing a similar research, these keywords are limited and there are not enough to support a full SEO campaign.
- Add long tail keywords:
In such cases, it is recommended to target the “long tail” of keywords. Today, most searches are not 1-keyword long, but 2,3 or even 4 keywords long. Every individual search may have a low search volume, but usually the competition is lower, so it is easier to rank among the first positions.
- Perform a competitive analysis:
It is also important to analyze the websites of your competitors, in order to discover new keywords to target.
2. Technical Optimization
Search engines use special software called crawlers, in order to read your website’s text and code. If it is not technically perfect, it may be difficult for a crawler to read and understand all of its content and it may have as a result that its pages will rank lower in the search engines results pages, or even worst, not at all. It is important though that the following technical points are checked.
- URL structure:
Good SEO practices for URLs is to keep them under 100 characters long, to use dashes instead of underscores and to avoid special characters.
- Title tags:
Every page should have a unique Title Tag, 65-75 characters long. It is also important that the basic keywords exist in the beginning of the title.
- Meta description tags:
A Meta Description Tag should be unique for every page, up to 160 characters long and contain 1-2 sentences that describe the page.
- Heading tags:
Headings are part of the HTML of a page and they are visible to the site visitors. There are six different headings, from H1 to H6. Every page should have only one, unique H1 heading tag.
- Duplicate content:
Duplicate content issue occurs when the exact same content exists in your website under 2 or more different URLs. This can have a negative effect for ranking, as search engines dot not know which version to include in their index. It is though recommended to solve any duplicate content issues in your website, by removing the duplicate content or create redirections between the multiple versions.
- Structured data:
With structured data, you can add special markup to your content, so that search engines can easily understand its type. This can potentially help to achieve higher rankings. It can also provide rich snippets for your pages in the search results pages. Rich Snippets provide a small sample of the page’s content in the results pages of search engines, making it more prominent. In http://schema.org, you can find different schemas for different types of content, like articles, products, events, movies, persons of organizations and use them in your website.
Search engines use the XML sitemap protocol, so it is critical that your website contains an XML sitemap. After its creation, it has to be submitted in Google Webmaster Tools, so that all of the website’s content its crawled. It also has to be updated and re-submitted every time new content is added in the website.
- Rich media:
Every image should have a related tag. This is an HTML tag that allows to briefly describing the content of the image, so that search images can understand it. It is also helpful to use related keywords for the filename, instead of random letters and numbers. For videos, you can add the transcription text and add a video sitemap in your website.
Search engines try to give to their users results that are helpful and satisfy them. For this reason they take into account the engagement metrics of a website. As Google recommends “In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share”. You should keep the following usability tips in mind:
- Overall appeal:
Usability includes things like clearly labeling different parts of the website so visitors can easily find their way around, making important areas of the page easy to spot or making it simple to find contact information.
Search engines may rank a multitude of a website’s pages simultaneously, which means that people will be able to access a site from pages other than the home page. Without good navigation that covers the entire site, visitors could get stuck on a page and not be able to move on to explore more of a site.
- Information architecture:
Information Architecture is the skeleton of your website from which all other aspects are built – including form, function, navigation and interface, interaction, and visual design.
- Content quality:
For usability reasons, no page should ever be longer than 800 words with the exception of blog posts. This content needs to contain the relevant keywords for the page. Having unique, keyword rich text on a page can help to improve search engine rankings significantly.
4. Content Marketing
As Google continuously updates and optimizes its algorithm in order to provide the best results to users, it gives more and more importance to useful, fresh and engaging content. Nowadays, quality content is the foundation of a successful SEO campaign. It is important thought for every business to invest in the production of fresh, engaging and quality content, like the following:
- Company blog:
Fresh and useful content can rank high in search engines. It can also be a way to acquire new links and increase the authority of the whole website, when people are sharing it.
- Guides, ebooks, or other useful content:
These are pieces of content that require more effort, but if they are promoted correctly they can help to bring new links for several months after their creation.
- Infographics, charts, or other visual content:
Again, this is a type of content that can attract new links to a website.
5. Social Media Strategy
According to recent studies social signals are among the most important ranking factors. That means that social media are now a strong influencer for SEO and it should be part of an SEO campaign. The steps of a successful social media strategy are the following:
- Setup your goals for social media:
These could be for example increasing the size of the community and gain more exposure for your content.
- Understand your audience:
Before beginning being active in social media, you should research and understand the users that are interested in your market.
- Select your social media channels:
There are so many different social media channels available, that it’s impossible for a business to be successful on all of them. For the beginning, select 3-4 channels where your target audience is active.
- Connect with influencers:
People with a lot of followers in social media can be valuable, because they can spread your message to more people. Locate them and try to connect with them.
- Make a social media posting plan:
For every channel, decide how often you will post and what kind of content you’re going to use.
6. Link Building
Even if now Google tries to apply stricter rules to links, they still remain a very important ranking factor. Links increase the authority and credibility of a website. The total number of links is important, but it is equally important to acquire links from a diversity of popular and reliable domains. Just keep in mind that the main search engines have strict rules against unnatural or paid links, so the link building process consists mainly from actions that attract links from trustworthy sources in a natural way. There are dozens of techniques for link building; here are the most basic ones:
- Guest blogging:
This is another way to create useful links. It is important though to avoid performing high volume and low quality guest blogging, because Google may consider these links unnatural. High quality guest blogging using original content is the one that works best and can bring optimal results.
- Contests or giveaways:
A contest or a giveaway is a great way to bring traffic and increase awareness for a website, but also to build new links.
- Broken link building:
With this technique, you locate recourse pages related to your market and you check the links on this page, locating any broken ones. Then, you contact the website’s owner, informing him about the broken link and asking him to replace it with a link to your website.