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How to Improve Your Search Engine Ranking in 5 Minutes or Less
How important is SEO? We often think about SEO in positive terms. Obviously, phenomenal SEO tips can increase your site’s traffic dramatically over a period of time. But after the release of Google’s Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates, it’s also way past time to start thinking about how important SEO is in negative terms. SEO is so important that mistakes—doing it wrong—can literally cost you an 80% drop in web traffic.
Andrew Youderian from eCommerceFuel found this out the hard way when his outsourced SEO garnered him penalties after Google introduced its Penguin update. After spending many long hours doing the hard work needed to optimize his first site for search and reaping the benefits, Youderian launched a second site and then decided to outsource the SEO to an agency because he was too busy to do it himself. He trusted this agency and didn’t provide any oversight of their work. One day he woke up and found that his site’s traffic had dropped by 80% overnight. Literally overnight. Youderian poured over his analytics and realized that the drop in traffic had coincided almost exactly with the release of Penguin, which targets over optimized sites and backlink profiles. So he started asking his SEO agency what was going on. He uncovered a “trail of over-optimized links, with one page having 14 of the 15 linking domains using similar anchor text.” Essentially, Youderian’s agency was participating in black hat SEO, the kind of backlink schemes that Penguin was designed to identify and destroy: poor quality links, paid links, links where the anchor text is artificially over-granular, and unnatural links from bad neighborhoods.
Youderian realized much too late that you need to pay careful attention because you're responsible for your SEO, even when you're not doing the actual work yourself. Black hat tactics—bad SEO practices—can impact your site dramatically. In some cases, it can irreparably harm it, especially if you haven’t diversified your traffic portfolio and you rely exclusively on Google for traffic. But Yourderian’s story isn’t unique. Thousands of sites suffered a similar fate after the release of Penguin.
Now more than ever it’s imperative that content marketers learn how to optimize their sites for search, but also become aware of specific practices that can cost them credibility in Google’s eyes. People mistakenly believe that SEO is rocket science. But as I’ve said elsewhere, while SEO may be rocket science in theory, it doesn’t have to be in practice. There are some very simple things you can start doing immediately that will have a dramatic impact on your pages’ ranking. White hat tactics—good SEO practices—will net you fantastic rewards if you put in the time and work.
Generally, you will want to focus on the following 3 areas:
- Quality Optimization
- Quality Content
- Quality Relationships
The following list is far from complete, but it does offer an array of SEO techniques that can be implemented fast while improving your ranking in SERPs and increasing organic traffic. More importantly, it includes some SEO practices to avoid. Indeed, some of these tactics can be implemented in less than a minute.
Increase Site Speed. Your site's loading speed is key, and you should check how fast your site loads because the sites that load slower will lose viewers. If people can’t view your content or it takes forever to load, they will leave. This seems so basic as to almost warrant not mentioning at all, but you would be surprised how many content marketers take site-speed for granted, especially when they are using rich media (or ads) that increase load time. Slow load speed contributes to a high bounce rate, which is another factor Google takes into consideration when assessing the quality and, more importantly, the relevance of your content for a search query. Do yourself a favor and get Google Search Console and check your site’s load speed. Some quick fixes can include optimizing your images and reducing excessive media in your content.
Optimize Mobile. I’ve placed this tip at the top of the list because it's huge. In early 2015, Google announced that mobile friendliness would be included as a key ranking signal. If you haven't optimized your website for mobile, you need to do that today. Consider creating an Accelerated Mobile Page to better serve your users with a faster, more responsive mobile website. If you use Google Search Console, you can easily set up AMP. And yes, part of optimization means you should test your mobile site. This is a simple process, but so many people miss it. You need to test your site on a variety of devices—desktop, tablet, mobile etc. Can you view the content well, are their obstacles in the way of activities, do all of the buttons work? You'll notice that the format and layout might change significantly from device to device.
Go Mobile-First. But it’s not enough to be mobile friendly. We need to shift our mindset to “mobile first.” According to Google, mobile users have surpassed desktop users. Indeed, over 60% of online traffic now comes from mobile. So your mobile SEO tactics are going to be key going forward. Having an optimized page is a great start, but you also need to consider how people are searching when using their phones. Traditional SEO keyword strategy relied on the typical way people keyed their query into a desktop search bar. However, mobile users usually speak their queries, which changes the phrasing dramatically and means longer, more descriptive search terms. The Hummingbird algorithm update is a response to the shift from keyed search to voice search and better enabled Google to handle “conversational” search queries.
Test & Optimize Your Website Across Browsers. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. This is obvious. But your website also needs to be tested on every browser, especially after there's been any formatting changes implemented or new web dev. But here’s the interesting part. You should optimize your site based upon the browser that most of your audience is using. How do you know which browser your audience is primarily using? Well, you can use a number of tools, but Google Analytics will break usage down not only by browser, but also by device.
Provide Google with a Site Map. Yup, I said site map. Seems like something out of Web 1.0 doesn’t? Before you recoil in horror, hear me out. Site maps are one of the best and quickest ways you can optimize your site for search. Why? Site maps are good for your site because you actually give Google Bot a plan for crawling your site as well as showing how content on your site is organized. The more you help google to understand your content and how it’s organized, the easier Google can crawl it and the more it learns about your content for ranking purposes. Why wouldn’t you want to make it easier for Google to crawl your content? And here’s the best part: with some tools, you can provide Google with a site map in under a minute.
Minimize Ads at the Top of the Page. You may not know this, but Google actually has a page layout algorithm that checks to ensure you have more content above the fold than you do ads. This “Top Heavy Algorithm” will penalize sites that have more ads than content above the fold, making it difficult for visitors to access content. Not only will you be penalized for too many ads at the top of your page, ads also reduce a page’s load time, which negatively impacts your visitor’s experience. Pay special attention to your layout and make sure users don’t need to scroll down before visitors can see or read your actual content.
Check Your Full-Screen Ads and Placement. Many sites use full-screen floating ads, also known as overlay ads, that fill the visitor’s entire browser window, preventing them from viewing any content. Google doesn’t like anything that blocks a user’s ability to access the content they came for. If you have ads that open to full page, make sure the user can easily close them using any device. It's frustrating to want to read content and wind up blocked by an ad for foot cream that you can't close. Also, realize that mobile users are scrolling with their finger. Try to place your ads so they won't accidentally click on them as they're trying to scroll through YOUR content.
Use Pop-Up & Interstitial Ads Sparingly. I don't want to say to NEVER use pop-ups because they can be useful to add to your mailing list and other points of conversion. In fact, pop-ups or interstitial ads are a very powerful tool for increasing conversions on your site. But using too many of them is annoying. And you really want to avoid anything that will cause your visitors to leave or even roll their eyes. When a user is unhappy and leaves immediately due to overt commercialism, i.e., being spammy, Google knows and your site gets penalized.
Include Internal Links (Linking In). Okay, I’m just going to come out and say it. Your site or blog needs to be as sticky as it possibly can be. You need visitors to come to your site and stick around. Um. . . for a while. The longer they stay on your site or blog, the more likely it is that they will read other content and then hopefully purchase something on your site. The longer they stay on your site or blog—the more pages they view—the higher your site’s session time will be, which is a key ranking signal for a site’s quality. How do you get visitors to stick around? You make it easy for them to find other relevant content on your site. There are many ways to make it easy, but the easiest and I mean the easiest method is to include relevant links in every piece of content to other content on your site. That means your content collection—blog, pages, apps, quizzes, infographics, and assets—needs to be cohesive. The bonus is that the more internal links you provide, the easier it is for Google Bot to crawl and index your site.
Include External Links (Linking Out). Many bloggers are afraid to use this technique because they worry it will harm their reputation, damage search engine rankings, and cause their visitors to leave their site or blog. However, there is ample evidence that sites that use external links benefit from doing so. In fact, many of the most visited sites from Google to Reddit to Twitter to Yelp all use external links as a core web strategy. By linking to well-established authorities in your domain, you eliminate the risk of reputation harm and you can gain all of the following benefits: (1) become a reference source in your niche, (2) increase your quality ranking signal by sending links to high-quality sites, (3) incentivize return inbound links which is one of Google’s top two ranking signals.
Optimize Your Title. Your title page should be clear and optimized using your primary SEO keyword. You can also add company branding to the "About" page or at least one page of your website. Users should never have to scroll to find the title.
Use Great Keywords. Keywords are still the meat of your SEO strategy, and it's important that you choose the right words for your purpose. There are a number of tools you can find to help, but it often comes down to what your ideal prospect might be searching under specifically. The best tool is Google’s Keyword Planner where you can find monthly search volume for keywords and how difficult or easy it will be to rank for that keyword.
Vary Keywords. Don't throw every keyword that remotely deals with your content onto every page. Choose the right keywords for an individual page, and don't repeat them on other pages. Each page should have different primary SEO keywords. Sites don’t rank in Google, pages do. So your job is to get as many of your pages ranking in Google’s SERP as possible. Sure you could try to get 2 or more pages ranking for the same primary keyword, but why would you do that when you can get two pages ranking for two separate keywords, thus increasing organic traffic to your site?
Develop Creative Headlines. Titles that pique readers' interest get more attention. It’s the job of a title or headline to sell the content that follows. Exciting headlines tend to get more views, so it's important that you take some time when creating your titles. Content marketers spend so much time crafting the content, but they basically forget to create a compelling headline that will grab attention. No matter how good the blog post is, if the headline is boring or poorly written, no one will ever click on your post to read it. And your post won’t get shared or inspire someone to read more content on your blog—two ranking signals for Google—if they never read your post.
Use Keywords in Title. Use your primary SEO keyword in the title of your content, preferably toward the beginning. Seriously. Probably the easiest thing you can do on this list, yet so many content marketers just don’t do this.
Use Keywords in Content. Use your keyword again in the first paragraph and then a few more times in the body of your content. But be careful not to overdo it, or your content could get penalized by Google for keyword “stuffing.” Try to strike the right balance between content length and keyword “density”. If you’re at all confused, just ask yourself if the way you’re using the keyword in your post feels natural. If it doesn’t feel natural to you, it won’t feel natural to Google’s algorithm.
Limit Title Tag Length. When creating your title tag, you want to keep it to 55 characters. Anything after that will be truncated when viewed in Google. The keyword should also be included in the beginning if possible, but don’t front load it if it creates a really bad title. Use your best judgment.
Don't Use Click Bait. Any practice that leads visitors to your site under false pretenses is a bad practice, and one that will be penalized, either organically through dropped traffic or through ranking. So choosing short tail keywords because they have a high monthly search volume or because you want to rank for a keyword in SERPs rather than because they are relevant to your content’s topic is something you should avoid. This is particularly important with the Panda update to Google’s algorithm, which specifically targets bad content or black hat spam that lures unsuspecting visitors to content with fake keywords and keyword stuffing. Your content needs to be genuinely useful to attract and keep visitors as well as rank for a keyword.
Create Quality Content. This piece of advice will never change or become outdated. It’s farther down this list because although it’s obviously one of the top two ranking signals for Google, it’s also really hard to achieve and takes time. Regardless, you need to prioritize the quality of your content higher than anything else. If the choice is between regular updates that are mediocre and a few high-quality updates, pick quality every time. This tip is important enough that it deserves many long and thoughtful posts.
Increase Readability. You want your content to speak to your audience. For many websites, that means a clean, conversational language and tone. But it does depend on your audience. If your website is targeting Neurosurgeons, they probably don't want content written at a 4th-grade reading level. However, readability isn’t just about the complexity of your sentence structure and the breadth of your vocabulary. In fact, it’s mostly about content length and organization. The longer your post or feature article is, the more likely it is that you should break down that content into consumable chunks and place clear sign posts throughout the content to help a reader follow the narrative or argument you’re developing to increase cohesion and readability. Some content genres, like the listicle (which this post is an example), already have “sign-posting” built into the format. But when you are going “off-genre” into new terrain, try to empathize with your reader and provide them as much help as you can to read and understand your content.
Grammar Counts. We all hate those people who correct our grammar and spelling on quick Facebook posts, but they have a point. While it's okay to have a typo in a quick communication, it’s less acceptable in professional copy, which is everything on your website. These little things—these missed details—attest to the quality of your content and, as I said earlier, quality is a critical factor in your ranking in Google. So you should proof and double check everything that gets published on your site or blog. However, while God may be in the details, we’re all human and mistakes happen, especially if you’re a one-person show and literally don’t have the time to spend proof-reading a 5000-word post or budget to spend on an out-sourced copyeditor. My advice is to do your best to copyedit before publication and then continue to revise and correct after the post is published. Many content marketers new to this game don’t realize that a great “10x” content asset is likely to become evergreen, which means that over a 2-year period after first publication, traffic to that asset will steadily increase, rather than decline. Better late, than never :)
Add Great Images. Great web content uses fantastic images and the images should match the content. As opposed to the 10 blue links that Google used to display, today 85% of search engine results represent rich media, information from the Knowledge Graph, maps, local listings, social media, news, wikis, reviews and much more. The more images you include the higher the probability that your site will come up in the SERP and you can’t show up in searches for images if you don’t have any in your content. Moreover, there's nothing worse than seeing one image with a title for a post and following the link to find that the image has nothing to do with the article. Irrelevant images that have little or no relationship to a search query will likely frustrate users and ultimately cause Google to penalize your site.
Adding SEO Friendly Image Tags. You can boost your SEO by tagging photos in a creative and SEO friendly way. Your article needs an image that reflects the topic of the post or has illustrative purposes within the article. An image that is surrounded by related text ranks better for the keyword it is optimized for.
Develop Video Content. Video content is fantastic for conversion. People are upwards of 65% more likely to buy a product after watching a video. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world and, hey, guess what? It’s owned by Google. Just think about it. If you are not doing video content, you are missing out on almost 50% of your audience. As I said earlier, given that Google is shifting toward rich media on SERPS, rankings for web pages with video embedded are excellent. If you aren't using video, you should think about adding it. I’ve included this tip at the bottom of the list, not because it isn’t effective, but because the barrier to entry is higher with video content. However, the barriers are being broken down with tools like GoPro and apps like SnapChat, Vine, and live video etc.
Don’t Duplicate Content & Verify Copyright. A key ranking signal for Google is quality content. Quality is defined, especially in an online world where it can be easily stolen and/or copied, as “original.” Most of us wouldn’t dream of copying other people’s content, but there are a few situations where some of us can get into trouble without actually intending to. First, if you're using someone else's image or copy, you need to check the copyright and verify that you CAN use it. You can't just copy an image from another site without sourcing or getting permission. It's theft. There are free sources for images and there's always the option of taking your own, but you do need to verify that you have permission to use anything you didn't create. The same holds true for copy. You should also use best practices and given them credit on your page as the source for your content. Second, you may write an original piece of content and then mistakenly republish it in other areas on your site or outside your site, such as your social media profile or a news aggregation site like Reddit. That’s fine, but you need to wait at least a week so that Google can index your site and identify your content as the original source for that content OR you need to include a “rel=canonical tag” in the HTML head of the web page with the duplicate content. The rel=canonical tag passes the same amount of link juice (ranking power) as a 301 redirect and often takes much less development time to implement. Both solutions allow you to publish duplicate content without getting penalized for it.
Bonus: Acquire Inbound Links. Inbound links lend credibility to your site, increase ranking, and offer you free promotion from other sites. It’s actually one of the top two ranking signals according to Google. I’ve included this tip as a bonus not because it’s least effective, but because this tactic is probably the most difficult and time-consuming tactic to boost your content for Google’s algorithm and will take time. However, coming up with strategies to ethically increase your inbound links is definitely worth your time. Guest blogging is a fantastic way to receive inbound links because you can link to your own content within your guest post and most well-known platforms will link your website as a thank you. It's important that you only guest blog on platforms where it's relevant to what you do—other expert blogs in your industry or an adjacent industry that can use your expertise.
These 25 tips touch on many different topics related to SEO and content marketing, and there's so much more I haven’t covered here. If you're interested in improving your SEO tactics and working with your website, you should go in knowing that you need to be a lifelong learner. Web content has evolved constantly and will continue to do so—it's one of the most exciting aspects of the field. There are a few things that never change, though. If you focus on the user experience and always use tactics that IMPROVE their ability to find the content they want, you're going to be rewarded not only with an increase in traffic, but also with a loyal audience who will continue to consume your content for years to come.
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