Warning: Today’s post is a long one:
I have decided to cover (almost) all of the SEO that I could think of. I’m sure I will have forgotten a few and my intention is to keep this post up to date as time goes by. So anyway, today’s post is a very quick look at how to improve your SEO and generate more traffic to your site.
There isn’t time to go into detail on every aspect, but if you are stuck for ideas and looking for inspiration hopefully you will find something new that you can try. Remember that the goal is always to make your website better for your users and to generate more traffic.
Who Should Use This:
Anyone really. If you are experienced in online marketing you’re probably doing lot of these already, but if you find one new idea to try then that’s a plus. If you’re new to SEO then take this slowly – you don’t need to do everything on this list to be successful and it is more important to do the main things well.
Easy On-Page SEO Tips
HTML Page Titles
Does every page on your website have a page title? Have you carefully thought about each page title and made it compelling? Ideally your page titles should contain your target keywords but it is more important to write titles that make your target audience want to click. Google limit the length of title that they will display based on pixels, so rather than sticking to 70 chars, use this snippet optimizer.
Your meta description is what appears below your page title in results pages on Google and Bing, and may appear other places too. It doesn’t hold much or any weight from an algorithmic point of view so it won’t directly impact rankings, but it can have a big impact on click through rate which can impact rankings and traffic. Every page should have one, each one should be unique and a character limit of around 155 is a good idea (or use the tool I linked to a moment ago).
Image Alt Tags
Do all of your images have alt tags? What about file names? Neither of these factors have a huge impact, but they can have a benefit and it is very easy to include alt tags as long as you do it as you go along. If you haven’t been doing, make a resolution to use them from now on, and try to gradually add them to older content too. Use this tool to check which images don’t have an alt tag.
Correct Use Of H Tags
Mis-use of H tags is pretty common, but they are easy to use. Just use common sense as much as possible. For most pages there should be one main heading (H1) and then you should use H2, H3 etc… for sub-headings and sub-sub-headings. You can use CSS to make them look however you want, but the tags help Google and certain browsers to understand the layout of your pages more easily.
Crawlability can get complicated for some sites, but for most sites all you need to do is ensure that all of your pages can be found, crawled and indexed by Google. This means that you need internal links which are written in HTML (avoid flash or JS based navigation) and ideally you want every page to be accessible within 3-5 clicks of the homepage. Once you have done that, make sure that you haven’t done anything silly like block robots using a badly written robots.txt/.htaccess file or by adding rel “nofollow, noindex” tags.
There are various ways to approach the sitemap. At its most complex a sitemap can be written in XML with various other fields and then submitted to the search engines. This is fine, but if your site is well structured it shouldn’t be necessary. My recommendation is to include an HTML sitemap on your site – this is essentially just a page which lists every other page on your site. If you set this up within your CMS system it should always be up to date and will help search engines find every page on your site easily – as well as being potentially helpful for your actual users!
SEO Friendly URLs
You know what SEO friendly URLs are right? It’s the difference between a page being found at example.com/p?id=34 and example.com/page-title. The actual impact for SEO is probably not huge, but the impact on usability is. URLs which are easy to understand for humans are much more likely to be linked to and shared. If your CMS system doesn’t support SEO friendly URLs you should seriously consider trying to add that ability.
Advanced On-Page SEO
Page Load Speed
Although page load speed isn’t a huge factor, it is one of few that Google have actually stated is part of the algorithm. Moreover though, a faster loading page can also improve user response by reducing bounce rates and increasing interaction and engagement. When you consider the number of mobile users at the moment, page speed is even more important. And fyi, user response is thought to be a part of the algorithm, so reducing load times could have a double benefit to your rankings – all the more reason to be ruthless. Google have a tool for optimizing page speed too.
Micro-data comes in two formats, there is Schema.org and RDFa. Micro-data is more suitable for some sites than others, and each standard has its own set of definitions and things that it is better for. This is worth exploring to see if you can use it for your site. It is typically used to add more structured data to web pages which search engines can understand more easily – for example: you might add brand, model number, price etc… to a product listing, or perhaps dates and ratings for concerts or events information.
Check For 404 Errors
As your website grows it gets more and more likely that you will have 404 errors and broken links creeping in. It is a good idea to frequently scan your site for broken links and update them. Additionally if you find 404 errors on your own site don’t forget to update your .htaccess file with a 301 redirect to the most relevant new page. Use this tool to check for broken links.
Cross Browser Testing
User experience is everything, and can have a real impact on your traffic as well as your rankings, so testing your pages on different browsers and different devices is a good idea. You don’t need to do this regularly, but each time you make a change, do ensure that your site still works in the most popular browsers (and don’t forget mobile browsers!)
There is a lot that you can do with your htaccess file, but perhaps the most important functions are to re-write your URLs (SEO friendly URLs, see above) and to ensure that all of your URLs resolve to the right place. You should also be careful to ensure that your pages and CSS / JS files are crawlable, but you can block access to private areas of the site if you wish, as well as login pages, checkout pages etc…
There is often more than one way to find a webpage, and a rel-canonical tag is one way to ensure that the correct URLs get indexed (the alternative is an htaccess redirect). If your home page can be accessed at both example.com, www.example.com and example.com/home.html then a rel canonical tag will tell Google which URL is the correct one. You can also use rel-canonical when an old page is moved to a new location if for some reason you don’t want to 301 the entire page.
Internal linking is super important for usability and it also helps search engines to find their way around your site and to better understand which pages are related to which other pages. A site map is great, but contextual internal links are the navigation items that real users will use, and so they give a much better indication of relevance and context. You should be ensuring that you always add relevant links within pages and especially within blog posts. You should also regularly revisit old posts and add links to newer ones.
Data And Analytics
Every SEO campaign revolves around ranking for certain keyword phrases, and although keywords aren’t as important as they used to be, it is worthwhile knowing which keywords you are targeting and why. Google’s keyword planning tool is a helpful start, but you can also use tools like SEM Rush to get more ideas by seeing what your competitors are doing. Using Adwords is also a good way to guage the true value (to you) of each phrase before you choose to SEO for it. Above all else, when choosing keywords to target, consider commercial intent and relevancy – “if someone searches for this phrase is my site the best result for their query?”
Google Webmaster Tools
There is a lot that you can do with GWT and you should take advantage of the wealth of information. Not least is the fact that if anything goes wrong with your site, Google will tell you about it. You can use GWT to see how many pages of your site are indexed (and if there are any crawling issues), you can submit a sitemap and you can see what terms you are ranking for and what search results pages your site has shown up in. So if you find that a blog post has shown up in certain queries, you might decide to go and improve that post in the hopes of increasing those rankings further.
Bing Webmaster Tools
It’s easy to forget that there are other search engines in the world, and sure, Google are by far the biggest, but Bing are worth considering too, and any traffic you get from Bing has the potential to link to you or share your site and help increase your Google rankings too. So if you haven’t already, sign up for BWT.
Page Title CTR
Your page titles are not all about getting the right keywords in there, they are about getting clicks and traffic. Improving your titles and your click through rates can increase your traffic and your rankings. Using GWT you can see which queries your pages are appearing for, so you can tweak your titles for those exact queries. Alternatively, some people use Adwords to test page title and meta description ideas – if you have the budget, this is potentially a great idea.
Monitor For New Links
The days of link building for SEO are just about behind us now. Certainly building links for traffic is valuable, but if you can’t earn links you will struggle to earn rankings. By using tools like open site explorer and GWT (and in fact BWT may be the most accurate for new links) you can see new links as they are found and you can get an insight into which pages and content on your site is most linkable. By understanding which parts of your site have earned links you can focus your content marketing to earn even more.
Monitor For Bad Links
With all the penalties floating around these days, and with Google being on the war path against spammy guest posting, you really do need to keep an eye out for potentially damaging links. One or two shouldn’t be a problem, but you should check regularly, and if you notice an increasing number of dodgy links appearing you may want to take action.
Once you’re done checking your own links you can check your competitors’ links. Sites linking to your competitors have already shown a willingness to link out, so it is often possible to get them to link to you too. If your site is fairly new, it is also helpful to see which content on your competition’s website gets the most links, as this will give you ideas for writing your own content.
Conversion Rate Optimization
A large part of what we do at Think Traffic is CRO and that’s for the simple reason that it works. There are few ways to get a faster ROI increase than by improving your website’s user interface. Any improvement to your website that reduces your bounce rates and/or increases your conversion rates is great for SEO, it increases the stickiness of your site and increases your chances of earning links as well as meaning that you make more money of course!
There is too much that can be done with Analytics to fit into a short paragraph, the best reports to look at though are those which give you an insight into how people are using your site. Look for pages which load slowly, pages with high bounce rates and high exit rates and try to improve those figures. You can also view your traffic sources and see which traffic sources are most valuable; for example: if a link sends you a lot of traffic, try to get that site to link to you again.
Install “Block Analytics”
Install a browser plugin which blocks you from Analytics. Here is the one for Chrome. Once installed you can tell the plugin to block Analytics for all sites that you are doing SEO on. This ensures that your own activity on those sites isn’t tracked and doesn’t skew your data.
We’ve already had a look at your competitors’ links, but you can also look at how they are doing SEO. If you want to rank for a particular phrase, go and Google that phrase and analyse those sites who are already ranking on the first page. What are they doing differently to you? Do their pages have content or functionality that is better than your site? This is a great way to get an insight into what Google thinks is relevant for that particular search. How can you make your page deserve to outrank these sites?
Content Marketing Strategy
Set A Schedule
You may not think that anyone is watching (if your audience is fairly small) but starting a proper schedule right now is a good idea because you never know who might be paying attention. Setting a blogging schedule will also force you to be consistent and publish content regularly, which is an important part of content marketing. The best content marketers are the ones who keep at it and learn what works and what doesn’t.
Brainstorming content ideas is tough, so it’s a good idea to note down ideas wherever they strike. Get into the habit of always looking out for ideas for things to blog about and when you feel inspired, brainstorm a few. I like to keep 3 lists: bare bones, needs work, good idea. Then I occasionally visit the first two lists to see if I can spin an idea into something better.
If you do it right a list can become a fantastic resource which people will want to link to. Don’t make every post a list, and don’t ever right mediocre lists. But when you have the time, writing a really comprehensive list (like this one) is a great way to attract links. And if it is ever-green content, it might continue to attract links for a long time.
Other Types Of Content
Think about what other types of content could work for your niche. Videos are a great way to attract links because a lot of people are unwilling to do them, so there is less competition. So why not try creating a video or brainstorming image based content ideas?
Respond To Other Bloggers
Hopefully you are regularly reading up on other goings on in your industry? Well make sure that you take part by commenting on the latest. If you agree or disagree with a blog post that you read somewhere, write your own post on the topic and let the blogger know. Even if you disagree, be respectful and the blogger might well link to you. This won’t work every time, but it’s a good way to get a discussion going.
This goes hand in hand with the previous post. Linking from your content to other bloggers and resources is vital. Although linking out (probably) doesn’t impact rankings directly, studies show a strong correlation between content that links to other content and high rankings. Linking out where relevant makes your content more helpful and shows readers that you care about being helpful – which adds a lot of credibility.
Go in depth
This is especially important in niches where a lot of content already exists. In depth articles give the reader a lot more value than articles that only scratch the surface. They also take more work, which makes them less common.
How do you feel when you read something with bad grammar and lots of typos? You may not care, but badly written content can be hard to read and annoying to read. Proof reading your content doesn’t take much work and it could save you from losing additional traffic.
If you write 3 new blog posts every week you will soon have a mountain of content and it may get harder and harder to think of original content ideas. But why not occasionally revive an old post? Bring it up to date, add more detail, find the things you missed first time around – and bring it back to your front page. Keep the URL the same so that it continues to get new links.
Some people love to have their egos rubbed and asking to interview a blogger or industry influencer is a great way to build relationships and to get content for your blog. Until you ask you never know, and if a “tier 1” person in your niche agrees to be interviewed it can give your site a lot of credibility.
Publish Guest Posts
Spammy guest posting is dead, but there is still a very real place for guest posting in your content strategy. Make it known that you are open to guest posts, but have guidelines and be super picky about every post that you publish – never publish a guest post if it’s not at least as good as something you would have written.
If you set up authorship correctly and assign an Avatar there is a chance that it may appear next to your content in search results pages. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s pretty easy to set up so there’s no excuse not to. Here’s how.
Social Media Strategy
Twitter is a very popular platform and sharing things on Twitter is super easy, which means that this platform has the potential to drive a lot of traffic and you can get results faster than you would be SEO alone. This is non-optional in my opinion.
Google’s social network has a relatively lower traffic potential than Twitter and Facebook, but it has a very real potential to help with your SEO since Google can personalise search results for your followers, meaning that if someone gives you a +1 or circles you they will be much more likely to see your other content in future.
Facebook doesn’t have a huge direct SEO impact, but if it works for your niche it can drive a lot of traffic. Even if you don’t use Facebook for your business, you should optimize your blog posts to get shared on Facebook.
It really depends on your niche, Pinterest is hugely popular and is a very visual platform, so if your business or product is a visual one then getting on Pinterest can generate a lot of traffic.
Linked In is a much more professional network and is the only one of the major social networks used more by Men then by Women (according to this), so if your customers are professional types or you are a b2b business, get on LinkedIn.
Whichever networks you use, you should start by following the main influencers in your niche. This has several benefits, but one of the biggest is that this will help you to see the latest developments in your industry sooner – you can use this insight to generate content ideas and write blog posts.
Reply To Them
Social media is all about being sociable, so respond to people. Even if they don’t always respond at first, they will eventually notice. Obviously, respond in helpful or courteous ways. Don’t pester them constantly. Over time you will build more of a presence and they may eventually start following you.
Set A Schedule
Just like with blogging, setting a schedule keeps you consistent and will let your audience know what to expect. Once you get into a habit it should be fairly easy to remember to write Tweets and remain active.
Buffer is an awesome app that let’s you queue up social media posts to be published according to your pre-set schedule. You say when you want posts to go out and it automatically adds new posts to the next available slot.
Optimize Your Schedule
Buffer also tracks clicks on links that you send, so over time you can tweak your schedule and figure out what times of day are most effective for your Tweets, Facebook posts etc… You can set your schedule accordingly for maximum impact.
A lot of people just share blog posts by Tweeting/Posting a title and link. Do this occassionally, but try to be more creative and use those characters to the maximum effect. Add a little comment of your own so that your posts are original and unique.
IFTTT + Feedly
Set up a Feedly account and add all of your favourite blogs to your feed and to a group. Then sign up for IFTTT (if this then that), this simple automation service can (amongst other things) automatically email or text you when a new post appears on any of your favourite blogs. This is a great way to be truly up to date on your niche.
As you create your social profiles you should be using a personal avatar, ideally an image of you. Setting up a Gravatar account will ensure that wherever you appear on the web, your picture appears with you. This is a vital step in building a personal brand.
Link Building / Traffic Generation
No, forum spammy isn’t a good way to build links for SEO, but being an active member of a relevant forum is a fantastic way to become better known by influencers and potential customers. Using a signature link and contributing helpful forum posts is a great way to build traffic.
Again, it’s not for SEO, it’s for branding and traffic. Using your IFTTT set up you can ensure that you are one of the first to read and comment on every important blog post in your niche. Provide detailed, insightful comments and you will get a little traffic and build your recognition.
Q&A pages are yet another great source of traffic. Sign up for Quora and follow topics that are relevant to your niche, then enable email updates for each topic and you will be emailed every time a new question is asked. You can include links in your answer, but only if it is relevant, so choose your questions well and give solid answers, linking to your blog and other blogs as relevant.
Guest posting is not dead, in fact it is still an awesome way to build traffic and get the ball rolling, but only if you do it right. My advice is to assume that your link will be “NOFOLLOW” and therefore the only benefit is traffic and branding. A good guest post can drive a surge of traffic to your own blog, which can in turn produce some natural links.
Not everyone has the budget for this, but if you do, there are a few great ways to use paid traffic to get the ball rolling. Remember that buying those links won’t help your SEO, but if you are writing great content and following all the other tips above, using services such as Facebook Ads, Sponsored Tweets and Stumble Upon paid traffic can get you a bit of initial traffic which can quickly kick start your organic traffic.
Do you operate as a local business? For some businesses local listings aren’t relevant, but for many they are and in your local area there is probably less competition, so setting up a local listing is a good way to gain a little extra traffic.
Building links by looking for broken links is a great idea. The aim is to find resource lists on other blogs which have broken links. You use wayback machine to figure out what the link used to link to, create a new, up to date version on your blog (if you don’t already have a suitable post) and then email the site owner (of the resource list) and tell them that they have a broken link, but you have created a new resource that they could link to instead.