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  1. 50 Reasons Your Landing Page Isn’t Working

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    If you have a landing page set up and you’ve noticed that your conversion rate isn’t growing, or that your audience isn’t engaging with your content, it can be confusing and frustrating. This is especially the case because landing pages are affected by hundreds of independent variables.

    So how on earth are you supposed to tell why your landing page isn’t working?

    In this guide, I present to you 50 possible reasons your landing page isn’t working—with solutions for each.

    Why Landing Pages Matter

    If landing pages are so complicated in the first place, why use them?

    • Landing pages provide destinations. No matter what types of marketing and advertising you’re pursuing, your users need somewhere to go. Landing pages provide that ideal destination.
    • They’re a focal point for conversion. Landing pages give you the opportunity to confront your users with a conversion opportunity, maximizing your potential revenue and/or customer value.
    • They allow for segmentation. Because landing pages are separate from your site, you can also use them to segment your target demographics and cater to them individually.

    So with all these advantages, why isn’t your landing page seeing better results?

    Why You Aren’t Getting More Conversions

    Let’s take a look:

    1. You haven’t measured anything.

    First, ask yourself how you’re able to determine the success of your landing page. Are you going by a gut feeling? Are you just noticing that nobody has filled out your contact form? If you aren’t measuring more in-depth metrics, such as how many people are visiting your landing page or what your exit rate is, you’ll blind yourself to the real variables responsible for your performance. This is inexcusable, especially since so many free tools, like Google Analytics, are on the market. If you haven’t been measuring and analyzing your progress, get started immediately—you’ll need those numbers to measure how effective your correctional strategies are.

    2. It isn’t loading properly.

    Don’t scoff at this. You’d be shocked and embarrassed to learn how many people scratch their heads over why more people aren’t converting when their pages don’t load properly to begin with. Fortunately, this is simple to detect and fix. If you’re looking for the easiest way, try visiting your landing page using as many different devices and browsers as you can think of. Is it loading? Are all your images viewable? Is your form easy to see? You can use a tool like BrowserStack to help test this. Otherwise, be sure to check out Google Search Console, which can tell you if your website is down and help you track down the reason.

    3. It doesn’t view correctly on mobile devices.

    Mobile optimization is a critical feature for your landing page, just like your main website, as the majority of traffic, for many businesses, now comes from mobile devices. Because landing page layouts are especially sensitive to directing users’ eyes and interactions, it’s vital that your page look attractive and engaging on mobile devices specifically. Is the bulk of your content easily viewable? Is all your text readable? Are your buttons easy to find and click, without zooming? Is it able to scroll easily? If not, you may wish to reconsider your design to cater to these mobile users. Again, BrowserStack can help diagnose problems here.

    4. The buttons or form fields aren’t functioning properly.

    Your web form is the star of your landing page; if it isn’t functioning properly, your visitors aren’t going to proceed with converting. Run multiple tests on multiple browsers and devices to make sure your functionality is intuitive and responsive; for example, is it easy to click into a form field? Do you proactively warn your visitors when they haven’t filled out a required field? Are your buttons easy to click? Do your dropdown menus load quickly and easily? Any deviation here could be an excuse to abandon your landing page, so don’t take chances.

    5. You aren’t targeting a niche audience.

    Who, specifically, are you targeting with your landing page? If you don’t have an answer, or you have a generic one like “our customers,” you’re doing something wrong. One of the greatest strengths of a landing page is its ability to communicate with high precision to one specific group of people. If you aren’t taking advantage of that high relevance, your users aren’t going to be engaged. Think carefully about what niche you want to target, considering your competitors as well as your demographics’ dispositions, and narrow your focus to that audience.

    6. Your tone and presentation aren’t appealing to your target audience.

    Of course, if you already have a target audience in mind, you could be suffering from a lack of relevance—or an inability to target those users effectively. For example, you could be using a vocabulary that’s too high for your users to follow, or so low that it compromises your reputation. You could seem too “boring” to your young users, or too “juvenile” to your older ones. Examine your brand voice carefully as it permeates your landing page, and reevaluate the tone you use.

    7. Your color scheme is off.

    When it comes to the colors you use in your landing page, there aren’t many “right” or “wrong” decisions. However, there are a few best practices you’ll want to follow. For starters, your coloration should be in line with your brand and your industry—if the colors don’t feel like “you,” or if they give the wrong impression, it could interfere with your results. Your coloration should also enhance your text’s readability—if it makes it hard to read, you’ll deal with the consequences—and it should help to call out prominent areas of the page, such as your call-to-action (CTA).

    8. Your design is obsolete.

    When was your landing page designed? Who designed it? The fundamentals of web design have changed significantly over the years, with new trends emerging regularly. Users have grown accustomed to seeing things like full-sized background images, minimalistic, clear designs, “modern” fonts, tasteful links, intuitive forms of navigation, and easy-to-scroll content. If your landing page looks like it came from the 1990s, they’re going to be immediately turned away. If you’re confused about what this means or don’t have anything to compare your site to, take a look at some modern web design examples.

    9. Your design is too crowded.

    While it’s not an absolute necessity, it’s generally agreed upon that minimalistic landing page designs tend to work better than ones that are overcrowded with information, like the Adobe example below. Minimalistic landing pages give users space, allowing their eyes to wander naturally and settle upon only the most important parts of your content. Cramming in too much content or too many features can be both distracting and overwhelming, ultimately leaving your users unsatisfied. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should limit the amount of content you offer, but you should space it out to give your users ample room to digest it.

    adobe landing page

    (Image Source: Unbounce/Adobe)

    10. Your headline isn’t compelling.

    The first line of your landing page, the one that’s most visible when users get there, is the most powerful piece of copy you’ll offer. If you don’t grab your visitors’ attentions here, you may end up losing them forever. Your headline needs to be a strong description of what you’re offering, and a compelling reason to stick around and learn more. Get your users excited, and tell them exactly what they can expect from you. If you’re looking for inspiration, Unbounce has some great examples here.

    11. It’s hard to tell what you’re offering.

    Sometimes, visitors aren’t interested in an offer because they don’t understand what it is. For example, let’s say you’re offering a free trial of your software in exchange for a bit of personal information—but what does your software actually do? What are the options when the free trial expires? Why would anyone be interested in this in the first place? If your landing page leaves any of this ambiguous, it could be a reason for its failure.

    12. Your offer isn’t valuable enough.

    All conversions are an exchange of value, in one way or another. If you’re selling a product, visitors are exchanging money for the goods; if you’re generating leads, they’re exchanging personal information for something valuable, like a free consultation. If your visitors see and understand your offer completely, they may still believe it to be too low a value to proceed with. As a simple example, if you’re charging too much for your product, people aren’t going to buy it—makes sense, right? Here, your best option is to use surveys to determine how valuable your offer really is, and make adjustments accordingly.

    13. Your form is too long to fill out.

    People are impatient, and they want things to happen fast. If your form is too long or too complicated to fill out, they aren’t going to invest any time in it. There’s no universal rule here, but try to keep your form fields as minimal as possible, such as asking for a first name, last name, and email address. Feel free to ask for more information, but be ready to back that request up with a better offer in exchange.

    14. You don’t have any visual engagement.

    Humans crave visual engagement. It’s easier to make a decision based on what we see rather than on what we read, because that’s how our ancestors survived for millions of years. At the very least, you should have a handful of images that show off your products, like Loot Crate does in the example below. If you’re not selling products, or if you’re selling something less tangible, consider including other types of images that convey the attitude of your brand or suggest the experience of your services. And they don’t have to be images—videos work well, too.

    Lootcrate

    (Image Source: Loot Crate)

    15. Your brand is inconsistent or invisible.

    Landing pages demand some different approaches than traditional websites, but you still need to have your brand carried throughout. Your brand personality and values should be evident in the image you present and the voice you use in every corner of your landing page if you want to give users a sense of comfort and familiarity. Even if they aren’t familiar with your brand, this is a powerful way to convince them that this is the type of company they want to deal with—don’t hide that personality.

    16. You don’t have information about your brand.

    Of course, your brand is about more than just your identity standards. There’s also a history to your brand, and probably a lot more to your company than you can adequately squeeze into the confines of a landing page. Include what information you can on your landing page without overwhelming your audience, and give them a chance to learn more with a link to a separate page or an embedded video. The information doesn’t need to be there explicitly, but it does need to be available for those who want to do more research on your business.

    17. There’s no contact information.

    Contact information gives people a sense of security. When they see a phone number at the top of your landing page, they’re reassured that someone exists on the other end to take care of any questions or concerns they have. When they see a live chat window, they feel like you care about your customers’ needs. Even if they don’t use these options, the fact that they’re there makes it more likely that they’ll convert, so if you omit them, it could be a source of your poor performance.

    18. You don’t have any trust badges.

    Of the 50 things on this list, trust badges probably seem like the most innocuous. These tiny symbols, proving your affiliation with various trustworthy organizations, may seem inconsequential compared to the functionality of your page and the strength of your design and copywriting, but the fact is they have a massive impact on your eventual conversion rates. If you don’t currently have any on your landing page, consider adding them in, and see what type of effect it has on your performance. You’d be surprised how many people they can convince.

    19. There’s no social proof.

    The majority of today’s consumers aren’t satisfied with a company’s proclamation that its product or service is the best—after all, they’re the ones trying to sell you on it. Instead, people are increasingly turning to social proof to back their decisions. These are things like reviews, testimonials, and even historical customer data—all of which are third-party indications that a company is worth working with. If you don’t have any of these soft recommendations and forms of social proof on your site, it could be a root cause of your landing page’s inability to perform.

    20. The CTA isn’t obvious.

    Your call-to-action (CTA), the main button or final step of the conversion process, should be blatantly obvious to anyone on your landing page. If it isn’t, it could seriously detract from your ability to achieve conversions. You can make your CTA more obvious by making it a button (rather than just a link), giving it a color that significantly stands out from the rest of your page, making it larger, or even placing it above the fold. You can even use subtler tactics, like arrows or other directional cues to guide your users’ focus to this area.

    21. There are too many distractions.

    Enough distractions can ruin even the best landing page. When designing your page, it’s tempting to include as much as possible, such as more information about your brand, other options, or even links to your blog posts and other materials. However, you need to remember that there’s one goal to your landing page; get people to convert. Anything other than that conversion opportunity qualifies as a distraction, and may distract your visitors from ever completing the process. You’ll need to eliminate these distractions if you want to see your conversion rates improve.

    22. You have too many options.

    Common sense would tell you that more options are a good thing—but that isn’t the case for landing pages. In fact, sometimes, fewer options can help you achieve more conversions. When you have too many variants on the same offer, people can get confused and intimidated, but in a selection between two or three choices, there’s usually one standout pick.

    23. It’s too similar to other landing pages.

    Take a look at your landing page and compare it to some of the other landing pages you see from your competitors. How similar does it look? Does it stand out in any unique way? It’s a good idea to look to other landing pages as sources of inspiration and to see best practices at work, but if you don’t have any unique qualities to make you stand out, you could end up alienating a major portion of your audience. Be sure to show off what makes your brand—and your offer—unique.

    24. Your page seems spammy or untrustworthy.

    If you try too hard to sell to your visitors, your site could come across as spammy, unprofessional, or untrustworthy. Gimmicky companies have used spammy, deceptive landing pages to trick people into buying products for years, so consumers have become hyper-sensitive to tactics like flashing lights, big promises, and excessive use of exclamation points. Make sure your landing page looks professional and approachable.

    25. Your customers simply aren’t ready to buy.

    Almost every buying decision occurs in several stages. Customers learn about a problem their facing, then learn about potential solutions, then learn about the companies offering solutions. If you offer a solution to a problem your audience doesn’t know they have, they aren’t going to convert. That means you need to make one of two changes; either refocus your target audience to get people in the right stage of the buying cycle, or change your offer to target the types of users you’re getting.

    26. You don’t have a clear UVP.

    Your unique value proposition (UVP) is a single, concise statement that explains why your offer is important and how it’s differentiated from the competition in a single go. It can be hard to come up with, and even harder to present to your audience in a clear, effective way, but it’s something you need if you want your landing page to become effective. You can use this statement as a headline, or a main focus somewhere else in your copy, but it should stand out to your incoming visitors.

    27. You haven’t listed the advantages of your product or offer.

    It’s not enough to describe what you’re offering. You need to describe the effects of what you’re offering—essentially, you need to explain why your customers would benefit from purchasing this product or taking you up on this offer. Desk does an awesome job with this in the example below; it reduces its complex and multifaceted software to a series of four main improvements. Keep this list accurate, concise, and simple—the flashier you are, the less convincing you’re going to be.

    desk.com landing page design

    (Image Source: Desk)

    28. Your copy is unprofessionally written.

    This may be a hard one for you to judge, especially if you’re the one who wrote it, but if your landing page isn’t performing, it could be due to an issue with the professionalism of your copy. Any single typo, like a spelling or grammatical error, could cause some users to stop trusting you; after all, if you can’t proofread your own landing page, you probably aren’t quality-checking your products or services. Any clunky, awkward, or poorly written sentences could also contribute to this image, so keep your copy as tight as possible to maximize your potential for success.

    29. Your copy is too sales-y or pushy.

    It’s unfortunate that many marketers resort to hard-selling tactics and sales gimmicks to try and earn more conversions. Today’s audience is sick of hearing sales speak, and they’re tired of seeing advertisements. If you try to bully your visitors into converting, they’re not going to comply—they’re just going to leave. Instead, it’s better to be as direct and honest as possible.

    30. You use too many big words or buzzwords.

    In that same vein, your visitors may be distrusting you if you use too many big words or buzzwords. Even if your vocabulary matches your target audience’s, excessive use of big words may make it seem like you’re overcompensating for something, and using too many buzzwords makes you sound lazy and unoriginal. Instead, try not to overthink your writing too much. Explain yourself in brief, simple sentences, again being as direct as possible.

    31. You don’t have any visuals of your offer.

    I already mentioned the importance of having strong visuals earlier in this guide, but here this tip extends specifically to your product or service. People want to see what they’re getting—even if it’s just a hint of it. Establish your visitors’ expectations by showing them a product demo video, or a slideshow of images from different angles, or if you’re offering something digital like an eBook, show them some screenshots or a previous example of your work.

    32. There’s no guarantee.

    People need a sense of security before they buy from you, or even sign up for a free trial. Explain any guarantees you might have, including money-back guarantees, return policies, or how your free trial works once it expires. If you don’t offer this information to your visitors, any hint of a doubt could be enough to dissuade them from actually following through with the conversion.

    33. There’s a human element missing.

    People want to buy from other people—not from faceless corporations. That’s why you need to have more of a human element present in your landing page. You can do this in a number of ways, but one of the most effective is also the simplest; just include more images of people, the way Uber does in the example below. You could also combine this with social proof by offering pictures of the people who have given you reviews and testimonials.

    Uber - Human Element in Landing Page Design

    (Image Source: Uber)

    34. Your landing page has too much content.

    Content is king, but that doesn’t mean you should overwhelm your users with it. If you have too much content on your landing page, there’s no way your visitors will read it all—and even if they do, they’ll likely be too overwhelmed or distracted to take any further action. Keep things concise.

    35. Your landing page has too little content.

    However, concise doesn’t mean light. Your landing page needs to be focused and brief, but shouldn’t be scarce. People need information to be able to make a decision, so make sure you include enough details to reassure your visitors they’re making the right one. Remember, you can always elaborate by linking out to a separate page.

    36. There’s no action-based language to direct user intent.

    Your landing page should also feature strong, action-based language, with verbs that encourage visitor behaviors. For example, callouts like “try it now” or “stop worrying about ____” are more effective than “available for purchase” or “the perfect solution.”

    37. There’s no sense of urgency.

    People make flash decisions on landing pages. If they don’t make a decision within the first 10 seconds or so of visiting, they’re going to leave—and if they leave, they probably aren’t coming back. Reverse your lacking performance by inducing a greater sense of urgency, which will reduce visitor hesitation and earn you more conversions overall. You can do this by including more time-based language, showcasing limited time offers, or displaying the limited quantity still available. Expedia is a master of this tactic, displaying small slide-ins that show users browsing hotels and airfare things like how popular this destination is, how full the hotel is, and how many more flight tickets are available for a given flight.

    38. The price doesn’t seem good enough.

    Note that this is a different dilemma than having an offer that’s not valuable enough. Here, your offer may be plenty valuable, but the price point doesn’t have as much initial appeal. The best way to beat this is to change how you present your pricing; for example, you could take advantage of the psychological effect of discounts by showing your price as marked down from a previous high point.

    39. You aren’t using buttons.

    Everything outside your form should be reduced to button format. Hyperlinks aren’t only ugly, they’re hard to click on mobile devices, so the more easily clickable buttons you can include in your design, the better – especially when you’re tapping your finger on a mobile device.

    40. It’s clear your work came from a template.

    Take a close look at your site as it compares to others. If it looks like it came from a template, it may look unprofessional. That doesn’t mean you can’t use a template—it just means you have to be judicious when choosing one, opting for a platform that looks original, or at least stands apart from the usual options. Similarly, try to avoid using stock photography when you can—it often comes off as cheap and impersonal. Invest in original images that have never been used before.

    41. You haven’t called upon personal brands.

    Personal brands are extremely powerful in the marketing world. They’re personal (obviously), which makes them more relatable, and it’s possible to use them as a reinforcement of your brand’s reputation. For example, you could use your CEO’s image and a quote from him/her to describe his/her vision for the company. Something along the lines of “I built this company from the ground up so we could…” instantly adds some depth to your company’s history and may boost your visibility as well. If implemented correctly, people will feel like they’re reaching out to a person, rather than some faceless corporation.

    42. There isn’t enough flexibility.

    It’s true that as a general rule, you should seek to limit the choices your users have; but this mostly applies to things like product options and service plan offerings. Since you’ll be asking users for something valuable (money or personal information), you’ll need to give them some flexibility when it comes to options. For example, while you’ll need to make some of your forms required, many of your forms should be listed as optional to fill out. Similarly, it’s wise to accept a number of different payment options, so you don’t alienate anyone who feels more comfortable with one option over another. For example, SalesForce offers multiple ways to sign up for its free trial:

    salesforce

    (Image Source: SalesForce)

    43. There’s no social element.

    There are many angles to take with integrating social media into your landing page, so if you aren’t using any of them, you’re missing out on some free extra traffic and conversions. For starters, you could embed some of your latest tweets and social media posts into your landing page as a secondary means of social proof. You could also add links to your social media profiles as a peripheral “soft” conversion (earning new followers in the process). You could even enable converters to share their experience on their social platform of choice to draw even more people to your page. All of these opportunities are free, easy, and can contribute to your page’s effectiveness.

    44. Your landing page isn’t exciting.

    If you want people to convert, you need to generate a little bit of enthusiasm. As we’ve seen, conversion is an emotional process as much as it is a logical one; merely presenting an item and describing why it’s worth what you’re requesting isn’t enough to persuade users. You need to get them energized, so use exciting language and images to jazz them up. Show them pictures of people having fun. Use strong, emotional words to make them sympathetically feel what you’re suggesting.

    45. You don’t have any concrete evidence or numbers.

    This isn’t an absolute necessity for your landing page, but it could be the factor that pushes them over the edge. If your landing page doesn’t have any numbers, concrete evidence, or statistics to back up what you’re offering or what you’re selling, people may be less convinced that it’s worth their time or money. Numbers are objective and inarguable, which makes them some of the most compelling types of evidence you can provide for your campaign. Even a single metric, like your current number of customers, can be valuable here.

    46. You haven’t marketed or advertised your landing page at all.

    Remember, landing pages are designed to serve as a destination for visitors; if you don’t have a stream of visitors to direct, it’s not going to be able to perform that duty. Even a well-designed landing page can’t attract visitors on its own in a vacuum, so you’ll need the help of marketing and advertising to get there. As for the specific channels you use to generate traffic, think about your target audience and choose from there—content marketing, SEO, PPC ads, social media marketing, and other forms of advertising are all viable.

    47. You’re advertising to the wrong audience.

    Earlier in this guide, I listed a poorly targeted landing page as a critical reason your landing page might not be working—but the targeting problem may begin even sooner, if you’re targeting the wrong audience in your marketing and advertising. Think of your advertising campaign as a filter for your incoming audience; this is your chance to choose exactly who should be coming to your landing page. Getting the right audience there is half the battle, so be sure you’re using whatever demographic targeting features you can, and refine your messaging.

    48. Your lead-in doesn’t match your page.

    Sometimes, marketers like to promise more than they can deliver in order to get people in the door. For example, you may claim that you’re offering “rock-bottom” prices for your products—but if a user arrives on your page and sees that these prices are barely competitive, let alone “rock bottom,” they may leave immediately. Truth in advertising goes a long way here; if you make a claim with your lead-in, make sure you’re able to back it up with the content that’s actually on your landing page.

    49. You haven’t diversified your traffic generation efforts.

    There’s more than one way to attract traffic to your landing page. How many have you tried? Even with audience targeting options in place, different traffic channels may offer different advantages for your brand; for example, social media users may be more energetic, and organic search visitors may be further along in the sales funnel. Even if you don’t stick with them forever, you should at least try a number of different traffic generation methods to maximize your potential.

    50. You haven’t experimented with anything.

    The secret to effectiveness in conversions and landing pages—and I’d argue marketing in general—is experimentation. There’s no universally reliable way to predict exactly how your audience will react to something until you actually make the change. And if you don’t change things, you’ll never know if it can be better. Your entire landing page strategy should be a constantly shifting experiment; change colors, change fonts, change layouts, change offers, and keep changing things, one at a time, until you piece together a product that earns the conversions you need. Unbounce and Leadpages are two highly respected and recommended A/B testing platforms for landing pages. Both allow you to create mobile-optimized pages from templates or scratch, and A/B test any element you can think of.

    Now that you’ve reached the end of this guide, you should have been able to pinpoint at least a handful of plausible reasons why your landing page isn’t more effective than it is. Once you put some corrections in place, you’ll be able to optimize your conversion rates and earn a higher overall return, but don’t be fooled in thinking that this new threshold is the ultimate goal; the truth is, your strategy can always be better, so continue striving for better and better results.

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  2. 101 Ways to Improve Your Website’s SEO

    9 Comments

    Table of Contents

    + Domain optimization
    + Global on-site optimization
    + Page-level on-site optimization
    + Link building
    + Social media
    + Correctional strategies

    When you’re looking for something—a good restaurant to eat at, the name of a good tax attorney, or just a random fact about the movie you’re watching—you usually turn to Google. Everybody does. And everybody clicks on one of the first entries in the search engine results pages (SERPs) they find.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if your site was at the top of that list?

    This is the goal of search engine optimization (SEO), but getting your site to rank that high—especially in a competitive environment—isn’t exactly straightforward. Google only reveals ambiguous descriptions of how its main algorithm works (to prevent spammers and manipulators), and over the years, we’ve discovered hundreds of potential ranking signals. Add in the fact that algorithms are always changing and improving, and it’s easy to see why SEO seems so confusing to so many.

    That’s why I’ve assembled this extensive list of 101 different ways you can improve your search rankings, boiling down our SEO knowledge into concrete, executable points that are easy to understand even for a novice.

    For organizational purposes, these are split into categories:

    • Domain optimization. These are strategies for how to choose, host, and maintain your domain.
    • Global on-site optimization. These are on-site tactics that apply to your entire site, either improving your authority and trustworthiness or ensuring your visibility to search crawlers.
    • Page-level on-site optimization. These are page-specific on-site updates, again either improving your authority and trustworthiness or ensuring your visibility to search crawlers.
    • Link building. These are strategies to build and earn backlinks, which are crucial for increasing your domain authority.
    • Social media. Social media marketing can’t increase your rankings directly, but it can have a massive bearing on secondary ranking factors.
    • Correctional strategies. These are tactics to fix issues or course-correct a slipping strategy.

    Without further ado, let’s dig into these 101 ways to improve your site’s search rankings!

    Domain Optimization

    1. Optimize your domain with target keywords.

    Your first job is to optimize your domain name with keywords you intend to target. The process of choosing keywords is a bit complicated—in fact, it’s worthy of its own monster post which I recently wrote, titled Keyword Research: The Ultimate Guide for SEO and Content Marketing—but for now, I’ll assume you’ve already gone through the process of picking target keywords relevant to your brand with high search volume and low levels of competition. Including one or more of these keywords in your domain name can be helpful in boosting your search rankings, as you’ll get added relevance for related queries. For example, if one of your keywords is “replacement windows,” a domain name like bobbysreplacementwindows.com could be advantageous. Obviously, this is much harder to do if you’ve already got an established domain—generally, it’s not worth changing your domain, but if you’re starting from scratch, it’s definitely worth considering.

    2. Shorten your domain length.

    While you’re in the process of choosing your domain name, it’s also a good idea to keep your domain length as short as possible. As you’ll see in some other URL-based optimization techniques, Google prefers to keep things as short, simple, and as straightforward as possible. The more characters you add to your domain, the more complicated it is for users to figure out what you do and the harder it is to remember or access a domain. When it comes to domain names, shorter is better.

    3. Keep subdomains clear and optimized.

    Not all brands or websites have subdomains; these are hierarchal distinctions within the coverage of a broader domain and can be used to distinguish a separate area of the site or a different brand entirely. For example, you might have example.com and blog.example.com domains to keep your eCommerce platform and blogging platform separate. Again, for the sake of pleasing Google with simplicity, you’ll want to keep your subdomains as concise and clear as possible; describe the nature of the subdomain in as few words as you can, and use target keywords when possible. For the record, I don’t recommend using a subdomain for your blog; instead, host your blog in a subfolder of your domain, so it looks like this: example.com/blog.

    4. Publicize your WHOIS information.

    WHOIS (pronounced “who is,” appropriately enough) is a protocol for registering and finding various resources attached to a given website. For example, you might be able to look up a website’s IP and contact information for the webmaster. As the creator of a site, you’ll have the option of publicizing this information or blocking it from public record. You might be tempted to choose the latter under ordinary circumstances, but it’s actually better to go public. If you hide your information, Google may think you’re attempting to do something sneaky.

    whois

    (Image Source: WhoIs)

    5. Choose the right hosting provider.

    On the surface, most hosting providers seem the same. They all offer the same service, and for close to the same price depending on what other services and features you get. However, your choice in hosting provider could play a crucial role in how your site appears in search engines in a number of different ways. For example, in a worst-case scenario, if your host is accused of engaging in suspicious activity, it could reflect poorly on the authority of your site. On a more common level, if your hosting is unreliable, site outages could disrupt your site’s appearance in SERPs. I’ve used a number of different hosts, and currently have AudienceBloom.com hosted at WPEngine, which I’ve been very happy with (note: that’s an affiliate link. If you use it, thank you, I really appreciate it!). It’s on the pricey side, but it offers really good customer support, security, speed, and so far, zero downtime.

    6. Migrate carefully.

    There will likely come a time when you need to migrate your site to a new domain, a new hosting provider, or build a new website entirely. When this happens, it’s absolutely imperative that you migrate with SEO best practices in mind. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of search bots getting confused; they may see two versions of your site and register them as duplicates, or they may search for nonexistent pages, or they may even rob you of your domain authority entirely—like what happened to Toys R Us in a major SEO blunder back in 2014.

    7. Wait.

    Though there is some debate on the subject, it’s generally accepted that the age of a given domain has a bearing on that domain’s authority. Conceptually, this makes sense; the longer a domain is around, the less likely it is to be a spam or gimmick site. The boost you get from this is fairly minimal, so you don’t need to sit on a domain for years before you start reaping the benefits of an SEO campaign, but at the same time, the older your domain gets, the higher your authority will rise.

    Global On-site Optimization

    8. Clean up your code.

    This is an ambiguous statement, and it might not make sense to someone who isn’t intimately familiar with web development. The basic idea here is this; just as there are an infinite number of paths from point A to point B but only one “optimal” path, there is an infinite number of ways to code any function, but some are more efficient than others. Unnecessarily complicated code has a number of disadvantages, including slower site loading times and more legwork for search engine crawlers, so take the time to “clean up” your code.

    9. Optimize your robots.txt file.

    This step may or may not apply to you, depending on what your intentions and goals are in the indexation of your site. Ordinarily, search crawlers will track down and index every page of your website, but you can change this based on instructions you give those crawlers in what’s known as the robots.txt file of your site. Here, you can block crawlers from indexing certain pages—which is ideal if you have intentionally duplicate pages or other content you don’t want search engines to see. Just don’t use this to try and cover up black hat tactics—Google will find out.

    robots.txt file

    (Image Source: Robotstxt.org)

    10. Note and correct server errors immediately.

    Your site isn’t going to be up 100 percent of the time. You’re going to have server crashes, and your pages will occasionally be prone to individual errors. This is a reality of modern web development. All you can do is keep a close eye on the status of your servers, and respond to errors as quickly as possible to keep your domain up and running.

    11. Keep your URLs static.

    If you’re not familiar with dynamic versus static URLs, this terminology may seem strange to you. It’s easier to describe dynamic URLs first; these are URLs that provide different content depending on the nature of the query to the site’s database. Static URLs, by contrast, only change if someone manually makes a change to the site’s backend code. With very few exceptions, your site’s URLs should all be static, only changing when you push manual changes to them. This is generally a more trustworthy practice, and will help keep the authority of your domain and individual pages high.

    12. Organize your URLs logically with a breadcrumbs trail.

    You should also keep your URLs logically organized by using a breadcrumbs trail. In the realm of website development, breadcrumbs trails are strings of sectioned-off extensions to the end of your URL. For example, you may list out the categories and subcategories where a page is located. For example, you might have example.com/maincategory/subcategory/page instead of just example.com/page. This gives you the opportunity to optimize for more keywords, provide a more convenient user experience for your customers, and give more information to Google about how your site is organized. There’s no reason not to do this (and it happens automatically for most template-based CMS’s like WordPress).

    13. Shorten your URLs.

    For the same reasons that you shortened your domain name, you should shorten your URLs. This is as much for your own benefit as it is your users’, as it’s going to make organizing your site much easier. For example, if you have a “products and services” subcategory page, consider shortening it to just “products” or “services.” If you have a long blog title like “how to recover from an embarrassing situation at work,” consider shortening it to “embarrassing-work-situation” as an extension of your URL. Remove any unnecessary additions or extensions whenever possible and focus on what really matters. I realize this seems to counter-act my advice from #12 (adding a breadcrumb trail increases the length of the URL), so to be clear, what I suggest is using breadcrumb trails and keeping them short and concise, while also making an effort to keep URLs short after the inclusion of the breadcrumbs.

    14. Create an HTML sitemap.

    An HTML sitemap is a way to organize your site easily for users—not to be confused with an XML sitemap, which I’ll cover in the next bulleted tactic. Here, your goal is to make a comprehensive list of all the pages of your site, organized logically so users can follow it—and follow its links to those specific named pages. Generally, webmasters include a link to the HTML sitemap in the footer, where users intuitively seek to access it.

    15. Create and upload an XML sitemap.

    An XML sitemap is a more technical version of the HTML sitemap, marked up with code so that search crawlers can make sense of your data. Creating one is easier than it seems, and some WordPress plugins do it automatically for you. When you have your XML sitemap complete, you can upload it to Google Search Console to instruct Google about the exact layout and structure of your website. Note that Google will crawl and interpret your website without this sitemap, but this can accelerate and increase the accuracy of the process.

    XML Sitemap

    (Image Source: Sitemaps.org)

    16. Keep your sitemaps updated.

    Your site is going to go through changes, whether you currently know what those changes are or not. You’re going to add pages, remove pages, and possibly restructure entire swaths of your site. When this happens, it’s easy to forget about updating your sitemaps—so establish a reminder to keep your sitemaps up-to-date. Forgetting this won’t crush your rankings—Google will eventually catch up with what you’ve done—but it’s a way to help your web strategy run smoother.

    17. Ensure your content loads correctly on all devices and browsers.

    This is a major step of the process; make sure that all of your content is loading, correctly and fully, on every possible device and browser. Most web developers go through a testing process to see how your site looks, but are they using older versions of their browsers? Different browsers? Different devices? An image that doesn’t load on Internet Explorer could make your page less authoritative due to “broken content.” You can use a service like BrowserStack to help you out here.

    18. Optimize for mobile devices.

    You also need to optimize for mobile devices. The majority of all web traffic now happens on mobile devices, so it makes sense from a pure user experience perspective, but it’s also important for Google’s consideration of your site (thanks to the Mobilegeddon update and several algorithm changes before it). Thankfully, Google offers a free test that will tell you not only if your site is mobile-friendly, but what’s wrong with it if it isn’t. Just keep in mind that mobile optimization is about more than just meeting the minimum requirements of Google—it’s about giving the best possible experience to your mobile users.

    19. Improve your navigation.

    You can also improve your navigation bar to improve your search rankings. Google takes user experience seriously; the search giant rose to dominance because of its commitment to connecting users to the best possible content for their queries. Google wants users to have a convenient, straightforward, interpretable experience, and part of that includes being able to navigate the site easily. Organize your site into categories and subcategories, and make your menus accessible and easy to click. This may seem like a simple feature, but it’s one that’s commonly neglected and much more important than most people realize, because of the way PageRank ‘flows’ throughout a site. Try to put only your most important pages in your navigation; they’ll be the ones that get a significant ranking boost.

    20. Feed search engines more information with structured markup.

    Google’s Knowledge Graph is continuously growing in size, able to answer more user queries with short, concise answers pulled from sites across the web. How can you get your information featured in these boxes, which automatically take visibility priority over organic search results? The key is to use structured markup, organizing your site’s content in a way that makes sense to search engines. org has plentiful tutorials to help you figure out exactly what to implement and how to implement it—you just have to take the step of committing it to the back end of your site.

    21. Use internal links with descriptive anchor text.

    The navigation of your site is partially dependent on how your internal pages link to one another. For example, it might be easy for a user on your homepage to jump to whatever page is most relevant for him/her, but can he/she quickly and easily jump between pages to explore your site further? Try to include at least one link to another page on your site within every page you develop; some of your blog posts might have several or even many links to other pages on your site. Internal linking won’t just increase your search rankings; it will keep your users engaged on your site for longer, which increases the likelihood of a conversion.

    22. Link out to high-authority external sources.

    Internal links are just the beginning—it’s also a good idea to link out to other external sources to back up the information you present. For example, if you’re referencing a statistic, fact, or other piece of specific data, it’s important to cite the source you got it from. Doing this also adds to the trustworthiness of your site; it shows that you’re not just making information up, and that you have verifiable primary and secondary sources to vouch for you. Just make sure you’re choosing high-authority sites, as linking out to low-authority sites could have the opposite effect.

    23. Keep your images formatted properly.

    It’s good to have images throughout your site, whether they’re entries in a photo gallery or supplementary material for one of your blog posts. However, not just any images will do; some images are better than others when it comes to suitability for the web. For example, some formats may not load properly on some devices, and others may drag down your loading speed. As a general rule, formats like JPG, PNG, and GIF are reliable choices. Beyond that, you’ll want to make sure your images are reduced to a smaller size to keep your site speed as fast as possible.

    24. Title your images appropriately, with proper alt tags.

    Going beyond the simple formatting of your images, you can also optimize them with text and descriptors to increase their chances of appearing in Google Image search. This won’t have a direct bearing on your domain authority or general SERP rankings, but can give you another outlet for search optimization. First, give your image an appropriate title; keep it short and simple, but relevant to what’s happening in the image. Then, include an alt tag (which isn’t a literal “tag”) that describes the image in more detail. Think about what a user would search for to find this image.

    Image Tag

    (Image Source: Yoast)

    25. Maximize your page loading speed.

    Next up, you’ll want to improve the performance of your site. The shorter your page loading time is, the better, and even a fraction of a second can bear a significant improvement. This isn’t as big of a ranking signal as some of the other factors on this list, but it is worth optimizing for—especially because of its peripheral benefits. When a user clicks through to your site, he/she will make a decision of whether to stay within seconds of arriving. According to KissMetrics, 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less, and 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load, while just a 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions. Make sure your content loads within that timeframe, or your bounce and exit rates will suffer—even if you’re sitting on a top search position. You can conduct a speed test on your website using this tool from Pingdom.

    26. Secure your site with SSL encryption.

    This is a small ranking signal, but it’s worth optimizing for in part due to its surprising simplicity. Google introduced SSL encryption, a way of securing the information on your site, as a ranking signal back in 2014, and it may increase in significance as the years go on. Contact your hosting provider, and you can apply this encryption for a small additional fee, earning you the “HTTPS” designation and making your site more secure. Even if you don’t do this for the search rankings, it can keep your customers’ information safer. Note that I haven’t experimented with switching established domains/websites to https, as I’ve seen anecdotal reports of websites doing so and losing significant ground in the rankings. That’s why AudienceBloom.com hasn’t been switched over (our search traffic is great, and I don’t want to imperil it for a shot at marginal improvement). With that said, I would recommend any new website or domain to utilize SSL encryption. It may also be more important for websites that transmit data frequently, such as e-commerce sites where users must login and input personal or credit card information to complete a transaction.

    27. Hunt down and eliminate duplicate content.

    Google hates to see duplicate content, for somewhat obvious reasons. If a chunk of text already appears somewhere on the Internet, why does it need to exist again somewhere else? Plus, it’s sometimes an indication of plagiarism. However, it’s possible (and, in fact, quite common) to have duplicate content on your site even if you’ve never plagiarized a word; sometimes Google indexes two separate versions of a single webpage, such as the HTTP and HTTPS version, leading it to “see” duplicate content where there isn’t any. You can use Google Search Console or a third-party tool such as SiteLiner to quickly and easily check for these errors and correct them by eliminating one version of the page.

    28. Utilize rel=canonical tags.

    Sometimes, there’s actually a justification for having duplicate content on your site. For example, you might be running two distinctly designed versions of a page that has identical content between those versions. If this is the case and you don’t want to be brought down by any duplicate content issues, your best bet is to use rel=canonical tags to resolve the issue with Google. These tags instruct Google which page should be categorized as the “canonical” or official version of the page and which one should be ignored; note that this is distinct from using the robots.txt file to ignore one page completely.

    29. Categorize and organize your content.

    Next, you’ll want to make sure all of your content is well-organized in categories and subcategories. Create an ongoing list of your main blog topics, and assign at least one of those categories to each blog. Google is able to see this information and use it to figure out what your content is about; it’s also a valuable opportunity to showcase some of your target keywords and phrases.

    30. Offer ample contact information.

    This isn’t a huge ranking factor, but it’s something Google takes into consideration—plus, it’s a general best practice for optimizing a user experience. You should offer prominent contact information throughout your website, preferably with at least one obvious means of contacting you (such as a phone number in the header of your site). You’ll also want to create a designated contact page, with your company name, address, phone number, social media information, and a contact form at a minimum.

    31. Offer Terms of Service and Privacy pages.

    No matter what type of business you have, it’s a good idea to spell out your terms of service and your privacy policy on dedicated pages. Having these pages as part of your sitemap demonstrates that you care about your users and are transparent about how you conduct business and use your customers’ information. You won’t skyrocket to a number-one position just by adding these pages, but they’re a staple feature that every website needs to have.

    32. Find and correct issues with Google Search Console.

    Google Search Console is a goldmine of information about how your site is performing and how it looks in search engines. It’s a Swiss army knife of diagnostic tools you can use to proactively identify any issues with your site that could interfere with your other ranking efforts. For example, Search Console can send you an alert when your site goes down, or you can get a first-hand look at how Google is currently indexing your site, making note of any erroneously indexed pages. Check this information often to stay on top of your site’s development.

    33. Display user reviews on-site.

    This is especially important if you’re an e-Commerce platform selling products online. Give your users a voice by offering up customer reviews on various pages of your site. You can offer them the ability to give you a star or number rating, but the big draw here is giving them a platform to write their thoughts. This is a way of capitalizing on user-generated content (which will naturally be optimized for the types of products you sell), but you can also use microformatting to increase the chances that these reviews could be featured in SERPs directly.

    34. Decrease your bounce and exit rates.

    On the surface, bounce and exit rates may seem like the same metric, but as explained by Google below, they’re actually distinct. Neither is a good indication of user experience; both imply that a user has left the site after visiting this particular page. A high bounce or exit rate could imply that the content on the site is unsatisfactory, and could play into how Google measures the relevance or authority of that page. Try to improve these rates by offering more unique, valuable content, and by keeping users engaged for a longer period of time, such as by offering longer, more in-depth, valuable content.

    Decrease your bounce and exit rates

    (Image Source: Google)

    35. Maximize time spent on page.

    The good news is, by decreasing your exit and bounce rates, you’ll likely increase the time a user spends on that page of your site by proxy. You won’t have to do much else to increase the time spent on each page of your site. Google takes time duration as an indirect measure of the value of the content of a page; for example, if you have a blog post that averages 30 seconds of visit time versus one that averages 10 minutes of visit time, the latter is clearly a superior piece.

    36. Optimize for repeat visitors.

    For the most part, SEO is about attracting people to your site who have never heard of your brand before; optimizing for commonly searched queries is a way of getting in front of people who have otherwise never heard of you. However, it’s in your best interest to optimize for repeat visitors as well; publishing new updates frequently, encouraging users to come back for daily or weekly specials, and rewarding repeat customers with accumulating incentives can all help your strategy thrive.

    37. Optimize for local keywords.

    Not all companies will want or need to pursue a local SEO campaign; however, it’s crucial for businesses who have a brick-and-mortar presence and rely on customer foot traffic. Google’s local algorithm works differently and separately from its national algorithm, identifying the three most relevant and authoritative local businesses for a given query when it detects a local-specific indicator in what’s called its “Local 3-pack.” Chances are, Google will already know your location based on your business’s address and your presence in local citations (more on those later), but it could also be advantageous to optimize various pages and content entries of your site with local-specific keywords, such as the name of your city, state, or region. For help getting your business in the local 3-pack, see Local 3-Pack 101: Everything You Need to Know About Getting in the Top 3.

    Page-Level On-site Optimization

    38. Build personal brands.

    It should be obvious that you need a blog if you’re running an ongoing SEO campaign; as you’ll see in some of the coming strategies, the optimization work of your blog posts feeds into a number of SEO angles. However, before you start, it’s a good idea to set up author roles as personal brands in the context of your site. Personal brands will allow you to characterize various writers on your team, giving them each a unique voice and area of expertise. You can showcase these brands on an “author” or “team” page, but the real benefit is having these personal brands develop your articles. It will optimize your articles for author-specific searches and give you better options for guest posting and social media marketing (which I’ll dig into later).

    39. Optimize your title tags.

    Your title tags are the bits of information Google uses to fill in the headline for sites in its SERPs (like “AudienceBloom: Link Building & Content Marketing Agency” in the screenshot below). This tells Google much about the content of your page, so include at least one target keyword here. You’ll also need to make sure your titles are 70 characters or less, and try to make them catchy if you can. Remember, earning rankings in Google is only part of the equation—you also have to persuade your new viewers to actually click through. Most CMS platforms allow you to edit this easily for any page on your site.

    audiencebloom title tags

    40. Optimize your meta descriptions.

    Similarly, you should optimize the meta descriptions of your pages—these feed into the text beneath the green link to your website. Here, you have more wiggle room—160 characters—so make sure you include multiple target keywords that accurately describe the content you have on-site. Again, this is your chance to be persuasive, so show off your marketing skills and write copy that entices the user to actually click your result instead of the other 9 competing results on the page. While there’s debate about whether the meta description is actually a ranking factor anymore, there’s growing evidence that the CTR (click-through rate) of search results is a strong factor in the ranking algorithm, which means a good meta description could indirectly affect your rankings, depending on how well it compels users to click your result.

    41. Keep your title tags and meta descriptions unique.

    When you learn that every page of your site needs a title tag and a meta description, and that all of them should be optimized for target keywords, you might be tempted to create “templates,” which you can then copy and paste or modify only slightly to make quick work of optimizing each page. However, it’s actually in your best interest to develop unique titles and descriptions, from scratch, for every page. Having too many duplicates or near-duplicates can make you seem like you’re keyword stuffing. It will take some extra time, but it’s worth it. You can use a tool such as Screaming Frog to check the title tags and meta descriptions of each of your pages and identify duplicates or blanks.

    42. Include proper header tags on all your articles.

    In your website’s code, there are header tags, numbered sequentially (H1, H2, H3, etc.) to indicate where the main headlines and sub-headlinese of an article are. When evaluating the subject matter of content, Google looks at these tags to give it a better sense of the article’s structure. To optimize these, you’ll first need to outline your articles with headlines and sub-headlines, and then you’ll need to ensure they’re marked up with appropriate tags in the backend of your site. Finally, for each article, you’ll want to include keywords and/or highly descriptive phrases for these key opportunities.

    43. Optimize your URLs for your on-page content.

    I’ve already talked about general principles for URLs—they should be static, short, and featuring a breadcrumbs-style trail to help users with navigation. But on the page level, they should also be optimized to appropriately describe your on-site content. For example, if you have an article on how to make chocolate fudge, a URL ending in “how-to-make-chocolate-fudge” is more descriptive and therefore better optimized than “online-recipe-3331.” Generally, you’ll want to avoid any numbers or special characters, include keywords where you can, and strive for intuitiveness. If a user can figure out what a page is about just by looking at a URL (without even clicking it), that’s ideal.

    44. Include a few hundred words of unique content on every page.

    Every page of your site needs to have some content on it—otherwise, Google may see it as a placeholder page, something worthless, or something designed to manipulate users or search rankings. Obviously, the length of content you can write for a given page is dependent on its subject of focus, but you’ll want to include at least a few hundred words of content as a minimum. Of course, you’ll also have to make sure this content is unique—don’t copy and paste paragraphs between pages unless you have a darn good reason to. This advice applies to product and service pages; for blog posts or other content, aim for at least 1,000 words. For homepages, you don’t need to worry about this; focus instead on creating a high-converting design that drives users to the pages you want them to visit (such as product or service pages) along with a strong navigation architecture.

    45. Create specific pages to highlight your target keywords.

    Though some would argue this practice is somewhat antiquated, I still see positive results from it. For some of your most important target keywords and phrases, create dedicated pages with titles that correspond to those keywords. For example, you might create a page for “custom picture frames,” or one for “emergency vet clinics.” The only caveat here is that you’ll need to create pages that seem natural; in other words, if you have a strange-sounding page title (one that’s clearly just a play at ranking for a keyword), it could do your site more harm than good. Keep it natural.

    46. Utilize target keywords throughout your content.

    There isn’t a specific rule for how Google evaluates the keyword density of your content—in fact, thanks to the Hummingbird update, it pays greater attention to your semantics than the actual words and phrases you use. Still, it’s a good idea to include your desired keywords on every page of your site. This will increase the perceived relevance of your content to queries that match those keywords and phrases, and increase Google’s understanding of your brand and site. However, your keywords still need to be worked in naturally; if they appear unnatural, Google could flag you for keyword stuffing, which could cause your rankings for that page to drop thanks to the Penguin algorithm.

    47. Aim for high-length content posts.

    There’s no hard rule for how long your content has to be. I’ve seen incredibly short posts circulate virally and earn tons of links and long-winded detail-stuffed eBooks get practically no attention. The quality and appeal of your work is far more important than the length, but the data points toward longer posts as being more popular for link building and SEO—that is, at least several thousand words long. These posts tend to be more detailed, more practical, and more unique than shorter articles, and therefore attract more attention.

    48. Produce new content regularly.

    Google pays attention to how often you produce new blog posts. You might have a large archive of valuable posts from 2012 and before, but if you haven’t posted anything in 4 years, you’ll probably see a steady decline in your organic traffic as time passes on. Increasing the frequency of your updates won’t be a major boon here—though having more high-quality content is always a good thing—so strive to update your blog at least once a week.

    49. Make your content more useful.

    I’ve already casually mentioned that your content needs to be high-quality if it’s going to succeed; that’s because Google judges the quality of your piece when it considers how to rank your authority (both on a domain and page level). What does “high-quality” mean? A lot of things, actually—just take a look at the Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines Google publishes. However, one of the most important qualities is usefulness. How beneficial is this content to an incoming audience? Do you answer their questions succinctly and accurately? Do you give them instructions or directions where appropriate?

    50. Make your content more unique.

    You’ll also need a degree of differentiation if you’re going to stand out in search engines. If you’re competing with several big-name companies with similar pieces of content, you’ll probably have a harder time getting that number-one position. But if your content features topics that no one else is doing, or if you explore those topics in new and innovative ways, nobody will be able to touch you. In many ways, SEO is just about being better than your main competitors. Take advantage of that.

    51. Update your content significantly.

    Google also pays attention to how often you update the content of your site and how significant those updates are. For example, if you rewrite the entirety of your homepage with information about your latest products, that registers as more significant than only changing a few words around every few years. It takes extra work to consistently keep your site updated, but it will help you not only earn more authority, but keep your users up to speed as well.

    52. Check your grammar and spelling on every page.

    Google has built-in quality detectors that can immediately evaluate the subjective quality of a written piece. For example, it can tell if the article was written by a native speaker of the language, and it can tell if the article is riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. In the case of the latter, Google may degrade the quality of your work—even if it’s well-written—costing you serious ranking opportunities. You don’t need to freak out over every little detail, but do take a few extra minutes to proofread your pages before publishing them.

    53. Include multimedia in your content.

    Every content marketing strategy should have a place for multimedia content. Visual content, like images and videos, are naturally more engaging than written content because they require less focus for comprehension and indulge us in our strongest and most important physical sense. Make sure all of your posts have at least one visual element in them—even if it’s just a simple doodle or a photo of what you’re doing. It will increase the authority of your content and provide peripheral ranking benefits.

    54. Include supplementary content features.

    It’s also becoming more important to offer supplementary content features, such as interactive components. These could include calculators to help people estimate costs or project needs, checklists they can print out, infographics they can reference easily, or worksheets to help them put their new skills and knowledge to the test. Though there’s no direct evidence that there’s a specific ranking signal for these features, they will improve the engagement and quality of your content, which in turn will earn it more links, traffic, repeat visits, shares, and, as a result, higher search positions.

    55. Optimize for organic click-throughs.

    I referenced this briefly in bullet #40, but it’s worth revisiting in more detail here. This is a subject that’s been hotly debated over the years, but the most recent data seems to suggest that organic click-through rates (the percentage of people who see your entry in SERPs and click through to your site) does have a direct and significant bearing on the ranking of your site. For example, if you have higher-than-average CTRs, you’ll have a tendency to move higher in rankings; still, this is hard to measure because of the correlation between ranking and CTRs. Still, optimizing for higher CTRs is sure to be a benefit to you even if they didn’t have an impact on domain authority, so do what you can to encourage more people to click through to your pages with compelling, unique language. You can affect your CTR in search results by testing your title tags and meta description tags for each of your pages.

    56. Find and eliminate broken links.

    Google doesn’t like to find broken links on your site. If you have a link that points to an external source that source no longer exists (ie, it’s a 404 error page), it’s not a good user experience. It could also mean either your linked source wasn’t effective or worthwhile enough to stick around, or you don’t update your content frequently enough to keep it relevant. These aren’t good things. Take the time to occasionally comb through your old material and find any links that are broken; then, replace them with more modern, live equivalents. There are tools that can help with this, such as Screaming Frog.

    57. Include content tags.

    This is a way of categorizing your content, but on a smaller scale. With categories, you’ll select one or two big-picture themes in which your content topic fits. With tags, you’ll be selecting a number of different descriptors—sometimes into the double-digits—to assist in categorizing the blog post for searches. This is a key opportunity to tag relevant content with your target keywords—be sure to include multiple synonyms and variations if you have room.

    content tags

    (Image Source: WordPress)

    58. Use more bulleted and numbered lists.

    Providing your users with bulleted and numbered lists is a great way to make your content more engaging; not everyone has the time or patience to read every line of your deftly considered and worded content; the majority of them will probably just skim, taking away only high-level insights. Lists allow them to glean these insights and takeaways easier, helping them save time, which provides a better user experience. It also gives you an opportunity to include more sub-headlines, optimizing smaller entries of your content’s sub-sections for your target keywords. Use <h2> tags for your subheaders to maximize the SEO benefits here.

    59. Use 301 redirects appropriately.

    There are dozens of reasons to set up a 301 redirect, and almost all of them have benefits for SEO. For example, if you have inbound links pointing to a page of your site that no longer exists, you can use a 301 (permanent) redirect to re-route that passed authority to a new, equally relevant page of your site. It’s a way of telling search engine crawlers that you no longer wish to index the old page, but the new page should take its place. Best of all—they aren’t that difficult to set up.

    60. Fix 404 errors (for the most part).

    When someone attempts to access a page that no longer exists, it’s called a 404 error, and they can crop up for a number of reasons. You might have a server error or something wrong with your website, but it’s more likely that a page got deleted or removed. Some 404 errors are necessary to show that a page is gone, but others can interfere with your search efforts (if they appear as errors in search results or serve as dead-ends for older links). Correct these errors by restoring your old pages or setting up redirects.

    Link Building

    Note: We specialize in helping our clients with link building. If you’re interested in working with us, get in touch!

    61. Guest post on industry sites.

    A big part of success in SEO comes down to how many links are pointing to your site and where those links come from. Your domain authority is dependent on these metrics, but you can’t just go out and build links with abandon. Instead, your best bet is to use guest posts—custom-written content for external publications that contain a relevant, informative link pointing back to your domain. It’s hard to get featured as a guest contributor until you’ve built up some credibility, so one of the best places to start building links through guest posts is on sites relevant to your industry, such as industry news sites or forums.

    62. Guest post on higher-authority sites.

    As you gain more experience, respect, and followers in your specific niche, eventually you’ll want to move up to higher authority publications, where you’ll get more visibility and reach. Niche industry sites give you tons of opportunities to develop relevant content, but their authority scores tend to be on the low side. Instead, start making pitches to major national players that see hundreds of thousands of visitors a day. It’s hard to break into these sources, since they have high standards of quality to maintain, but even one link from a landmark source will justify your efforts. See The Ultimate, Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Business by Guest Blogging for help here.

    63. Diversify your inbound link profile.

    While it’s a great thing to become a guest contributor or columnist at a relevant publication, you’ll see diminishing returns from the value of each new link you acquire from that publication. You probably don’t need more than three links from any single publication, from an SEO perspective (though there are still benefits to having more links if they are driving referral traffic!). That’s why it’s a good idea to seek new publication sources in order to diversify your link profile.

    64. Build links on key pages.

    Some pages of off-site sources are able to pass more authority than others. For example, getting featured on the blog is a noteworthy achievement and you’ll earn substantial authority that way—but you could get even more SEO value or “link juice” if you’re featured on a “Partners” page, or if you have an entire page dedicated to your brand. Building links on more prominent, important pages can help you squeeze more PageRank flow out of every link you build.

    65. Focus your inbound links on key pages.

    “Authority” actually exists at both the domain and page level. A link pointing to a specific page of your site will pass authority to your domain overall, but also to that specific page. If you’re interested in getting higher rankings for one specific page of your site, you can use this to your advantage by funneling many of your links to that page. For example, if one of your products or services yields a significantly higher ROI or conversion rate, you can focus SEO efforts on that product or service by building more links to its corresponding page URL on your website. If you do this too excessively, though, it might appear unnatural to Google, so be sure to mix it up plenty.

    66. Use appropriate anchor text.

    Anchor text—the text that features the embedded hyperlink to your site—used to be a huge deal. Before Google’s Panda algorithm in 2011 (and then Google’s Penguin algorithm in 2012), anchor text manipulation was rampant because it worked so damn well. In those days, to get the most out of your link, you’d embed at least one keyword into your anchor text. Today, this could still theoretically be beneficial, but to a much lesser degree; aside from that, it’s actually the #1 way Google identifies link spam, so I recommend avoiding it altogether. Having too many links with unnatural anchor text (such as anchor text that includes a keyword within it) is the easiest way for Google to identify rank manipulation, and can quickly earn you a devastating penalty that can be extremely difficult to recover from. It’s far more important to ensure your anchor text flows naturally in the context of the article. Besides, assuming you’re building links through content marketing, like I recommend in SEO Link Building: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide, then you’re not only dealing with Google catching your fishy anchor text; you’re dealing with real editors at the publications with whom you’re working. Many of them are trained to look out for manipulative anchor text, and if they see something suspicious, they could either refuse to publish your content, remove your link, or refuse to work with you at all.

    67. Utilize the nofollow tag strategically.

    If you’re guest posting regularly, you’ll find that guest posting has a ton of advantages unrelated to SEO, including passing referral traffic and building your brand awareness and reputation. If you’re interested in doing more guest posting but don’t want to spam links back to your site for fear of being accused of exchanging links, rely on the “nofollow” tag, which tells Google to not consider the link as a vessel for authority. You can also use the nofollow tag on your own site, to link to external sources without Google associating you with those sources.

    68. Consider link velocity.

    The rate at which a piece of content or a page earns links over time is referred to as “link velocity.” For example, the typical link velocity for a standout piece would be a high velocity in the beginning as links rush in, an average velocity after a few days, followed by a slow taper of links as the piece begins to age. If your content doesn’t have a link inbound link velocity, Google is less likely to consider it a “trending” or “timely popular” piece, and thus less likely to rank it highly in search results. What this means is you should focus on promoting your content extensively after publication so it can earn as many links – and as quickly – as possible. For help, see Content Unleashed: The Ultimate Guide to Promoting Your Published Content.\

    69. Cite yourself on Wikipedia.

    Wikipedia is a major authority, and earning a link there could be a major boon for your SEO. Wikipedia is also open to the public for editing, so you can link yourself wherever it seems appropriate. Keep in mind that the Wikipedia crowd takes their responsibilities seriously, so if your link isn’t 100 percent valuable, it’s probably going to be removed.

    Cite yourself on Wikipedia

    (Image Source: Wikipedia)

    70. Find and eliminate “bad links” in your profile.

    If you’ve ever built links or hired a company to build links for your website that could be considered spammy or questionable, then those links may be holding you back in the rankings. Unnatural links are algorithmically caught and monitored by Google – too many of them can cause a ranking penalty. That’s why it’s a good idea to routinely check your link profile and scan for any “bad” links. You can use Google Search Console (Search Traffic à Links to Your Site) to download a list of links pointing to your site, then analyze them using a tool like Screaming Frog or Scrapebox. When you find a spammy or suspicious link, first try to remove it yourself. If you can’t, contact the site’s webmaster and request its removal.

    71. Disavow links you can’t remove on your own.

    Sometimes, you’ll reach a wall—you won’t be able to remove a link at all, either manually or with the help of a webmaster. In these cases, use Google’s Disavow tool. It should only be used after you’ve already tried to get the links removed (which is optimal), but is a useful second-best option.

    72. Eliminate link exchanges.

    Google categorizes link exchanges as a link “scheme,” or a deliberate attempt to manipulate rankings. The “scheme” part of it comes into play when two sites agree to reciprocally link to each other to boost both parties’ search rankings. If you’ve engaged in a link exchange, either remove one or both links, or add the “nofollow” tag to one or both of them. If Google suspects you of engaging in link exchanges in such a way that it deems excessively manipulative, it will either nullify the value of the links, or, worse, hit your website with a ranking penalty.

    73. Capitalize on your competitors’ link wins.

    Using a tool like Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, SEMRush or SpyFu, you can take a closer look at your competitors’ link profiles to see what sites they’re getting content posted on, how much authority they’re getting, and what types of content they’re getting published. Odds are, if they can do it, you can do it too. It’s not a good idea to straight-up copy a competitor’s strategy, but you can use this as a research and learning tool to fuel your own strategic approach.

    74. Correct errors in local citations.

    Local citations aren’t “links” per se, but they are an important part of how Google measures your authority, especially in the context of local SEO. Broadly defined, these are instances of your business’s information listed in popular third-party resources, such as local directories and review sites. Google draws upon this information to gain insight on local businesses, and how you’re listed can have an impact on your visibility. For starters, you’ll want to hunt down and correct any errors you find in your existing local citations; make sure your company name, address, and phone number are correct at a minimum.

    75. Build new local citations.

    Like with links, local citations aren’t necessarily a game of quantity, but having more citations in more diverse places can help you achieve more authority—as well as earning you more visibility on other outlets. Take the time to build new local citations in directories and review sites where your business isn’t currently featured. As you might suspect, some directories have more weight than others, and are updated more frequently, so bear that in mind when searching for new places to establish references to your business. For most platforms, the submission process is free and simple—they’re incentivized to offer the most information.

    76. Encourage local reviews.

    On many of these local review sites, you’ll earn reviews from your customers; the more reviews you have and the more positive those reviews are, the higher you’re likely to rank in Google search results for local-specific queries, so take some steps to encouraging more positive reviews. You can’t pay for or modify reviews (if you do, you could be de-listed), but you can make your presence on Yelp and other review sites known by displaying their logos in your establishment. Furthermore, you can comment on good reviews to reinforce them and thank their respective authors, and reach out to negative reviewers to try and correct any regrettable situations.

    77. Create content that can go viral.

    Instead of building links manually or intentionally, you can go the route of attracting them naturally with the power of the content you produce. This method is far less predictable, but it also has great potential; if you can get a piece of your content to go viral, you could earn thousands of links in a single go. There are some factors that can increase the potential “virality” of your piece, such as making it long and detailed, adding elements of humor and surprise, and giving it an early push on social media, but it’s also a game of timing and pure luck.

    78. Ask for citations (subtly).

    If you have a piece of content that you’re using to earn more links (such as a research report), you can try to ask for links from people who use your research in their own pieces. Ideally, they’ll do this on their own, but the visibility of your request could be enough to make them pull the trigger. For example, at the end of your piece, you could say something like “like what you read? Feature our work in your own piece—just be sure to cite us.”

    79. Pace your efforts.

    This isn’t a strategy that can increase your search rankings all by itself, but it can increase the effectiveness of your link and local citation building campaigns. When you start to see early momentum, it’s easy to get excited and think that you’ll see even more impressive, faster results if you just build more links in a short period of time. However, building links too quickly can work against you, because doing so often decreases their quality; instead, it’s better to slowly escalate the authority and frequency of your link posting efforts. Draw up a plan and stick with it.

    80. Learn from your most popular content.

    Use Google Analytics or a similar platform to track the popularity of your best posts. What types of content seem to earn the most referral traffic? What external channels are passing the most authority to you? Which breakout features helped you earn the most inbound links? Learn which content qualities made these feats possible, and integrate them further into your ongoing efforts.

    Social Media

    81. Optimize your social profiles.

    Optimizing your social media profiles won’t help the domain authority of your existing site, but it will boost the visibility of those profiles in search engines. For example, if you fill out your Facebook profile with keywords related to your industry, there’s a higher chance that your Facebook profile will appear in those types of searches, not just in Google, but in Facebook, too. Furthermore, having robust social media profiles will increase the likelihood that they populate the search results for searches on your brand name. This is crucial for online reputation management. Fill out every field you can for as many platforms as you have for your brand, and be as descriptive and concise as possible.

    Optimize your social profiles

    82. Make it easy for people to connect with you.

    Having more followers won’t increase your rankings directly, but it will give you a bigger audience with whom you can share your content, which in turn will earn you more visibility on your content, which leads to more inbound links and social shares – factors that certainly do increase rankings. Make it easy for people to find and connect with your social profiles by including links to those profiles everywhere—on your site, in your emails, and in all your marketing and promotional material.

    83. Offer social share icons in all your content.

    In a similar vein, include social share icons for all your individual blog posts, making it easy for people to share it with the click of a button. Most people won’t share your article, even if they like it, unless it’s incredibly easy to do so. This is a simple step—it takes mere moments to set up—so there’s no excuse not to have it for your site. Here at AudienceBloom, we use Social Warfare, a plugin for WordPress that I really dig and highly recommend.

    84. Promote your latest content on as many outlets as possible.

    The biggest advantage social media gives you is a bigger platform to distribute your blog posts, which aids in visibility and increases your chances of earning authority-giving inbound links. Whenever you publish a new blog, make sure you promote it on every social platform you have. You can even go above and beyond social media and leverage social bookmarking sites like Reddit or StumbleUpon. For a full walkthrough on how to promote your content, as well as a nifty checklist you can print out and use each time, see Content Unleashed: The Ultimate Guide to Promoting Your Published Content.

    85. Ask for shares of your best content.

    It may seem like a breach of etiquette to ask your users to share your content, but as long as you do it sparingly, it can be a positive tool to increase the reach of your material. Save these requests for only the best content you produce, and help it reach bigger circles of followers faster and more reliably.

    86. Syndicate your older content on a recurring basis.

    Social publishing isn’t just about getting eyes on your latest and greatest pieces—it can also be a way to revitalize an older piece that has lost momentum, or make sure all your followers see all your content at some point in time. Keep a running list of all your “evergreen” pieces of content (which don’t have an expiration date or a temporary relevance), and work on syndicating them regularly, in a loop, over time.

    87. Engage with influencers.

    Social media influencers are people, preferably in your industry, who already have large followings and a reputation to match. They have the potential to reach thousands of people with a single mention, so you can use this to your advantage to get more eyes on your content (or more followers). Engage with influencers by asking them questions, replying to them in discussion, or sharing their material. You can even ask them to share some of your material (if there’s an incentive for them). Getting their attention could earn you a massive boost in visibility, along with inbound links and shares.

    88. Collaborate with influencers.

    Rather than asking influencers for favors or relying on their independent actions, consider collaborating with influencers on a shared piece of content. For example, you could conduct an interview or swap research to make a mutually beneficial piece. Regardless of where it’s hosted, you’ll earn at least one strong link to the piece immediately, and you’ll then earn the benefits of having two strong social media personalities sharing the piece in the future.

    89. Reach out to new potential followers.

    One of the best ways to build your following is also the simplest—simply reach out to new people who might be interested in your brand. Find companies similar to yours and access their list of followers, then follow those people to get their attention. Many of them will follow you back.

    90. Attract and retain audiences through engagement.

    You can both attract new followers and retain the ones you already have by increasing your engagement. “Engagement” here is a vague word that refers to any type of social interaction—it is “social” media, after all. This starts with basic social media courtesy, such as saying “thanks” to people who compliment your work and responding to questions or criticism about your content. It also extends to finding conversations relevant to your industry and partaking in them to show off your expertise. The more you engage with your users, the more likely they’ll want to keep following you.

    91. Optimize your YouTube videos.

    The majority of this guide has focused on Google as the main consideration in SEO, which is a good thing—Google still dominates the web with two-thirds of all search traffic—but there are other search engines to optimize for. For example, YouTube has its own ranking system. It’s somewhat similar to Google’s, drawing on keywords in the title and tags, as well as the quality and support for the content itself, but it’s worth considering as a secondary route of optimization. This is especially important because how you optimize your YouTube videos will affect how and whether they show up in straightforward Google searches. Post new videos on an occasional basis and optimize all of them for both modes of search.

    Optimize your YouTube videos

    (Image Source: SearchEngineWatch/TagSEO)

    92. Build up your personal brands.

    It’s also a good idea to build up your personal brands (such as your own, or your employees’) on social media. You’re already using them as ways to increase visibility of your content; optimizing their presence on social media is the next step. Work with the owner of each participating personal brand within your company and have them build individual social followings of their own. Ultimately, this will serve to make your blog content more personably syndicated (and therefore, more trustworthy), and also has the potential to multiply your overall social media audience a few times over.

    Correctional Strategies

    93. Reduce keyword volume in your content.

    Earlier in this article, I covered the importance of including keywords and keyword phrases in the body of your on-site content. This is a necessary tactic if you want to earn higher rankings. However, it’s also possible to over-optimize your content if you’re not careful. It’s easy to go overboard with keyword terms when you’re focused on making the most of your strategy, so take the time to reevaluate your content and eliminate any keywords that seem to stick out. Read your content aloud; if it sounds weird, revise it.

    94. Remove outbound links to spammy sites.

    Hopefully, you don’t have any links to spammy sites anywhere on your website. However, if you do, remove them as soon as you find them. The term “spammy sites” here is ambiguous; it can refer to any type of site that engages in unseemly behavior, such as spam (obviously), schemes, or generally deceitful tactics. It’s unlikely, but possible, that an external force would build these links on your site pointing outward, (such as if your site got hacked or someone gained unauthorized entry to it) so do what you can to keep your site clear of them. Otherwise, Google could start to associate your website with these black hat practitioners. I’ve actually had this happen on another website I own (not AudienceBloom.com) – a hacker gained access to my site, and placed links to spammy sites throughout my own site. Google started displaying warning messages to users that my site had been hacked, and its search traffic completely dropped down to zero. It was only then that I realized the site had been hacked. It was an expensive and time-consuming hassle to clean it all up, so instead of letting it happen to you, prevent the problem by securing your site.

    95. Disclose any sponsorships or affiliations.

    If you’re being sponsored, or if you’re linking to an affiliate, or even if you’re just reviewing a product that was given to you for free, make sure you disclose those relationships to your audience. Google has refined its rules for this over time, and it’s unlikely that you would face a harsh penalty for a violation here, but better safe than sorry. For example, let’s say you’re writing a review for a new tablet that was gifted to your company; in the body of your review, you can explicitly state how this was given to you and why, and make sure any links are nofollow links as an extra layer of security.

    96. Discontinue use of sneaky redirects.

    The more open you are, the better, and that rule applies to redirects as well. One formerly popular tactic was to set up “sneaky” redirects, which take a user headed for one page and lead them to something they didn’t originally want. As a scheme, this could serve to help you get more traffic to a sales page by poaching traffic from other, more organically valuable pages. Doing this, of course, is a violation of user trust, and is considered deceitful. If Google catches you doing this, they’ll make you regret it pretty quickly. Ensure you don’t have any sneaky redirects set up, and if you do, remove them.

    97. Keep your ads tastefully and appropriately placed.

    There’s nothing wrong with placing ads on your site—and you wouldn’t think so, considering Google makes the vast majority of its revenue from advertising. However, the types of ads and placement of those ads can have a massive impact on your overall user experience. For example, advertising products your customers might actually be interested in the footer and sidebars of your website, away from your main content is ideal. Overwhelming your users with popup ads (especially on mobile devices, where they occupy the entire tiny screen) is not only frustrating to users, but it’s now a negative ranking signal to Google. This is about more than just improving your search rankings; it’s about keeping your users satisfied.

    98. Stop auto-generating or “spinning” your content.

    Lately, there’s been a trend of automatically generated content encroaching on the content marketing world. Because most webmasters recognize the need for ongoing content but don’t want to spend the time or money to have real content developed by humans, they rely on cheap, automatic bots or tools that either generate nonsensical content from scratch, or take existing content and “spin” it into a slightly different variation (usually by automatically replacing certain words with synonyms). These shortcuts might seem like a cheap way to trick Google and get more content for less time and money, but Google’s Panda algorithm is specifically designed to detect this sort of manipulation and penalize websites that use it.

    99. Keep your meta tags to a minimum.

    Just like with keywords, this is actually a good strategy that only becomes burdensome when you abuse it. When you’re considering meta tags to describe your content, images, and video, you’ll likely run through the list of accurate descriptors and try to find as many target keywords as possible to include; after all, there’s rarely a technical limit imposed on how many meta tags you can assign to a piece of content. However, stuffing your meta tags with keywords can not only look unnatural to Google, but it can totally give away all your target keywords to any crafty competitor who wants to know exactly what keywords you’re targeting (since meta tags are publicly accessible in the HTML code of your site).

    100. Use a reconsideration request to lift a penalty.

    If you’ve followed all the strategies and best practices in this guide so far, and you’ve avoided any schemes, shortcuts, or other gimmicks in your strategy, it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll ever face a penalty from Google. That being said, if you choose the wrong SEO agency, or deliberately manipulate your rankings, or are the victim of rare, random chance, you might eventually encounter a penalty that sends your rankings plummeting. In this scenario, you can contact Google to file a reconsideration request and work your way to restoring your rankings to normal. If you suspect you’ve got a manual or algorithmic penalty and need help recovering from it, including filing a reconsideration request, see The Definitive Guide To Google Manual Actions and Penalties.

    Use a reconsideration request to lift a penalty

    (Image Source: Google)

    The Golden Rule

    101. Measure, learn, adjust, repeat.

    There’s one strategy more important than all the others, and it applies to the majority of these tactics in some ways. It’s a “golden rule” to your SEO approach, and if you follow it, you’ll be more likely to see your results improving over time. The idea is to measure, learn, adjust, and repeat; collect as much data as you can about your strategy’s performance, learn why it improved or was weakened, make adjustments to your strategy, and repeat the process again. The more you do this, the more you’ll be able to improve your approach—no matter what tactics you’re using. Believe it or not, this list is still not comprehensive. There are tiny ranking factors I haven’t mentioned, there are ranking factors we haven’t yet discovered (and ones Google hasn’t disclosed), and because of the nature of this post, I’ve deliberately kept some points brief that warrant a more thorough explanation in other formats.

    This post isn’t everything there is to know about SEO, but it is relatively thorough in its approach. With the strategies and tactics you’ve learned in this guide, you should have enough ammunition to launch and maintain a healthy SEO strategy.

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  3. Keyword Research: The Ultimate Guide for SEO and Content Marketing

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    keyword research the ultimate guide to seo

    Table of Contents

    + Introduction to Keyword Research
    + Keyword Research for SEO
    + Topic Research for Content Marketing
    + Other Keyword Considerations
    + Tools for Keyword Research

    When you search for information, you enter specific words and phrases into a search bar. Google (or a similar search engine) then fetches results based in part on site authority, but mostly based on the relevance to that given query.

    If you want to be successful in SEO, you need to understand what people are searching for, how often they’re searching for it, and why they’re searching for it.

    So how can you find this information? It all starts with keyword research, the process of uncovering keyword opportunities for your brand to rank higher in search engines.

    Introduction to Keyword Research

    Let’s start by covering the basics of keyword research. The concept, as usual in the online marketing world, is simple, but the execution is more complex; essentially, you’ll be discovering what types of queries online users are using in search, then using that information to optimize your pages in a way that makes them more likely to rank for those queries. But it’s not as simple as you might think, as keywords no longer work the way they used to.

    The Old Model of Keyword Research

    The old model of keyword research was quite simple, as Google’s search algorithm was relatively simple. It functioned on a one-to-one basis, separating a user’s query into its base components and finding where those components were featured most throughout the web.

    For example, let’s say you searched for the phrase “burger restaurant Denver.” Google would separate this query into keywords and keyword phrases, then look for pages throughout the web that featured these specific words and phrases. It wasn’t quite as simple as finding out which website used these words the most, because authority was also taken into some consideration, but it was close to that.

    Google might have taken a look at a page that features the phrase “burger restaurant” multiple times, as well as “Denver” a few times, and might have prioritized a site that featured the exact phrase “burger restaurant Denver,” in the text of the page, even though that phrase never naturally comes up in actual human conversation. Google did rely on synonyms, but again, only in a one-to-one relationship.

    The Old Model of Keyword Research

    Because of how Google worked, the old model of keyword research was based on finding these common keyword phrases, even if they were semantically nonsensical, and sprinkling them throughout a site. For example, you might create a page on your site titled “Burger Restaurant Denver” specifically to rank for these types of queries, along with variations of that phrase, like “best burger joint Denver” or “good burgers Denver.”

    The Hummingbird Update and Golden Age of Content

    Google fought back against such unnatural-looking attempts at ranking higher in search engines for these types of search queries with various algorithm updates, including the monumental content-focused Panda update in 2011, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the fundamental keyword basis of Google search was overhauled with the Hummingbird update.

    Hummingbird introduced the concept of “semantic search,” which looks at the context of a user’s search query rather than its exact keyword composition. Hummingbird sees a query like “burger restaurant Denver,” and is able to infer that a user is looking for a burger restaurant in Denver, Colorado. It then scours the Internet for websites of actual burger restaurants in Denver that have a high enough authority to rank for the query.

    That authority is calculated based on literally hundreds of factors, but in this case one of the highest factors for a local restaurant would likely be its reviews and ratings on review sites like Yelp.

    hummingbird update

    Notice how, in the screenshot above, that none of the results have the keyword “burger restaurant denver” anywhere in them.

    This difference may seem small, but it’s made the entire concept of keyword density –once an essential component of keyword optimization – practically obsolete. You don’t necessarily have to include the phrase “burger restaurant Denver” in your website at all to rank for that query, as long as Google understands that you’re a burger restaurant in its semantic deciphering of your content.

    This, along with Panda’s (another Google algorithm) favoritism for high-quality content, has helped to spawn our modern “golden age” of content.

    Well-written, quality, valuable on-site content gives you more opportunities to establish relevance for topics related to your brand, and cover a wide range of different potential searches.

    Okay, So Are Keywords Still Relevant?

    After reading this, you might think that keywords are no longer relevant. After all, Google no longer takes them into consideration when trying to match a query to a selection of pages. However, this isn’t quite true; keywords are still important for consideration, just in a different way than they used to be.

    Google still relies on keywords to help it understand the subject matter of various pages and websites. As a simple example, it might see the words “burger” and “restaurant” several times on a page and understand that this is probably a website for a burger restaurant.

    But this is even more important in more complex cases, such as when a user searches for something conversationally, like “what’s the difference between general relativity and Newtonian gravity?” Google can’t easily reduce this query to a single concept, but it can scout for articles that seem to use the phrases “general relativity” and “Newtonian gravity” in a comparative context, and will probably even favor a site that happens to use the exact extended phrase entered.

    Because of this, it’s still important to pay attention to your phrasing, but the majority of your keyword “matches” will arise naturally as long-tail phrases—as long as you have a solid content strategy. This has led to a differentiation between bona fide “keyword research” and “topic research” for content—two of the main sections of this article—but I’ll dig into those in a bit.

    Benefits of Keyword Research

    With an understanding of the function of keywords in a modern SEO campaign, let’s take a look at some of the tangible benefits you can get by conducting keyword research:

    • Search volume analysis. First, you’ll gain insights into what keywords are more popular than others. This can help you find more popular topics to optimize for, which will eventually lead you to higher traffic and a higher ROI. For example, take a look at the difference in search volume (the number of times a user has searched for a given query) between “how to bake a cake” and “how to build a particle accelerator.” The clear winner is “how to bake a cake” (and let’s be thankful for that), making it far more favorable to optimize for.

    google trends

    (Image source: Google Trends)

    • Competitive research. Competitive research can help you determine which keywords and phrases your direct competitors are already ranking for. From there, you can decide which ones are worth fighting for and which ones are worth leaving. For the most part, you’ll want to shoot for target keywords that none of your competitors are currently ranking for, as they’ll be easier to establish rankings for, but they aren’t always easy to find. Competitive research can also help you understand the general course of your opponents’ SEO strategies, so you can adjust your own to more appropriately combat them.
    • Content ideas and SEO direction. Next, keyword research will give you ideas for your content marketing campaign, and help you set the direction for your SEO campaign. With a solid “group” of target keywords in mind, you’ll be able to establish the meta data and body copy for the main pages of your site, and come up with an editorial calendar full of topics that are actually relevant to your audience. Keyword research not only helps you pinpoint competitive opportunities and popular topics, but also helps you expand your conceptions through a brainstorming process. You’ll see how this works in greater detail later.
    • Market research. Doing keyword research also helps you understand your key demographics better, giving you information you can use in other areas of your business, including other areas of your marketing campaign. For example, you may find that search patterns for a specific product tend to escalate in winter, giving you a critical marketing opportunity to push that product more during winter months. You may also be able to learn more about the average buying cycle, including what types of questions consumers tend to ask as they get closer and closer to making a final decision.
    • Ranking measurement. Finally, doing keyword research in advance gives you a concrete way to measure the progress of your SEO campaign. Personally, I’m a fan of using factors like overall organic traffic and conversion rates to measure SEO campaign progress, but being able to definitively chart your rankings for a handful of target keywords also lends accuracy and thoroughness to your campaign. For example, it’s helpful to know that AudienceBloom.com ranks #1 for the keyword phrase “link building seattle.” We started off completely unranked, and could watch as we gradually made our way to the top, with that growth being a signal that our overall SEO strategy was succeeding. In theory, your efforts will raise your rankings for thousands of potential queries, including ones you’ve never thought of, but pinpointing specific phrases gives you a window into this overall growth.

    google search results

    How to Use Keyword Research

    It’s important to know how you’ll be using keywords if you want to choose them appropriately.

    • The dangers of keyword stuffing. First, you need to understand the inherent dangers of keyword stuffing. It’s tempting to include your target keywords as frequently as possible throughout your site, but remember—Google doesn’t work based on one-to-one correlations anymore. Increasing your frequency of placed keywords isn’t going to help your rankings; in fact, it might earn you a Google penalty. Focus on including your keywords naturally, wherever you include them, and try to utilize synonyms. If you’re ever in doubt, read a selection out loud and see if it sounds funny to you—if it does, you can consider the usage of the keyword “unnatural.”
    • Title tags and meta descriptions. Your page titles and descriptions are some of the most important areas to include keywords for your campaign. These are considered highly important elements by Google, mostly because they’re the first things a search user sees when scrolling through the results. Including a head keyword prominently, early on in your titles and descriptions, helps Google categorize your site—just make sure that your keywords are relevant for the content of your pages. Take AudienceBloom’s title and descriptions as examples; “link building” and “content marketing agency” are two of the keywords we’re targeting, and both are appropriate to our brand. We don’t stuff in any more keywords than we need to.

    meta tags optimization

    • Dedicated pages. Because page titles are so powerful when it comes to evaluating relevance, and because each page is indexed separately in Google, it’s sometimes a good idea to create dedicated pages for each of your head keywords. For example, if one of your target keywords is “emergency plumbing repair,” you may wish to create a new page of your site specifically called “Emergency Plumbing Repair” in your main navigation. However, you’ll want to be careful here. If your page appears unnatural, or if its body copy is spammed with keywords, you could earn a ranking penalty rather than a boost.
    • Header tags and body content. Aside from the titles and descriptions, you’ll want to include keywords throughout the body of your pages. There used to be a rule that keywords should make up about 2 to 3 percent of the total volume of words on a given page (this was referred to as “keyword density,” but forget about that. Just include keywords occasionally where they naturally fit in, especially long-tail keywords, and especially in your header tags (h1, h2, etc.).
    • Ongoing content. Your ongoing content is your best place for the ongoing support of your target keyword phrases. If you’re developing multiple new posts for your blog a week, you’ll have multiple opportunities to optimize for new keywords, new pages with new title tag and meta description opportunities, and of course, plenty of body copy where you can include your keywords at a natural pace. I’ll dig deeper into the content side of things when we cover topic research later on.

    Keyword Research vs Topic Research

    Some SEOs have declared topic research as the “new” keyword research, while others have decried keyword research as an SEO strategy in general. I believe that keyword research and topic research for content are two distinct, yet highly related strategies that are both necessary if you want to be successful in SEO.

    Keyword research helps you find keywords and phrases to target in the technical infrastructure of your website and give you solid targets to rank for, while topic research is more about finding a strong foothold for your content marketing campaign (and appealing to your users as much as possible).

    I’ll delve into each of these topics individually, breaking down the research and execution process step by step.

    Keyword Research for SEO

    Let’s take a look at “standard” keyword research for SEO. The goals here are to find a selection of target keywords you can use to optimize the various pages of your site for specific user queries, then use your rankings for those keywords as a relative gauge of success.

    For the majority of this article, I’ll be calling upon Moz’s Keyword Explorer, one of the best all-around tools for keyword research. At the end of this article, I’ll be listing it along with other tools mentioned in this guide as a reference index for your future use. If you’re interested in fuller descriptions of these tools as we go along, be sure to reference it. Before we jump into the step-by-step guide, you need to understand some keyword research lingo: head, and long-tail keywords.

    Head Keywords and Long-Tail Keywords

    You’ll often hear about “long-tail” keywords in contrast with “head” keywords. Essentially, long-tail keywords are extended phrase search queries, such as “what is the best roofing company in Wyoming?” Compare that to a traditional “head” keyword or keyword phrase like “roofing company” or “roofing company Wyoming.” There’s no strict line to draw here, though generally, if a query is in sentence format, it can be considered as a long-tail phrase.

    Long-tail keywords are advantageous because they tend to have a much lower competition rating than head keywords; the catch is they also have much lower search volume. It’s great to use long-tail keywords to rank quickly for niche positions, but if you’re looking for some heavy-hitting rankings to build over the long-term, head keywords are better.

    Typically, SEOs use head keywords for title tags of the most prominent pages of their site, like Home, About, and Contact pages (as well as body copy), while long-tail keywords are reserved for blog article titles.

    Because each type of keyword has advantages over the other, I highly recommend pursuing both over the course of your campaign, balancing the two based on your current goals.

    Next, let’s dive into the step-by-step breakdown of exactly how to conduct keyword research for SEO.

    Step 1. Determine your goals and budget

    Generally, if you’re looking for fast results, you’ll want to choose long-tail keywords with a low competition rating; these are going to be your fastest road to rankings, but keep in mind high rankings here won’t always send much traffic your way; it depends on search volume for each keyword.

    Head keywords and higher-competition keywords are better for long-term results, assuming you’re also picking higher-relevance keywords with a high search volume. A bigger marketing budget would allow you to theoretically invest more effort in either side of the equation, allowing you to cover more ground and rank faster for your target terms.

    For example, take a look at the major difference even a single variant can have on a target keyword, between “content marketing” and “content marketing for law firms”, dropping the competition score from 91 to 42, and the search volume to “no data” (though Google’s Keyword Planner suggests it to be between 10-100):

    content marketing keyword research

    content marketing for law firms

    It’s hard to estimate exactly how much time or money you’ll need to rank for a given keyword, but these metrics should help you understand your biggest opportunities, and estimate the relative degree of effort you’ll need to invest in each to see results. In turn, this should guide the development of your keyword research.

    Step 2. Brainstorm your “seed” keywords

    You’ll start your keyword research by selecting what I call “seed” keywords. Seed keywords are those that you either already know your target audience is using to search for your services, or that you would use if you were a member of your target audience.

    For example, since AudienceBloom is a content marketing agency, I can easily guess that my target audience might search for “content marketing agency,” or perhaps one or more of the following variations of that keyword:

    • Content marketing services
    • Content marketing company
    • Content marketing firm
    • Content marketing provider

    Of course, AudienceBloom offers more than just “content marketing services.” We also offer link building services, social media marketing services, and blog writing services.

    If your company offers multiple types of products or services, then you’ll need to create a separate topical relevance group and brainstorm seed keywords for each of them. For example, here are the seed keywords I would use for the other services AudienceBloom provides:

    Link building:

    • Link building services
    • Link building service
    • Link building company
    • Link building agency
    • Link building provider

    Social media marketing services:

    • Social media marketing services
    • Social media services
    • Social media service
    • Social media management services
    • Social media marketing management

    Blog writing services:

    • Blog writing services
    • Blog creation services
    • Blogging services
    • Blog post services
    • Blog post writing service

    It took me a couple minutes to come up with the keywords above, and they were all off the top of my head. Write down these seed keywords, as we’ll conduct specific research on them in the next step.

    Step 3. Plug your seed keywords into Moz Keyword Explorer

    Now that you’ve got your seed keywords, it’s time to start gathering data on them. Start by plugging at least one from each group into Moz’s Keyword Explorer. Below is a screenshot of the results for my keyword, “content marketing services.”

    moz keyword explorer

    (Image source: Moz Keyword Explorer)

    Step 4. Download suggested keywords

    You’ll see a link that says “See all [X] suggestions.”

    keyword suggestions

    Click that link to be taken to a page that lists similar keywords to your seed, as well as relevance, and volume.

    keyword suggestions content marketing services

     

    Next, download the list of keywords into an Excel spreadsheet using the “Export CSV” link.

    export csv

    Use different tabs/sheets in your Excel spreadsheet to separate your keywords for each topical relevancy group.

    Ubersuggest is another fantastic tool for generating keyword ideas based on a single seed keyword. Enter one seed keyword, and it will automatically generate a list of potential keyword opportunities. Try it out with at least one of your seed keywords from each group, and add its suggestions to your keyword spreadsheet.

    ubersuggest

    (Image source: UberSuggest)

    Step 5. Add keywords that the tools may have missed

    As we all know, software tools don’t always cover all the bases. Use the following strategies to think of more keywords that you can add to your spreadsheet that the tools may have missed:

    • Competition and environment. What do you imagine your average customer searching for when they look for a company like yours? What kinds of phrases are your competitors using throughout their websites?
    • Free association. Once you’ve run out of ideas in this first stage, you can move on to free association. For this, I find it’s best to use a pencil and paper. Instead of deliberately aiming to develop keywords, you’ll write down a basic topic, like “sales,” and you’ll write down the first thing that pops into your mind. Then, write down whatever you associate that next term with. Keep going until you build a chain of terms outward, and if you like, return to the center to build another branch of the web. This will help you break your linear thinking and come up with some novel topics.
    • Forums and blogs. You can also cruise existing blogs and forums that your target audience might frequent, in or out of your industry, to see what types of topics are popular. Are there any words or phrases that seem to be frequently visited or discussed? What kind of focus do these blogs and forums have? You can also crawl these areas to see if there are any topics your audience is curious about, but haven’t been sufficiently covered by any authors.
    • Interviews. It’s easy for an individual to get tunnel vision in keyword research, so start talking to the people around you for newer, fresher ideas. Ask your coworkers what keywords and phrases they’d associate with your business, and ask your clients and past clients directly what they would search for if they were looking for a business like yours. These are valuable insights, and you should keep track of them.

    Step 6. Evaluate your keywords

    You should now be looking at a spreadsheet that contains a bunch of keywords – possibly thousands or even tens of thousands.

    Now, it’s time to pick which ones you’re going to use for your campaign. There are three main factors you’ll want to bear in mind for each keyword you select:

    1. Relevance. The relevance of a given keyword is a subjective measure of how useful the keyword is to your brand. Obviously, you’ll want to include keywords that are more or less in line with your brand. But even within your niche, some keywords and phrases will be more valuable than others. For example, if you sell bookshelves, the keyword “where to buy bookshelves online” will tend to attract customers interested in buying bookshelves, while “how to build a bookshelf” would attract DIYers who probably aren’t interested in making a purchase from you. Unfortunately, my experience with Moz’s Keyword Explorer for measuring this has not been very reliable, since it’s almost entirely subjective, so you’ll probably need to rely on your own intuition and experience to determine relevance for each keyword in your list.

    2. Volume. The search volume for a given keyword is a rough estimate of the number of times that keyword has been searched for, within a given population, over a certain period of time (usually a month). You can use this as a relative gauge of the keyword’s popularity, though it doesn’t specifically tell you about the keyword’s click-through rate or user intent. Still, it’s a valuable at-a-glance metric that can help you determine which keyword rankings will bring you more traffic than others.

    If you plug a keyword into Keyword Explorer, you’ll see a volume measurement for it and a number of other related terms:

    keyword explorer

    (Image source: Keyword Explorer)

    There’s variation because keyword searches fluctuate from month to month. For example, taking a look at the screenshot above, you can count on the keyword “content marketing” to earn between 11,500 and 30,300 searches each month.

    There’s no rule for what search volume you should target; obviously, higher is better, but it usually comes with the tradeoff of higher competition, which makes it more difficult to rank for.

    If you’re looking for keyword ideas with at least a certain search volume, you can bring up the     suggestions menu and filter by volume:

    search volume filter

    You could also use Google’s Keyword Planner to perform this search, but since Moz’s Keyword Explorer pulls much of this data, you run the risk of redundancy. Also notice that Google’s Keyword Planner offers much less specific ranges of search volume:

    search volume google keyword planner

    (Image source: Google Keyword Planner)

    SEMRush offers similar features, but strives for a volume count with pinpoint accuracy. This may be useful in the short term, but if you want better long-term projections, it’s better to rely on a range.

    semrush

    (Image source: SEMRush)

    3. Competition. Finally, you’ll want to take a look at the competition rating for each keyword. Again, Google’s Keyword Planner will be able to tell you this, but unfortunately, this data is less objective (giving you only “Low”, “Medium” or “High”) and much less precise than search volume.

    Reference the screenshots above, and you’ll see each of these tools offers a different evaluation of the level of competition of our keyword, “content marketing.” Google, for example, lists content marketing as “medium” competition, while Moz Keyword Explorer attempts to offer a more precise score—in this case, 91 out of 100, which most would consider “high.”

    SEMRush offers 0.81, at least in the context of paid search, which you could roughly translate to 81 out of 100. Confused yet? Competition is hard to precisely calculate, so take an average, qualitative value here. Based on these competition evaluations, I’d consider “content marketing” to have high competition, and thus, be a very difficult keyword to rank for.

    You should eliminate the high-competition keywords from your list unless you’re ready to fight tooth and nail, or you have a massive budget that can help you blow through almost any competitive obstacle. It would take you months of consistent effort to earn rankings for these, and even after all that effort, it’s unlikely that the traffic payoff would be worth it. If you must, include only a couple.

    Relevance is up to you to figure out without the help of tools, but volume and competition are objective factors that you can gather with the help of tools.

    Once you’ve grouped your keywords into the spreadsheet, remove all the ones that aren’t relevant. Again, this will be a subjective determination that you need to make, based solely on your knowledge of your industry, so just do your best here. This step can take a long time, as you’ll need to manually go over each keyword and determine whether it’s relevant or not.

    After you finish removing all the irrelevant keywords, you’ll be left with a list of keywords that are relevant and have some measurable amount of search volume and competition.

    Step 7. Conduct competitor research

    Next, you’ll want to take a closer look at the competition, and what types of strategies they’re using in their search campaigns.

    There are a few reasons you need to learn about your competitors:

    • Inspiration. If you can understand how they’ve optimized their websites, where they currently rank, and how they’re getting more relevant customers to their sites, you can adopt some of these techniques for yourself.
    • Understanding competition levels. Second, you’ll be able to gauge what level of competition you’re in for. Are your competitors all fighting viciously for web real estate, or is it an open field?
    • Discover weaknesses and opportunities. Are there certain niches that your competitors haven’t been able to touch? Are there opportunities for development they’ve missed?

    SEMRush is a fantastic tool for conducting competitor research, automatically listing some of your “main organic competitors” once you enter your website domain name:

    organic competitors semrush

    (Image source: SEMRush)

    You’ll get to see their names listed, as well as their relative competition “level,” and what keywords they’re competing with you on.

    You can use a tool to help you understand where and how your competition is ranking for various keywords—and I’ll be getting into those at the end of this guide—but for now, you can get an “at a glance” look by searching, in Google, for some keywords you think an average prospect in your target market might use.

    As an example, I performed a search for “online time tracking software,” a typical keyword phrase that might be used by someone looking for such a product. You can see a number of time tracking tools ranking for this, many of them using that exact phrase.

    But you’ll also find inspiration for tangential keyword phrases, like “employee timesheet,” which seems popular. Look at the titles (in blue), and descriptions (in black), to get a feel for what kinds of keywords they’re using.

    keyword research result

    You can also use Keyword Explorer to project how the search engine results pages (SERPs) look (found in the “SERP Analysis”  tab), which will even rate page authority, domain authority, shares, and links for you:

    SERP analysis

    Step 8. Choose your keepers

    After adding new keywords you got from your competitor research, it’s time to choose your keepers.

    The ideal keyword is one with high relevance, high search volume, and low competition, but these are hard to find, so you’ll have to make some strategic choices and balance your keyword selections.

    The number of keywords you select should depend on the size of your business, your budget, and your goals. Most small- to mid-sized businesses do well with a list of 20-30 keywords. Any more than 30, and you’ll either need a full management team, or you won’t be able to gain much meaningful momentum for any of them.

    You don’t have to limit the number of keywords you choose as your “winners” – in fact, the more relevant keywords you track in your keyword rankings, the better accuracy with which you’ll be able to gauge the progress of your content marketing or SEO campaign. Just be sure to only focus on building up a few keywords at a time, as anything more ambitious will likely dilute your efforts too much to be effective.

    Step 9. Input your winners into rank tracking software

    There are many important metrics to monitor in a full-fledged SEO campaign, including your organic traffic, social traffic, referral traffic, and conversion rates, but when it comes to evaluating your keyword progress specifically, there’s no better metric than your actual keyword rankings. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t explicitly publish this information, so your best bet is to use a tool to help you—AgencyAnalytics is what I personally use, but there are a ton of software options that do this, such as AuthorityLabs, RankWatch, and more.

    agencyanalytics

    (Image source: AgencyAnalytics)

    There you have it. This is the long and short of how to perform “modern” keyword research for SEO—and some tips on what to do with that information once you have it.

    Now, let’s turn our attention to the close cousin of keyword research and how it relates to your overall campaign—topic research.

    Topic Research for Content Marketing

    Though similar to keyword research, topic research has its own process, its own benefits, and its own best practices.

    Distinction From Pure SEO Keywords

    Topic research follows similar lines as keyword research, but it demands a closer focus on user behavior and content trends than search trends, specifically. For this reason alone, topic research should be treated as a separate entity.

    So far, keyword research has been executable and valuable for a standalone SEO campaign, but topic research can benefit you in far more areas; your content campaign, social media marketing campaign, and customer retention strategies can all benefit more from topic research.

    There’s some overlap, because both keyword and topic research are designed to bring people to your site, but topic research has a greater likelihood of keeping people on your site.

    From a pure customer acquisition perspective, topic research can help you take advantage of the semantic search that Google has been using since it launched its Hummingbird algorithm. Because one-to-one keyword matching can’t guarantee that keyword inclusion will help you rise for specific keyword queries, topic research helps you understand—and meet—user needs, essentially getting in front of more people out of necessity.

    As an illustrative example, take the search phrase “garbage disposal is broken.” Google interprets this phrase semantically, understanding that your garbage disposal is not working, and provides content that doesn’t contain these exact keywords (i.e., “How to Fix a Garbage Disposal”), but does interpret and address your need. Topic research helps you find and solve these user needs.

    topic research

    Factors for Success

    The factors for success in a topic are slightly different than the success factors for keyword research, because you’re after a qualitative user experience rather than quantitative benefits.

    • Interest. The first major factor is interest. Your users need to have a vested interest in the topics you produce. What does that mean for your brand? There are a few fundamentals, but ultimately every brand and every audience will have a different answer. For example, one of the most important qualities of “interesting” content is that it’s unique. Your topics can’t be ones that competitors have already covered. You can publish new versions, or different angles, or follow-ups, but it needs to be original. Beyond that, you’ll have to rely on what you know about your demographics, including their wants or needs.
    • Value. Another important factor is value, and oftentimes this translates to practicality. Your topics should serve some kind of function for your users, giving them instructions they need in a certain situation, or information they need to consider some broader ideas. How-to articles and tutorials are exceptionally popular, but remember, these need to be unique. Also keep in mind that your topics don’t have to be practical to be valuable—the best example of non-practical, valuable content is entertaining content, though obviously this won’t work for just any brand.
    • Timeliness. Unlike the interest and value factors, timeliness isn’t an absolute necessity, but it can be helpful. New topics, such as those covering a recent event or update in your industry, tend to be highly popular in the first few days and weeks after their release. Trending topics can also be taken advantage of for additional search visibility. However, “new” topics and appropriately timed topics shouldn’t make up the entirety of your focus; you’ll also need “evergreen” topics that will presumably stay relevant indefinitely. Balancing your topic spread between these two types of content timeliness will give you the widest possible spread, helping you take advantage of news topics without sacrificing the longevity of your campaign.
    • Catchiness. Again, this isn’t a necessity, but it helps if you find topics that are “catchy”—that is to say, topics that have a high likelihood of getting shared or going viral. Content pieces that are shared virally tend to attract far more backlinks, helping them earn more authority and rank even higher for your SEO campaign. A major factor for catchiness is uniqueness, which you’ve hopefully already covered in the “interest” category. Beyond that, you need some kind of emotional “hook,” such as something surprising, or something otherwise emotionally charged.

    Phase I: Market research

    When you first start the topic research process, you’ll need to dig deep to gain a thorough understanding of the types of people who will be viewing your content. Remember, keyword research allows you to be more quantitative in your approach, calculating things like competition and search volume, but topic research demands a more qualitative approach, forcing you to understand the hows and whys of customer interaction with your material.

    • Buyer personas. One of the best ways to start is by developing specific “buyer personas” that represent the main demographics you intend to target with your content. Rather than making assumptions or guesses about your audience’s needs, this method will force you to sketch out a portrait of your “average” customer, including their basic information, disposition, interests, family life, professional life, wants and needs. Treat it like you’re developing a fictional character, and interview some of your existing customers to get a better feel for who you’re working with. If you need a good template to build your buyer personas, Hubspot has a great one.

    buyer persona hubspot

    (Image Source: Hubspot)

    • Buying cycle. In addition to buyer personas, you’ll need to get a better understanding for the buying cycle of your average customer. What are your customers thinking when they first start the research process? Where do their interests turn as they become more familiar with your brand? You can use this information in several ways in the course of your topic research. For example, if you want to specialize in one area—such as finalizing potential customers already familiar with your brand, or merely increasing brand familiarity among people unfamiliar with your brand—you can do so by favoring those topics. You can also opt for a more homogenous blend of different target topics.
    • Social listening. Social listening will help you kill multiple birds with one stone. The basic idea is to “plug in” to social media channels to find out what your key demographics are talking about—what topics they seem to be sharing, what keywords they seem to be including in their posts, and what hashtags are trending. On one level, you’ll be able to learn more about your target demographics—how they behave, what’s important to them, and what they’re interested in. You’ll also get a peek at what types of topics might be good to start producing.

    smartinsights

    (Image Source: SmartInsights)

    • Blogs and forums. Similar to social listening, you can browse blogs and forums to get a feel for what your target market is talking about and interested, and milk them for topics directly. You can use a blog reader for this, but it’s easier to run a quick search for blogs and forums in your industry and go through them manually—you’ll comb through the topics in finer detail that way. BuzzSumo is one of the best tools to use here. With it, you’ll be able to find some of the most shared and linked-to articles in the central topic of your choice. All you have to do is enter a topic and hit search:

    buzzsumo results

    You can then use the “sort by” function in the upper-right corner to filter by total shares, or          specific types of shares. You can also use advanced search functions (under the search bar) to       rule out certain phrase, narrow down your domain criteria, or filter by domains, and use the    “content type” filter on the left-hand side to look for specific types of content:

    content types

    Phase II: Competitive research

    Next up, you’ll need to perform some competitive research. When you performed competitive research for keywords, you took a look at the titles and descriptions of their main pages (and possibly used a third party tool to spy on their current rankings).

    Here, you can rely on similar tactics to identify your competitors in the first place. For example, you can run a domain search for your own domain in SEMRush and get a list of some of your fiercest organic search competitors.

    competitive research

     

    (Image source: SEMRush)

    Then, you can drill into individual domains to see what they’re ranking for, and what keywords they’re targeting.

    competition research keywords

    (Image source: SEMRush)

    You could also use Moz Keyword Explorer to generate a list of people ranking above you in the SERPs for a given topic query:

    moz keyword explorer results

    (Image source: Moz Keyword Explorer)

    Take a look at your competitors’ content marketing strategies and see what’s working and what’s not.

    You can use BuzzSumo for this. Just enter your domain to see what content is performing the best on your website, and enter your competitors’ domains to see their top-performing content:

    competitor content marketing

    (Image source: BuzzSumo)

    BuzzSumo also allows you to see the most popular content that links back to your site as well as your competitors’. This can be useful for assessing the value of your competition’s off-site content marketing efforts. Just use the “Backlinks” tab in Buzzsumo, then type in the domain/URL of your site or a competitor site.

    most popular content buzzsumo

    (Image source: BuzzSumo)

    Use these tools to identify competitors and find out some of their biggest strengths and weaknesses, then rely on your qualitative analysis to make further conclusions.

    Browse through your competitors’ blog content, and see how many comments and shares each of their articles are getting. Take note of their most popular content topics, as well as any topics they have that seem to generate no momentum.

    Don’t copy these topics directly; instead, use them as jumping-off points to guide your own work. For example, if a competitor seems to get lots of popularity with “how to” articles, consider creating some of your own.

    You can also look for topics that seem to be underexplored or underutilized, such as exploratory topics that don’t tell the full story, or articles with inaccuracies or those that lack substance. These are key opportunities for you to create your own versions, hopefully generating more attention and more links, and giving you the opportunity to outrank your competitor for those related inbound queries.

    Phase III: Establish regular and evergreen features

    At this point, you’ll have insights into the behavioral patterns of your average customer, social media, blog, and forum trends, and a glimpse into your competitors’ strategies.

    Combined with some of the long-tail keyword research you performed in the last section, you should be able to compile a list of popular, interesting, valuable topics that you can introduce to your blog. One of the best strategies to do this is to establish a regular pattern of features.

    You don’t want to repeat yourself, but you can leverage certain frameworks multiple times for different facets of your brand. For example, in the online marketing industry, if you find that “top 10” lists are popular and underutilized (this isn’t the best example because top 10 lists are overused, but it works), you could write up a series like “the top 10 benefits of content marketing,” “the top 10 benefits of seo,” and so on.

    The key here is to find some frameworks that are repeatable as evergreen content. When your topics are semi-repeatable, you’ll be able to produce a greater volume of content to increase your relevance for those terms, and when they’re evergreen, you know they’ll stay relevant indefinitely, rising in rank as your overall domain authority grows.

    Phase IV: Set up news monitoring

    With some threads of evergreen content in place, your next step is to set up some kind of news monitoring program. Your goal here is to receive regular updates about what’s happening in your industry or geographic area.

    When you see a topic trending, or a new topic emerging that’s relevant for your brand, you can jump on it.

    There are three great ways to monitor news developments in your industry.

    • News subscriptions. First, there’s straightforward content subscriptions. You can use an RSS feed, or subscribe to each brand’s content newsletter, but for me, the best thing to do is head to a blog reader site like Feedly and browse through sources related to your industry. You can go as broad or as specific as you’d like here, and segment your sources however you’d like. Then, whenever you want to look for news, you can head to this singular source and pull from major topics that seem to be trending.

    feedly

    (Image Source: Feedly)

    • Social media lists. Next, you can create lists of major brands and influencers on your social media platform of choice. For example, on Twitter, you can create custom lists of certain types of accounts and access them to see what they’re talking about. This is a great way to collect your news sources in one area. In combination with your social listening practices, it’s highly effective for cultivating new potential topics from the news. Twitter offers one of the best ways to do this; click on “Lists” in the settings menu, and you’ll be able to create a new list in a few clicks.

    social media lists

    • Competitive monitoring. You’ll also want to bookmark the blogs of your main competitors, and check back occasionally to see what types of new content they’re developing. Again, this isn’t so you can copy their strategy—instead, scout it for inspiration and for weaknesses that you can exploit in your own topic collection.

    Phase V: Execution

    By now, you’ve noticed that topic generation isn’t as precise as keyword generation. You won’t have as much quantitative data to work with, and you won’t be generating a list of exactly repeatable phrases.

    So from here, it’s best to move straight to execution.

    • Build an editorial calendar. One of the best ways to keep your topics fresh, organized, and visible to your entire team is to keep them confined to an editorial calendar. This doesn’t have to be a fancy or formal document; in fact, a simple spreadsheet works fine. If you’re looking for a template, I recommend the one that the Content Marketing Institute offers. It gives you enough space to list your headline, author, status, call to action, category, and any other notes you might have—and that’s really all you need to get started. Keep a close eye on your headlinese as you develop this calendar, both to draw inspiration from past posts and make sure you don’t ever repeat yourself.

    CMI editorial calendar template

    (Image Source: Content Marketing Institute)

    • Leaving space for news. Don’t schedule your content so far in advance that you can’t do anything when a news topic starts trending. Leave yourself some blank spaces, with the assumption that your near-constant news monitoring will allow you to fill in those gaps with timely posts. Remember that your timing is an important element in how your topics are received by a searching public.
    • Targeting the right audience. When you start drafting your content, don’t forget that you’re writing for a very specific audience. Keep your brand voice consistent and make sure your tone, vocabulary, and structure are all appealing to the type of searcher you intended to target with your content topic. For example, if you’re writing a basic instructional article like “how to clean an air filter in an air conditioner,” you’ll want to avoid getting too technically complex.
    • Content quality. You’ll also want to make sure that the content you create is “high quality,” which is a frustratingly vague term that refers to your level of depth, your style of writing, the types of media you include, and how much detail you bring your readers. The better your content, the more likely it’s going to be to rank for users’ queries, thanks to its propensity to earn more links and its adherence to Google’s content standards. I outlined 12 elements of high-quality content in my article at Forbes.

    Phase VI: Ongoing Adjustments

    Like with keyword research, it’s not enough to perform one round of topic research and be done with it. You’ll need to monitor your progress in your topics, and use that information to adjust your campaign in the future.

    • Traffic. Use Google Analytics to see how much traffic your blog posts are generating. Though here, topic research is used mainly as a way to facilitate an SEO campaign, you can actually measure your articles’ popularity in terms of organic (search) traffic, referral traffic, and social traffic. Take a look at your top performers and ask yourself—why are these bringing in more traffic than the others? Similarly, take a look at your worst performers, and avoid topics like those in the future.

    blog posts traffic

    • Links and shares. You can use a tool like Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, or URLProfiler to check and see how many inbound links each of your pieces of content has earned, and use your own website to check how many shares you’ve gotten. More links and shares will lead to higher organic search rankings for your individual content pieces and will boost the domain authority of your entire site, but more importantly, these are an indication of your topics’ popularity, effectiveness, and shareability.
    • Engagements. Finally, take a look at the engagements your topics generate. How many are people responding to them? What kinds of comments are you getting? Are you sparking discussions? Are you inspiring rebuttals or follow-up posts?

    Balancing Keywords and Topics

    Though SEO and content marketing are often considered separate strategies, the reality is they’re almost indistinguishable. In the words of Neil Patel, “They go together. They just fit. They work well together… SEO is actually all about content marketing, and vice versa.” Both keywords and topics will help you in both areas, so you’ll need both if you want to continue making progress.

    Other Keyword Considerations

    There are just a handful of additional considerations you should bear in mind when moving forward with your keyword and topic research strategy.

    Local Keywords

    Google’s local search functions on a separate algorithm from its national search. Currently, Google offers a “3 pack” of local results, above the fold of organic search results that features the three most relevant local business it can find for a query.

    local keywords

    There are many factors that go into these 3-pack rankings, including conventional SEO authority factors like your link profile, but also your presence in third-party directories and the number of positive reviews your business has received.

    If you’re interested in boosting your local relevance, it’s worth considering throwing some local keywords into your campaign – keywords that include a geographic indicator, such as your city name. This can help you expand your relevance for potential searches in your surrounding area, and create more targeted pages for your key demographics.

    You’ll want to avoid using clunky phrasing in your keywords, like the “burger restaurant Denver” example I used earlier, but you can still incorporate local keywords into your content more naturally.

    Try to use synonyms and alternative descriptions of your area if you do this; for example, a business outside of Cleveland could use terms like “Cleveland,” “Northeast Ohio,” “Greater Cleveland area,” or “Cuyahoga county” to describe its location.

    Note that local keywords aren’t necessary to rank; they’re merely an added bonus for local businesses that want the boost.

    Rich Answers and Structured Data

    Rich answers are becoming an increasingly present feature of Google search; these are informative boxes that pop up above organic search results in response to certain easily answerable queries. For example, the phrase “what is wave particle duality” returns a shockingly concise explanation in paragraph form, drawn from the Wikipedia article on the subject.

    rich answers

    There are some fears that these answers, as they become more popular, could wick away some of your organic traffic. However, in the meantime, you can exploit the fact that Google looks to external sources for this information.

    As a primary strategy, you can target “answerable” keywords and topics for your campaign, and use a structured markup to feed your information to Google, giving you a chance at being the featured brand in this box. As a secondary strategy, you can target highly niche, hard-to-answer keywords and topics that don’t have a good chance of yielding rich answers in the first place.

    Bing and Other Search Engines

    Most of this article, especially the “tools” section, is focused on Google search results or information drawn from Google. Google is still responsible for more than two-thirds of all searches, but there’s still a third of all searches floating away from Google.

    It’s a good idea to hedge some of your research by exploring keyword data on Bing and other search engines you encounter, and keep watch to see how they develop over time.

    Hashtags and Social Media

    Hashtags function similar to keywords on social media, and if you’re engaged in a social media marketing campaign, they’re well worth your notice.

    “Trending” lists on various social platforms will help you quickly identify new potential keywords and topics for your on-site content, but don’t forget to also use them in your social media posts (provided you know how to use them appropriately).

    twitter trending hashtags

    (Image Source: Twitter)

    Amazon, eBay, and Other eCommerce Search Functions

    Your website isn’t the only place where you can optimize pages. If you have a company presence on Amazon, eBay, or a similar service, for example, you can potentially use search data on these niche platforms to optimize your product pages for potential searchers.

    Here, you’ll need to optimize your pages both for traditional search engines (i.e., Google), and for in-app searches. Just bear in mind that in-app searches tend to function differently than Google search; they depend heavily on product ratings and reviews to determine authority and rankings.

    Tools for Keyword Research

    I’ve already listed and explored a number of tools to aid you in your keyword and topic research, but this section is meant to organize, detail, and evaluate them individually.

    Some of these tools are better for some functions than others; for example, Ubersuggest is only good for generating more keyword ideas early on in your research. Consult this section to find the tools you need for the various stages of your research, and don’t be afraid to try out multiple tools in multiple ways until you find out what works best for you.

    Moz’s Keyword Explorer

    If I had to recommend one tool to you, it would be Moz’s keyword research tool—its Keyword Explorer. Keyword Explorer pulls in data from a number of different sources, including Google’s Keyword Planner (more on that next), Google Suggest, and a number of other sources. It compiles this information into easy-to-understand (and visual) metrics, and can even give you keyword recommendations. There’s also a handy import/export function so you can use it in conjunction with your previous work and your ongoing work with other tools.

    moz keyword explorer tool

    (Image Source: Moz)

    This tool gives you a lot of information, so what should you really focus on for your keyword research? Well first, you’ll need to plug in some central information—a keyword or keyword phrase that you want to target. Choose what you believe to be one of the most relevant keywords for your brand—as relevance is the one thing Moz won’t be able to measure for you, due to its subjective nature.

    From there, take a look at these metrics:

    • Volume. Keyword Explorer purports to have 95 percent accuracy when it comes to the national search volume for your given term. This should help you almost pinpoint how much traffic each keyword’s going to get.
    • Difficulty. Rather than relying on vague generalizations, Moz will give you a numerical score for the competition volume of a given word, helping you determine exactly what is and what isn’t too hard to rank for.
    • Opportunity. The opportunity measure is a subjective score based on the relative power of a given keyword, based in part on click-through rates. Some keywords may have a high volume, but a low opportunity due to significant searches but few engagements.
    • Potential. If you’re nervous about how to pull this information together into something meaningful, don’t worry—Moz has you covered. Its “potential” score combines the other three factors into a single value on a numerical scale. If you’re looking for one score to tell you whether a keyword’s worth going after, this is the one to view.

    In another section, you can use your base input as a way to generate new keyword suggestions.

    • Keyword Suggestions. This tool goes deeper than most of the others on this list. You’ll be able to select the type of keyword suggestions you receive, filtering by source, by proximity to your original keyword, or even choosing to get a mix between keywords and topics—which makes utilizing both sides of your research easily. You can also filter and sort them by factors like volume and “relevancy” to your original term.

    keyword suggestions moz

    (Image Source: Moz)

    • SERP Analysis. After that, you can use this tool for some competitive research (and to get a better feel for your actual ranking opportunity). This section of the tool breaks down what the SERP looks like for this given term, including any of your competitors who currently rank for it, whether there are rich answers present, and whether there’s a significant threat of visibility from existing paid advertisers.

    serp analysis moz

    (Image Source: Moz)

    Google’s Keyword Planner

    Google’s Keyword Planner is one of the most recommended and most talked-about keyword research tools available, but there are a few major downsides that you should keep in mind before using it. These aren’t deal-breakers, but they are considerations that can (and should affect) how you use and trust the tool. For example, Keyword Planner tends to round search volume data, and splits keywords into “buckets” of numerical data.

    google keyword planner

    (Image Source: Moz)

    You may also find that Keyword Planner gives you inconsistent, or “strange” recommendations that don’t seem to fall in line with your brand. This is subjective, but you’ll want to use a diverse selection of keyword idea generators if you’re looking for new recommendations anyway.

    There are four ways to use the Keyword Planner, but only three are going to matter for your organic SEO keyword research.

    keyword research google keyword planner tool

    (Image Source: Google)

    First, you can search for new keywords by using a phrase, website, or category. This function is relatively straightforward; you can enter any combination of different keyword phrases you’ve come up with, your own domain, a competitor’s domain, or a pre-existing category that Google has outlined for your industry. Google will then use this information to fetch new keyword suggestions that you can fold into the results of your own brainstorming sessions.

    keyword planner google

    (Image Source: Google)

    Second, you can dig into search volume and other types of data for a keyword list you’ve already generated. This is ideal if you’ve already got a spreadsheet full of keyword ideas and you’re just looking to fill in information like search volume and competition rating.

    search volume keyword planner

    (Image Source: Google)

    Finally, you can leverage one of the Keyword Planner’s most unique functions—keyword multiplication. Essentially, what you’ll do is provide two lists to Google, each of which represents one category of information. Google will cross reference these lists to generate a list of possible keywords and phrases for you to target. Check out the example they give below:

    keyword lists

    (Image Source: Google)

    Ultimately, Keyword Planner is best used for generating new keyword ideas and collecting consistent information on the keywords you already have, though Moz’s Keyword Explorer does seem to provide more accurate data.

    Google Correlate

    Google Correlate is an interesting niche tool; it won’t provide you with detailed numerical information on keywords, but it will help you uncover trends and patterns in search. For example, you can plug in some of your target keywords to see how their search volume changes with seasonal transitions, or how they compare in different states. There’s a lot to experiment with here, so reserve it for exploring your semi-finalized list of keywords in greater detail.

    google correlate

    (Image Source: Google)

    BuzzSumo

    BuzzSumo is a tool best used for topic research, rather than keyword research. With it, you’ll be able to search for a range of different topics, and explore some of the most popular stories within that topic. You can filter by date, language, country, and content type, then explore to see how each of these top-performing topics are doing.

    buzzsumo

    (Image Source: BuzzSumo)

    For example, you can check out how many shares a topic has gotten on each major social media platform, or evaluate how many links it’s gotten. This is great for checking to see whether your topic ideas have already been explored, how they’ve been explored in the past, and how popular those topics were. If you’re still in the ideation phase, you can search for more general topics and keywords, and browse through these lists to find inspiration for your own topics.

    social sharing buzzsumo

    (Image Source: BuzzSumo)

    Be sure to check out the monitoring, area, where you’ll be able to keep an eye on what your competition is doing in terms of content and SEO on a regular basis.

    SEMRush

    As you’ve already seen, SEMRush offers several different functions, including a keyword research and keyword ideation tool similar to the ones offered by Moz and Google that will break down things like search volume, cost-per-click (which can be used as an indirect way to measure competition), and SERP appearance.

    semrush keyword research

    (Image Source: SEMRush)

    However, where SEMRush really shines is its ability to help you monitor and analyze your performance. You can plug in your domain or URL and immediately see a plethora of information about your site, including your organic and paid search traffic, your inbound links, and your organic keyword rankings.

    Since Google doesn’t provide this information and manual hunting is a tedious pain, having all your major keyword rankings in one spot is incredibly beneficial—it can even help you discover keywords you didn’t know you were ranking for!

    In addition to this, you’ll be able to plug in a list of your own keywords and monitor your performance for those specifically.

    semrush dashboard

    (Image Source: SEMRush)

    SEMRush also gives you the ability to compare your domain to another domain, highlighting competitive opportunities and evaluating your relative performance.

    compare domains semrush

    (Image Source: SEMRush)

    Ubersuggest

    Ubersuggest is one of the simpler tools on this list, but it’s highly valuable for generating new keyword ideas because of that simplicity. It uses Google’s suggest feature to come up with recommended variations of a target keyword or phrase that you enter—it’s a fantastic way to start general and work to more specific potential targets.

    ubersuggest tool

    (Image Source: Ubersuggest)

    All of these tools have strengths and weaknesses, and no single tool will provide you everything you need for a thorough bout of keyword and topic research. All of them are either free or offer free trials, so do yourself a favor and experiment with all of them.

    Regardless of what peripheral strategies you use for your campaign, keyword and topic research is essential if you want to employ your SEO and content strategy with any kind of direction. You can use it as intensively or as passively as you like, depending on your goals, as long as you keep in mind how Google functions with semantic search.

    Despite what you might hear, keywords are still very much a part of effective SEO—as long as you’re researching and implementing them properly.

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  4. How to Add Gamification to Your Website to Boost Engagement

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    GamificationGamification is becoming a significant trend that is destined to alter the way businesses interact with their customers. Are you ready to use games on your website to create breakthrough engagement with your readers? Read on, and we’ll explore what gamification is, and how to use it to amplify your online marketing efforts.

    What is Gamification?

    The marketing term “gamification” was coined in 2002 by Nick Pelling, but didn’t become popular until 2010. It describes marketing tactics which use game elements to drive user engagement with your website, application, or brand.

    According to Gartner, more than 70% of the top 2,000 companies are expected to have at least one gamified application by the end of 2014. Research by M2 Research shows that the gamification application, tools, and services market is projected to hit $5.5 billion by 2018.

    Gamification taps into the the human desire for rewards and competition. Users are motivated to compete against others to improve their status (ie, via a leaderboard) within a game. Gamification allows marketers to apply game mechanics to entice users to take action. These mechanics usually foster competition and reward users for reaching goals.

    Benefits of Gamification:

    Some of the benefits of gamification include:
    Education: Gamification can be an effective way to introduce your readers to a new product you are about to launch. You can use the game to teach your readers how to use a product before it is launched. Educational games can be an efficient way of collecting information for your business while educating people about your product.

    Engage with your customers: Gamification can help you engage with your customers and provide a frequent reason for them to return to your site. It will help your site to stay top of mind.

    Compelling data collection: Gamification platforms typically require a visitor to login with either social media credentials or an email address. After this information is freely given out, it will allow your company to gather data on the visitor as well as track where they go on your website. Gamification achievements can generate plenty of data associated with that account. This data can supply powerful customer information.
    Feedback can also be collected from games, which can help the company solve real business-related problems. If the feedback is utilized properly, it can also be used as a form of idea generation plucked from a massive number of users.

    How Gamification Works

    Most gamification uses certain tactics to get website visitors to participate:

    • Competition can be used to incite website visitors to achieve status and rewards. The status achieved in the games can be used to inspire people to purchase more products and services over time. In some cases, people are willing to spend money to achieve a higher status or additional tokens for gameplay.
    • Gaming elements can be used to make the marketing experience enjoyable to participants. This can provide better results than simply showing advertisements.
    • Gamification allows visitors to participate in the marketing process and keeps them engaged for longer periods of time.

    Gamification in the Real World

    Participation is what gamification is all about. Whenever you need to collect information from your clients with a survey, you can use gamification to improve results. By offering rewards such as a discount, coupon, or an offer to win a prize, you can increase the likelihood of participation. Another option is to require a survey question to be answered before proceeding to the next level of the game.

    Companies have used gamification to:

    • Entice travelers to use frequent flyer miles on a specific airline
    • Reward employees with the highest product knowledge
    • Encourage children to learn more about a given topic

    Adding Gamification to your Website

    Whether the goal is to track clicks, test sales, or collect data on surveys, make sure your game is an actionable step in your marketing objectives. Make the primary purpose of the game to collect this information for your marketing needs. In order for gamification to provide long-term user engagement, it needs to help your business.

    “Gamification is about better engagement with your audience and facilitating a more interactive experience with your company’s products and services,” said Ivo Lukas, CEO and founder of 24Notion.

    The underlying marketing objective of the game should be something such as encouraging visitors to use a new sales channel, obtaining feedback through surveys, driving new product or service adoption, or increasing frequency of purchases.

    Use gamification as a tactic to meet your measurable business goals. A good example of this would be increasing engagement with website visitors.

    “Gamification is far more than simply putting a branded game on your Web site. Track your progress toward achieving business goals in real-time. Don’t create a game for a game’s sake. If gamification is not providing measurable ROI, then you shouldn’t be doing it,” said Ryan Elkins, CEO and co-founder of IActionable.

    Crossing multiple marketing channels

    The best gamification platforms cross multiple marketing channels to include social media, online, off-line, and mobile devices. Make sure that the outcomes of the gameplay are available whenever and wherever your visitors want to share them. Allowing your visitors to play the game anytime they want across multiple channels will greatly increase participation.

    Test, test, and test some more

    Like any other web content, you should split test your game to see which version of content, videos, graphics, etc. provide greater participation. Split testing can also be a great way to see which awards provide the best engagement.

    Promote it

    Take every opportunity to talk about your new game on social media, your website, off-line, and more. Make sure that every visitor has the ability to play your incredible new game and is informed of the rewards that can be achieved.

    Conclusion

    Gamification can improve engagement on your website while allowing you to collect more valuable data from your visitors. Whether it’s helpful information from surveys, increased engagement, or more, gamification can be an effective way to improve your website.

    Photo courtesy of rledda82

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  5. The 3 Core Elements of SEO in 2013: Content, Links, and Social Media

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    SEO can be confusing. With dozens of acronyms, technical jargon, tools, programs, statistics, techniques, and all the talk about pandas and penguins, it’s pretty intimidating. Let alone the fact that SEO is a field that is in constant flux! In spite of the confusion, there’s a simple way to think about SEO campaigns today and beyond: as a set of three core elements which support each other to support an SEO campaign. Let’s take a look at each of these elements, as well as how to implement each of them to increase traffic, conversions, and ROI.

    What are the three core elements?

    Discussed in detail below, but provided here in survey form, the three core elements are as follows:

    1. Content – Create and Publish Great Content
    2. Inbound Links – Gain High-Quality Links
    3. Social Media – Be Active and Engage on Social Networks

     

    I call these the three core elements because they are necessary for any modern SEO campaign to succeed. Without each of these three core elements, your SEO campaign won’t be properly supported and will likely fail. Before launching into an explanation of the three core elements, there are a few things to understand about how they work together.

    • You must have all three core elements in order to have a successful SEO initiative. When performing SEO triage, you can’t simply decide to leave off one or more of these elements. Good SEO means being diligent in each of the three areas.
    • Each core element strengthens the others. When you build each of the SEO core elements in the right way, you are actively strengthening and supporting all of them. These SEO practices possess synergy. For example, when you create outstanding onsite content, you render it more likely that you’ll gain inbound links. More links usually mean additional social shares, which translates into more and stronger social signals. All three components are in play, and each is working to enhance the other two.
    • There are no shortcuts. You may finish reading this article with a sense of fatigue. Admittedly, doing SEO the right way is a ton of work. The hard-to-swallow truth of the matter is that you can’t take any shortcuts. Thankfully, you don’t have to do it all yourself. You can hire an in-house SEO specialist if your company is capable of it. Alternatively, you can contract an SEO firm to cover your needs.

    Core Element #1:  Content – Create and Publish Great Content

    The first core element comes first logically, because it involves your own website — the hub where everything happens. This element can also be called “onsite SEO” to distinguish from SEO practices that happen off your site, such as external content that garners inbound links (such as guest blog posts) and social media involvement. Here are the essentials:

        • Site Design. Good SEO can’t exist on a shoddy website. The design must be clean, simple, and intuitive.
        • User Experience. Hand-in-hand with a great site design is user experience or UI. Keep your user in mind with every action that you take on your website. If your site fails your user, you’ve failed with SEO. The whole point of SEO is to give the user what he or she is searching for. What’s more, if someone clicks through to your site and sees a load of ugliness, they’ll quickly close your website. This action is called a bounce. The search engines record every bounce, and a higher bounce rate can lead to decreased rankings.
        • Keyword Research. Many people are familiar with keyword research, or at least the idea of keywords. Keywords have been one of the few unchanging aspects of SEO. A site must regularly use, but not overuse, certain keywords that users are searching for. Be sure to use plenty of longtail keywords, those search strings that consist of three words or more. Additionally, you must never commit the cardinal SEO sin — keyword stuffing. Worrying about saturation rates and keyword frequency is a thing of the past. Use the keywords, yes, but don’t overuse them.
        • Content Optimization. Every website has content that only crawlers and browsers see. This is called the meta content, and it’s crucial for SEO. Even URLs are part of your content. Make sure you’re using best SEO practices in the following places:
          • URLs
          • Meta titles
          • Meta Description
          • Meta Keywords
          • Robots.txt
        • High-quality and frequently updated blog. Although you may have a spiffed-up website with all the right SEO meta data in place, you’re not done with SEO. A blog is a powerful weapon in the SEO arsenal. Without it, your SEO initiative will be severely hindered. Great content engages users; don’t neglect blogging. There are two important laws of blogs:
          • Update it frequently. The more frequently a blog is updated, the better it registers with the search engines. Keep your blog fresh.
          • Publish great content. A blog is only as good as the content on it. To put it bluntly, people don’t want to read crap. If you can’t write, hire someone who can. Content has to be so good that people are compelled to both read it and share it.

    Core Element #2: Inbound Links – Gain High-Quality Links

    Link building tactics include guest blogging, press release distribution, and other tactics as discussed in this post.

    How do search engines decide to bring your website up to the top of the search results? Top-notch onsite SEO is only the beginning. Search engines recognize that your site is important based on who is linking to it.

    Take this example. Let’s say you’re a yoga instructor. You have a website, and you start publishing some sweet articles about yoga. Somehow, Whole Living picks up on your content and asks you to do a guest post on yoga. You write a piece for Whole Living, and link back to your website.

    Whole Living has a domain authority of 80, which is way higher than your site. Bingo. As soon as they link to you, your website gains credibility and authority. Then, you interview a health instructor in a local private college and post the interview on your website. The yoga instructor, in turn, writes about the interview on her college blog and links to your site. Boom. You just got a link from an .edu website.

    Because you’re now a recognized authority on yoga, you publish an article in Lifehacker about the positive impact of yoga on work productivity. This article, of course, links back to your website. Another power move.

    All of these links to your site are driving up your authority. Your site has proven to the search engines its authority and recognition. Your rankings go up.

    No site will succeed in SEO unless other sites are linking to it. It’s just that simple.

    Here are the best ways to gain quality backlinks:

            • Guest blogging. Far and away, your best option for backlinks is guest blogging. Look for high-quality sites that allow you to submit your content including a link back to your site.
            • Press Releases. Creating a press release is a relatively simple way to create a link that possesses authority. The process is as simple as developing a well-written piece on something eventful in your company and submitting it to a press release distribution company such as PRWeb. The service comes at a cost, but it is well worth it.
            • Publish amazing content. All of the best websites have one thing in common:  They have rockstar content. Your site will succeed if you consistently publish outstanding material.
            • Get listed in local or industry directories and professional organizations. If your site isn’t yet listed in business directories, you may want to give it a try. Links from any reputable source will help to improve your site’s rankings. Yext.com offers a fantastic service for building links from major local directories.

    Links are crucial. Ensure you have a solid strategy in place for building links.

    Core Element #3: Social Media – Be Active and Engage on Social Networks

    More than ever before, social media is an integral part of SEO. Search engines can quantify the amount of social clout that your site possesses. Merely getting a few dozen tweets can ramp up a page’s authority, and therefore its rankings, resulting in more traffic to it. The increasing market share of Google+ is a major factor in social ranking, including the power of Google authorship. Social signals matter for SEO.

    Keep these two points in mind.

            • It’s not enough to be present on social media. You must be active. If you want to succeed in the social arena, you need to monitor your social networks with vigilance. Twitter is a de facto complaint hotline in the minds of some users. Facebook serves as a place where customers ask questions. Neglecting these channels is like failing to respond to an important email from a customer.
            • Find the social niches that are right for your business. It’s obvious that you should be on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. But these four sites are but a fraction of the social sites available to you. There are other social sites which serve niches of targeted customers. Find what niche sites best match your company profile, and jump in.

    The power of social for SEO can be subtle, but is nonetheless important. Provide sharing opportunities on every piece of content that you publish. The greater the social signals, the better your SEO.

    Conclusion

    This is the state of SEO in 2013. SEO success is possible, but not without each of these core elements present and properly being engaged. It’s no longer easy to game the system and jump up the search engine rankings in Google with a few slick tricks. You’ve got your work cut out for you.

    But you do have a game plan — understand and design your strategy around the three core elements of SEO. As long as you 1) ensure that your onsite SEO is rolling smoothly, 2) you possess a robust and effective link building strategy, and 3) you’re staying active and engaging within social media channels, you’re going to succeed.

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  6. App Store Optimization – Is ASO the New SEO?

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    The mobile market has expanded to unforeseen dimensions in the past years. With the expansion of the mobile world, with the arrival of so many devices (tablets, smartphones of all sizes) it’s a different marketing environment – and very prolific if one truly evaluates its potential.

    App Store Optimization - ASO

    This might be one of the reasons why the term ASO – app store optimization – has become relevant for businesses looking to expand their reach. Studies have shown that many mobile users are more willing to click links and do their online shopping via their tablets or mobile phones, and they have a different attention span when interacting with those particular devices.

    Consider the following scenario – it’s one thing to work at the office and have all sorts of promotional links pop-up (most of which we all ignore) and another to have them while we’re already enjoying our leisure time, and we’re actually looking forward to finding out more about certain products.

    Mobile apps were seen at one point as a method to either increase productivity or challenge leisure time (games, media etc.) but on the other hand, why not use all those feats and integrate a bit of marketing within them?

    TechCrunch wrote an article a few months ago about the future of ASO and how it will demolish the concept of SEO as we know it. Nevertheless, let’s remain a little skeptical – is this truly the beginning of a new era?

    1.) App Optimization – Getting Started

    Creating an app for your company comes with many advantages. First, it creates visibility – consider that the mobile market is increasing quickly. 25 billion apps have been downloaded since Apple first launched their App Store – why shouldn’t your company be a part of that as well?

    Not to mention the fact that it’s a rather easy to manipulate market – building your own app isn’t difficult at all, they have a high degree of customizability and you can always push your competition aside by adding different features.

    And here comes the punch line – with so many apps out there, how will people know yours is available as well? Say hello to App Store Optimization! Essentially, all you used to know about SEO you will now start employing in your new ASO strategy.

    There are two important things you need to focus on with your new strategy:

    • Instead of being the first one on Google Search, you now need to be the first one in the Apple App search engine. Therefore, the first step would be figuring out how to get your app at the top of the app search page.
    • Instead of reacting to Google’s search algorithms, you will now have to start reacting to Apple’s search engine algorithms.

    So, if you’ve managed to get your SEO strategy in place, you should have a pretty awesome view of what to do with your ASO. The ASO process starts as soon as you’ve finished your app development state. Right before deployment and launch in the AppStore, you need to focus on the right strategy for your product.

    Let’s go over the numbers one more time – you have to beat about 600,000 apps on the AppStore and about 450,000 apps on Android’s Google Play. Of course, you can’t hope your app will succeed from the beginning without a little boost. Then, the popularity will kick in and push it over the top.

    2.) Optimizing Your App – Essential Concepts

    This might sound like a broken record, but ASO is a lot like SEO and whatever you used to do to optimize your business’ website for search engines will work for your app as well. In other words, focusing on concepts such as metadata, keywords, head titles and so on should still be part of your daily routine. Let’s go over some of these concepts and see if anything has changed.

    • Focusing on the right audience – Desktop visitors and mobile visitors are two separate entities; make sure you adjust accordingly. Google Analytics can help you with this task using the “Mobile Visitor” tab in your dashboard.
    • Keywords – Similar to website SEO, there are a few tools to figure out what the best keywords for your app might be in order to gather more users to download your product. There are other tools to measure how well your competition is doing, and what product volume they have.
    • Focusing on marketing – Of course, marketing has its own little branch and while it’s not as important as the previous points, it still has its highlights. Consider the fact that your business, your website and your app need to intertwine in terms of marketing – they all need to send out a cohesive message, so people will get the right interaction. Advertising your app on your website simply makes sense. If you want people to buy it or download it, make sure you post a link directly in Google Play’s dashboard or Apple’s AppStore for easier interaction. Using social media to promote your new app is essential as well.

    3.) Optimizing Your App – Essential Tools

    Apart from having the right strategy, you also need the right tools for the job. Here are some tools to make your job a little easier:

    • AppCod.es – Determining what keywords your competitors are using for their product is a great jumpstart for your strategy. While you won’t be focusing exactly on what they’re doing, you will have a general idea of how they reached those high App Store rankings. Not to mention that you can borrow some keyword info and maybe find a better strategy.
    • Flurry – This is one of the most popular analytics tools for mobile strategies and has been used by mobile developers for a long time to keep track of usage patterns. It’s not enough to have an incredible amount of users download the app, it has to also be useful to them because this supports and augments word-of-mouth advertising. Analyzing your audience and figuring out their usage patterns can help you figure what you should change in your next app version and how users see it from a usability point of view.

    Conclusion – ASO or SEO?

    Actually, both. SEO has been and will be around for a long time, and it’s not going away until search engines go away (read: not for a very long time).

    The truth is, they complement each other in a wonderful manner. After all, both help promote your business, and both help it stay first in line – whether it’s on the app store or on the Web.

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  7. “SEO Tips” You Should Ignore at All Costs

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    SEO is the process of increasing a site’s visibility during a search.

    Since its inception, Google, now indisputably the world’s largest search engine, has laid out most of the standards currently followed by webmasters and site owners to get their sites to the top of search results.

    Unfortunately, scheming individuals believed they could punk search engine systems. They manipulated their way up to the top of search results and pocketed huge amounts of profit … but their successes have been short-lived.

    In update after update, all the search engines, but especially Google, flexed their strength and affirmed a commitment to providing quality: they blasted spam and offensive sites in a sincere and usually successful effort to guarantee a user-friendly search experience.

    First in a series of major search algorithm overhauls was Panda, which penalized sites with low-quality content.

    Next came Google Penguin, an algorithmic update that swept search results of spammy sites. It cracked down on websites that feature questionable link profiles, and cleared others that betrayed an over-optimization of exact-match keywords.

    Most recently, Google rolled out the EMD (Exact-Match Domain) update, which sought to penalize sites that have exact-match domain names, but offer content of demonstrably little value.

    While effective, this series of updates risked wiping more legitimate websites from the map along with the ugly ones. Maybe this happened to a site you own. If this happened to you, resist the urge to panic and grasp at quick but counterproductive solutions.

    To help you avoid getting unnecessarily penalized by any of the recent stringent algorithmic updates rolled out by Google, below are some of the “SEO tips” floating around that you should firmly ignore. Treat them like diseases.

    Create doorway pages
    Doorway pages are heavily utilized by blackhat SEO practitioners. These feature very poor quality content, but have been created and optimized for a single keyword to point to a single page. Doorway pages are a direct violation of Google’s recently updated webmaster guidelines.

    Cloak links
    Another widely practiced spam technique is link cloaking. Link cloaking tries to deceive search engines and users by hiding URLs. This is done by disguising a link via a tinyurl service so that the displayed URL is transformed. The goal is to increase clickthrough rates (CTRs) by duping users into clicking on a friendly looking or pretty link.

    Use HTTP header cloaking
    One of the surest ways to get effectively banned from the search engines is by the use of HTTP header-cloaking schemes. This tactic sends HTTP headers to search engines that are different from the ones sent to users.

    An example of this is when good content on a high-ranking page is replaced with a sign-up form with the expires and cache control headers changed in an attempt to mislead search engines into retaining the page’s ranking.

    Apply javascript redirects
    Search engines crawl Javascript codes. However, search engine robots may not index the links that are hidden within the Javascript codes. Javascript redirects are not necessarily bad. They’re a coding scheme used to notify users when a page is moved, so that users get automatically forwarded to the site’s new location. However, blackhat SEOs have used them as a sneaky tactic to dupe both the search engines and the users.

    Hijack links
    Link hijacking yet another form of cloaking. This happens when the anchor text leads visitors to a different page. The goal is to hide the URL that contains specific keywords for which the page is optimizing, in a deceptive anchor text.

    Why would folks want to use these deceptive tactics? These have been practiced by blackhatters not just to deceive the search engines, but to make a quick buck.

    Fortunately for those of us who play by the rules and maintain legitimate online businesses, the search engines are getting smarter. It’s increasingly difficult to get around search engine algorithms, and we can only hope that eventually there will be no other way to play it than their way.

    Conclusion
    If you still have questions about the proper search engine optimization techniques that won’t get you banned from the search engines, talk to us and we’ll show you great ways to push your site to the top of the search results.

     

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  8. 6 Reasons Why Startups Need SEO

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    The Internet has fueled an almost exponential growth in startups. Industries worldwide see a total of about 50 million new startups per year.

    From biotechnology to social media, each year sees a staggering number of new businesses. Each one struggles to get its operations off the ground to profitability. A few get lucky by landing a generous venture capitalist who is willing to shell out millions of dollars for their growth.

    Not all startups get lucky, obviously. Some fold after months of fighting to break even. Others pump thousands, even millions, of dollars of their own funds into the new venture.

    But a few startups quietly rake in profits from the get-go. Even without the help of angel investors, these winners often take advantage of a factor the others fail to fully utilize: Search Engine Optimization.

    Experts disagree about whether startups need SEO or not. Some contend that all a startup needs are brilliant ideas and access to VC funding, which is what happened in the case of Facebook and Twitter.

    But if luck isn’t on your side, and no investor is buying your story, SEO can be a solid bet, for several great reasons.

    #1: Most online experiences begin with a search
    About 93% of all online experiences start with a search. That’s an astounding figure, given the fact that, at any moment in time, hundreds of millions of people are online. Most rely on search engines more than social media recommendations when they look for products or services. The subjects of searches range from plumbing to roofing to health care and cosmetic surgery.

    If your startup isn’t optimized for search, chances are your customers will end up finding your competitors instead.

    #2 SEO provides proof of sustainability
    If you are running a startup and looking for a significant amount of funds to expand your business, it’s just not enough to have brilliant ideas on your side. One of the first things investors look for are proofs of sustainability.

    How visible is your site during searches? How much traffic does your business attract on a monthly basis? How many of your visitors convert into leads?

    While investors may not ask you these questions directly, when you can show them the numbers, you will start from a position of tremendous confidence and impress your audience.

    Proper SEO helps ensure that a significant number of highly targeted people will visit your site on a monthly basis and many of them will likely be converted into paying customers.

    #3 Marketing intelligence
    Marketing intelligence used to be a highly expensive proposition. Mega-corporations spend billions of dollars a year to find out what the market wants. With SEO, you will have an extremely affordable method of sussing out the market. You will gain access to what your target audience is specifically searching for, how many people are looking for the products you are offering, and what language they use to find your business.

    You may also gain information on factors driving people toward your business that you might not even have considered.

    #4 Cost-effective lead generation
    Developing leads to whom you can steadily market your products and services can also be extremely costly. With the advent of SEO, however, getting your products right into the faces of your target customers has become remarkably cheap. The rise of Social SEO has made it even easier to get the word out about your business, at an even faster rate.

    #5 SEO lets startups build a solid search engine reputation
    SEO can not only push startups to the top of searches; it also provides them with an effective way to build a solid reputation online. In the cut-throat world of Internet marketing, competitors sometimes generate damaging reviews about a business.

    With proper SEO strategies, you can dominate the search engines with your own content, and direct your target audience to favorable reviews when they search for you or your business.

    #6 SEO helps you expand your niches
    By properly researching your market using SEO tools and strategies, you could identify niches related to your business that no other companies have yet explored. You can also dominate your local market by identifying your business with local attributes.

    Conclusion
    As they say, luck favors the prepared. In the world of online marketing, the best way to prepare a startup for success is by creating a solid presence in search.

    If you’ve got questions about how SEO can help your business improve or corner a market, let us know and we will gladly show you how we can help.

     

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  9. How to Find Guest Blogging Opportunities

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    Guest blogging, as an SEO tactic, has long been considered an expensive, time-consuming endeavor. It’s also been considered one of the safest, most “white-hat” methods of link building in the SEO’s arsenal, but over the last several years, has largely been put on the backburner as most SEOs pursued more powerful (albeit, more risky) tactics.

    But with the rollout of Google Penguin, everything changed. Guest blogging services are cropping up everywhere (including here, at AudienceBloom) as the industry begins to realize that guest blogging, as a link building tactic, is one of the few safe havens left after Penguin demolished many of the lower-cost, higher quantity tactics that SEOs came to rely upon over the course of the past several years.

    As the new darling of the SEO industry, the popularity of guest blogging is growing exponentially. But while many SEOs are just now learning about the benefits of guest blogging, many are still in the dark about how, exactly, to do it.

    There are lots of great guides available on the Web that offer nuggets of information about guest blogging, but I haven’t been able to find any that really dig deep into the most difficult part of guest blogging: Actually finding the blogs to guest post on. This guide is meant to provide a thorough, step-by-step walk-through of exactly how to find guest blogging opportunities. And I’m going to show you how to do it by using one of my favorite internet marketing tools: Scrapebox.

    Saddled with an unfortunate reputation for being a tool useful only for propagating blog comment spam, Scrapebox is actually one of the few internet marketing tools I use on a daily basis—and for only ethical, white-hat purposes.

    What You’ll Need:

    • Scrapebox (download it here for a one-time fee of $57. TOTALLY worth it.)
    • Private proxies (Get them from Proxybonanza for a small monthly fee. I recommend going for the “Bonanza” package from the “Exclusive Proxies” section.) Note: That Proxybonanza link is an affiliate link. I’d really appreciate if you’d buy through my link!

    How are We Going to Use Scrapebox to Find Guest Blogging Opportunities?

    Scrapebox will execute multiple search queries simultaneously in Google and Bing, automatically harvest all the results, and allow us to manipulate, augment, and export the data.

    For example, let’s say you want to find good guest blogging opportunities for your website about canine epilepsy. To find other websites that rank well for the term (and similar terms) which might be good targets for a guest blog post, you’d want to examine the top 100 search results for the following search queries:

    • Dog seizures
    • Canine epilepsy
    • Canine seizures
    • Seizures in dogs

    Without Scrapebox, you’d have to perform each of those searches manually (via Google.com), manually click through each of the top 10 pages, and copy/paste each URL into a spreadsheet for future follow-up. This process would easily take you at least an hour.

    With Scrapebox, you supply the search queries, and it will perform the searches, collect the URLs of the top 100 results, and supply them to you in an Excel spreadsheet. Additionally, you can use Scrapebox to automatically find the PageRank of the domain of each search result, allowing you to filter out low-PR domains without having to manually visit them. Scrapebox also offers myriad other filtering options, such as the ability to ignore results from domains that would never accept a guest blog post, such as facebook.com, amazon.com, etc. All of the above processes can easily be completed in under 60 seconds.

    Ready to take your link prospecting capabilities to a whole new level? Let’s get started.

    Step 1: Load your proxies into Scrapebox

    After obtaining your proxies, load them into a .txt file on your desktop in the following format:

    IP:port:username:password
    IP:port:username:password
    IP:port:username:password

    Here’s an example:

    123.456.789.012:01234:jayson:awesomepassword
    123.478.759.032:01234:jayson:awesomepassword
    123.446.899.012:05274:jayson:awesomepassword
    129.486.749.012:01234:jayson:awesomepassword
    176.495.989.016:01637:jayson:awesomepassword

     

    In Scrapebox, click “Load” under the “Select Engines & Proxies” area. Select the text file containing your proxies. Scrapebox should load them immediately, and look something like this:

    proxies

     

    Click “Manage” and then “Test Proxies” to test your proxies and ensure Scrapebox can successfully activate and use them.

    test proxies

     

    Be sure that “Google” and “Use Proxies” are both checked.

    Step 2: Choose a keyword that best represents your niche or vertical

    For example, let’s say I’m trying to find guest blogging opportunities for my website about canine epilepsy. I would select “dogs” as my keyword. I could go for a more targeted approach and try “canine epilepsy” or “dog seizures” as my keyword, but I’m likely to find much less (albeit more targeted) prospects.

    Step 3: Define your search queries.

    Copy and paste the following search queries into a .txt document on your desktop, and replace each instance of [keyword] with your chosen keyword from Step 2.

    Note: The following is my personal list of search queries that I use to identify guest blogging opportunities. Google limits queries to 32 words, which is why these are broken down into many chunks rather than one long query. Enjoy!

    “submit blog post” OR “add blog post” OR “submit an article” OR “suggest a guest post” OR “send a guest post” “[keyword]”

    “guest bloggers wanted” OR “contribute to our site” OR “become a contributor” OR “become * guest writer” “[keyword]”

    “guest blogger” OR “blog for us” OR “write for us” OR “submit guest post” OR “submit a guest post” “[keyword]”

    “become a guest blogger” OR “become a guest writer” OR “become guest writer” OR “become a contributor” “[keyword]”

    “submit a guest post” OR “submit post” OR “write for us” OR “become an author” OR “guest column” OR “guest post” “[keyword]”

    inurl:”submit” OR inurl:”write” OR inurl:”guest” OR inurl:”blog” OR inurl:”suggest” OR inurl:”contribute” “[keyword]”

    inurl:”contributor” OR inurl:”writer” OR inurl:”become” OR inurl:”author” OR inurl:”post” “[keyword]”

    site:twitter.com [keyword] “guest post” OR “guest blog” OR “guest author”

    Step 4: Load Search Queries into Scrapebox.

    In the “Harvester” section in Scrapebox, click “Import,” then “Import from file.” Select the file containing the search queries that you just created in Step 3. Scrapebox should then populate with the search queries, looking something like this:

    queries

    Step 5: Update your blacklist.

    Scrapebox has a “blacklist” which allows you to automatically filter out undesired search results. For example, I know that Facebook.com and Amazon.com will never accept a guest blog post, so I don’t want results from those domains appearing in my list.

    To edit your blacklist, click “Black List” from the top navigation, then click “Edit local black list.”

    edit blacklist

    After you start using Scrapebox and receiving output lists, you’ll begin to notice undesirable domains that often appear in search results. As you notice these, add them to your local blacklist so they never appear again. Here are a few good sites to add to begin with:

    Amazon.com
    Facebook.com
    Tumblr.com
    Linkedin.com
    Yahoo.com
    Squidoo.com
    Hubpages.com

    Step 6: Set Search Depth in Scrapebox

    Next, define how many search results Scrapebox should harvest for each query. You can do this in the “Select Engines & Proxies” area, in the text field next to “Results.” I generally set it to 200 or 300.

    search depth

     

     

    Step 7: Start Harvesting

    We’re now ready to start harvesting search results for our queries. Click “Start Harvesting” in the “URL’s Harvested” section.

    start harvesting

     

     

    harvester in action

    Harvester in action

     

     

    Finished harvesting

    Finished harvesting

     

    Step 8: Filter results by PageRank

     

    You should now have a list of websites that Scrapebox harvested, which looks something like this:

    Results

    The next step is to filter these results by PageRank, since we don’t want to waste our time reaching out to websites with a low PR. Scrapebox makes this super easy. Click “Check PageRank” then select “Get Domain PageRank.”

    Check PageRank

    pagerank complete

    Next, click “Import/Export URL’s & PR.” Click “Export as Excel” and export the file to your desktop. Open the file on your desktop and re-save it if need be (sometimes the file is corrupt, but by re-saving it and deleting the older version, you can easily solve this).

    Column A should contain a list of all the harvested URLs. Column B will contain the PageRank of each domain. Add column headers to column A (URL) and column B (PR).

    Next, sort column B by PR, in order of largest to smallest. To do this, highlight column B by clicking on the column header, then click “Sort & Filter” in the “Home” tab in Excel. Then, click “Sort A to Z.”

    Sort

    You’ll see a popup box asking if you’d like to expand the selection. Do so, and click “sort.”

    Expand selection

    Remove all the rows with a PR of 2 or lower. We only want to target PR 3 and above.

    Step 9: Manually Filter & Qualify the Remaining Websites.

    You should now have a list of hundreds or thousands of potential candidates for guest blog post outreach. Add two more columns to your spreadsheet:

    • Follow up?
    • Contact information

    Use the “Follow up?” column to note whether the website would make a good candidate for guest blog post outreach. If so, use the “Contact information” column to note the webmaster or author’s email address, or the URL where the contact form can be found.

    While reviewing each website, ask yourself the following questions to determine whether it’s worthy of outreach for a guest blog post:

    1. Is the website designed well?
    2. Does it have a social following? Are they active in social media? Do they have social media icons on their website? Do they have a Facebook fan count on their website?
    3. Do the other posts on the website look well-written and informative, or is this website full of spam or scraped content?

    Use your best judgment to decide whether the website is worthy of follow-up.

    You’ll also notice lots of results from Twitter (if you used my queries supplied above). Visit each tweet and try to figure out whether the author has a blog and accepts guest posts. If so, follow that author on Twitter, and then reach out politely to ask them about doing guest blogging for their website.

    Step 10: Finalize Your List for Follow-Up.

    After you’ve finished manually reviewing each website and deciding whether it’s worthy of asking for a guest blogging opportunity, save your Excel file and begin your outreach to the authors & webmasters.

    Scrapebox has several very useful “Addons” which you can access from the “Addons” menu. For link prospecting, I recommend installing the “WhoIs Scraper.” This handy tool will automatically crawl your list of links and perform a “WhoIs” lookup to tell you the following information about each domain:

    • Registration Date
    • Registration Expiration Date
    • Registered owner’s name
    • Registered owner’s email address

    You can use the name and email address information to aid in finding contact information for each of your prospects.

     WhoIs Scraper

     

    Establish and grow your relationships with each one, and you’ll be scoring guest blog posts in record time! So, are you going to try it? Leave a comment and tell us whether or not this method has saved you tons of time!

    Want more information on link building? Head over to our comprehensive guide on link building here: SEO Link Building: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

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  10. 6 On-Page Optimization Best Practices For the Post-Penguin SEO World

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    It’s still all about Penguin, isn’t it?

    Yes, but that’s because I’d like to arm you with as much information as possible, so instead of battling Pandas and Penguins, you can cuddle with these cute animals; after all, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather make love than war.

    As you may already know, Google Penguin is just getting started. Additionally, we’re in the midst of a new era of SEO where traditional SEO is becoming more seamlessly intertwined with social media.

    And who knows how much more of Google Penguin we’ll see in coming days, weeks, or months.

    We’ve covered the basics as far as recovering from Google Penguin is concerned. We know that these days, more than ever, the only legitimate way to attain rankings is to provide quality and relevant content to users, in order to obtain links naturally.

    No more tricks, says the Penguin.

    In this post, I’ll share with you six on-page optimization best practices that conform to Google Penguin’s guidelines. I’ll focus on key optimization considerations that will help you create a more reputable image for your site both in the eyes of your audience and of the search engines. Let’s get started.

    Keyword density (keyword what?)

    Not long ago, SEOs were concerned about keyword density, or the number of keyword occurrences as a ratio of the overall number of words on the page. The acceptable keyword density used to be somewhere between 2% and 4%, which meant that for every 100 words, a specific keyword (note that I use “keyword” interchangeably with “keyphrase”) should occur two to four times.

    Today, however, keyword density is no longer a ranking factor (was it ever?). Search technology has tremendously evolved over the years to recognize the relevance of certain content to a topic.

    SEOs now advocate the use of Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI). Simply put, LSI refers to the use of relevant terms to the content’s target keywords. So if you’re gunning for the keyword “consumer electronics”, you can use that exact keyword within the first few sentences of the content and then use related terms such as “gadgets”, “electronics”, etc. throughout the rest of the content.

    Tip: You can find LSI terms for any given keyword by using Google’s Keyword Tool. Alternatively, you can perform a search for your keyword in Google and then scroll to the bottom of the first page, where you’ll see some other suggested search terms. These suggested search terms are LSI terms for the keyword you queried.

    While I still recommend using your target keywords exactly within the post title, meta description tags, and in the first and last paragraph of your text body copy, I highly recommend using as many varying LSI terms within the content’s body as you can muster.

    However, if your target keyword is tricky to use in a grammatically-correct way, such as “Roofing L.A.”, then don’t force the issue; just settle on using each word within the keyphrase as closely together as possible.

    Don’t forget internal linking

    Internal linking is still an important aspect of on-page optimization. There are several key benefits to internal linking:

    • Reduces bounce rate, as it promotes relevant internal content to your audience
    • Helps search engines determine the importance and relevance of your pages within your domain
    • Helps Google and other search engine spiders crawl and index your pages more easily and effectively
    • Helps users easily find their way around your site, lending to a more positive overall user experience, and time-on-site metrics
    • Allows you to control anchor text to each individual page, helping search engines understand what keywords you believe the destination page is relevant for

    Generally, websites with good internal linking strategies rank better in search results.

    Link to relevant information outside your site

    Whenever possible, link to sites that offer relevant information to your content. You may have already noticed that I’ve done so in this very post.

    This makes your link structure more natural and it provides value to your audience. Don’t worry about linking to your competitors occasionally, either. Linking to related websites helps Google understand what circle of relevance your website falls under. Plus, giving props to a competitor with a link shows a lot of confidence in your product, and can speak volumes about your business.

    Keep it fresh and useful

    Google Panda and Penguin take into account the freshness of content. That’s why setting up a blog for your site is so crucial these days. With a blog, you can post new and useful information as often as you want. This helps in many ways:

    • Supplies new content to your existing audience, keeping your brand top-of-mind (and thus, makes your audience more likely to convert)
    • Helps grow your audience by drawing in new readers
    • Establishes niche authority/credibility
    • Increases traffic via social channels (due to shares, mentions, tweets, etc.)
    • Increases organic search traffic because it adds more content that can be turned up in the search results
    • Gets you more opportunities to receive natural inbound links when other authors reference your existing content

    Ideally, you should update your blog at least once per business day.

    You also want to post information that is extremely useful and relevant to your audience. How-to posts and posts on trending topics are preferred by most readers. If you constantly post useful information you will give your audience plenty of reasons to visit your site regularly. Lame content that nobody cares about won’t help you at all; if it doesn’t provide some sort of value to your readers, don’t even bother posting it.

    Be original

    Remember how sites with duplicate content were killed early in 2011? Google’s stern stance against duplicate content still stands.

    Sites with internal duplicate content are also at risk. If you’re not sure if your site has internal duplicate content, you can use Google’s Sitemaps (Google Webmaster Tool) to check for duplicate content.

    Keep ads to a minimum

    For many users, ads are simply annoying. But from a search engine perspective, peppering a site with ads can actually hurt your rankings.

    But how much is too much?

    Avoid setting up more than two ads, especially above the fold. Ideally, keep ads to a maximum of two per page. And if you are going to serve ads within your pages, serve only those that are extremely relevant and valuable to your users.

    Conclusion

    There you have it, quick and easy tips for proper on-page optimization. If you have questions or if you need help with your on-page optimization initiative, contact us and we’ll be happy to offer a free consultation.

     

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