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  1. SEO 101: A Guide for the Technically Challenged

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    SEO 101: A Guide for the Technically Challenged

    Search engine optimization (SEO), to the outsider, is a frustrating, complicated mess. Google doesn’t publish how its algorithm works (though it does give us helpful hints), and there are hundreds of independent, technical variables that can determine how your site ranks.

    If you don’t have experience with programming or website building, technical factors like meta titles, site structure, and XML sitemaps can seem intimidating and difficult to approach. And while it’s true that experience pays off—a novice won’t get the same results as someone with years of experience—the reality is that SEO is more learnable than you probably give it credit for.

    I’ve put together this guide to help the technically challenged folks out there—the ones new to SEO, or those unfamiliar with coding and website structure—to illustrate the basics of SEO, and simplify some of the more complicated techniques and considerations you’ll need to get results.

    Table of Contents

    + The Big Picture
    + The Technical Stuff
    + The Non-Technical Stuff
    + Conclusion

    The Big Picture

    First, I want to cover the “big picture” of SEO, because the “technical,” intimidating stuff is only a fraction of what’s actually involved in your search rankings. The goal of SEO is to increase your search visibility, which in turn will increase your site traffic.

    Google ranks sites based on a combination of two broad categories: relevance and authority. Relevance is how closely the content of a page is going to meet a user’s needs and expectations; for example, if the user asks a question, Google wants to find a webpage that answers it. Authority is a measure of how trustworthy or authoritative the source of the content is.

    Your tactics will usually involve building your authority, increasing your relevance for targeted queries, or both, across three main areas of optimization:

    • On-site optimization. On-site optimization is the process of making your site more visible, more authoritative, and easier for Google’s web crawlers to parse and understand. Many of these tweaks and strategies involve technical changes to your site, including adjustments to your backend code and other structural site changes.
    • Ongoing content marketing. Content marketing is the best way to build your authority and relevance on-site over time; you’ll have the chance to choose topics and optimize for keyword phrases your target audience will use, and simultaneously create content that proves your authoritativeness on the subject.
    • Off-site optimization (link building). Off-site optimization is a collection of tactics designed to promote your on-site content and improve your authority by building links to your site. The quantity and quality of links pointing to your site has a direct influence on how much authority your site is perceived to have.

    The Technical Stuff

    Don’t worry. I’m going to make this as painless as possible. In this section, I’m going to cover most of the “technical” SEO elements that you’ll need to consider for your campaign. These are changes you’ll need to make to your site, factors you’ll need to consider or monitor, and potential technical issues that could come up during your campaign. I’m going to cover these as simply and as thoroughly as possible—so you can understand them and use them, no matter how much technical experience you have.

    Search Indexing

    When you go to a library for information, librarians can probably help you by finding a book. But no matter how relevant a book may be to your interests, it won’t matter if the book isn’t currently on the shelves. Libraries must acquire books as they’re released, updating old copies and adding new copies, to keep the most recent information on the shelves.

    Search indexing works similarly. To provide results, Google needs to maintain shelves of “books,” in this case, a running archive of websites and pages that are available on the web. Google uses automated bots, sometimes known as “crawlers” or “spiders” to continually search the web for new page entries, which it then logs in its central system.

    How is this relevant for you? If you want to be listed in search engines, and be listed accurately, you need to make sure your site is indexed correctly.

    There are three main approaches you can take for search indexing:

    • Passive. The first approach is the easiest, and probably the best for SEO newcomers. Google wants to keep the books on its shelves updated, so it makes an effort to crawl sites completely on its own. In the passive approach, you’ll simply wait for Google to index your site, and trust its best judgment when it comes to canonicalizing your URL structures. For this method, you don’t have to do anything; you simply pass the reins to Google and let it take care of the indexing work. The only potential disadvantage here, other than forfeiting some degree of control, is that it sometimes takes more time for Google to update its index—up to a few weeks for new sites and new material.
    • Active. The active approach allows you to update the URL structures and hierarchies on your site using an on-site site map. Known as an HTML sitemap, this is easy to create (so long as you’re familiar with the process of creating new pages on your site). Create a page called “Sitemap” and list all the pages on your site you want Google to index, separated into categories and subcategories as appropriate, to provide hints to bots as to how your links interact with one another. You should also include descriptions to identify what each link is used for (briefly). This doesn’t guarantee indexation, but can help clarify confusion and speed up the indexing process. The major disadvantage here is that you’ll need to adjust it every time you make changes to your site, unless you use an automatic sitemap solution which updates itself any time you publish new pages. There are WordPress plugins which offer this functionality.

    Search Indexing

    • Direct. In the direct route, you’ll create an XML sitemap—which is different from an HTML sitemap. It’s essentially a txt file that contains a list of your site’s URLs, with descriptions that inform search engines how to consider and index your links, in relation to one another. Once done, you’ll upload it directly to Google. This is a fair bit more complex than an HTML sitemap, but is manageable if you take the time to read Google’s instructions properly. This isn’t necessary, but could be useful in speeding up the initial indexing process and clarifying canonical confusion (which I’ll talk about more in a future section).

    You’ll also need to consider creating a robots.txt file for your site, which is essentially an instruction manual that tells Google’s web crawlers what to look at on your site. You can create this file using Notepad, or any program on your computer that allows you to create txt files—even if you have no coding experience.

    On the first line, you’ll specify an agent by typing: “User-Agent: ____”, filling in the blank with a bot name (like “Googlebot”) or using an * symbol to specify all bots. Then, on each successive line, you can type “Allow:” or “Disallow:” followed by specific URLs to instruct bots which pages should or should not be indexed. There are various reasons why you wouldn’t want a bot to index a page on your site, which I’ll get into later. However, you may want bots to index all pages of your site by default. If this is the case, you do not need a robots.txt file.

    For example:

    robots.txt file

    If and when your robots.txt file is ready, you can upload it to your site’s root directory like any other file.

    Site Speed

    Speed has been a somewhat controversial topic in SEO, as its importance has been somewhat overblown. The loading time of your web pages won’t make or break your rankings; reducing your load time by a second won’t magically boost a low-authority site to the top rank.

    However, site speed is still an important consideration—both for your domain authority and for the user experience of your site. Google rewards sites that provide content faster, as it is conducive to a better overall user experience, but it only penalizes about one percent of sites for having insufficient speed. When it comes to user experience, every one second in improved site speed is shown to be correlated with a two percent increase in conversions.

    In short, whether you’re after higher rankings or more conversions, it’s a good idea to improve your site speed.

    Google page speed analysis

    You can check your speed using a site like Google’s own Page Speed Insights, and start improving your site with the following strategies:

    • Use a good caching plugin. Your first job is to make sure there’s a good caching plugin on your site. You only need one, and unless you have technical experience and unique needs, it’s best to leave your plugin unaltered (i.e., leave the default settings as they are). The caching plugin allows users to store certain pieces of information about your site on their respective browsers. This won’t do much for first-time visitors, but repeat visitors will be able to load your site much more quickly.
    • Limit the number of plugins you use. Your caching plugin is a must, and you’ll need a handful of other plugins (including an SEO plugin), but try to limit the number of plugins you have on your site. Every additional plugin will represent an increase in the amount of time it takes users to load your site.
    • Compress what you can. You can use an automated compression program like GZip to reduce the size of the files on your site, so they load faster. It’s not an intensive process, but can shave a few milliseconds off your page loading times.
    • Limit your redirects. Redirects are sometimes essential for correcting site indexing errors and other issues—and I’ll talk about redirects in more detail later on—but only use them if you know what you’re doing. Every new redirect you create is another piece of information that can bog down the speed of your site.
    • Consider your server choice. Your choice in server can also have a bearing on your loading speed. Most modern servers are adequate—especially big-name servers, like those provided by WordPress or GoDaddy. However, choosing an inferior, low-cost server could have a negative impact on your average loading speed. A dedicated server may be worth the investment if site speed is a big priority for you. In any case, once you’ve made a decision, your server won’t need much ongoing technical maintenance (unless you’re using one in-house). At AudienceBloom, we use and recommend WPEngine.
    • Optimize your images. Images are some of the biggest content files you’ll have on your site, so you’ll need to make sure they’re optimized to provide the fastest possible site speed. You can optimize images by making sure they’re the proper format (JPG, GIF, PNG, etc.), and by reducing their size as much as possible before uploading them. This isn’t a technically demanding process; in fact, there are many free image resizing tools available online, including Pic Resize.
    • Clear unnecessary site data. Do you have a bunch of old content drafts for your blog that haven’t been published? Get rid of them. Every piece of information on your site that doesn’t have a relevant purpose should be cleared.
    • Consider a content delivery network (CDN). A content delivery network is an automatic service you can sign up for that allows you to serve, or distribute, your site content from multiple different locations simultaneously, rather than from one central server. It’s an additional investment, but doesn’t require any technical knowledge, and could help you achieve a faster loading time if you’re struggling to hit your goals with other tactics.

    Mobile Optimization

    Mobile optimization is a broad category that includes both technical and non-technical elements. Mobile searches now outnumber desktop searches, so Google has taken extensive efforts in recent years to reward sites that optimize for mobile devices and penalize sites that don’t.

    Put simply, if your site is “friendly” to mobile devices, capable of loading and presenting content in a way that works well for mobile users, you’re going to see an increase in authority and rankings. Incidentally, you’ll also become more appealing to your target demographics, possibly increasing customer loyalty and/or conversions.

    So what is it that makes sites “optimized” for mobile devices? There are a few main criteria:

    • Content visibility. First, you’ll need to make sure that all your site’s content is visible to a user—without the need to scroll or zoom. On a non-optimized website, written text will often bleed to the right, forcing users to scroll to read the rest of it. On a mobile optimized site, that text would be constrained by the edges of the screen.
    • Content readability. Your content should also be readable. Oftentimes, that means choosing a bigger, cleaner font. Mobile devices have smaller screens, so you don’t want your visitors to squint or zoom to have to read it.
    • Finger-friendly interactions. Instead of using a mouse with a fairly precise pointer to engage with your site, users are going to be using their fingers to tap buttons and fill out forms. Accordingly, your buttons, tabs, and menus should grow to be more prominent and “tappable.”
    • Image and video visibility. There are some types of content that simply don’t load on mobile devices (such as Flash). Obviously, you’ll want your visitors to see all your cool images and videos, so mobile optimization demands that those features are visible on mobile devices.
    • Loading speed. Remember what I talked about in the site speed section? It matters even more for mobile devices. Generally, mobile devices load sites much slower than desktop devices, so a fraction of a second delay on a desktop device could cost you multiple seconds on a mobile device. Fortunately, mobile speed improvements are mostly the same as desktop speed improvements.

    If all this sounds complex to you, don’t worry. There are some simple ways to test your site to see if it’s counted as “mobile friendly,” and simple fixes you can make if it’s not. The easiest way to make your site mobile friendly is to make your site responsive; this means that your site will detect what device is attempting to view it, and automatically adjust based on those parameters.

    This way, you can keep managing only one site, and have it work for both mobile and desktop devices simultaneously. You can also create a separate mobile version of your site, but this isn’t recommended; especially now that Google is beginning to switch to mobile-first indexing.

    How can you make your site responsive? The easiest way is to use a website builder and choose a responsive template. Most mainstream website builders these days have responsive templates by default, so you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that doesn’t offer what you need.

    If you’re building a site from scratch, you’ll need to work with your designers and developers to ensure they’re using responsive criteria.

    As long as your site is responsive, you should be in good shape. If you’re in doubt, you can use Google’s mobile-friendly tool to evaluate your domain and see if there are any mistakes interfering with your mobile optimization. All you have to do is enter your domain, and Google will tell you if any of your pages are not up to snuff, pinpointing problem areas so you can correct them if necessary.

    Google mobile friendly tool

    Sitemaps

    I’ve mentioned the importance of sitemaps in multiple areas of this guide so far. Now I’m going to get into the technical details of what sitemaps are, why they’re important for your site, and how to create them.

    There are actually two different types of sitemaps you can build and use for your site: HTML and XML. I’ll start with HTML sitemaps, since they’re a little easier to create and understand. As I mentioned before, HTML sitemaps exist as a page on your site, visible to both human visitors and search engine crawlers.

    Here, you’ll list a hierarchy of all the pages on your site, starting with the “main” pages, and splitting down into categories and subcategories. Ideally, you’ll include the name of the page along with the accurate link to it, and every page on your site will link to your HTML sitemap in the footer.

    Google won’t be using an HTML sitemap to index your pages, so it’s not explicitly necessary to have one. However, it does give Google search crawlers a readily available guidebook of how your pages relate to one another. It can also be useful for your visitors, giving them an overall vision of your site.

    XML sitemaps are far more important. Rather than existing as a page on your site, XML sitemaps are code-based files that you can “feed” to Google directly in Google Search Console. They look a little like this:

    xml sitemap

    As you can imagine, they’re a nightmare to produce manually, but there are lots of free and paid tools you can use to generate one.

    Before I explain XML sitemap generation, you need to know what they’re used for. Again, these aren’t going to determine whether or not Google indexes your site; Google is going to crawl your site anyway. Instead, Uploading your XML sitemap to Google will instruct Google which pages you find most valuable on your site, and how those pages relate to one another.

    For example, you could exclude technical pages of your site that contain fewer than 200 words, so the overall perceived quality of your site isn’t dragged down by your worst content.

    Google explains that XML sitemaps are especially useful for the following types of sites:

    • Large sites, with thousands of pages.
    • Sites with archived, poorly linked content, which makes it difficult for Google to understand how all your pages link to one another.
    • New sites, which have few external links pointing to them.
    • Sites using specific types of rich media, such as special annotations or visual media.

    Note that excluding a page from your XML sitemap doesn’t mean that page won’t be indexed; the only way to fully block indexation altogether is to use your robots.txt file (as I described earlier).

    Does this all sound too complex? Don’t worry; the actual process you use to create a sitemap is fairly simple. Most CMSs have built-in features that allow you to automatically generate both HTML and XML sitemaps; for example, Yoast’s SEO plugin gives you the ability to create dynamic sitemaps, which automatically update as you make changes to your site.

    For example, you could exclude pages of your site that fall short of a given word-count threshold, and if you add content, they’ll automatically begin to reappear.

    It’s helpful to know how sitemaps work and why they’re important, but for your own sanity, it’s best to leave their generation in the hands of automated apps.

    Meta Data and Alt Text

    What I’m going to refer to as “meta data” is a blanket category that includes page titles, meta descriptions, and alt text. These are sections of text that describe your pages (or specific pieces of content within those pages). They exist in the code of your site, and are visible to Google search crawlers, but aren’t always visible to visitors (at least not in a straightforward way).

    Google’s crawlers review this information and use it to categorize certain features of your site, including pages (as a whole) and piece of content within that page). This makes it helpful for optimizing your site for specific keywords and phrases.

    It’s also used to produce the entries in search engine results pages (SERPs) that users will come across. Accordingly, it’s important to optimize your meta data to ensure that prospective visitors are encouraged to click through to your site. The title of your page will appear first, followed by your page URL in green, followed by your meta description, as shown in the example below:

    Meta Data

    Your goals in optimizing the meta information of your site then, is to first ensure that Google is getting an accurate description of your content, and second to entice users to click through to your site.

    • Titles. Titles are the first and most important description of your site’s individual pages. They should include at least one keyword relevant to that page (and your site), your brand name at the end, and should make some logical sense to your visitors. They should also contain less than 60 characters, as this is the maximum displayed by SERPs. For blog articles, titles usually correspond with the title of that blog post.
    • Descriptions. Descriptions are secondary ways of describing your pages, and generally have more wiggle room to include secondary keywords, long-tail phrases, and more conversational phrasing. The limit here is 160 characters.
    • Alt text. Alt text is specific to images, and is important for both search engines and visitors. When uploading an image, you’ll need to make sure your image file name reflects what the image actually contains—this will function as the image’s title in search engines. You may also include a caption to correspond with that image. Beyond that, you’ll need some descriptive text, which helps Google “understand” what’s happening in your image; this is the alt text, and it’s usually editable directly within your CMS. The alt text will also appear, instead of the image, in any case where a user attempts to load the image but is unable.

    Thankfully, optimizing your meta data is fairly simple. Most CMS platforms will, for each page of your site, offer blank, clearly labeled boxes that let you edit the corresponding meta data for that page. Remember, it’s a good idea to include at least one keyword in each of your titles and descriptions, but you’ll want to avoid keyword stuffing, and focus on writing meta data that makes sense to your users.

    Technical Errors

    The last component of technical SEO I want to cover is the possibility for technical errors; these are common things that can (and probably will) go wrong with your site, causing a hiccup in your rankings and interfering with your plans.

    If you notice your site isn’t ranking the way it should, or if something has dramatically changed without your notice (and no immediately clear underlying cause), your first troubleshooting step should be checking for the following technical errors:

    • Crawl errors. Crawl errors happen when Google attempts to crawl your site but is somehow unsuccessful. There are a variety of potential culprits here, but thankfully, Google makes it easy to figure out what’s happening. Within Google Search Console, you can run a “crawl error” report that plainly states what’s going on with your site and why. There are a handful of potential crawl errors that could happen here; for example, there could be a DNS error that doesn’t prevent bots from accessing your site, but could cause latency problems. In this case, you’ll need to repair any problems with your DNS server and make sure Google can access your site as intended. You may also have a server problem, which is probably the most complex problem you’ll face in technical SEO, since there could be so many root causes (and so many potential fixes). The potential solutions here extend beyond the scope of this guide, but usually involve diagnosing issues with your hosting provider. Fortunately, they should be few and far between. Robots.txt errors will also appear in this report.
    • 404 errors. In Google Search Console, you’ll also be able to scan for 404 errors. 404 errors won’t seriously negatively affect your search rankings, but may be an indication of a bigger problem, and could irritate your visitors. The biggest root cause of 404 errors is page deletion, but may also be a symptom of a hosting problem. You can correct 404 errors easily by restoring a page that was deleted, diagnosing any problems with your hosting provider, or creating a 301 redirect. 301 redirects take incoming traffic to a page and forward it to a different, more relevant page. Even if you aren’t an experienced programmer, you should be able to follow the basic step-by-step instructions necessary to set a redirect up.
    • Broken links. Broken or “dead” links come in several varieties. They might be internal or external, and they might be due to a typographical error in the site link, or due to a 404 error for the intended page. In any case, they no longer take users to a functional page. If these links exist on your own site, you can remove them or fix them by replacing them with a new destination URL. If they exist on an external site (ie, an external site links to a page on your site which returns a 404 error), you can set up a 301 redirect to a better, functional page, or reach out to the webmaster to ask that the link be updated. You can use Google’s internal links report to check for broken links on your own site, or a backlink search engine like Open Site Explorer to check for broken links on external sites.
    • Duplicate content. Duplicate content is an often misunderstood technical error. This isn’t necessarily an instance of intentionally duplicated or plagiarized content; instead, it’s usually due to a single page of content being indexed with multiple URLs, such as being indexed as both a https:// and https://www Google Search Console has a duplicate content report that can help you track down these instances. They won’t necessarily hurt your search rankings, but it’s better to clean these up to avoid misunderstandings by users or search bots. The way to do this is with a canonical tag, which is simple to implement. All you have to do is choose a primary or “canonical” page (flip a coin if you can’t decide), and add a canonical link from the non-canonical version to the canonical one. A canonical tag looks like this:

    <link rel=”canonical” href=”https://audiencebloom.com/examplepage/”>

    If you have an SEO plugin, you may be able to enter the canonical link manually, like you did with titles and meta descriptions. Alternatively, you could use 301 redirects to clarify duplicate content discrepancies, but it’s arguably easier to set up canonical tags.

    There are some other technical issues you may encounter, such as images not loading properly, but many of them are preventable if you follow best practices, and are easily resolvable with a quick Google search. Even if you don’t understand exactly what’s happening or why, following step-by-step instructions written by experts is a fast way for even amateurs to solve complex SEO problems.

    The Non-Technical Stuff

    In this section, I want to cover some of the “non-technical” tactics you’ll need to have a successful SEO campaign. None of these strategies requires much technical expertise, but it’s important to understand that the technical factors I listed above aren’t the only thing you’ll need to grow your rankings over time.

    Keep in mind that each of these categories is rich in depth, and requires months to years to fully master, and these entries are mere introductions to their respective topics.

    High-Quality Content

    Without high-quality content, your SEO campaign will fail. You need at least 300 words of highly descriptive, concisely written content on every page of your site, and you’ll want to update your on-site blog at least two or three times a week with dense, informative, practical content—preferably of 700 words or more. This content will give search engines more pages and more content to crawl and index.

    Collectively, they’ll add to the domain authority and individual page authorities of your site pages, and they’ll provide more opportunities for your site visitors to interact with your brand and your site. Here are some resources to help you create and publish high-quality content:

    Keyword Optimization

    All that on-site content also gives you the opportunity to optimize for specific target keywords. Initially, you’ll select a number of “head” keywords (usually limited in length, and highly competitive) and “long-tail” keywords (longer in length, usually representing a conversational phrase, and less competitive) to optimize for.

    When performing your keyword research, you’ll choose terms with high potential traffic and low competition, then you’ll include those terms throughout your site, especially favoring your page titles and descriptions. You’ll want to be careful not to over-optimize here, as including too many keywords on a given page (or your site in general) could trigger a content quality-related penalty from Google.

    Link Building

    Authority is partially calculated based on the quality and appearance of your site, but the bigger factor is the quantity and quality of links you have pointing to your site. Link building is a strategy that enables you to create more of these links, and therefore generate more authority for your brand.

    Old-school link building tactics are now considered spammy, so modern link builders use a combination of guest posting on external authority publishers and naturally attracting links by writing high-quality content and distributing it to attract shares and inbound links. In any case, you’ll need to invest in your link building tactics if you want your campaign to grow. For help, see SEO Link Building: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide.

    Analysis and Reporting

    Finally, none of your tactics are going to be worthwhile unless you can measure and interpret the results they’re generating. At least monthly, you’ll want to run an analysis of your work, measuring things like inbound traffic, ranking for your target keywords, and of course, checking for any technical errors that have arisen.

    By interpreting these results and comparing them to the amount of money you’ve invested in your campaign, you’ll get a clear picture of your return on investment—your ROI—and can then make adjustments to improve your profitability. For help, see The Ultimate Guide to Measuring and Analyzing ROI On Your Content Marketing Campaign.

    Conclusion

    Hopefully, after reading this guide, all those technical SEO details should seem a lot less technical. If you’ve followed the guide step-by-step, you should have been able to tackle tasks like building robots.txt files and improving your site’s speed even if you don’t have experience in creating or managing websites.

    Even though this guide covers some of the most important fundamentals of SEO, and can help you through the basics of technical SEO, it’s important to realize that SEO is a deep and complex strategy with far more considerations than a guide like this can comprehensively cover. A good next step would be to check out 101 Ways to Improve Your Website’s SEO.

    If you’re interested in further help in your SEO campaign, be sure to contact us for more guidance and expertise!

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  2. 101 Ways to Improve Your Website’s SEO

    15 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. How to Use Landing Pages to Earn More Revenue

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    Every business could use more revenue; it’s why online marketing exists and remains so popular across a number of strategies and platforms. But there’s a tactic that many marketers aren’t using, and it’s a relatively simple one, at least conceptually. It has to do with landing pages, which exist as somewhat separate pages of your website. Depending on how you create, integrate, and monitor and adjust these “landing pages” in the context of your overall marketing strategies, you could stand to earn far more sales—and revenue for your business.

    This guide will introduce you to the concept of landing pages, how to implement them effectively, and best practices for securing long-term gains for your investment.

    What is a “landing page”?

    First, let’s define exactly what a “landing page” is. There are a variety of forms here, but the basic concept is simple. A landing page is a specifically dedicated page of your website tied to some means of attracting customers. Visitors from various channels, such as social media or paid advertising, will “land” on these pages after clicking a link, and be presented with an opportunity to engage. Usually, these engagements are tied to some kind of value, making the focal point of the landing page a conversion opportunity. Usually, these pages are left off the main navigation, as they serve a niche function and may not be relevant for your standard audience.

    For example, you could create a landing page for your social media audience, advertising an eBook you’ve recently written. You could use this eBook as an incentive for new email newsletter subscribers, funneling your followers to the form contained in your landing page and securing a number of successful conversions.

    Landing pages offer a number of advantages, which I’ll get into in the next main section, but first, let’s take a look at exactly why landing pages are one of the best tools you have to increase your bottom-line revenue.

    Revenue and conversions

    The goal here is to gain more conversions, but the type of conversion you seek is up to you. Your conversion could be tied to a direct means of achieving revenue—such as selling a specific product—or an indirect means—such as acquiring more signups for your email newsletter. Either way, your goal is to get users to interact with your page on some level, which will ultimately drive more revenue to your business.

    How can landing pages do this?

    Key Advantages of Landing Pages

    Landing pages give your campaign a number of distinct advantages, most of which revolve around the customizability of the strategy. You can create a number of different landing pages, running simultaneously or one at a time, for any and all inbound marketing campaigns you have in operation, and keep them separate from the rest of your website at the same time. In this section, we’ll explore these individual advantages, and some key opportunities for development.

    Better audience targeting

    First off, landing pages give you an enhanced ability to target your audience. Let’s say you have two demographic segments: you appeal to single, young adults as well as parents of young children. These are two distinct demographics, and you’ll likely use two different marketing methods to target them (such as newer social media platforms for young adults and paid advertising for parents). If you funnel them both to the same website, you’ll have to speak in generic terms, which could lower your relevance and overall engagement, but landing pages give you the ability to segment your audience according to their demographic makeup.

    This is perfectly illustrated by the pizza-related landing pages below. Look how one variant targets families specifically, while the other targets single eaters.

    pizza landing pages design

    (Image Source: WishPond)

    Better analytics

    Using landing pages can also help you get better data from your audience, in a number of different ways. First, you’re isolating your customers’ behavior to only one page; rather than tracking the complicated paths your users take throughout your website to convert, the process is a simple yes/no opportunity. Second, when you have multiple landing pages running at the same time, it’s easy to compare your data apples-to-apples. Take a look at this chart as an example:

    landing page analytics hubspot

    (Image Source: Hubspot)

    Finally, you have a better ability to track your performance over time, which is vital as you make adjustments to your marketing page (and your landing page as well—more on that in the next section).

    Just keep in mind that in order to reap the analytics benefits of a landing page, you need to be actively tracking and measuring this data. The simple installation of a Google Analytics script is likely enough to get you the information you need here, but double check your tracking proactively to make sure everything’s in order before your campaign goes live.

    AB tests and experimentation

    Due to their flexible nature and similar structure, you can easily use landing pages as AB tests and as platforms for experimentation. On a surface level, this makes it easier to analyze and improve your landing pages over time. For example, if you aren’t sure what type of layout to offer, you can set up two almost-identical landing pages with differences in layout, run them simultaneously for the same audience, and objectively determine which one is better. And since landing pages are relatively easy to create, you don’t even have to limit yourself to AB tests—you can do ABC or ABCDE if you have the resources for it.

    AB tests

    (Image Source: Hubspot/ComScore)

    Experimentation here will maximize your landing pages’ potential profitability, so use it often as a means of self-improvement. It’s hard to say exactly what factors will encourage more conversions, so tweak everything to see what works and what doesn’t.

    Short-term campaigns

    You don’t have to use landing pages only for destinations in your long-term inbound marketing campaigns. In fact, they have a distinct advantage when used as measures for short-term stints, such as temporary promotions or seasonal items.

    For example, let’s say you’re featuring a sale on one of your top items, or that you have a new product you’re coming out with. You can use a landing page to build specific hype around your promotion without deviating from your standard website strategy.

    Search optimization

    One of the greatest advantages of landing pages is their ability to be optimized for search. Even though they main not appear in your main navigation, or be straightforwardly accessible to users on your site, they still have the URL structures, titles, descriptions, and on-page content that any page can use to rank for a Google search:

    ultimate guide to onsite seo

    What’s the advantage here, when you could just create a specific page of your website to do the job? The big opportunity is to target niche keywords you may not otherwise include throughout your site. It allows you to cater to specific topics and specific audiences without interfering with the rest of your strategy. Of course, you’ll still need backlinks and offsite optimization if you want your landing pages to rank, but I’ll touch on this in a future section.

    Best Practices for Landing Pages

    Now you know exactly how and why landing pages are valuable, so let’s turn our attention to making the most of each landing page. It’s not enough to simply create a page, tie it to an inbound campaign, and hope for the best. There are a series of best practices you’ll have to follow, in concept, design, content, and execution, if you want to earn the greatest amount of revenue from the tactic.

    Conversion opportunity

    The bottom line for any landing page is the number of conversions it can generate. Naturally, you’ll want yours to earn as many conversions as possible. For that, you’ll need to optimize your page to encourage more conversions, regardless of what “type” of conversion you’re offering.

    • Overall focus. Think of your landing page as a machine to generate conversions. That is your focus. If you keep everything on your landing page focused on achieving more conversions, you’ll maximize your conversion rate. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting distracted with things like promoting your company image or leading users to other sections of your site. Your design, layout, and copy should all “funnel” the user to fill out your form (or complete a purchase), with no opportunities for that focus to be lost. These are concise, singularly functional pages, so don’t let yourself get carried away with chasing secondary goals.
    • Prominent call-to-action. You’ll also need a prominent and final “call-to-action” on your landing page. Even though your headlines and copy should make it clear that you want your users to convert, your CTA (usually a button) will be the final threshold a user has to cross before passing revenue to your business. Make it prominent with contrasting coloration, a strong, compelling phrase, and a bit of explanatory text as well. CrazyEgg demonstrates this well:

    call to action crazy egg

    (Image Source: Wordstream/CrazyEgg)

    A valuable offer

    Conversion opportunities can be lumped into two main groups: product purchases and user signups. In both groups, you’ll have to prove the value of your offer before a user will be persuaded to convert. In the case of product purchases, this means you have to show off the value of your product with bullet points, advantages, and possibly reviews and case studies. Make your user see the true value of your product.For user signups, don’t take user personal information for granted—there’s a value to this, and you’ll have to provide a value in return if you want to receive it. There are several ways you can do this:

    • Free trials. You could offer a free trial of your service, especially if you’re a SaaS company. This will entice users to part with their personal information, and will give you an easy opportunity to sell them on your full services down the road.
    • Free content. This is an extremely popular way to earn new user signups. Here, you’ll create a landmark piece of content, such as an eBook, a template, a toolkit, or even a lesson series, and offer it as an exchange for users’ personal data. Hubspot uses this on a rotating basis:

    brilliant home page design

    (Image Source: Hubspot)

    • Newsletter subscription. You could use your email newsletter as the “value” in question—as long as you can succinctly prove that the content you’re distributing is actually valuable.
    • Discounts. Finally, you can give users discounts or promotions (on your products or an unaffiliated brand’s) in exchange for their information.

    Concise headlines and copy

    The content of your landing page is going to make a big difference in how users interact with it. First, make sure your headlines and body copy are concise—now isn’t the time for long paragraphs of highly detailed content. Provide a link to your main site for users who want to learn more about you, but keep your landing page material as short and sweet as possible. Remember, your goal is to get a conversion. Nothing more, nothing less.

    You’ll want your headlines to be compelling and exciting, so show off your brand personality and use strong, urgent language to motivate your users to take action. Use your body copy to sell your offer (bullet points work great here) and of course, be sure to craft a powerful few-words-long phrase to use as your final CTA. This is one of the hardest areas to nail, so don’t be afraid if you don’t have it perfect in round one—there are plenty of ways to experiment with your headlines and copy as you continue your strategy.

    Aesthetically appealing design

    “Aesthetically appealing” is one of the vaguest and subjective phrases I can think of to describe the layout and visual appeal of a landing page, but it’s appropriate because of how many directions you can take here.

    There’s a basic “formulaic” kind of layout you can use to get started. This usually has your form featured prominently, with your logo, headlines, body copy, and peripheral material (like images and/or video) stacked against each other. This is good to get started with, but you’ll also want to customize your approach—you don’t want your landing page to look like every other page out there.

    landing page design example

    (Image Source: Unbounce)

    The key features here are keeping all your content “above the fold” (a term that means less and less as mobile marketing becomes more significant), using colors and fonts to emphasize key areas and avoid missed material, and organizing your sections as logically as possible. Strive for an “at a glance” style of presentation; remember, your users will be making their decisions rather quickly, so you need to convince them as swiftly as possible.

    One other important note about your design; keep it as branded as possible. You’ll want to feature your logo at the top of your landing page, keep the coloration in line with your brand, and of course leverage the power of your brand voice throughout. Make your brand stand out—even if you don’t convert users, you’ll at least stick in their memory.

    Easy, approachable functionality

    The functionality of your landing page is also important—if users are forced to jump through hoops, or if they become frustrated in any way by your page, they’ll abandon it without converting. These are just a few of the simple ways you can improve your functionality:

    • Don’t force a scroll. All of your most important content, especially your form, should be featured above the fold. If you make users scroll before you start effectively convincing them, you’ll lose deals. Feel free to offer content below the fold, but keep it limited to supplementary material that not everyone’s going to need.
    • Reduce your required fields. This is a huge deal—users want to spend as little time on your tasks as possible, so keep your forms limited to only a handful of fields. If all you’re looking for is subscribers or additions to your database, consider asking only for names and email addresses. If you have a particularly valuable offer, you can ask for more.
    • Simplify your steps. Users should complete your conversion process in as few steps as possible. If you force them to go through many steps of a checkout, they may bounce before ever completing the process. A one-click checkout isn’t always possible, but it’s something to strive for.
    • Improve loading times. This is a basic step, but one that shouldn’t be ignored; keep your loading time snappy by reducing your image sizes, limiting your on-page content (images and videos), and eliminating any unnecessary code or meta data from your back end.

    Trust factors

    Before users will convert, they have to have some level of trust in your brand. Since most of these users will be unfamiliar with your brand when they sign up, this can be difficult to pull off—you need to call upon the value of trust factors to get the job done:

    • Customer reviews and testimonials. Include a handful of customer reviews and testimonials. For some brands, this will mean going all-out with personalized video reviews. For others, it will mean showing off an aggregated star rating. Either way, social proof can go a long way in securing the trust of your newest visitors.
    • Publisher and partner affiliations. If you have partnerships, publishers, or affiliations that will seem valuable to your users, show them off! They take up very little space, and make a big impression with your users. Take a look at how AudienceBloom uses them:

    affiliations

    (Image Source: AudienceBloom)

    • Trust badges. Trust badges are like publisher affiliations, but are usually associated with institutions like the BBB, PayPal, or other places that offer formal certifications for various business elements.
    • Guarantees and trials. You can also secure trust by making the transaction more secure; for example, you can offer a money-back guarantee, or promise a free trial before having to start. Even a simple statement of “it’s free!” can increase your conversion rate:

    free trials landing page design

    (Image Source: Unbounce)

    • Alternate contact information. Give people more options to reach you, such as with a phone number or a live chat window. Most people won’t take you up on this information, but they’ll feel like you’re more “real” if you offer it, and they’ll grow to trust you more.

    Search optimization

    Finally, you’ll want to optimize your landing page for search engines. I’m only going to touch on the basics here, since I’ve delved into topics of onsite and offsite optimization previously:

    • Onsite factors. Make sure your landing page has a title and description appropriate to its purpose, and relevant to potential searchers. You’ll also want to make sure your URL is concise, descriptive, and features as few numbers and non-alphanumeric characters as possible. You should have at least a few hundred words of content on your page, and all your images and videos should be optimize to be crawled by search engines. If your landing page is relevant to the rest of your onsite content, you can even work on interlinking it.
    • Offsite factors. Most of your offsite optimization will revolve around the quantity and quality of links pointing to your landing page. Strategically target publishers to maximize your relevance to your target audience, and diversify your portfolio by including a number of different backlink sources. This will increase your page authority, which in turn will increase your proclivity to rank for relevant queries—just make sure your links are valuable and relevant, which can be hard to pull off if your landing page is focused strictly on sales.

    Integrating Your Landing Pages

    Most of the best practices I’ve covered thus far have related to the layout and structure of a single landing page, existing in a vacuum. Once a user gets to your landing page, these tactics will help you tremendously. But what about the path they take to your landing page, and what about how they relate to the strategies driving customers to them in the first place?

    For these considerations, you’ll also have to learn to integrate your landing pages effectively.

    Match the medium

    When structuring your landing page and drawing up headline copy, keep your chosen medium in mind. For example, let’s say you’re tying one of your landing pages to a segment of your social media audience. In this case, you can assume that most of your users will be on mobile devices, they’ll be looking for fast transactions, and they’re probably plugged into current events. Contrast this with a traffic source like referral traffic from a major source of information—these users will likely be in the middle of a major decision, and will have more time to consider their next actions carefully.

    Of course, it’s possible to send multiple traffic streams to a single landing page, especially if your target demographics have multiple means of communication and interaction. This is a general consideration, and should be treated with a degree of flexibility.

    Match the message

    You’re also going to want to match the message of your lead-in closely. For paid advertising campaigns, your landing page content should closely match the headline and copy you used in your ad. For other campaigns, you likely used a headline or short sentence to draw people in. Whatever the case, you need to keep a degree of consistency, or else your users are going to feel alienated and jarred when they start navigating your page.

    VistaPrint has a great example of message-matching done right. Take a look at the process here—a search for “cheap business cards” leads to this prominent advertisement, which promises 500 cards for $9.99. Click on the link and you’ll be met with the basic headline “standard business cards,” which matches the query and the ad, along with a price and quantity offer that exactly meets the expectations the ad set up.

    cheap business cards

    vista print landing page

    (Image Source: VistaPrint)

    There are no surprises and no sudden changes here.

    Compare and contrast

    Finally, I highly encourage you to launch more than one landing page, even if it’s only two variations of the same idea. Just as conducting a survey with one person doesn’t give you nearly as much information as conducting the same survey with many people, the more landing pages you have to look at in similar live environments, the better. Compare and contrast your approaches, keeping objectively measurable data at the center of your interpretations.

    Ongoing Considerations

    As you continue to run your landing pages in the context of your marketing campaign, there are a few ongoing best practices to keep in mind:

    • Measure everything you can. This is crucial. If you want to glean the most powerful insights from your audience, you need to measure everything you can—that means the basic information like traffic volume and conversion rates, but also lesser information like heat maps of user interaction. You won’t have to look at every piece of data you gather, but you need to gather it in case you want it later; much of your conclusions will be based on historical and comparative findings, so it’s definitely better to have too much information and not use it than to lose data you wish you had.
    • Experiment and refine your approach. Landing pages are not a strategy meant for one-time creation and execution. They are an organic strategy, evolving over time, and only over several rounds of changes will they start to improve in meaningful ways. Furthermore, you can’t rely on your conceptual or hypothetical assumptions to hold true; challenge yourself by changing your landing pages in unique and speculative ways. You are an experimenter, and only through trial and error will you learn, for sure, which tactics are effective and which ones aren’t.
    • Don’t manage more than you can handle. In an earlier section, I mentioned that having more landing pages was better; this is true in terms of the amount of data you’re able to gather, but at the same time, don’t try to manage more than you can handle simultaneously. Each of your landing pages requires attention, maintenance, and adjustment to earn growth, so the more you add to your plate, the fewer time and resources you can spend on each one. Keep your list consolidated to a group you can actively manage, and during the beginning of your campaign, limit your focus to only a few.
    • Hedge your bets. Invest in a number of different areas if you want to see the biggest return for your money; this means using landing pages for a number of separate marketing channels as well as using strongly differentiated designs and content to appeal to your audiences. If you have a major traffic stream (i.e., thousands of monthly visitors), don’t risk them all on one untested landing page; segment your traffic to “hedge your bets” and balance out the winners and losers.
    • Drop what doesn’t work. When you spend hours of time concepting and creating a landing page, you don’t exactly like to admit that it isn’t getting the job done. But like it or not, some of your landing pages, in part or in full, simply aren’t going to work. When you realize this, drop the dead weight immediately. It isn’t going to bring any additional value to you.

    Getting Started

    Marketers everywhere are increasing their online marketing budgets, and you should be doing the same. Landing pages are a cost-efficient way to make almost any marketing strategy you currently follow more effective, and they don’t take much work or experience to get started. In fact, if you’re currently using a template-based site or a convenient CMS like WordPress or Drupal, you can start creating your own landing pages immediately. They don’t have to be fancy at first—so long as they follow the best practices I’ve outlined in detail above. Instead, the true power in landing pages comes with your ongoing adjustment and refinement.

    The sooner you get started with your landing page strategy, the more you’ll stand to earn in long-term revenue, so begin your strategy now—even if your pages aren’t perfect.

    What can we help you with?

  4. The SaaS Company’s Guide to Off-site SEO

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    Offsite SEO Guide for The Saas Company

    You’re a SaaS company, and you’ve either decided to start an SEO campaign, or yours is in trouble and you need to whip it back into shape. You know all about the onsite portion of SEO — optimizing your site with the proper technical structure, ongoing content strategy, and meta data—but you’re struggling to find your place when it comes to offsite strategies.

    You’ve come to the right place.

    This guide is designed to walk you through the fundamentals of offsite SEO, in total, with specific respect to the unique challenges SaaS companies face. If you’re not in the SaaS industry, you can still use most of this guide—just know that different industries face different challenges, and yours may present obstacles I haven’t fully accounted for in this guide.

    This guide is also broken down into a few main sections, so feel free to skip to the ones you feel are most relevant to your needs:

    • Introduction, to clarify what offsite SEO is and why it’s important for SaaS companies
    • Unique challenges, to elaborate on the main obstacles and priorities a SaaS company should focus on
    • Guest posting and manual link building, to cover best practices for a manual link building approach
    • Link cultivation, to explain the mechanisms of earning links naturally through content
    • Ongoing considerations, to maximize the long-term returns of your campaign

    Without further ado, let’s explore what offsite SEO is and why it’s an essential component of any SaaS company’s marketing strategy.

    The Complex Relationship of Offsite SEO

    Offsite SEO is a culmination of all the ranking factors Google and other search engines consider that aren’t directly on your site. Because these aren’t on your site, they’re more difficult to control, but they also offer more credibility, as these factors serve as third-party indicators to your domain’s authoritative strength.

    Take a look at Moz’s breakdown of ranking factor clusters (which is an approximation, but still relevant):

    Ranking Factors in Google

    (Image Source: Moz)

    Link features alone account for a cumulative 40 percent of total rank potential, compared to only 15 percent for on-page keyword and content features. Along with social metrics, offsite SEO accounts for 47 percent of your total propensity to rank—meaning if you ignore offsite SEO, you’ll be sacrificing 47 percent of your search visibility potential (more on that later).

    Unfortunately, offsite SEO isn’t as basic as it used to be. Thanks to updates like Penguin, posting links pointing back to your domain all over the Internet isn’t going to boost your ranks—instead it’s going to get you penalized. Instead, you need to carefully balance your strategy, building relationships with other authorities, placing links only when relevant and valuable to users, attracting links naturally with your best content, and nurturing user relationships on social media.

    Offsite SEO is a complex web of habits and exchanges more akin to relationship management than construction.

    Why You Need It

    As I’ve already established, you can’t have an SEO campaign without an offsite component. It simply won’t work; even if your onsite strategy is perfect, you’re still only accounting for just over 50 percent of Google’s ranking considerations.

    You could argue, then, that you don’t need SEO at all. It’s possible to skate by without a bona fide SEO strategy (though I haven’t seen any shining examples of SaaS companies who have done this), but let’s take a look at why SEO is an almost-necessary investment.

    First, consider the ROI of sales and marketing for SaaS companies:

    Marketing Spending Levels

    (Image Source: KissMetrics)

    After hitting a critical threshold of 20 percent investment, there’s a major turn in the growth of monthly revenue. This is because SaaS companies are dependent on visibility to new customers in order to make new sales. Since most SaaS companies operate exclusively online, the only options for increased visibility are advertising and organic improvements, the former of which is ridiculously expensive at higher volumes, and the latter of which is most successfully executed with a content and SEO strategy. SEO also offers compounding returns, compared to advertising, which offers reasonable, yet linear growth patterns.

    Long story short? SEO is the best tool you have to sustain long-term revenue growth.

    But offsite SEO is about more than just increasing your visibility and traffic in search engines. If done correctly, you’ll increase referral traffic from whichever sources you build links on, your brand reputation will improve, and you’ll earn more customer loyalty as a result. As a SaaS company, customer loyalty is vital if you want to stay alive. Take a look at this customer churn graph:

    Churn by Growth of Companies

    (Image Source: Totango)

    The fastest-growing SaaS companies are the ones with the highest rates of customer retention, and offsite SEO can help you achieve them in addition to all its other benefits.

    Unique Challenges for SaaS Companies

    Hopefully, you now see why offsite SEO is so critical for SaaS companies. I’ll get to the “how” in a minute, but first, I want to address some key, unique challenges that SaaS companies face while pursuing the strategy.

    • Differentiation. The SaaS model has potential for huge revenue growth, but because this is common knowledge, the market’s been flooded with competitors in recent years. If you want to be featured as a thought leader, you need a solid way to differentiate yourself. If your niche is especially competitive, this can be hard to find; think about how to angle your brand to a specific demographic, or what information you can gather that no one else can.
    • User trust. You can gain ranks pretty easily with a consistent offsite content strategy, but users’ impressions of your brand are an independent concern; just because you successfully earned a link doesn’t mean you’ll generate additional user trust with its placement. Finding a way to build and improve this trust is essential if you want to attract more loyal customers; this generally requires an even greater focus on the quality and value of your content.
    • Building authority from scratch. All SaaS companies are relatively young, since it’s a relatively new concept. Building authority is easy when you have lots of history and data to support your brand:

    Salesforce CRM App

    (Image Source: SalesForce)

    If you’re starting from scratch, however, you’ll find it’s notoriously difficult to get your foot in the door anywhere. The most critical period for offsite SEO development is your first few months—you’ll see the lowest returns on your investment, but you have to keep going if you want to scale.

    Scaling to new sources. After your early momentum starts to subside, you’re going to find it difficult to keep scaling upward. SaaS companies have a huge potential for future returns, especially compared to SaaP companies:

    SaaS vs SaaP Revenue Growth

    (Image Source: Cloud Strategies)

    However, to sustain this exponential growth model, you also need to exponentially scale your offsite strategy. This is certainly possible, but it requires a steady increase in your time, effort, and quality.

    Keep these challenges in the back of your mind as you read the next few sections and start planning your strategic approach. Understanding and compensating for these weaknesses is critical if you want to be effective.

    Guest Posting and Link Building

    Guest posting and link building should constitute the bulk of your ongoing strategy, as it’s the most reliable way to build a reputation and guarantee high-profile links. In this strategy, you’ll be producing high-quality content that other sites host for their users. Many of these posts will contain links that point back to your domain, which in turn pass authority to your site to support your ranking efforts. These links may also be followed by interested users, generating referral traffic, and having your name associated with this content can also increase your brand visibility and authority.

    However, it must be done properly, or you risk ranking penalties, growth stagnation, and even consequences for your brand reputation.

    Ingredients for Success

    First, understand that not all links are the same. There are dozens of qualities that factor into what makes a good link “good,” the most important of which revolve around making sure your links are valuable for any users encountering them.

    To achieve this, you’ll need to pay attention to four critical ingredients: the strength of your sources, the quality of your content, the placement of your link, and the overall diversity of your offsite strategy. I’ll be taking a look at each of these, in turn.

    Identifying the right sources

    The domain-level and page-level authority of your link’s placement source factor in to how much authority it ends up passing to your site. For example, a high-authority site (like an international news publisher) will always pass more authority per link than a low-authority site (like a domain that just emerged and posts questionable-quality content).

    There are a handful of ways to determine the overall authoritativeness of a chosen source. The easiest is intuitive—think about whether this is a site you personally trust. The more objective method is to use an external tool to help you calculate a domain’s authoritative score. I’ve done this for YouTube in two examples below, using Moz and SEO Review Tools:

    YouTube SEO Review

    (Image Source: Moz)

    Domain Authority

    (Image Source: SEO Review Tools)

    You can see its authority is about as high as it gets, with a long age and millions of root links.

    The relevance of your source to your domain may also factor into the quality of your source, especially at lower levels of authority. For example, if your software is designed to help college students study better and you’re posting content on a niche site dedicated to helping the elderly pay their medical bills, you better have a good reason to post.

    Of course, finding the perfect site—one with an exceptionally high authority and relevance to your brand—is hard, and it’s even harder to get content featured on those sources, as most high-authority sources are highly discerning in what they allow to be published. Your strategy should carefully balance sites that are easy to have content posted on and sites that are more authoritative, gradually increasing the overall authority of your backlink profile—but I’ll get into more detail on this later.

    Drafting the right content

    You also need to make sure your content is up to snuff, for three major reasons:

    • Publishers will only accept good content.
    • The strength of your content will support your link’s authoritative strength.
    • Good content will leave users (and other publishers) with a better impression of your brand.

    So what constitutes “good” content here? Mostly the same factors that constitute good content on your site:

    • A valuable or practical function (preferably related to your software).
    • A unique topic that hasn’t been done before.
    • High levels of detail.
    • Multimedia integrations (i.e., images and video).
    • Original findings (data, research, opinions, etc.).
    • A strong, consistent tone.
    • Proper formatting, with scannability.

    These are some of the fundamentals, but there’s one more factor you have to consider when drafting content: the relevance to your source. Users of your target site will be accustomed to certain content features. This may mean a specific formatting, a specific topic, or a specific angle. You need to be prepared for this, and draft your content around those requirements. Otherwise, you’ll be rejected—either by the publisher or by the users themselves.

    Securing link placement

    Once your content is drafted, you can’t just stuff a link in and expect to reap the benefits. Remember, your link placement has to be valuable for the users, or else you’ll stand to lose more than you gain. Keep the following in mind:

    • Contextual relevance/utility. Your link should be a citation of facts originally posted on your site, using your site as an illustration of a point you made, or referring to your site as a source of more information. These functions (and a few others) make the link useful to readers.
    • Appropriate anchor text. Old-school methods required stuffing keywords into your anchor text, but Google now explicitly warns against such practices. Take this snippet as an example of what not to do:

    Optimized Anchor Texts

    (Image Source: Google)

    Instead, use your anchor text naturally, such as with a phrase like, “you can learn more about link building here,” or even simpler with “according to AudienceBloom…”

    • Innocuous positioning. Publishers know that posters often leverage their platforms to build links. Accordingly, they’re on the lookout for link builders—and they’ll weed out your links if they suspect them as being intended to manipulate your rank. Accordingly, you’ll need to disguise your link among other links to make sure it doesn’t stand out.
    • Timing and frequency. It’s rarely a good idea to include more than one backlink in a single post—doing so makes your effort riskier in exchange for a very small increase in potential value. You may also want to avoid including a link with every post—but I’ll touch on this in the next section.

    Diversifying your strategy

    It’s a bad idea to use the same tactics over and over again. If you do, you’ll see diminishing returns, and your reputation might start taking hits. The best way to keep your SaaS reputation intact and improve growth at the same time is to diversify your strategy in three key ways:

    • Sources. Posting more links on the same source offers diminishing returns; the better way to increase authority over time is to seek out new sources. Diversify your backlink profile as much as you can.
    • Destination pages. Links pass page-level authority as well as domain-level authority, so mix up what pages you link to (i.e., don’t always link to your home page). This will also make your links seem more natural over time.
    • Nofollow links. Google is wise to link schemes, and is always on the lookout for predictable patterns of link building. Accordingly, it’s in your best interest to omit links from your guest content occasionally—but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice referral traffic. Including nofollow links instead of regular links will mask these links from search engines but still give you referral traffic potential.

    Now that you know all the ingredients that make up a strong SaaS offsite SEO campaign, let’s take a look at the steps you’ll need to take to go from 0 to 60.

    Step One: Building Onsite Authority

    If you currently have no offsite strategy, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an initial source to take you on as a guest poster. You’ll first have to build up some authority on your own; that means making sure your website is chock full of great content, including a regularly updated onsite blog. You can complement this with some social media following building or some professional networking—the end goal is simply to make yourself seem like more of an expert.

    Step Two: Finding the Low-Hanging Fruit

    Once you have an onsite basis of authority you can cite as a kind of “resume,” you can start scouting for sources that present low-hanging fruit opportunities (I’m not a fan of this buzzword, but it fits here). You’re looking for any reasonable opportunity to get your content featured, so start with local publishers who might be interested in your business, such as neighborhood communities or local news publishers. You can also target specific niche sites, like blogs or forums, that only cater to businesses in your industry. This will help you develop an early momentum for your reputation—don’t worry if they’re not the best of the best.

    Step Three: Managing Ongoing Relationships

    Once you establish a network of different contacts and publication opportunities, work on cultivating those relationships. Submit content regularly, engage with your new audiences in blog comments and on social media, and work to solidify your foundation at this level before you attempt to move on. This means stepping up the quality of your work, writing more types of content that your readers want to see, and giving back to the community (possibly by offering guest spots on your own blog).

    Step Four: Seeking Bigger Targets

    Once you’ve managed this stage for a while, you can start scaling up your strategy. Start looking at higher-profile targets, especially ones with a national readership, and pitch content to them. At higher levels, don’t be surprised if some of your applications get rejected; competition is tough, and it takes time and patience to earn a spot in these circles. Stick with it, keep improving your content, and don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone to build more links; not every publication opportunity necessitates you writing about your software. Once established as a major national thought leader, you should have no trouble developing even more opportunities to place links.

    Link Cultivation

    Of course, manual link placement through guest posting isn’t the only way to earn more links. Some have even criticized this strategy, saying it inherently violates Google’s terms of services, which state that any link intended to manipulate rank is a “bad” link. However, rank manipulation is only a secondary motivation when you’re using links to support your arguments or cite facts—as long as your content quality is in check, you shouldn’t have to worry about a penalty.

    On the other hand, there is a strategy that can earn you more links without any manual placement whatsoever. In this strategy, you’ll be producing content specifically intended to circulate (“go viral”) and naturally prompt people to build links pointing back to your domain. In effect, you’ll establish yourself as an authority people naturally want to cite.

    This is especially valuable for SaaS companies because it naturally encourages a word-of-mouth-based wave of attention. As you gain more social followers (and users of your software), these effects will become even more pronounced.

    To be effective, there are four goals you must achieve.

    Goal One: Produce Quality Content

    The first step is the simplest to understand, yet the most difficult to accomplish. You have to create content that people consistently want to link to—completely on their own. What type of content earns links?

    • Long-form content, generally more than 1,500 words.
    • Original content, such as original research or extended reports.
    • Emotionally compelling content, including content that offers a surprise, or content that stimulates fear, elation, laughter, or sympathy.
    • Utilitarian content, meaning anything that makes life easier for someone—people want to share useful material with one another.
    • Multimedia content, especially infographics and informative videos.

    It’s easy to digest these qualities, but hard to put them all together in a single, well-written package. There’s no perfect formula for viral content, but these guidelines should serve as a decent starting point for you.

    Also, don’t expect every polished piece you produce to be a major hit—sometimes, even the topics and body content that seems like it would perform the best falls flat once it hits audiences. I hate to say it, but there is a bit of luck involved here.

    Goal Two: Syndicate!

    The mistake most SaaS companies make at this point is assuming that your content will magically start attracting readers and visitors. Yes, once it rolls out to an initial audience, those audience members will theoretically share and link to it in further circles, but you have to syndicate your piece to those audiences first.

    How can you do this? Social media’s a good place to start. Leverage all your relevant platforms, especially Facebook if your platform is B2C and LinkedIn if your platform is B2B. Both platforms offer in-depth tools to help you target the right audience; for example, Facebook offers organic audience targeting features, and LinkedIn offers selective screening through the use of Groups.

    These are just a handful of the hundreds of SaaS-related Groups that exist on LinkedIn:

    SaaS Related LinkedIn Groups

    Of course, you may be targeting a different niche, such as Human Resources or Stock Investing. Cater to your demographics here, and don’t be afraid to push your content out multiple times!

    Goal Three: Engage With Influencers

    To give your content even more of an initial push, reach out to major influencers in your niche. What are “influencers?” They’re basically rockstars with huge social media followings, regular activity in the community, and a powerful reputation.

    The theory is this: if you can get just one influencer to share a piece of your content, it will instantly generate thousands of new views. Oftentimes, you can accomplish this with a simple request or exchange of value. If you engage with these influencers regularly and start building a rapport with them, it becomes even easier to participate in these exchanges.

    Finding a target isn’t that difficult, but think about your likelihood of success before you get too involved. For example, take a look at the CEO of SalesForce, Marc Benioff’s Twitter account:

    Twitter Profile

    (Image Source: Twitter)

    He has 204,000 followers (which is a lot), and almost 9,000 tweets which shows he’s active. He’s also seen retweeting others quite frequently. These factors make him a decent influencer to target, though you’ll notice his engagement factor isn’t as personal or frequent as some other big names in the SaaS industry.

    Salesforce Twitter

    (Image Source: Twitter)

    SalesForce, the corporate brand, has even more followers and a more active posting schedule—but the account doesn’t retweet very often, and its engagements are typically limited to customers talking about the brand.

    You’ll find advantages and disadvantages in every influencer you size up as a prospect. The key is to find ones who have the highest likelihood of fitting your needs and the lowest demand for investment of personal time. It’s easier said than done, but once you start landing influencers in your professional network, the power of your content will instantly amplify.

    Goal Four: Repetition

    Sometimes, it takes a while for a content to “take hold” with an audience and start earning hundreds of inbound links. Sometimes, an “ideal” piece of content will fall flat. Sometimes, a piece of content will explode in popularity after you’ve already written it off.

    The world of viral content and “link cultivation” is a volatile, sometimes unpredictable one. The best way to hedge your bets and guarantee a long-term return on your investment is to stay consistent in your strategy, and repeat it. Keep producing new content. Keep syndicating it in new places. Keep reaching out to new influencers. Keep refining your approach. Eventually, you’ll get what you’re looking for.

    Ongoing Considerations

    As you form your strategy and begin to develop it over the coming months, keep the following considerations in mind:

    • Your reputation always comes first. No matter how juicy an opportunity might seem, it’s only worth it if it makes your company look better to users. Customer retention—and therefore, brand reputation—is your greatest asset as a SaaS company.
    • Take the best of both worlds. Manual link building through guest posting and link cultivation through content syndication are complementary, effective strategies. Make use of both on an ongoing basis if you want to see the best return.
    • Make adjustments. Doing the same thing over and over again will make your strategy stall (and might drive you crazy at the same time). Don’t be afraid to make adjustments and try new things, especially as you learn more about what your readers like and want.
    • Scale with your audience. SaaS is an industry with massive growth potential, but if you want to see that growth, you have to grow your investment in your marketing strategies as well. Keep pushing the limits with better content, higher frequencies of publication, better publishers, and bigger influencers.
    • Admit when you need help. Offsite SEO is an intensive strategy that requires expertise, commitment, and tons of time and effort. It’s not for amateurs, and it’s not something you can half-invest in. Don’t be afraid to admit that you need help; there are many companies out there, including AudienceBloom, who specialize in client-focused link building, and chances are, they’ll be able to do it more effectively and less expensively than you can.

    Conclusion

    I feel as though SEO is hands-down the most effective strategy for SaaS companies to establish a reputation, attract more users, and increase customer retention. It’s cost-efficient, scalable, digital, and offers compounding returns over time. But for this strategy to be effective, you need a strong, consistent, offsite component that not only increases your rank, but builds your reputation.

    Throughout this guide, I’ve helped you understand the fundamental components of such a strategy, and how a SaaS company should specifically adjust these fundamentals for the greatest possible benefit. Now, it’s on you to start taking the steps to earn these results. Whether you take on the work yourself or work with a link building expert to ease the burden and increase results, your commitment to the strategy is critical if you want it to pay off.

    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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