- Aug 31, 2013
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SEO is like an enormous clock. It only works if all the little cogs *mesh* together. Now, a clock needs to be clean, well-lubricated, and wound tight. The best clocks have jewel movements, cogs that fit, that cooperate by design.
You must be bewildered right now. After all, this is supposed to be an SEO guide, so why am I over here talking about clocks and referencing a Pixar movie? Well, allow me to explain: you see, marketers both old and new to the SEO industry often become fixated on one specific aspect of SEO and ignore the rest.
Now, let's say on-page SEO is a cog for a clock and off-page SEO is a cog for a clock. Certain groups of marketers, namely some of those who identify strictly as “white hat SEOs” or “black hat SEOs”, become hyper-focused on on-page SEO or off-page SEO respectively. However, the problem with this type of thinking is that both of these groups are hyper-focused on separate parts of SEO when they would see much better results if they simply incorporated both on-page and off-page SEO tactics into their SEO campaigns.
In essence, they would have the cogs cooperate with each other to make a clock; if the clock has missing or broken cogs, it either won't work at all or won't work as well as could.
Now, let's expand on-page SEO and off-page SEO into multiple smaller factors, or cogs for the sake of the analogy. While some cogs are arguably more important than others, and there most certainly are cogs you can probably leave out, the important thing here is that you focus on all of the cogs rather than the a single one in order to build both a Google-friendly website and a user-friendly website.
Part 1: Your Specialised Tools
Before we begin, I'd like to recommend a few tools to make things a bit easier. All of these tools are available for free, so there's no need to worry about investing any money.
- Google Webmaster Tools
- Google Analytics
- Wordpress SEO by Yoast (For Wordpress Sites)
- Google Keyword Planner
*I previously recommended the use of the Ahrefs Toolbar over the Moz Toolbar. Ahrefs picks up more significantly more backlinks than Moz, though they've recently limited their toolbar to only work for people paying for their service.
Part 2: Developing Your SEO Strategy
Nearly everyone has their own unique SEO strategy. For example, my usual strategy focuses mostly on technical and on-page SEO and involves targeting low search, low competition keywords in the beginning of my SEO campaign before gradually moving up to more difficult keywords as my site gains momentum (which is when I'll focus on building backlinks). The reason I like this strategy is because it requires much less effort than the other strategies I've used in the past, and because my competitors will often avoid targeting the same keywords as me due to my initial keywords not being “worth their time”.
However, much like eating a clock, one issue with this strategy is that it can be very time consuming; it might take a while before you see any decent results. Most people just aren't interested in waiting, and this is often the case when there are other strategies out there that can bring in traffic much faster.
With that said, while you can do everything in this guide verbatim, it's best if you just add your own unique spin on each section of this guide.
Part 3: Performing Keyword Research
Something important to note before you open up the Google Keyword Planner is that you should disregard the “competition” shown in the Google Keyword Planner. This is not the competition level for the search engine results pages (SERPs), but rather how many people are bidding on the keyword in Adwords.
Now, let's say you and @pewep have entered a joint venture (JV) to build a hypothetical site in the psychic niche. You two have decided that you want to write an article about the development of Pewep's powers through celibacy and you plan to promote the article on psychic forums. However, both of you figure that a bit of organic traffic would be great for exposure, so you fire up the old Google Keyword Planner and type in something like “Psychic Celibacy”.
As you can see, the keyword “psychic celibacy” receives very little, if any search traffic. However, the keywords below are related to your original keyword and can be sorted by average monthly searches (typically, though definitely not always, keywords with fewer searches each month have less competition). After scrolling through hundreds of keywords for one that's relevant to your article's topic, the term “the power of celibacy” catches your eye (let's pretend the term isn't ambiguous and receives a bit more traffic; I didn't want find an "amazing keyword" for this guide).
Next, you'll want to search for the term that piqued your interest, “the power of celibacy”, in Google. I personally used to compare my site's metrics to the metrics of the sites in the SERPs while taking note of how many sites are targeting the exact keyword. Assuming the Moz Toolbar is working for you, you can use it to quickly glance over the metrics of the other sites. If the toolbar isn't working, use the tools on SmallSEOTools to check each site individually.
When To (Usually) Avoid Targeting A Keyword
I've listed my own suggestions on what to avoid below, although @hacko wrote an excellent guide called "How NOT to do keyword research in 2017" that I recommend reading through as well.
- Results with Google's Knowledge Graph (typing in Thomas Jefferson will show information about him on the side)
- Results with authority sites that are targeting your exact keyword (though there are exceptions)
- Results with Google's “In The News” feature, unless you have a news site.
- Results with local results at the top of SERPs, unless you have a local business and you plan on ranking in the local 3 pack.
- Results with more than 1 of the above.
Part 4: Creating A Title For Your Page
For this part of the guide, we're going to be taking a trip back to the SERPs, but this time we're going to analyse how the competition is writing their titles. In this part of the guide, we're going to be searching for the keyword “how to make a paper airplane”.
Look at all of those “meh” results! But wait… The BEST paper airplane!? Well, you had my curiosity, but now you have my attention!
"The Best Paper Airplane: How to make a Paper Airplane". Look at how captivating that title is. Let me tell you something, I searched for that key term a couple of years ago for a school I was volunteering at in my free time, and that was the first result that caught my attention, and the only one I clicked on. Sure, the other results rank higher and they might seem nice with their lists, videos, and simple instructions; but why would anyone want to create just a paper airplane when they could create the best paper airplane!? Do you see where I'm going with this? A captivating title equals a better CTR. A better CTR means you get more traffic going to your website when you rank for that one keyword. But how do you create a captivating page title? Well, there's no specific formula, but here are some general guidelines.
- Avoid using a title that's already being used in the SERPs.
- Use lists if you can. The bigger the better; unless it's too big, I've had that backfire on me once.
- Use exaggerated words like best, ultimate, greatest, et cetera.
- Allude to solving a problem that a user never knew that wanted to be solved. Example: How to tie a tie that will never come undone.
This is easier than you think. A simple keyword targeting strategy you can use is to "sprinkle" your primary keyword a few times throughout your article: once in one of your header tags, in your image's alt tag, and the URL. Easy, right? But there are a few things you should be aware of before you target your keywords, namely keyword cannibalisation, over-optimisation, and LSI keywords.
Keyword cannibalisation is an issue where you essentially become your own competitor in the SERPs. This happens when you target the same keyword on multiple pages throughout your site. There are dozens of articles about the topic, so for more information on keyword cannibalisation, you can read Moz's article about it here: https://moz.com/blog/how-to-solve-keyword-cannibalization
Over-optimisation is a bit of a general term, though in this case, it occurs when you use your keyword too many times. How much is too much, you ask? There's no exact answer for that. There will be people who tell you to only have a X% keyword density, but my response to this is to simply read your own article and ask yourself, “does this sound natural”. If it doesn't, you probably used the keyword too much. So what can you do if you find yourself with a high keyword density. Perhaps removing the excess keywords is one option, but another option is to use LSI keywords.
For those of you who don't know, latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords are synonyms, plurals, and other variants of your primary keyword. Using the keyword "The Power of Celibacy" as an example, a few LSI variants of this keyword would include the following:
- The Powers of Celibacy
- Celibacy Superpowers
- Spiritual Celibacy Powers
- Celibate Powers
You can include these LSI keywords in your article in order to increase the likelihood of ranking for those variants and to provide Google with more information on what your site and articles are about (e.g., apple the fruit vs apple the brand; keywords centred around produce would let Google know you're referring to the fruit. On the other hand, keywords centred around technology and phones would let Google know you're referring to the brand).
A great way to find LSI keywords is by typing in your primary keyword or a generic search term into Google and reading the “Searches Related To...” results, although another option is to use something like the Keyword Shitter Pro.
Part 6: Internal Link Structure
Internal links are just links that go to other pages on your site. The primary purpose of this is to spread what's referred to as link equity (ranking power, in layman's terms) across your website. However, a good internal link structure is also important when it comes to Google finding and indexing pages on your website.
You may run into some people who compare your site's internal link structure to housing foundation, but I prefer @TayaX's power grid comparison.
You have to consider your linking structure as a power grid.
Based on that, you need to have an external source of power to bring juice into your internal structure.
Expanding on @TayaX's power grid comparison, those of you who have ever played any version of Sim City will know that if you don't have a proper power grid set up (through roads), then the power from your power plants may not reach every part of your city.
Part 7: Technical SEO
Technical SEO is probably one of the least covered topics here on Black Hat World, although you see it often discussed in segments. In case you don't know, technical SEO is the side of SEO that focuses on optimising your site's code and page speed, though it's a bit more broad than that.
No-Indexing Category & Tag Pages
You can do this with Yoast's SEO plugin. In my old SEO guide, I had recommended that you add an article to these pages in order to add some unique content to it. However, as pointed out WPRipper at the time, this seems to be a hit or miss (possibly a miss more often), and while it didn't negatively affect my site, I went ahead and added no-index tags to my category and tag pages.
Increasing Site Speed
As far as page speed is concerned, Google has a tool called Pagespeed Insights that can help you find out what you need to do to your site.
I actually have a guide here titled, “From Snail To Cheetah: 30 Ways To Speed Up Your Site”, that goes over how to accomplish this.
Using More Efficient Codes
For example, those of you with child themes on Wordpress may be using the @import instead of the wp_enqueue_style code, the latter of which will load the theme faster than the former.
Rather than use PNG images when you don't need to, converting your images to Jpeg can reduce their file size quite a bit, thus making your page load faster.
Using A Responsive Design
For this part, I'm going to reluctantly borrow a bit from Neil Patel here. I'm not a fan of the guy, but his explanation was quick and to the point.
I feel like I haven't used a clock pun in a while, so with a responsive design, your visitors will have the time of their lives.A responsive design shrinks and expands according to the visitor’s device.
Instead of setting widths for elements, you set a percentage.
For example, this is non-responsive CSS:
It could be rewritten for a responsive site as:
With this responsive code, the body section will always take up half of the visitor’s screen, regardless whether they use a phone or laptop.
Clean Up 404 Errors
As far as outbound links are concerned, all you have to do is find 404 errors on your site. You can do this by using a plugin called Broken Link Checker. https://wordpress.org/plugins/broken-link-checker/
For 404 internal links on your site, I'm on the fence about this. There are definitely times when you absolutely have to 301 redirect your old URLs to the new ones, such as when you switch from a HTTP site to HTTPS (or www to non-www, or vice versa). If you don't do this, you'll run into what's referred to as canonicalisation issues, which is when Google indexes both versions of your site. This is actually a similar phenomenon to keyword cannibalisation.
However, when it comes to removing articles on your site (including the internal links), but not 301 redirecting them anywhere, it's not necessary to do this.
I actually ran an experiment 4 months ago where I did this exact thing, and you can read a summarised version of what happened in my post here on Black Hat World (quoted below).
I actually ran an experiment back in April which I documented on my business site that you might be interested in. I basically removed about 200+ articles on my business site that were receiving little to no organic traffic each month (but all of them were indexed and ranking) without 301 redirecting any of them and this is what happened.
For the first two weeks, the site's rankings and traffic fluctuated to the point where it dropped to a historical low. However, and this was unexpected, on the same day Google deindexed the pages I removed, my rankings and site traffic shot up even further than what they were before the experiment. The traffic and ranking increase is ostensibly "permanent" and there wasn't even an "increase in 404 errors" message in my Google Search Console.
Anyway, I'm glad you posted this guide. Many SEOs forget about technical SEO and occasionally on-page SEO, so hopefully this'll help some members improve their tactics.
Part 8: Site Architecture
This is easier than you think. Let's say you have a business website with the layout in the image below.
What you can do is organise your URLs like this:
An alternative to the structure above is a "silo" structure. I've personally never bothered with it, but you can read about it in the below.
Step 9: Re-Optimisation
At this juncture, we're coming to the end of the guide. Going back to the clock analogy once again, this is where we'll go over how to properly clean and lubricate our “clock”.
Every month or so, I like to go through my analytics, search console, and SerpBooks data and see how my articles are doing in Google. The articles I tend to keep have the following traits:
- Overall positive movement in the SERPs.
- Users reading the article (average time on the page)
- Users visiting other articles on my site (pages per session)
- Click-through rate in the SERPs
Part 10: Developing A Backlink Strategy
I'm admittedly not much of an avid backlink builder. However, there are both a few tactics I use when I want to see faster results and several tactics I've come across other people using successfully.
Using Your Client Network
Many of you may know that I work with local clients and completely manage numerous local business websites in the process. However, I often use this to my advantage to create what I refer to as an "inbred link network". Basically, whenever I get a new client, I do two things:
- I give them a link from my company website, usually in an article if I can find one that's relevant to their business.
- I link to my company website to their company website. Sometimes it's a footer or sidebar link, though I've thrown myself on the "employees" pages in the past (with their permission, of course).
Now, believe it or not, this actually does not violate the Google Webmaster Guidelines. After all, the sites are all legitimate, high quality, and linked to in a relevant way; so don't worry about getting penalised from this.
Link Building Outreach
Every now and then, I receive an email from someone looking to get a link from one of my sites. Most of the emails I receive are poorly-written, so I don't bother responding. However, there's a rare occasion where I receive an email that seems genuine. For example, rather than them asking for a backlink, they ask me what they can do to get a backlink from before listing examples of what they can do. This makes me take their trade into consideration, since they're offering me something in return.
At this point, they'll have my curiosity, so I'll go and check out the site they want me to link to. If it's a website with low-quality content, then I won't respond. But then if it's a decent looking site with good content, I'll have no problem linking to their site without them providing me with anything in return.
Using Your Own Sites
This is a watered-down version of the first link building method for those of you who don't have clients. However, it requires you to have a site with at least some ranking power. Pretty much all you have to do is add a link to your high-ranking site with the keyword you're targeting to one of your low-ranking sites. The results will vary, although in the case of one of my latest clients who was stuck on pages 4-5 for most of their keywords, this boosted them up to pages 1-3.
I'm absolutely terrible when it comes to social media... Anything! Although, I've seen some success when it comes to promoting content using social media marketing, more specifically on Twitter.
All I really do is use Twitter and Facebook to share the URL and add a few relevant hashtags. Yes, that's it. There's probably a much better way of doing this, so if you understand social media well, then by all means use your method.
1. Can I Use This Guide With Strategies I Think Are More Effective?
2. What's With The Clock Metaphor & Puns At The Beginning?
Do clock puns tick you off? Ba dum tss!
3. I Have A Question...?
I probably answered it throughout this thread or in my old guide.
4. Is This Really The Only SEO Guide That's Worth My Time?
Of course not, I just said that to keep up with the clock theme in this guide! There are plenty of other SEO guides here on Black Hat World, some of which go into even greater detail about specific parts of SEO than I did.