What does SEO stand for?
More often than not, I hear people ask... what does SEO stand for? SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. SEO is a marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results. SEO encompasses both the technical and creative elements required to improve rankings, drive traffic, and increase awareness in search engines. There are many aspects to SEO, from the words on your page to the way other sites link to you on the web. Sometimes SEO is simply a matter of making sure your site is structured in a way that search engines understand.
Table of Contents
SEO isn't just about building search engine-friendly websites. It's about making your site better for people too.
Before I go any further I wanted to let you know the 5 golden rules which you need to be aware of, when it comes to SEO.
- Give your readers the information they need
- Make sure other sites link to you
- Make your site easily accessible
- Don’t write content for search engine bots, you will get penalised
- Adhere to Google standards and practices
Does your website need SEO?
The majority of web traffic is driven by search engines. This is what I refer to as organic traffic. You don’t need any social media nor any other third party services to drive traffic to your website. In essence, this is how people find your website. Search engines are unique in that they provide targeted traffic—people looking for what you offer. So the short answer is: Yes, you need it.
However, don’t feel obligated to purchase SEO packages. Even if you start learning about SEO at your pace, it’s probably better than paying a rogue company which promises the world. As Google states: “Some companies claim to 'guarantee' high ranking for your site in Google's search results. While legitimate consulting firms can improve your site's flow and content, others employ deceptive tactics in an attempt to fool search engines. Be careful; if your domain is affiliated with one of these deceptive services, it could be banned from our index.”
If you want to work with a digital marketing company, expect to pay a healthy amount for consulting. A marketing consultant would have spent years understanding how SEO works and his/her skills are highly valuable. Essentially, you pay for sought-after knowledge which allows you to cleverly drive traffic to your website on a long run. This, in turn, can help you create niche websites which you can heavily monetise.
After several years of working in the digital industry, I really understand how SEO works and how you too, can benefit from it. This website has over 70% organic traffic. In less than 6 months, it got from 10% organic traffic to 70%! That is crazy growth in a short period of time. It takes months for your new SEO tactics to work and I want to help you get there. Once you understand how SEO works, the digital world really is at your fingertips.
Think about, what would happen to your traffic is all social media networks would cease to exist? Your business would go bust. But with organic traffic, you are in control of your own business, always. And it's not just about organic traffic for the sake of it, let me teach you how to get the traffic who wants to buy your product.
Website Traffic Generator: How Search Engines Work
A search engine has two jobs: to crawl & build and index. If the search engine deems your website to be the most relevant on X topic, it will serve your website FIRST to a user’s question.
Links allow the search engines' "crawlers" or "spiders," to reach websites.
Once these robots find these pages, they decipher the code and store selected pieces in massive databases, to be recalled later when needed for a search query.
When someone goes onto a search engine such as Google and perform an online search, they, in essence, ask a question, which in turn the search engines provides an answer for. Search engines will rapidly go through billions of stored documents and return the results which are relevant to the user’s search and it will rank the results in order of popularity. This means that both relevance and popularity matter when it comes to SEO.
How does the search engine determine relevance? Well, there are algorithms in place to sort this out and this is ever changing. Some manage to crack these algorithms but with Google’s Artificial Intelligence which is currently learning, we are sure to see a continuous shift in the way SEO works.
As a humble tip, I always believe that you should focus on writing GOOD QUALITY content. Write from your heart, write as if you tell a friend a story. I promise this will go a long way.
Here is an example: You are in need of a blog business plan. You go to Google and you search for these exact keywords. Google would have analysed million of websites and selected the most relevant for your query. Google would have also analysed how many people link back to that content. Are the links coming from respectable sources or are they spammy sites? In doing do, Google makes sure only the best of the best is served to you, the user. Hence, you are guaranteed safe and useful content.
The basics of search engine friendly design and development
To perform better in search engine listings, your most important content should be in HTML text format. Images, Flash files, Java applets, and other non-text content are often ignored or devalued by search engine crawlers. So what should you do?
You should provide alt text for images. This will give search engines a text description of your visual content. A search engine will not know how a Canadian lake looks like, but it will know that your image represents exactly that through the aid of alt text. When someone searches for images for a Canadian lake, it will show your images, providing this is relevant to the searcher’s query. Make no mistake, a search engine analyses millions, if not billions of photos, hence it will also learn by association. If you post a picture of a dog and say “Canadian lake” in the description, based on previous analysed imagines and alt texts of dogs and lakes, it will know you are essentially trying to trick it, hence you might be penalised.
Provide a transcript for video and audio content. This way the search engine will know what you are trying to convey through these media formats.
To sum it up, it all comes down to a very clean and neat code. Have spiderable HTML links that will allow spiders easy access to your content pages.
A critical mistake many bloggers (or website owners in general) do is to structure the navigation in a way that a search engine cannot access. You should always interlink as much as possible in your website and avoid having stand alone, rogue pages.
Follow vs nofollow links on your blog
By having a nofollow link you essentially tell the search engines that you do not want this link to be interpreted as an endorsement of the target page. This has been introduced to tackle spam. Here is what Google states: “In general, we don't follow them. This means that Google does not transfer PageRank or anchor text across these links. Essentially, using nofollow causes us to drop the target links from our overall graph of the web. However, the target pages may still appear in our index if other sites link to them without using nofollow, or if the URLs are submitted to Google in a Sitemap. Also, it's important to note that other search engines may handle nofollow in slightly different ways.”
Dofollow links are the standard links you are used to and adding to your blog on a day to day basis. Dofollow links allow search engines to follow them and crawl them, giving link juice as well as a backlink (which in turns it increases rank and Domain Authority).
Nofollow links do not allow search engines to follow them, which means you will not pass on any link juice. As a human, you will still be able to click on them as normal, though.
Here is an example on how to create a nofollow link:
<a href=”http://www.google.com/” rel=”nofollow”>Google</a>
So why should you ever use nofollow?
Untrusted content - If you can’t or don’t want to vouch for a website.
Paid links - If you are getting paid to manually insert a link into your website, it should be a nofollow. Same applies to any sponsored posts.
Crawl prioritization: Search engine robots can't sign in or register as a member on your forum, so there's no reason to invite Googlebot to follow "register here" or "sign in" links. Using nofollow on these links enables Googlebot to crawl other pages you'd prefer to see in Google's index. However, a solid information architecture — intuitive navigation, user- and search-engine-friendly URLs, and so on — is likely to be a far more productive use of resources than focusing on crawl prioritization via nofollowed links.
Please remember to never accept to put a dofollow link for a company who is offering you money in exchange. This will backfire and you risk being seriously penalised by search engines. Here is what Google says about paid links.
“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.
The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site's ranking in search results:
Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link
Excessive link exchanges ("Link to me and I'll link to you") or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
Using automated programs or services to create links to your site
Additionally, creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines. Here are a few common examples of unnatural links that may violate our guidelines:
Text advertisements that pass PageRank
Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank
Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites. For example:
There are many wedding rings on the market. If you want to have a wedding, you will have to pick the best ring. You will also need to buy flowers and a wedding dress.
Low-quality directory or bookmark site links
Keyword-rich, hidden or low-quality links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites.
The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.”
Keyword Usage and Targeting
Keywords are fundamental to the search process. They are the building blocks of language and of search. Obviously, if you want your page to have a chance of ranking in the search results for "travel," it's wise to make sure the word "travel" is part of the crawlable content of your document. One of the best ways to optimize a page's rankings is to ensure that the keywords you want to rank for are prominently used in titles, text, and metadata. This is a good time to understand how persona research works.
This is something I see more often than not and it actually causes more harm than good to a website. Why? Because people stuff their page with a specific keyword and not only it makes the content irrelevant, but it will annoy your readers who will immediately find your content bad. Remember how I said it’s about RELEVANT and POPULAR content? Well, you need both and your readers are the ones who decide what is popular. Use keywords naturally and strategically.
Take the keyword “travel notebooks” for example: If you want to target “travel notebooks” then you obviously want to include the keyword in your title, header tag and the body. Start talking about shops who sell the best “travel notebooks” why you love using your “travel notebook” and why you would recommend a “travel notebook” to others. This way, you will have a very useful page filled with relevant content which will enrich your reader’s experience and life. The point of using keywords is to rank high for the keyword that people are searching for when they want what your site provides.
The title of the page should be relevant to the content: an accurate, concise description of the page. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to picking titles for your articles.
Keep your titles short and sweet (65 - 75 characters max)
Place important keywords close to the front. In our “travel notebook” example, the title should be something like “Get the best travel notebook for your needs”
Consider emotional impact. This means that your title should be descriptive, but intriguing enough to make the user want to click on it. Don’t use click baits. A lot of search engines are trying very hard to get rid of websites which use click bait titles. For a title to be great, it needs to contain a good balance of word types, be powerful and emotional, short enough and offer a positive or negative sentiment.
Let’s talk about Links
We’ve already touched based on how search engines prefer websites which are relevant and popular. Who is to say that one website is more popular than the other?
The answer? Links. The mighty links still make a huge impact and tell search engines which website is popular. Take Wikipedia for example. There are myriad websites which link to Wikipedia which is a clear indication that Wikipedia is a popular and important website. So what do you need to do to get there as well? Get people to link to you. A word of caution though, the links should be “natural” editorial links, which means people should want to link to you. Here are the three types of links and their impact on search engine ranking.
Natural Editorial Links
These are the best types of links given to you by other websites who genuinely want to link to you. So if you create great content and there is another website which you impressed, they will not hesitate to link back and direct their readers your way. Not only you are getting access to a new audience and a new potential readership, but you also gain popularity in ranking, which may result in more organic traffic.
Manual Link Building
These are the type of links that you get by emailing other bloggers to submit you to their directories, pages, blog posts and so on. These are also based on paid for listings of any kind.
Self Created, Non-Editorial
These are the links you find down in forum signatures, blog comments or user profiles. These links have a lower value than the rest and used aggressively, are often considered spammy and should be pursued with caution, because you can get seriously penalised.
Understanding Domain Authority
Growing your DA is very important because this shows search engines that people like your content and they vouch for you. DA or Domain Authority is a score which has been developed by Moz to predict how well a website will rank on search engines. The best way to improve your DA is to improve your overall SEO. Your DA score is a combination of metrics, including traffic, trust, link etc. This was done so you can’t do just one thing which influences your DA score. It almost forces you to create great content, be SEO focused and get link backs from established websites.
There are a few things you can do to improve on your DA.
You can get rid of bad links and gain good links. This is where creating great articles and getting people to link back to you is super useful and valuable.
Without good SEO, you won’t get a better DA.
To grow your DA, you need to have amazing, linkable content. This means that you need to put a lot of effort into writing long articles, creating value and seriously comprehensive guides. Once you have amazing content dotted all around your website, you need to start interlinking. Internal linking is incredibly important. This benefits not just your users, but the crawl robots which search and index your website.
Your DA score doesn’t just change overnight. It’s a long process and you are in it for the long haul. Make sure you always check your bad links and fix them. Always check webmaster tools and figure out where you can improve, what works and what doesn’t.
A great way to grow your DA is to guest post on other website and get valuable link backs. Start by getting in touch with other bloggers, search for collaborations threads on Facebook where people are actively looking for writers. The result? Others get amazing content from you, whilst you get a nice SEO link back. Win-Win!
We’ve been talking about targeting keyword but how do you actually know which keywords to use. Say you are a blogger and you would want your blog to rank high for this exact keyword “blogger”. Whilst this is fantastic, you will find that in fact, less than 30% of queries are performed for short keywords. People are rarely going to search for the word “blogger”. These popular search terms actually make up less than 30% of the searches performed on the web. The remaining 70% lie in what's called the "long tail" of search.
So basically, try to be as specific as possible. This is where niche is important. If you are “just” a blogger you might rank for a couple of generic keywords, but nothing specific which links your blogging niche with keyword searches. As opposed to trying to rank high for “blogger” perhaps try to rank high for “solo female travel blogger”. When you search for something online, you rarely just search for one word. You can read more about it in the The Art And Science Of Article Writing Format.
To be able to do the right keyword research, you will need to invest in a professional keyword research app. I strongly recommend KW App. It's been my best friend for months now and because of it, I managed to fully understand how to use a keyword researcher. It's super user-friendly and more cost effective than other methods or apps I've tried in the past.
User Interface, User Experience, and Content
In order for search engines to favour your site, there are a few things you can improve on. For example, your site needs to be easy to use, navigate, and understand. I’ve been talking about user journey quite in blogging for dummies. This is why it is incredibly important to ensure your website is professionally designed, accessible to ALL modern browsers and is fully responsive (mobile and tablet friendly).
This is what moz.com says: "Develop great content may be the most oft-repeated suggestion in the SEO world. Despite its clichéd status, though, this is sound advice. Appealing, useful content is crucial to search engine optimization. Every search performed at the engines comes with an intent—to find, learn, solve, buy, fix, treat, or understand. Search engines place web pages in their results in order to satisfy that intent in the best possible way. Crafting fulfilling, thorough content that addresses searchers' needs improved your chance to earn top rankings.”
Sitemaps help search engines find and classify content on your site. Using a sitemap does not guarantee that your website will be included in search engines but provides hints for crawlers to do a better job of crawling your site. There are three types of sitemap formats you could use:
XML (Extensible Markup Language)
This is the recommended format because it is extremely easy for search engine to parse. The only downside is that XML files tend to be quite large.
RSS (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary)
These are easy to maintain and are easily coded to automatically update when new content is added, but they are harder to manage.
Txt (Text Files)
These are extremely easy but do not provide the ability to add meta data to pages.
The robots.txt is a stored file stored in a website’s root directory and gives instructions to the automated web crawler, including search crawlers. By using this file you basically tell search engines which areas you want to disallow bots from crawling, where is the location of a sitemap and what is the speed a bot can crawl the server.
Tip: Don’t store any info in regards to administration section or other section of publicly accessible websites because there are people who build bots that don't follow this protocol in order steal information. Use the meta robots tag.
Meta robots tag creates page level instructions for search engines bots. You need to include this tag in the head section of the HTML document.
Here are a few examples of instructions you will come across:
Page won’t be indexed
Bots won’t follow the links
Page not cached
Stops description and title tag overwrite
Stops description and title tag overwrite by Yahoo Directory
Stops Google from generating description based on on-page text
Website Traffic Generator: The times are changing
Here are a few things which you may read about or hear about from other internet users. They are all myths, so take a note of them to avoid making silly mistakes or waste time on what really doesn’t matter.
Search Engine Submission is not a thing since 2001. All search engine publicly note that they rarely use submitted URLs and that the best practice is to earn links from other sites. I had dozens of SEO companies pitching me search engine submission, a clear indication that you should either mark them as spam in your email or delete and not look back.
Back in the days, meta tags were an important part of the SEO process but nowadays you need to pay attention to the title tag and meta description tag. These two are actually crucial for quality SEO.
One of my favourites is the keyword density, yet another mistake which a lot of people tend to do when it comes to SEO. It’s natural though, you imagine that the more you repeat “female foodie traveller” in your article, the more chances you are to jump the rank and be top in Google for this very keyword. Well actually, and luckily, this is entirely wrong. You should repeat the keywords you want to rank high for, but shouldn’t overdo it because search engine robots use the number of words on a page divided by the number of instances of a given keyword and do their ranking calculations. No, I’m afraid I don’t know the best ratio for this. It's a well-guarded secret.
Another one which I love hearing when a bad SEO company pitches me (through their gmail account) is when they tell me that if I spend money on engine advertisement I will eventually see an improvement on organic SEO ranking. Erm...no. It just doesn’t work this way and if anyone tells you otherwise, just stop being friends. I’m joking, just nicely explain that this is really not the case. What you will achieve, is perhaps awareness and serving your content in front of the right (targeted) audience. This could result in editorial links, loyal customers, newsletter subscribers and so on, but will not result in organic search just because you pay for Google ads.
SEO: What’s next?
You need to register with a search engine Webmaster tools. I recommend Google because it’s easy to use. Then, also register with Bing. This type of registration creates a layer of trust between your site and the search engines. Take some time and familiarise yourself with how the interface works. There is plenty of documentation on what everything means and how to use it. This is also the place where you will see how many of your media files and web pages have been indexed already.
Always review your Webmaster Tool accounts for broken pages, server errors, warning, spam alerts. Fix them and resubmit your requests for reconsideration. Note that any answer can take weeks. If you have been doing anything spam related, best to adopt a full disclosure policy, otherwise, you will probably lose even more brownie points and the possibility to ever see a response back from a search engine team.
To conclude this section I will put here some wise words from the moz.com team “Be aware that with the search engines, lifting a penalty is not their obligation or responsibility. Legally, they have the right to include or reject any site or page. Inclusion is a privilege, not a right; be cautious and don't apply SEO techniques that you're skeptical about, or you might find yourself in a rough spot.”
HTTP vs HTTPS
The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is an application protocol for distributed, collaborative, hypermedia information systems. HTTP is the foundation of data communication for the World Wide Web. Hypertext is structured text that uses logical links (hyperlinks) between nodes containing text.
The “s” from the HTTPS stands for secure. This means your website provides a secure connection for your visitors. So how do you do this?
First, you need to have your own dedicated IP address. You might be on a current hosting provider with a shared IP with multiple other websites. Get in touch with your web host to upgrade your account and have a dedicated IP address.
Now you need something that proves your website is actually YOUR website. For this, you will need to buy an SSL certificate (Secure Socket Layer). SSL Certificates are small data files that digitally bind a cryptographic key to an organization’s details. When installed on a web server, it activates the padlock and the https protocol and allows secure connections from a web server to a browser. For example, you will notice that when you access Facebook or Google, they all have https in front of the URL.
Once you buy your SSL certificate you will have to activate it, install it and update your site to https. For the purpose of this book, I won’t be getting into the technical details. However, please note that a simple Google query of “how to set up SSL on my website” will reveal a step by step guide on how to do so.
I absolutely recommend using https even if you are a blogger who does not facilitate transactions nor sells anything through the website. You will get some brownie points from Google and you will guarantee that your visitors are safe on your website.
You need to be aware that HTTPS doesn’t mean the information on YOUR server is secure.
What is AMP and why you need it
To quote, “The AMP Project is an open-source initiative aiming to make the web better for all. The project enables the creation of websites and ads that are consistently fast, beautiful and high-performing across devices and distribution platforms.”
AMP is of great importance, as web pages and ads published in the AMP web format are being loaded almost instantly, which in turns offers users a much nicer experience. How many times have you tried accessing a website on your phone whilst travelling and you’ve been waiting far too long for it to load? Well AMP is all about skipping the waiting time and offering the user the best content. I’ve noticed that Google often prioritises AMP content when I perform a search on my phone. I also noticed that many newspapers and large editorial outlets already moved to AMP. I did the same and measured the results to see if there is any increase in my organic traffic. The result? Incredibly and overwhelmingly positive. I noticed that my pages are being served more often than not and they are being clicked on.
Have a look at AMP and make sure to add it to your website.
P.S. if in doubt on how to get AMP for your site, get in touch with a developer who definitely knows what they are doing. This can save you a lot of hassle on a long term.
The periodic table of SEO success factors
This is perhaps one of the coolest little things I stumbled upon which helped me keep track of my SEO. It is actually called the periodic table of SEO success factors and it tells you, bit by bit, what you need for your website in order to ensure your blog is spot on. You should be familiar by now with everything in this periodic table. Good things happen to those who adhere to it. This image was created by Search Engine Land who deserves all the credit for it.