Yes, I still love doing SEO – and you will too!
I’ve got to say, after more than 17 years doing digital marketing, I still love SEO. Yes, it’s been challenging – Google has oftentimes changed the goalposts and made it difficult for websites to rank – but I still love the process of building websites and great content that attracts links.
HOT TIP: Ultimately, if you make your audience happy and give them value, Google will reward you with good rankings #begenerous #customersfirst
So what you’re getting below is basically a brain dump of what I’ve learned and experienced by doing SEO in the gaming industry (online casinos, poker and sports betting), insurance (life insurance, short term insurance) and education (secondary and tertiary).
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, is the art and science of becoming more visible in the search engines (ranking better) so that your site gets free traffic from people searching for solutions to their problems. This free traffic is called organic traffic. Who doesn’t want traffic from Google, right?
Paid traffic is when you pay for the traffic by buying advertising – and if you’re a small business or an entrepreneur just starting out this is a scary prospect. The risk is that you spend money on advertising but don’t see an increase in revenue or profit. Remember, advertising, in an accounting sense, is an expense – although it’s a necessary expense.
Does this mean SEO doesn’t cost you anything? Sadly, SEO can have significant cost associated with it.
SEO is the practice of doing SEO. An SEO is someone who does SEO. Confused? Don’t worry Neo, the answers are coming.
What are the costs associated with SEO?
- Time: SEO requires a great deal of time. Either you spend your time doing SEO or you pay someone else (or an agency) to do SEO on your behalf
- Content: great content doesn’t come cheap, and Google certainly loves great content. Whether you’re creating 2,000 word blog posts, infographics, videos, podcasts or Facebook Live sessions as part of your content marketing, it all takes time and requires budget
- Links: link building is a vital part of SEO. I’m not advocating buying links but the practice of link building through more legitimate means does require time and money
- Technical expertise: the technical changes that need to be made to your website for SEO requires the involvement of your web development team (or you if you’re building your own website) and a technical SEO expert. This requires time and money.
Why do SEO?
Now that I’ve told you about the costs of SEO, I’d like to sing its praises. I love SEO because it’s the only way to get:
- Free traffic from Google
- Targeted traffic from people who are actively looking for solutions to their problems
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE BEFORE I SEE RESULTS FROM SEO?
In my experience it takes 3 or 4 months of consistent SEO effort before you start seeing an increase in organic search from Google. This may be longer or shorter depending on your industry and competitors in your niche.
WHY DO SEO PEOPLE SAY “IT DEPENDS” SO OFTEN?
There are more than 200 factors that can influence how well your site ranks in Google. Google is extremely secretive about how their algorithms work. Google doesn’t want this information to be available for a number of reasons:
- If we knew how Google worked it would be easy to create a competitor to Google
- If we knew how Google worked it would become easier to manipulate the search results
- If SEO was easy people would spend less on advertising through Google Ads (Google’s advertising platform)
Google doesn’t like it when the search results are manipulated. Imagine you were searching for something and your search results showed a bunch of unrelated porn sites, gambling sites and sites who want to sell you viagra. Google needs its search results to be the most relevant to its users so that people keep on using Google.
In the past it was easy to manipulate the search results. In the dizzy heydays of SEO 10 years ago you simply had to buy a bunch of links from dodgy link brokers and your site would rank for whatever keyword you wanted. Google quickly picked up on this and have been rolling out an ongoing stream of updates to its algorithms making it difficult to do SEO. It’s hiding data from Google Analytics as well so you don’t know which keywords are bringing you organic traffic from your SEO efforts (thereby making SEO difficult to measure). Remember, Google is a BUSINESS and wants you to spend money on paid advertising.
So, why do people in SEO say “it depends”? SEO is super-complex and requires a bit of trial and error. Anyone who tells you they can guarantee you better rankings in Google is lying to you. Yes, SEO does work but it requires time, patience, experimentation and hard work.
BLACK HAT SEO VS WHITE HAT SEO
You may have heard people talking about black hat SEO and white hat SEO.
Very simply, white hat SEO follows Google’s guidelines and black hat SEO rejects these guidelines and tries to outplay Google.
Black hat SEO can include:
- Buying links from link brokers
- Hiding or clicking links
- Loads of other dodginess Google doesn’t approve of
If you’re caught doing black hat SEO, Google will penalize the site you’re trying to do SEO on and you will lose rankings or even be removed from Google altogether. Once your site is penalised you can be sure it will take years before your reputation with Google improves.
Black hat SEOs quickly realised they could build links to their competitor’s sites to make it look as if though their competitors were doing black hat SEO. The hope was that Google would penalise the competitor, so at one point negative SEO was even a strategy that black hat SEOs spent time and money on. Google released a tool called the disavow tool that allowed webmasters to “disavow” links that shouldn’t be pointing to their sites and report these to Google.
It’s important to keep track of the links pointing to your site so that you can quickly disavow any that might hurt your good reputation with Google.
You can find the disavow tool, and a whole bunch of other useful SEO tools, within Google’s Search Console platform – something everyone who owns a website should be familiar with and using regularly.
Let’s go! Step by step guide for doing WordPress SEO
In the words of Maria Rainer, let’s start at the very beginning.
A QUICK TOP 10 WORDPRESS SEO CHECKLIST
- Use a fast WordPress hosting company e.g. Siteground (who I personally use and yes that’s an affiliate link so if you sign up through my link I get sweet, sweet money so I can keep making awesome tutorials for you and not live under a bridge somewhere). I also recommend Bluehost and WPEngine for WordPress hosting
- Learn basic HTML at https://www.w3schools.com/ – it’s not essential but highly recommended and will earn you a gold star and much love
- Join the Let’s Get Digital Facebook Group and ask questions about SEO (or all things digital)
- Install the Yoast SEO plugin (the free version is fine)
- Make sure your website isn’t blocking search engines (duh)
- Log in to your WordPress site admin
- Go to Settings -> Reading
- Make sure the box next to “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is NOT TICKED
- Make sure your Permalinks are SEO friendly
- Log in to your WordPress site admin
- Go to Settings -> Permalinks
- Select the Post name option and hit the Save Changes button to make sure your URL structure is nice and SEO friendly
- Remember that all content must be 100% unique! Don’t copy and paste content from other websites. Don’t use content scrapers. Don’t use content spinners that rewrite other people’s content. Your content must be 100% organic, home-grown, Farmer Brown approved useful awesomeness
- For the love of all things holy, please optimise your images for web. Too often people use 2MB images on their home page and wonder why the site is so slow. Image optimisation is a topic unto its own which I will cover in more depth, but please remember this principle – smaller file size means faster load time which means happy Google = more traffic for you
- Page titles and meta descriptions must be written for humans, must be unique per page, must exist (i.e. don’t leave them out) and must include the primary keyword you want that page to rank for
- Attract links with MARVELLOUS content that will make your momma proud. Buying links is for blackhat SEOs and you can find plenty of places that still recommend this ancient practice. Don’t buy links.
Set up an account with Google Search Console, validate your WordPress site and then submit your XML sitemap/s to Google Search Console so that Google will be more acutely aware of when you publish new content to your site. (Old timers, Google Search Console used to be called Google Webmaster Tools. Change is the only constant). You can get your XML sitemap from the Yoast SEO plugin as follows:
- Log in to your WordPress admin
- Go to Yoast -> General -> Features tab
- Click on the question mark next to XML sitemaps to reveal the links to the XML sitemap you should submit to Google Search Console
Next, log in to Google Search Console and go to Sitemaps in the left hand navigation.
Copy the link to your XML sitemap/s, paste it into the Add a new sitemap section and hit Submit. Boomtastico!
That’s it, kiddo! You’re now set up with the absolute basics of WordPress SEO.
HERE’S A CHEAT SHEET FOR DOING SEO
HIGH LEVEL SEO ACTIONS
- Initial SEO audit
- Keyword strategy
- Technical SEO
- On-page optimization
- Content growth strategy
- Fresh content strategy
- Link development strategy
- Blogging and social media
- Mobile SEO
- Measurement, analysis and reporting
INITIAL SEO AUDIT
- Establish the current situation – what has been done in the past?
- Highlight critical factors and quick-win fixes
- Technical SEO audit
- Content audit
- Link profile audit
- Interlinking audit
- Identify 5-10 primary keywords per site
- Identify related secondary keywords
- Build keywords into content strategies and linking strategies
- Broken links monitoring
- Page load speeds: page compression and caching
- URL structure
- Use of 301 redirects
- Robots.txt file usage
- Handling of banner tags/affiliate IDs
- Custom 404 page implementation
- Use of nofollow meta tags
- Redirecting to www. or without www
- Use of favicon
- Verification in Google Webmaster Tools and Bing and Yahoo webmaster tools
- Sitemap submission (XML sitemap)
- Use of RSS feeds if relevant
- Search function added to sites
- Avoiding use of frames
- W3C compliancy
- Use of H1/H2/H3 headings
- Use of keywords within headings and paragraphs
- RELEVANT user-focused content – writing for people and not for search engines (no keyword stuffing)
- Call to action within HTML text AND graphically (buttons or banners)
- Links to related pages with relevant anchor text using primary keyword of target page
- Use of embedded multimedia (video and imagery)
- Easy navigation and usability
- Enough index-able HTML text (guideline is 250 – 300 words per page)
- Content is 100% unique
- Correct and unique meta titles and meta descriptions
CONTENT GROWTH STRATEGY
- Google likes to see websites that grow with new pages every month
- Needs to add value to customer experience and be RELEVANT
- Could be implemented as a BLOG or articles section if part of main site e.g. sub folder for the blog
- Use of copywriter-friendly content management system (CMS) e.g. WordPress
- Add quality, relevant content to optimize for long-tail keywords (without becoming a content farm and getting slapped by the Google Panda update)
- Fresh content strategy
- Update existing content on core pages
- Not entire page but about 25% e.g. a testimonial that changes every 2 weeks
LINK DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY
- Integration with overall keyword strategy for each brand
- Important to use VARIED anchor text for inbound links and to also deep link (link to secondary pages and not only home page)
- Get clean links from affiliates
- Links on banners served by media planners (alt text on images) and text links
- Relationship links (links from sites as a result of having a good business relationship with partners)
- Electronic press releases
- Links from blogosphere
- Directory submissions
- Submitting content with links to article sites
BLOGGING AND SOCIAL MEDIA
- Blogging increases online profile visibility (especially WordPress with built in SEO plugins and feed submissions)
- Interaction with customers and potential customers increases visibility in search engines
- Compliance with best practices for mobile recommended by Google
- Development and promotion of mobile apps
- Tie in with overall mobile strategy
MEASUREMENT, ANALYSIS AND REPORTING
- How do we measure ROI on the above actions?
- What are the key metrics to monitor (click through rates, conversion rates, funnel analysis etc)
- What allocation of budget (time, resources and money) for the above?
- What are the targets for growth?
- What reporting tools are in place or need to be developed?
Next, we get into the real nitty gritty.
The Real Nitty Gritty of WordPress SEO
Here’s what we’re going to cover:
- Domain registration
- Domain hosting
- www. vs non-www
- WordPress SEO plugins
- Installing an SEO friendly WordPress theme
- Permalinks and SEO-friendly URLs
- Robots.txt and search engine visibility
Yoast SEO plugin configuration
- Useless junk you don’t need in Yoast
- General settings
- Search Appearance
- Search Console
- Free or Premium?
Building your SEO-optimised WordPress site
- SEO objectives and key performance indicators
- Keyword research
- Why keyword research is the cornerstone of SEO
- Short and long-tail keywords
- Research vs buyer keywords
- Google Keyword Planner
- SEMRush and Ahrefs
- Google autocomplete
- Content architecture and sitemaps
- Types of content:
- Basic content
- Blogs and articles
- Link bait articles
- Optimising content
- The Ideal SEO-optimised Web Page
- Rich snippets and featured snippets
- Headlines that sell
- SEO titles
- Meta descriptions
- Keyword use in body content
- Body content formatting
- Image optimisation
- Image file size
- Image names
- Image formats
- Image titles and alt tag
- Types of page interlinking
- Anchor text
- Number of links
WordPress site speed optimisation
- Measuring site speed: PageSpeed Insights, Pingdom and GTmetrix
- Hosting as a site speed factor
- Using a lightweight WordPress theme
- Using lightweight WordPress plugins
- Speed optimisation plugins
- Plugins to avoid
- Ranking factors
- YouTube keyword research
- YouTube clickthrough rate and custom thumbnails
- Video duration
- Video file name
- Video title and description
- Audience retention: how much of your video people watch
- Subscribes after watching
- Video shares
- Promoting your video
- Embedding your video in blog posts
- Optimising your channel page
- How voice search works
- Characteristics of voice search
- How to optimise for voice search
- What is link building?
- Types of links and those that make a difference
- Article links
- Directory links
- Blog comments
- Spintax and link tiers
- Forum links
- Guest post links
- Video links
- Social media links
- Broken link
- How to build links
- Quality and relevance
- Anchor text diversity
- Link neighbourhood
- Link building tools
- What is local SEO?
- Local search ranking signals
- Keyword resarch
- Geotargeting pages
- Creating local listings
- NAP and Local citations
- Moz Local
- Local link building
- Why business reviews are important
- Optimising your Google My Business listing
- Social Media and Local Business
- Local rank tracker
- SEO training and further resources
- SEO consulting
- Final thoughts
Like a garage band, it all starts with a name. Having your target keyword in your domain name used to matter. It doesn’t anymore.
Here’s an example:
“car insurance” is the most lucrative keyword in the world of short term insurance. Digital marketers at the world’s big insurance companies yearn for pole position rankings because this keyword brings great traffic volumes and converts well.
So what happens if you search for “car insurance”? Does www.carinsurance.com appear in the first position? What about www.carinsurance.co.za?
Neither of these do.
I finally found www.carinsurance.co.za all the way on page 5 in position 51. Ouch.
So what the hell is going on here? All the official insurance companies are ranking for “car insurance” but none of the “affiliate sites” are ranking anymore. Many affiliates went out of business when Google messed with the rankings, so don’t believe that just having a domain with the right keywords is going to bring you ranking and therefore organic search traffic.
DOES DOMAIN NAME AFFECT SEO?
The reality is that Google values a good user experience and brand authority over keywords.
Eric Schmidt, Google Chairman said:
Brands are the solution, not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool. Brand affinity is clearly hard-wired. It is so fundamental to human existence that it’s not going away.
The best thing to do is not stress about having your primary keyword in the domain name but rather focus on the following:
- Is the domain name memorable?
- Is the domain name relevant, descriptive or useful to your audience?
- Is your domain name specific to your industry?
- Go for a .com if available and if you want to target a specific country go for the country domain e.g. .co.za for South Africa
Google looks at reputation, relevance and quality of content as much more important than keywords in a domain, so focus on that.
When you’re looking for a host for your WordPress site, you should look at the following important factors:
- Load speed: important SEO ranking factor. SiteGround, WPEngine and BlueHost are considered good in terms of hosting speed
- Managed WP hosting features i.e. SSL and HTTPS, Cloudflare CDN, WP autoupdates, Daily and on-demand backup, Dev/Staging/Production environments, Cpanel
- Guaranteed uptime: this is critical and you want at least a 99.9% uptime guarantee from your web host
- Server location: your server should be as close as possible to your target audience so that your site loads faster for them – the further away your web server is located, the long it will take for your site to load
- Content Delivery Network (CDN): your host should support a CDN which further boosts site performance
- Responsive support team: your hosting company should give excellent support to help you get set up, keep your site up and running and answer any questions you may have
WWW. VS NON-WWW
It really doesn’t matter whether you have www or not in front of your domain name – it doesn’t affect your WordPress SEO. It’s a legacy thing: people are used to using www (well, at least the first generation to use the Internet are).
NB: make sure that your site redirects to the preferred version e.g. if you visit deepthoughtmarketing.com it should redirect to www.deepthoughtmarketing.com.
And, praise be, if you’re using the Yoast SEO plugin (as you should) the plugin adds canonical tags to tell Google which version of your site it should index. No sweat.
WORDPRESS SEO PLUGINS
Historically, this has been a two-dog race: Yoast SEO and All-In-One SEO Pack are the plugins that have been most popular over the years. My personal preference (and that of many, many other SEOs) is Yoast.
Adding Yoast to your WordPress site is super-easy:
- Log in to your WordPress admin
- Go to Plugins -> Add New
- Click on Popular
- Click on Install Now
- Click on Activate
You now have a new section in your WordPress admin called SEO.
Further into this guide I’ll show you how to set up and configure Yoast for your WordPress site.
INSTALLING AN SEO FRIENDLY WORDPRESS THEME
The internet is run on WordPress (for the majority) and there are LOADS of places to get WordPress themes from. My preference is ThemeForest and StudioPress but I always look for features in a theme that make it SEO friendly:
- Is it built with valid coding? Your WordPress theme should be built with code that is up to date with the latest coding standards. You can check to see if your theme’s code is valid by using the following tools to check the HTML and CSS of the code:
- Is the theme mobile responsive? Your site must render beautifully on all devices. Use these tools to check:
- Schema Markup support: Schema Markup is a way to present your website code so that it’s understandable to Google – it gives Google more clues as to what your site is about. You can check to see if your WordPress theme has schema markup included by going to your WordPress site, right click, go to “View Source Code” and search the code for “itemscope” or “schema.org”. If you find this in your source code then your theme has Schema Markup
- Does my theme load fast? This is probably the most important SEO factor so make sure your site loads fast by checking it at https://tools.pingdom.com/
PERMALINKS AND SEO-FRIENDLY URLS
An SEO-friendly URL structure in WordPress is characterised by the following:
- It’s user-friendly i.e. it tells your reader what the page is about
- It contains the keywords that you want to rank for
- It’s short and to the point
- It’s in an SEO friendly format i.e.
NOT SEO-FRIENDLY: https://www.deepthoughtmarketing.com/?p=123
As explained in the quickstart guide above, setting up SEO-friendly permalinks is easy but HEADS UP! If you have an established site that’s been running for 6 months or more, don’t change your permalink structure because you will lose all the social media share count and you could drop your SEO rankings. The only exception is if you’re using the plain permalink structure (not SEO-friendly) structure shown above. You should definitely move away from this permalink structure no matter what.
BREADCRUMBS AND WORDPRESS SEO
Breadcrumbs are navigational elements on your site that show people where they are. Similar to the bread crumbs Hansel and Gretel used for navigating into the deep, dark forest…
Your WordPress theme may have the option to enable breadcrumbs and if you’re using the Yoast SEO plugin there’s a section that let’s you enable breadcrumbs.
- Breadcrumbs help with site navigation
- Breadcrumbs may appear in the search results page
- Breadcrumbs help the Googlebot understand your site structure and content hierarchy
You can enable breadcrumbs in Yoast by going to Search Appearance and then clicking on the Breadcrumbs tab:
OPTIMISING ROBOTS.TXT FOR WORDPRESS SEO
So you want to optimise your robots.txt file to help improve your SEO and rank better in Google? Let’s go!
WHAT ON EARTH IS A ROBOTS.TXT FILE?
You use a robots.txt file to tell Google how to crawl and index your site. It’s a set of instructions telling Google to go here, go there, ignore this, focus on that.
Your robots.txt file lives in the root directory (main folder) of your website and if you have access you can edit it using File Explorer in Cpanel or even with an FTP client such as Filezilla.
The ideal robots.txt file for WordPress looks like this
These rules do the following:
- Google should indext all WordPress images and files
- Google should NOT index WordPress plugin files, the admin area, readme files and affiliate links
HOW TO CREATE A ROBOTS.TXT FILE WITH YOAST
Yoast automatically creates a robots.txt file with the following rules:
You can edit these rules by going to Tools -> File Editor in the Yoast settings.
Use this with caution – adding the wrong rules can severely mess with your rankings. If you’re not sure, just leave the default Yoast robots.txt settings as is and walk away.
Yoast SEO plugin configuration
Now let’s dig deep into how to set up the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress.
Yoast is an extremely popular plugin but not many people know how to set it up and use it properly.
What you need to do:
- Set Yoast up correctly
- Verify the different webmaster tools in Yoast
- Focus on the right long-tail keywords
- Use Yoast to optimise your content
NOTE: you don’t need to use the Premium version of Yoast – the free version is just fine.
USELESS JUNK YOU DON’T NEED IN YOAST
For starters, log in to your WordPress site admin and head to the Yoast settings area: SEO -> General -> Features.
Here’s how your settings should be configured:
SEO analysis should be ON: this enables the content optimisation checklist on posts and plugsin
Readability analysis should be OFF: if you write well, using well-constructed, concise and customer-friendly sentences you’re good to go.
Cornerstone content should be ON: this lets Yoast categorise your most valuable content.
Text link counter should be OFF: this counts the number of internal links on each post. You don’t need this.
XML sitemaps should be ON: this cerates a sitemap you can submit to the search engines.
Ryte integration should be OFF: this detects whether the site is indexed by search engines. There are better ways of doing this.
Admin bar menu should be OFF: This adds a Yoast dropdown menu in the WordPress dashboard. Not necessary.
Security: no advanced settings for authors should be ON: this prevents authors from removing posts and changing canonical URLs and only lets editors and admins do this.
VERIFY THE DIFFERENT WEBMASTER TOOLS IN YOAST
You should create webmaster accounts for Google, Bing and Yandex (Russia’s largest search engine) and get the verification code for each. If you can do Baidu as well, go for it (good luck, unless you have a Chinese phone number…)
Connect Yoast to Google Search Console:
- Create an account and log in at Google Search Console
- Verify your site by following the steps in Google Search Console
- Log in to your WordPress site admin and go to Yoast -> Search Console -> Settings
- Click the Get Google Authorisation Code button
- Copy and paste the Google Authorisation Code into Yoast and click Save Profile
Leave your Title Separator as default. For your Knowledge Graph and Schema.org setting, select if your website represents a person or an organisation. If an organisation, enter the name of the organisation and upload a clear, web-optimised logo.
When it comes to editing the SEO titles on individual pages, don’t use the snippet variable option. These act as templates for when you are too lazy to write out the title and meta description for a site BUT you shouldn’t be lazy – just write out proper titles and meta descriptions and don’t use snippet variables. The End.
This section lets you specify what the default search appearance should be for any particular type of content on your site. Leave the settings to the default settings.
Leave the setting on this page on Yes i.e. you do want to redirect attachment URLs to the attachment itself.
In plain English, this means that when you upload an image or video file to WordPress, WordPress doesn’t just save the file but also creates an attachment URL for the file. Since you don’t ever use these URLs, it’s better to simply redirect the attachment URLs to the media file itself.
TAXONOMIES, ARCHIVES, BREADCRUMBS AND RSS
Leave everything as it comes out the box on default settings.
BUT you do want to disable Author archives from being indexed. You want to make sure that Google indexes the pages and posts of your WordPress site but not things like author archives, date archives, tags, sliders, affiliate URLs and other nonsense that shouldn’t appear in Google.
In the Accounts section of Yoast, enter all the relevant social media profile info for your WordPress site’s brand or organisation.
On the Facebook tab, enable Open Graph meta data and then upload an image you want to appear when your site is shared to Facebook. This image should be 1,200 x 630 pixels in dimension.
On the Twitter tab, enable Twitter card meta data and then select the default card type to use.
Remember to click on the Pinterest tab and confirm your site with Pinterest. You should have a Pinterest social media strategy since this is a good source of traffic.
The most useful tool Yoast offers is the Bulk Editor which allows you to easily and quickly update the SEO titles and meta descriptions for your posts and pages. You can use this tool to easily spot any issues at a glance – like missing or duplicate meta data.
YOAST FREE OR YOAST PREMIUM?
In my experience you don’t need to use Yoast Premium – it has some additional bells and whistles but not anything you can’t live without.
Building your SEO-optimised WordPress site
SEO OBJECTIVES AND KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS
Before you even start with an SEO plan, you need to set SEO objectives and develop a framework for how you’re going to measure your performance.
SEO objectives could include:
- Get more qualified leads from organic search
- Increase traffic from organic search
- Increase rankings for high volume keywords
Key performance indicators related to these objectives are:
- Lead to qualified lead ratio from organic search
- Number of unique visitors from organic search over a certain period of time
- Search engine results page (SERP) position for a specific keyword
Many lead-driven businesses need customers to have at least one personal contact with a salesperson in your company, especially if the product is highly priced or requires a bunch of decision making. This is where Conversion Rate Optimisation is super important! If your conversion rate is good, your lead generation SEO campaign will perform well.
When you set out a comprehensive measurement framework and set performance benchmarks, you will be able to show yourself and all your stakeholders how your SEO efforts are paying off.
The bottom line (Return on Investment) is key: how much revenue did we make from the SEO investment we made?
Remember that SEO is a long-term strategy and results don’t come overnight. You should put in a good 3 or 4 months of SEO effort before you even start seeing the needle shifting.
WHY KEYWORD RESEARCH IS THE CORNERSTONE OF SEO
You’re going to have to identify the keywords you want to target and rank for. What will people type into Google in order to find your website?
Which of these search phrases (keywords) will result in the type of traffic that converts into leads and sales on your site to meet your business objectives?
The very first step in doing SEO is answering this question.
Keyword research involves:
- Using keyword search tools such as the Google Keyword Tool and Keyword Explorer in AHREFS (among many others)
- Brainstorming keywords related to your industry, products and services
- Understanding how difficult it will be to rank for each specific keyword
- Understanding which keywords your competitors are ranking for
- Understanding the search demand for each keyword
- Choosing the keywords with high demand but low competition
Once you’ve got a keyword master list you can use that as a foundation for your SEO efforts and track how well you’re doing in Google for those keywords.
SHORT-TAIL AND LONG-TAIL KEYWORDS
Short tail keywords are keywords (search phrases) that have only one or two words. These keywords are usually not very high-converting: someone searching for “insurance” is probably in the research phase and not ready to buy.
Long-tail keywords are where you will find the GOLD – these are much longer phrases and usually indicate that people have completed their research and are ready to convert to a paying customer e.g. “outsurance boat insurance low excess”
RESEARCH VS BUYER KEYWORDS
Research keywords are the keywords people use when they are just starting out on their problem solving journey. Someone wanting to buy a second hand car may start off with “buy used cars” and land up on a bunch of car sites and blogs.
Once they’ve explored the different cars available they will keep on refining their searches to be more and more specific.
The more specific a search, the more likely someone is to buy!
The specific search keywords are longer and really hone in a topic. To go back to the used car example, if someone searches “2016 british racing green jaguar f type johannesburg” you can be pretty darn sure they know what they want and just need to find something with low mileage and a good price and the sale is in the bag.
GOOGLE KEYWORD PLANNER
You can start your keyword research and get some interesting info by using the Google Keyword Planner in Google Ads.
Here’s how to use it:
- Sign in to your Google Ads account
- Go to Tools -> Keyword Planner
- Select the Get search volume and forecasts tile
- Enter your keyword and hit submit
- Click on the Historical Metrics tab and view search volumes to see if there is any search demand for your keyword
You can also click on “Keyword ideas” in the left navigation and enter your primary keyword to get some related keywords.
NB note how expensive it is to bid on “car insurance” – don’t you wish your site ranked on page 1 for this lucrative keyword???
SEMRUSH AND AHREFS
My favourite keyword research tools (and SEO tools in general) are:
Both are premium products i.e. not free, but the monthly subscription is well worth it if you’re planning on doing any type of SEO work in the next few months or years.
Google itself can give you some great keyword ideas.
- Go to Google and start to type in the keyword you want to research
- Marvel at the ideas Google shows you
- You can keep going by using synonyms and changing up the word order
Did you notice the short-term keyword that you started with (highly competitive) and how Google suggested some nice long-tail, low competition keywords? You should focus on the long-tail keywords.
Content architecture and sitemaps
The web pages on your site are the gateways to your site. If you have only one page with little useful content your website won’t get a lot of traffic. You might only rank for your brand name but little else.
It’s better to have more pages so that you can rank for a variety of keywords in Google. This doesn’t mean you need to create 200 web pages if you want to rank for 200 different keywords. It simply means you need to spend time planning a site that is rich in content, easy to navigate and provides useful info to your visitors in a logical and user-friendly manner. If you build your site with the user in mind (optimised for mobile of course) you have a better chance that your site will get more organic traffic from Google.
Types of Content
I love content. It’s the juice that boosts your SEO rankings and gives much joy to your customers – assuming your content is great quality, written with love and attention and utter generosity. And content isn’t only writing of course: video and podcasts are the way of the future.
For now, let’s look at web content (the typed out stuff) and what forms this can and should take on your website.
This is the core, structural stuff you need on your website:
- Home page content
- About page
- Product pages
- Contact page
Your home page and your product pages are going to be the main pages you want to have ranking in Google since they are very specific to the products and services you offer. Your Ts and Cs page is of no SEO benefit so don’t optimise that for search – duh.
Without being a broken record about it, make sure your basic content pages have enough content for Google to index and figure out what your site is about – at least 500 words per page would be a good start. Remember that your content needs to be written to be useful to humans first, so focus on that.
BLOGS AND ARTICLES
Here’s where you start having some fun. Your blogs and articles must:
- Be well-researched and well-written
- Be in-depth
- Deliver on the promise you make in your headline
- Solve a problem, evoke emotion, persuade or inform, entertain i.e. the blog post or article must add value
- Be so good that people will want to immediately share it
- Be 1,500 to 2,000 words long (or more)
- Include links to other useful places on the web
The art of writing a good blog post is a subject for an entire other tutorial but please keep the above basic principles in mind.
LINK BAIT ARTICLES
These are beyond merely articles but enter the realm of high-value assets. This type of content is:
- 3,000+ words
- Incredibly useful and well researched
- So good that you just know a unicorn cried when it read the article
- Magnetic: people just can’t help sharing and linking to it
- Shared like crazy all over social media
- The best article on the topic you will find anywhere on the web
Tough order, right. Well, the rewards are not immediate but if you invest in a great, really damn great piece of content you can be sure that you will attract links, traffic, rankings and even fame.
Have a look at this post by Steve Kamb over at Nerd Fitness:
It’s ridiculously well researched and a real treat to read as well. That’s why it’s STILL ranking for “paleo diet” years after it was written.
THE IDEAL SEO-OPTIMISED WEB PAGE
Here’s what I request demand of my SEO copywriters when I brief in web content. You can use the same framework and be as demanding.
- One primary keyword per page: focus on the primary keyword as the main topic of the article or blog post
- Specify the page URL: this URL should be a couple of words max and should include the primary keyword in the URL
- Title: specify the title (SEO title that appears on the search engine results page) and make sure it’s about 66 characters long including spaces
- Meta description: write a compelling, inviting and informative description of what the page is about and make sure it contains the main keyword of the page and is about 166 characters long including spaces
- H1 heading: this page title is usually the H1 heading. There must only be one H1 heading per page
- Body content: start with an introduction that includes the primary keyword. Write a brilliant piece of informative/entertaining/persuasive content and divide it up into sections using H2 and H3 headings
- Sprinkle with bullet points, italics, bold and quotes to make the content feel light, easy to scan and digestible
- Link to related, useful content. If linking to a 3rd party website, open the link in a new tab
- Include relevant imagery or embedded video to make the content more interesting
- Spelling and grammar are essential!
- Make the content at least 500 words long but don’t waffle – the content should be exactly as long as it needs to be, no longer and no shorter
- Absolutely no plagiarism or duplicate content or I will have you killed badly like in Game of Thrones
If you can write or get someone to write all of your web pages with the above guidelines in place, you are off to a good start.
RICH SNIPPETS AND FEATURED SNIPPETS
These are the useful little bits and pieces Google adds to your search results to make them more relevant and informative. An example of rich snippets are reviews stars.
Google has specified the types of content that can earn rich and featured snippets and some of these include
- Articles: top stories carousel
- Local business listings
If you write the above type of content you may be able to get rich snippets on your search results.
How to get rich snippets:
- Write content types that will earn rich snippets
- Install a rich snippet plugin e.g. https://mythemeshop.com/plugins/wordpress-review/ for reviews or All in One Schema Rich Snippets
- Set up your rich snippet plugin
- Use your plugin to mark up your content
- Test your content using the Google Structured Data Testing Tool
Go for it and let me know in the comments below how your Rich Snippet experience worked out and which plugin you recommend.
HEADLINES THAT SELL
I assure you that entire words have been written about how to write headlines. You need to spend a ton of time crafting your headline since it’s the very first thing people see.
Your headline makes a promise that you better be damn sure your article or blog post delivers on.
For example, if I see a headline that says:
13 Potatoes that look like Channing Tatum
I sure as hell want to see 13 potatoes that look like Channing Tatum. Thankfully, the internet delivers.
Your headline should contain the main keyword you want to rank for but above all else it must be compelling and attract attention.
And that leads me straight into…
Your page title tag appears in the search result and should contain the main keyword you want to rank for so that people know the link is relevant to their search query.
For example, I searched for “canada is the best country in the world” and the titles in the Google search results leap out to me and show that they are RELEVANT:
Ideally your primary keyword should appear near the beginning of the page title. Your page title should be about 66 characters long so that it fits within the search results.
Your meta description acts like the salesperson to bring someone to your site from the Google search results page. If your title is the attraction, the meta description closes the deal.
Make sure each page of your site has a unique meta description and ensure that the primary keyword of the page is included in the first few words of the meta description.
Your meta description should be about 166 characters in length, including spaces. This ensures that the full meta description is shown in the search results, and not cut off.
KEYWORD USE IN BODY CONTENT
In the past SEOs would worry about how often to use the primary page keyword in the body content. This was known as keyword density. This tactic is now a thing of the past and you should avoid using the primary keyword too often as this doesn’t look natural. When you optimise a page for a keyword, write with the reader in mind and not a search engine.
You should use your primary keyword in the first sentence of the body copy and then a couple more times throughout the page – but do not overdo it. Use variations and synonyms and don’t obsess about it – rather write naturally.
BODY CONTENT FORMATTING
Nobody reads anymore. At the very best they skim through your content, looking for the highlights and the key takeaways. To this end, make sure your content is easy to scan.
Easy to scan content uses:
- Paragraph breaks
- Bullet points
- Images and embedded videos
Your content should feel light and enjoyable, not heavy and intimidating. Always write with the reader in mind (and remember the reader doesn’t read).
There is nothing worse than a massive image that slows down your load speed. This is a sure-fire way to slow down your page and lose out on ranking. Let’s dive into image optimisation.
IMAGE FILE SIZE
The file size is the most critical aspect of image optimisation. Keep your image file size to as low as possible while maintaining quality of image. If you use Photoshop or Gimp or similar, save images for web.
Remember to optimise your images BEFORE you upload them – you don’t want to start off with a slow page and then speed it up later.
You can find unoptimised images by using a tool like https://gtmetrix.com/
Click on the PageSpeed and YSlow tabs to explore what you need to optimise.
Follow the recommendations and reupload the relevant images after you have optimised them.
You may also find more optimisation tips in the PageSpeed report referring to:
- Serve scaled images: don’t use a plugin to rescale images. Rather manually resize images to the correct dimensions from the get go
- Specify image dimensions: this happens automatically with the WordPress visual editor but some images in your code may still require that you specify dimensions in the HTML or CSS e.g. width=”135″ height=”250″
- Optimise images using lossless compression: you can use an image compression service such as Imagify
- Combining images using CSS sprites i.e. you can combine multiple images into 1 image. You can use https://css.spritegen.com/ to do this
- Avoid URL redirects (by ensuring you don’t serve images from the wrong http/https version or www/non www version: you can fix these problems using the Better Search Replace plugin
- Use a CDN (content delivery network) such as CloudFlare or StackPath.
- Images will be served from a data centre close to the reader
- The page will load faster for the reader
- Cache images using your cache plugin – use a good cache plugin such as WP Rocket
- Use a small and cacheable favicon of 16 x 16 pixels
When you create your image files, give them descriptive names e.g. bloggingtips.png instead of image_123_20190506.png.
This helps Google know what the image is about.
I prefer PNG over JPEG and PNGs are generally better for images that don’t have a lot of colours. JPEGs are great for colour photographs with lots of detail.
Make sure your images are saved for web (compressed).
IMAGE TITLES AND ALT TAG
When you upload an image in WordPress, always complete the image title and alt tags:
Your alt tag and title should be similar or the same as your image file name and should describe what the image is about.
In the context of this WordPress SEO tutorial, interlinking refers to how the pages of your site link to each other. This is also referred to as internal links.
Internal links should be included to web copy to make it easy for people to find related info that will help them find out more about a specific topic.
Having links to a page from other pages on your site is also a good way to get sitelinks appearing in the Google search results – it shows Google which pages are important and should be highlighted.
Please note: never use an interlinking plugin to automatically link specific keywords to a specific page on your site – this is spammy and unnatural and will not help your SEO.
Also avoid using related posts plugins which can severely slow down your site – go for manual interlinking in places that make sense.
TYPES OF PAGE INTERLINKING
You can link to other pages on your site through:
- Links in the text of the page
- Linked images
The anchor text of a link is the text that is clickable within a link – in html this would be <a hrefs=”https//www.yourwebpage.com”>ANCHOR TEXT</a>
You should vary the anchor text in links to a page. If you only used the same anchor text when linking to a page this would not be natural and could be seen as over-optimisation.
You should use short and descriptive anchor text that includes the primary keyword of the destination page – but not always. Keep things natural and varied.
NUMBER OF LINKS
Don’t overdo the links! Only add links to a page if you are helping the reader find out more info but don’t go nuts with it.
WordPress site speed optimisation
MEASURING SITE SPEED: PAGESPEED INSIGHTS, PINGDOM AND GTMETRIX
Do you know how fast your WordPress site is actually loading? There are loads of great tools out there that will tell you what your page load speed is. Let’s find out more!
Google’s PageSpeed Insights is a great but limited tool that measures how fast the first piece of information on your site loads i.e. Time To First Byte (TTFB). This is a measure of your server speed and ideally this should be less than 200 milliseconds – that’s 0,2 seconds.
GTMetrix is my favourite speed tool because of the in-depth reports and useful insights it gives. Be sure to click on all the tabs to dig into the info about your page speed.
Last but certainly not least: Gift of Speed go to great lengths and explain exactly what you need to fix.
HOSTING AS A SITE SPEED FACTOR
Looking at hosting options:
Free and shared hosting:
- Your website is hosted on a shared server with many (tens to hundreds) of other accounts
- Your website can load slower especially at peak times
- Don’t choose this option if you are serious about speed
- Still shared but with far fewer accounts
- Might include your own IP address
- Also not recommended if you are serious about speed
Private cloud hosting:
- Multiple servers share the load of hosting your site
- If one server goes down, the others act as backup servers
- Usually includes a unique IP address
- Great for sites with low traffic and a small budget
- Your site is hosted on its own server
- Pricey monthly cost
- Best option for speed if you have the money for it
Content alone doesn’t bring traffic from Google though. You need to rank in Google and for that you need links to your site. When other sites link to your site it’s a signal to Google that your site is awesome and worth visiting. A link to your site is a vote of confidence and links are a good way to build authority in the eyes of Google.
Not all links are equal though. If you get a single link from Oprah.com it could be a massive signal to Google that your site is awesome. If you get thousands of links from low quality, poor quality and low authority sites this is a signal to Google that you’ve been buying links and you will be penalised.
WHAT IS LINK BUILDING?
As I mentioned before there are more than 200 factors that Google’s algorithms look at when deciding which websites to rank in what positions for search queries. There are a number of sites that keep track of data related to these ranking factors and publish annual reports on what could possibly be included in these ranking factors. Again, Google doesn’t reveal the secret in its secret sauce but the data and evidence can give us clues.
Brian Dean of Backlinko currently publishes the best and most authoritative list of ranking factors:
As of the time of writing these ranking factors are as follows in order of importance:
- Referring domains = LINKS
- Organic click-through-rate
- Domain authority
- Mobile usability
- Dwell time
- Total number of backlinks
- Content quality
- On-page SEO
Let’s take a look at each of these factors:
The number of other sites (domains) that link to your site is one of the most important ranking factors. Of course the authority of these domains is an important factor too. Domain authority comes from age, number of backlinks and other trust factors.
The anchor text in your backlinks are important too. If you want to rank for a keyword and a different site links to your page using that keyword in the anchor text of the link it’s a signal to Google that your web page is relevant to the keyword in the anchor text. Remember, however, that too many links with exactly the same anchor text is a signal that link buying has taken place so you need variation in your inbound anchor text in order to avoid getting penalised by Google.
There are some SEOs who think that links from government and authoritative education sites (such as universities) give your website an authority boost and Google will rank you higher. Matt Cutts, who used to work as Head of Webspam for Google, denies that links from .gov and .edu sites will boost your rankings, however.
The types of links you get to your site are important too – the best types of links are editorial links i.e. when the website links to your website directly from within the copy of the article or blog post.
Links from ads don’t help you rank so don’t ask for links on banner ads “for SEO purposes”. These types of links are OK for low volumes of traffic but won’t help your SEO efforts.
Your backlink profile needs to have variety. This is the sign of a normal website where links have naturally grown and not artificially built. If your backlink profile has links from only a few sources e.g. forum posts or blog comment links this is a sign that you’re trying to manipulate the search results. Don’t use software and other quick fixes to build links as these will ruin your backlink profile.
Link factors Google considers when assigning a weighting to a link:
- Authority of the linking page or site (look for a high Domain Rating and URL Rating in AHREFS)
- DOFOLLOW links are preferred but NOFOLLOW links from high authority sites such as Wikipedia will help. Have a mixture of DOFOLLOW and NOFOLLOW in your backlink profile
- Editorial links are preferred to sidebar and sitewide/footer links
- Links should be surrounded by relevant text
- Google looks at the chances that a link will actually be clicked as a factor
- Variation in anchor text is important – but there is a strong correlation between having the the target keyword in the anchor text (or a partial match) and ranking. Never ask for specific anchor text when link building – it will come naturally
- Link relevancy is also influenced by other outbound links on the page that give more context and are related to the link being evaluated
- Unnatural links result in penalties
- The best types of links are editorial i.e. where the site owner has linked to your page as a result of its good content (and not because they’re getting paid to do so)
TYPES OF LINKS AND THOSE THAT MAKE A DIFFERENCE
SPINTAX AND LINK TIERS
GUEST POST LINKS
SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS
HOW TO BUILD LINKS
- Review your competitors backlink profiles in order to work out how they gained their links and then do the same if possible
Quick and easy ways to build links:
- Contact resource sites and ask for your page to be added to their list of resources
- Ask related sites if you can contribute a guest post and link back to your own site
- Create links to your site from social media sites, blog comments and video sites
Step 1: Identify where competitors are getting links from and where these links are pointing to
Step 2: Create better content than what your competitor has produced
Step 3: Do an outreach campaign or promotion so that people link to your content instead
How to do outreach campaigns
Content will naturally attract links over time but quite often this takes a long time. The best way to get people to view and link to your content is to mail them and tell them about it.
Timing is important, so use AHREFS Alerts to actively monitor the Internet for when someone links to a specific piece of competitor content, or mentions your specific brand or URL.
The faster you move the more likely someone will link to your page since the topic is relevant to them and top of mind. Email them and ask if they will link to your content which offers a similar resource.
If someone posts an article about your target keyword, mail them quickly and let them know about the article you wrote which relates to the topic.
How to send outreach mails without coming across as a spammer
Don’t use a template. Personalise each mail. Or at least don’t look like you’re using a template.
Don’t bother sending outreach mails to massively successful bloggers or tiny, newbie bloggers since you won’t get any value out of either. You need to approach bloggers or site owners with a relatively large audience but not so large that your outreach mail will be ignored.
- Identify their personal email address and not a generic email address like info@
- Put yourself in their shoes and answer the “what’s in it for me”question – why should they link to you?
- Give them something new and worthwhile linking to
- Explain what the post is about (briefly) and how it can add to what they’re publishing
- Give them enough information to evaluate if the content is good enough to link to
Another approach is to use the psychology of vanity and mention or feature them in your article. They are then likely to link to it or share your article on their own social media profiles.
- Quote their article, podcast or soundbite
- Stroke their egos
- Talk about how awesome their product or service is and how it’s helped you
Only share your best content – the stuff that’s average and not GREAT won’t be worthy of attention.
Give evidence in your outreach mail that others have enjoyed your content too:
- Where you have featured
- Shares from influencers
Don’t rely on the similarity of your content with their content or the content that they’ve shared. Show how your content is supremely better or has a different viewpoint.
Outreach email subject lines:
- Don’t be spammy or sleazy
- Keep them short and descriptive
- Be honest
You need to figure out a good balance between flattery, asking for a link or a tweet and not spamming.
It’s OK to follow up – but only once.
Specific link building tactics
- Create link bait content ie content that attracts links naturally
- Research findings
- Unique data
- Results of a survey
- Interactive content
- Create a tool or online service that provides value
How do you create share-worthy content?
You need to tap into human emotion and understand why people like sharing content and what will motivate them to do so.
People like sharing content that makes them look good, knowledgeable, trendy or on point. They will share an article or content piece that helps them by backing up their own opinion or drive home a point they’re trying to make.
Feelings play a huge part in why people share. Think about what happens when you see a funny video on Whatsapp. You laugh and immediately feel good. You want to share that good feeling with other people so you immediately share it with other people and hope for their reaction. If the other person laughs it was because of something YOU did – you made them laugh! What a great feeling!.
The same can be said for content that evokes anger or riles people up about a cause. You see a video about a hijacking attempt in Johannesburg so you pass it on to all your friends as a caution or to show your displeasure in the high rate of crime in the country.
The type of content people share is related to current events and things that are the talking points in culture. This could be something that the current US President said or did or some amazing piece of technology everyone is talking about. Everyone wants to be a newsbreaker and share the latest, up-to-date content on a buzzworthy topic.
The other reason people share is to help others by giving them a resource that will make it easy for them to complete a task. Something that has genuine, practical value will be shared because in so doing people are helping others.
It’s also true that content that has been shared by many others is more likely to be shared and this results in a lovely snowball effect.
Remember that link-bait works differently for different niche audiences and industries. Your target industry may not care about an extremely in-depth content piece on a single topic but might prefer a carefully assembled collection of resources or valuable bits of content in a top-10 list.
Don’t replicate an existing piece of content unless you fundamentally add value by giving it your own unique spin or dramatically increasing value. Cloned content gets nowhere.
QUALITY AND RELEVANCE
ANCHOR TEXT DIVERSITY
LINK NEIGHBOURHOOD AND YOUR BACKLINK PROFILE
Your backlink profile tells the story of where your links are coming from. If your links are from sites with a good reputation then you’re all good but if your backlink profile mainly consists of low quality sites from “bad neighbourhoods” (sites with low reputation in the eyes of Google) you could be in trouble.
Notice how I use the words “could” and “may” a lot? This is why SEOs use the phrase “it depends” so often – understanding and deciphering Google is an ongoing challenge for SEOs.
LINK BUILDING VELOCITY
If your site has very few links and over the course of a few weeks suddenly starts getting many websites linking to it this is a signal to Google that something fishy could be going on (buying links for example). Google might do a manual check (meaning that an actual human will look at the links coming in to your site) and this might result in a penalty. If you’re engaging in link building, slow and steady wins the race.