Understanding SEO

Monday, October 8, 2012

Over the past little while we have had many enquires into building a successful SEO campaign and I have found some great information for those that are interested. At the end of this text I have added a link for a free ebook on SEO that you might also be interested in.

Let’s consider the stages of a successful SEO campaign:

Setting goals and defining where you’re going, and what’re you’re planning to achieve
Research the competition and analyzing the market Analysis
Keyword research, which means selecting keywords with the best search-volume-to-competition ratio
On-site SEO, optimizing meta titles, creating correct robots.txt file, creating and submitting a .xml sitemap of your site, and a thorough analysis of your site’s content and structure
Link building
Results analysis
Now let’s look at those stages in more detail.

Competitive Research and Market Analysis

Be neither afraid nor ashamed of spying on your competitors and borrowing ideas from them. Surely you can create your own unique SEO strategy and stick to it, but remember that while innovation is adorable, it’s rarely successful. Statistics show that innovators only make use of around 2% of the total value of their innovations, the rest obviously goes to imitators.

If you look closely for a good technique or strategy to copy, there’s a good chance that you will surpass its inventor eventually!

The trick is to know whom to copy and on whom to spy. How do you do that?

To identify your true competitors and sites worth investigating, all you need is to type a couple of the most popular queries in your niche into Google, and the guys that occupy the top 20 positions in the search engine results pages (or SERPs for short) are worth studying and copying.

When you get those top 20 results for your query, make sure you’ve got SEO Quake plugin for Firefox installed and turned on.

This plugin shows lots of useful information on a domain, but what’s most crucial is the Alexa rank. Alexa rank reflects the traffic to a site. The smaller the Alexa rank is, the better the site performs.

After you’ve found the sites with the smallest Alexa rank, go to Semrush.com and add your competitor’s URL. SemRush will give you the URLs of your competitors both in organic search results and in paid AdWords campaigns.

It’s a very helpful tool, because it gives you an idea of the traffic you can hope for if you get to top positions in Google, as it also shows how much traffic your competitor’s site is getting from organic top 20 results.

When trying to outperform your competitors, also mind that other things that matter beyond keywords choice. Usually top 10 sites are trusted domains that were registered more than 2 years ago, have a good history and a rich back-link profile.

Keyword Research

Keyword research is the stage that should be treated seriously.

Crucial rules essential for a quality keyword research:

Don’t focus on too broad and general queries, develop a list of long tail keyword phrase ideas based on your main subject.
Mind the competition! To get an idea of the certain keyword competition it’s enough to type it into Google. If Google fetches a couple of hundreds of millions results, and the top 20 is occupied by highly authoritative sites with solid backlink profile, good history and high page rank – forget about this keyword. That’s why we strongly recommend looking for good long-tail keyphrases rather than something like “jewelry online” or “online shopping”.
The third rule is relevance. It’s tempting to pick up a keyword that’s not exactly what you have on your site, but is damn close with a high search volume and low competition. But beware of such temptations! Your efforts at getting to the top for such keywords will be rewarded with very little conversion.
The rule of golden middle: Take keyword research seriously, and don’t hope to increase your sales promoting by a bunch of hype key phrases. The list of your keywords should be full and exhaustive, but don’t forget that you’ll have to optimize for all the words you’ve chosen. Be moderate and find that golden middle for your SEO campaign.
When searching, always tick the “exact” box in the Match Types menu, this will give you the closest to reality numbers. This rule is elementary, yet often misguides DIY SEOs.

Hit the “Exact” box in the Match Types menu

Don’t forget about keywords your site is already ranking for. Be sure to include them onto your keyword list, they’ll be the first ones to get to the top and ultimately convert.

On-Site SEO

On-site SEO starts with choosing correct landing pages. By this stage you should already have a good revised keywords list. It’s now very important to stick them to appropriate pages of your site.

When choosing landing pages, cover as much of the whole site as possible. Don’t focus on the home page only. Home pages usually have more informational and navigational character rather than transactional. Category pages and even product pages can be considered perfect landing pages. It will be much easier to optimize them for buying keyphrases, and together with good calls to action, they’ll bring much higher conversion rates.

As for the home page, we recommend sticking the most general key phrases that have the highest search volumes.

When the list of keywords is matched to the landing pages, proceed to on-site SEO or on-page optimization.

Title Tag

Meta tags remain the key aspects of on-site SEO. Title and description tags are still important factors for search engines, unlike the meta keywords tag that’s now totally ignored due to its vast abuse.  Most SEO’s today acknowledge that Title tag is the most important ranking factor. Seriously, sometimes creating a good optimized title is enough for the page to pop up in the top 10 results!

The title tag you put onto the page is displayed at the top of most Internet browsers, and the underlined text within the search results page forms a hyperlink leading to your website. So besides important SEO value, title tag can be a very powerful call-to-action tool.

Basic rules to observe when creating title tags:

Put the most relevant keyphrase or several key phrases to the left of the title and end it up with the brand name.

The title should be grammatically correct, readable and good for SEO. Also remember that only the first 70 characters of the title are visible in Google results.

To avoid duplicate-content concerns, every single page of the site has to have its own unique title
Avoid keyword stuffing, use 2 to 3 keyphrases.
Description Tag

The next tag to be necessarily optimized is the description tag.

Description tag denotes the information displayed in the SERPs, right under the page title and it forms the «snippet» of the page. This tag isn’t as significant for the search engines as the title tag, but you should optimize it well. Otherwise, search engines may pull the description from anywhere on the page or even pull it from any other sites it considers authoritative, mentioning your website, if you don’t bother to optimize your description tag yourself.

Tips on meta description tag optimization:

Remember the snippet is only 150 characters long in the SERPs, so fit into it the summary of the webpage described + call-to-action + a couple of keywords
Create unique description tags on all significant pages
Make it different from title tag, and remember those two will be displayed together, so they should match each other naturally.
Mind that the use of competitor brands in meta tags is illegal in most countries
Text Optimization

The tag that carries some significant SEO value is the <h1> tag. This is a sub-heading marker, and if you include relevant keywords into this tag some positive effect is guaranteed. There are also <h2>, <h3>, <h4> and etc. tags, but their value is slender.

Some tips on <h1> use:

If you use various headings (h1 and h2), use different keywords in each of them,
Make h1 different from the title so you’ll cover more target keyphrase variants
Use CSS to reduce the huge font h1 tag creates by default
Text mark-up features like bold, italics and underline have little to no SEO value. Yet bolding is the most effective among them. Don’t overuse these formatting options as you can confuse your visitors, mind that underlined font is usually used for hyperlinks and italics for quotations.

As for the text itself and its volume, ideal volumes for SEO are 350 to 500 words of pure content per page, but don’t get fixed on that. The main things about the texts on the pages are uniqueness and relevance.


The most significant mark-up feature in the text is hyperlinks. They’re good for both SEO and usability.

To get the most out of hyperlinks:

Use hyperlinks with the relevant anchor text. Rather than something like «click here» or «see more» put your keywords into the anchor text and point the link to the relevant landing page
Try to use the same relevant anchor text both in the navigation menus and in body copy
Make the link useful for the user, they should follow it naturally and intuitively
Since we’ve touched upon internal linking of the site, it’s worth mentioning outbound linking too. Some business owners have adopted a very negative attitude towards linking to other websites. Here again the key is moderatation.

Outbound links to trusted, highly authoritative resources will make your site more attractive to search engines
Try to keep the overall number of links per page (both external and internal) 100 or under
Link to non-competitive relevant third-party sites that are helpful to your visitors
Link Building Campaign

This is the most difficult and yet most significant stage of the SEO campaign, as it’s off-site optimization. Basic things to start from for any small business:

Directories submission give low value back-links, but if you approach it wisely and thoroughly by choosing relevant directories in your field and country you may get up to 300-500 links that will give a first push to your site in the search engines
Social bookmarks submission is a great option to promote long-tail keywords with little competition and also serve a great way of speeding up the indexation
WordPress themes sponsoring is a shrewd way of getting thousands of free permanent backlinks that appear gradually over a long period of time. However this way requires patience as you won’t get a quick boost in rankings
There are other ways of getting backlinks to your site, some webmasters look for relevant do-follow blogs (by «do follow», I mean the default link tag to outbound links which pass link juice as opposed to no-follow tags) and post leaving backlinks to their sites. However, if you chose this way don’t get carried away and end up spamming bloggers with some gobbledygook nonsense comments that irritate the community.

No matter which way you chose – follow these 4 simple tips to maximize your effort:

Use your keywords for the anchor text of your backlinks everywhere possible
Chose sites relevant to your niche for linking
Pay attention to authority rather than page rank. For example, if you have a chance to put your link on a 0 PR page of the Independent magazine, it’ll pass more value to your site than some PR 4 backlink from a god-forgotten-website.com. Don’t get me wrong, low-value backlinks won’t hurt you site, but they may not be worth the effort of adding them.
Think about the variety of your backlink profile. Getting site wide links is a great thing, go for them if you can, but remember that 100 links from a single site are worth nothing compared to 40 from all different resources!
Besides, there are also ways of getting natural backlinks through on-site optimization.

Depending on the niche of your business you may try:

Offering buying guides, tutorials, authorized comments on bright events of your niche, product reviews – all sorts of unique and resourceful content
Link baits of different kinds related to your industry – videos, images, downloadable widgets, humorous content and etc.
Don’t forget to equip all these with easy sharing options and socialization buttons to increase your site’s citation on the web.

Monitoring and Results Analysis

So now that we’ve optimized our project both on-site and off-site, and perhaps even started to receive first calls and orders, is it time to rest on the laurels? Certainly not! To fully understand all the causes and effects of the campaign, we strongly recommend installing a complete set of Google Analytics’ tracking code onto your site. It shows you where your visitors came from (through search engines, referring sites or type-in), what queries they used, how long they stayed on your site, what goods they purchased, how many pages they viewed, their exact path to the checkout page, and loads of other useful information.

To be fully aware of what’s going on and where your SEO campaign is, you should monitor your site in Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools regularly. We also advise you to check your site rankings in the search engines at least once a week. Combining your rankings data with your Google Analytics statistics, you can reveal weak chains in your campaign, keywords that aren’t bringing in the traffic and that need to be reconsidered.

To check your site’s rankings you may use various free online tools like SEO SERP or a free plug-in for Firefox - Rank Checker. SEO SERP allows you to view the first 1000 positions of global and any local version of Google, whereas Rank Checker allows you to view only the first 200 positions, but for all Google versions plus Yahoo and Bing and you can check up to 100 queries simultaneously.

Besides your site’s monitoring, it is also very useful to peep into your competitors sites from time to time to see if they maybe adopted some interesting changes that might be useful for you too.

Alternative ways of small businesses promotion and new trends in SEO

The techniques I’ve mentioned earlier are traditional and effective for any business online. But recently some additional ways to promote websites, mostly in Google, have appeared (as the most progressive search engine), and you can attract additional traffic to your site besides traditional web search.

Google (and be sure that Yahoo and Bing will follow) in their aspiration to give the completest answer possible to their users queries has introduced alternative ways of search such as:

local search
shopping search
video search
images search
books search
blogs search

Promotion in these kinds of searches does not have that huge traffic potential as the traditional web search does, but it will take less effort to get to the top, as the competition is much lesser in those fields.


So to sum it all up, let’s outline the main takeaways:

SEO is a perfect tool for small businesses promotion
plan your SEO campaign carefully, monitor and spy on your successful competitors
spare no effort on keyword research as it is the foundation of your future success
examine your landing pages and optimize them both for search engines and real visitors
pay attention to the content and the text of the title and body needs optimization first of all
treat link building seriously, be patient and get great results in the long run
follow the latest trends in SEO, optimize for alternative ways of searches
track, monitor and analyze your performance regularly

Here is a free ebook. Understanding SEO
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