Want to succeed at SEO? Good practices start with avoiding bad habits of the past. Eliminate ineffective practices and replace them with strategic, content-focused tactics. Here are seven great ways to do that:
1. Approach keywords strategically
Without proper keyword research, any SEO campaign is doomed to failure. Keyword research sets the stage and lays the groundwork for an SEO campaign.
Take a vague keyword phrase like “dog food.” This might be used by people seeking information on dog food or news about it (such as recalls). But a specific keyword phrase such as “buy raw dog food” is more likely to be selected by someone who’s ready to buy a specific type of canine chow.
Keyword phrases should be as specific to your company as possible and have an easy, conversational sound not a marketing vibe. Just consider how you search for things online.
Perhaps more important than selecting specific phrasing, however, is not becoming paralyzed or slowed down by the temptation to achieve perfection in keyword optimization for every text-based piece of content you publish.
While keywords form the basis of an effective understanding of — and competition for — a target market, trying for a #1 search-engine ranking (or even for a top 10 spot) for your business niche’s top keyword is usually extremely difficult when you’re starting an SEO campaign in a field with competitors who have doing this for a while.
Instead, take a long-tail approach to keywords. Consistently publish as much amazing content as you can, which naturally will include keywords, and you’ll capture long-tail search traffic. This type of traffic tends to come from keywords you would probably never find during the research phase and that are often more targeted, resulting in better conversion rates.
2. Strictly adhere to an originality rule
When it comes to SEO, originality refers to duplicate content or the same text existing at two different URLs — something that you should always avoid. Republishing articles from other sites is not only a potential copyright infringement, but it also creates duplicate content, which can ruin your site’s search rankings.
Check to see if your site has duplicate content by using tools like CopyScape, SiteLiner and Screaming Frog. Find more details about how to identify and remove duplicate content in this article I wrote.
3. Strategically adjust your site’s navigation and internal links
The way your site’s navigation is structured plays a major role in how search engines determine the importance of each page. Simply put, the more often a page is linked to within your website, the more PageRank flow it has and the higher it will rank in search-engine results pages for relevant queries.
Most webmasters and business owners, however, have no idea how their internal link flow is structured and are often surprised to learn that unimportant pages or ones that never stand a chance rank high in search-engines results (like contact pages) are cannibalizing the majority of their site’s PageRank flow. This offers major opportunities for improvement with relatively minor effort.
To optimize your site’s navigation, internal link structure and PageRank flow, start by auditing these elements using a tool like SiteLiner or Screaming Frog. Use the output to identify pages that aren’t important or that have little content on them (such as contact pages) that receive a high volume of inbound links. Next, use special noindex code in these pages to tell search engines to not index these pages and add nofollow code for all links to them, in order to preserve PageRank flow. This causes an effect similar to shutting off a leaky water valve: It redirects PageRank flow to the pages that truly matter.
Be sure to noindex all pages that have duplicate content, such as category and tag archives, which are common in the WordPress content-management tool. You can use various WordPress plugins, such as Yoast SEO, to accomplish this easily. Be careful with these steps, though. Improperly using the noindex and nofollow attributes can severely decrease your site’s rankings if you aren’t careful and strategic. Let an expert do this if you aren’t absolutely certain about what you’re doing.
4. Optimize on-site elements across your site
While title tags are still important for SEO purposes, meta descriptions have lost their influence in the ranking algorithm. Meta descriptions do, however, provide a perfect place to put some marketing talent to use, through the creation compelling copy that attracts clicks from the search-results page.
Title tags and meta descriptions should be present on each page of your site and should be relevant and optimized. Too short or too long titles and descriptions can harm SEO efforts, so it’s best to conduct an audit of your site to identify any large-scale issues with these elements.
Other on-page elements that factor into the ranking algorithm include H1 tags, content length, internal and external links, ads, bullet points, images and text formatting.
5. Optimize your site’s load speed
A site’s load speed is a factor in search-engine rankings and it also affects the rates of converting visitors to customers. Amazon calculated that a one-second increase in page-load speed would cost a company $1.6 billion in lost sales per year. Other studies have shown 40 percent of website visitors abandon a site that takes longer than three seconds to load. Still, most business owners or webmasters fail to put enough effort into optimizing their site’s load speed.
Start by checking your site’s load time by using a tool like Pingdom, which will give you a breakdown of each element and how long it took to load. Use the resulting information to optimize images or pieces of code that are causing long load times. Upgrading your web host from a shared server to a dedicated or virtual private network (VPN) setup can significantly reduce load times, too.
6. Don’t buy links. Earn them.
Because the quantity and quality of inbound links have a significant impact on a website’s rankings, the temptation to buy links on other sites is strong. But link buying and selling are against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Additionally, search engines are now very good at detecting suspicious, manipulative or unnatural links. The result? If you buy or sell links, your website’s search-engine rankings could fall significantly. Save your money and instead spend it on creating content that will earn or attract inbound links on its own merit. For specific examples about how to create and publish content that earns inbound links naturally, see my ebook The Definitive Guide to Marketing Your Business Online.
7. Be natural
If you feel like you have to wedge a keyword into a sentence, you’re approaching SEO with the wrong mind-set. Whereas keyword density was a popular concept five years ago, it’s irrelevant now. Instead, focus on creating content that your readers will find valuable.
If a sentence sounds unnatural because you’re trying to optimize it for search engines, change it. Search engines are cracking down harder than ever before on keyword stuffing, so such tactics are likely to cause your rankings to fall and annoy anyone who tries to read your content, killing your credibility.
You don’t have to spend money on an SEO expert to dramatically improve your search visibility. Simple steps can achieve major SEO boosts. In the end, SEO is all about improving the usability and user experience of your website. Any change that makes your visitors happier is likely to make search engines happier. So SEO is really about making people happy and that should make us all happy.