You’ve started getting serious about your website. You know that you need to learn a little more about SEO in order to really dig deep and improve your site. I’m glad you’ve come to that decision because you’re so right! When I was learning about SEO initially, one of the most overwhelming parts was figuring out where to start with SEO… There are so many parts of it. That’s why I created this in-depth guide. It’s paired with a free PDF SEO roadmap for you to download and keep!
Google holds around 85% of the market share when it comes to desktop searches, which is why marketers consider it the most important search engine to optimize their websites for. Getting your site to the top of search results is a difficult task, to say the least. You’ll need to carefully optimize your website and content based off of what we know about Google algorithm ranking signals. There are… a few.
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How many Google ranking signals are there?
There are over 200 ranking signals that Google takes into consideration while crawling websites, but we don’t know exactly what that list is comprised of because Google has not made it publicly available.
And honestly, they likely never will because: A.) Some marketers overoptimize websites using spammy practices and they would exploit such a list, and B.) Google’s search algorithm is adjusted all the time, anyway.
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world of search engine optimization, but there are a ton of ranking signals that have been confirmed through rigorous testing by SEOs and SEO authorities like Moz and Backlinko.
Where should I start with SEO?
So, what Google ranking factors should you focus on? Survey says, these eight. You’ll get the most benefit for your time by focusing on these eight major signals. When you’ve checked them off your list (or when you’ve done everything you can for them), move on to the huge list of 200.
1 | Inbound links
Priority: Very high
If you’ve done any research about SEO, you’ve heard of “backlinks”. It’s no surprise that the most important element of SEO is the most difficult thing to optimize for.
Google wants to see that your website is trusted by other websites. The way other websites show that they trust you as an authority in one of your topics is by linking to you. So, the more backlinks you have, the better, right?
The websites who are linking to you should be trustworthy sites themselves. If you have spammy or low-quality sites linking to your site, your SEO will actually be negatively impacted. Trust is a really big deal to Google and your backlinks are a big part of how they measure the trustworthiness of your site and its content.
So, how do you get high-quality backlinks to improve your website’s SEO? The short answer is that you need to publish uniquely valuable content on your website. When people find your content useful and well worth their time, they will be more likely to share it on social media, reach out to you, or send it to their friends. This is how you earn backlinks from other trustworthy sites organically.
Other ways to earn quality backlinks
- Guest post for larger authority sites (Many will offer a link back to your own site for compensation.)
- Do expert roundups within your niche to collab and build relationships in your industry.
- Post case studies or extended portfolio showcases about your clients.
- Curate resource lists that would be helpful to your audience.
- Create and share a helpful freebie.
At the end of the day, building high-quality links is difficult because the links you want are a result of maintaining a very helpful website that established you or your business as an expert in the topics you’ve chosen to write about. That means tons of exceedingly helpful content and a great outreach strategy.
If you’re just starting out with your site, focus on creating highly-valuable content and resources for your target audience. Quality over quantity definitely applies here.
2 | Keyword intent
Priority: Very high
Keywords are still extremely important for SEO. The thing is, the way that Google uses keywords has changed a lot. A few years ago, the more relevant, exact match keywords that appeared on your page, the better. This lead to people “keyword stuffing”, or jamming their articles full of a crazy amount of keywords. As expected, the quality level of content, in general, went down because people were encouraged to fill their articles up with keywords, even when they didn’t quite make sense in a sentence.
Google’s response to this is to focus more on keyword intent instead of exact match keywords. In search results, they are more likely to show a website that matches the searcher’s intent rather than the site that displays the most instances of the searched keyword.
Let me give you an example: A website wants to rank for the term, “best laptops for college”. It’s not going to to the site owner any good to just include this phrase 20 times throughout the article. It should include the keyword at least once, followed by examples of different laptops, their hardware components, where you can buy them, why people like them, and what makes these laptops the best.
This is the kind of information that the searchers for “best laptops for college” want. They don’t want an article stuffed with the keyword because that isn’t helpful to them. When your website gets clicked on and engaged with after a user enters a search query, Google picks up that your website matches the intent behind the keywords entered by the user. Your site will now rank better for that keyword.
Make sure you’re not keyword stuffing in posts. Check that you’re using synonyms of your keywords along with different, keyword-related examples and explanations that will be helpful to your reader.
3 | Topic authority
The topics your website covers are essentially the core of your SEO. The more you publish about a particular topic, the more of an authority you become in that topic. When you build your authority on a specific topic by publishing more and more high-quality content on that topic, every piece of content you’ve created in that topic will rank higher in search.
This is why you’ve heard many web and blogging gurus talk about the importance of niching down and selecting just a few topics to write about. You can become an established authority in 3-5 topics a lot easier than you can for 20.
If you’re a business strategist, create content around the topics that you deal with most often. If you have 25 well-written posts about growth mindset, Google will probably recognize you as an authority in that topic. Say you create a post about your favorite healthy smoothie recipe one day and you don’t post about healthy recipes regularly. That post won’t perform as well because Google can’t vouch for your smoothie-related authority. No matter how beautifully-written and well-optimized that post is, it won’t rank very high because you haven’t built up much content around that topic.
Create categories in WordPress that align with each topic you’ll be talking about on your site. Make sure you select a category for each post you create before publishing. If you’ve done this, you’re off to a great start! Just try to focus on a small number of categories and building your authority in those before branching out to other ones. You can always add more as your site grows.
4 | Domain security
Is your domain secure? If not, why not?
At the beginning of your URL, you should see a little lock icon followed by “https”. If you see “http” instead, you need to get your website secured. This is how Google identifies websites that securely transfer information to your visitors’ browsers. All websites transfer information through HTTP (Or HyperText Transfer Protocol). HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP. It encrypts information and websites who use it provide a safer browsing experience for users, which is why Google favors secured sites over HTTP sites.
Not only will your unsecured website be less favored by Google, but you’ll also lose quite a bit of your site’s traffic. Google Chrome, a popular web browser, notifies users when they’ve reached a website that isn’t secure. Most people (up to 85%) choose to navigate away from the website when they receive this message. This is huge because your bounce rate has a lot to do with your SEO. Choosing not to install an SSL certificate can damage your SEO in multiple ways.
To secure your website, you need an SSL certificate installed. Depending on your web host, you may not have to pay for this if you are able to install it yourself. Some hosting companies charge an annual fee for this certificate. If your web host doesn’t charge a fee for SSL installation and you can’t install it yourself, you can usually hire a freelance web designer or developer to do it for you for a one-time fee.
To check if your website is secure, try this SSL checker from HubSpot.
5 | Page speed
Page speed is how quickly your website loads for its users. The faster your website loads, the better. When a website has a slower load time, some people will click off of the site before it can load. If you have a slow website, you’re probably losing traffic. There are a few things that you can do to improve the page speed of your website.
- Compress your images before uploading them to your site. There are a few plugins that will do this for you automatically, but most of them have limitations if you’re using the free version. I use TinyPNG and CompressJPEG to get my images sized down before uploading them to my site. Both are free and easy to use.
- Reduce the number of fonts that you’ve loaded onto your site, if you can. If you haven’t installed any fonts manually, don’t worry about this. But if you’ve added more than three or so custom fonts to your site, think about removing one if your page speed is slower.
Check your site’s page speed using Google PageSpeed Insights. You’ll get real-time information for both the desktop and mobile version of your site.
6 | Website architecture
While the architecture of your site isn’t the most important thing for SEO, it’s beneficial to get this right at the beginning. Especially if you’re launching or relaunching your site.
Google will find it much easier to understand who you are and what topic you’re an authority on if your website is organized into specific subcategories. You should have clear “slugs”, or strings of words at the end of each URL. If you’re a food blogger who writes about different diets and creates recipes for them, your URL structure should look something like this:
The best way to get this clean URL structure in WordPress is to have 3-5 categories created and to change your permalink structure before launching your site.
Note: Don’t do this on a live site if you are unsure of what you’re doing because changing this setting will change the URL structure of all of your posts. Any current links to your posts will need to be redirected or the user will end up on a 404 page.
Changing permalink structure
To change your permalink structure, find the tab called “Settings” in the WordPress admin panel and then click on “Permalinks”.
Now, select “custom structure” and then click on the “category” and “post name” buttons.
Editing your slug/URL with Yoast
Each time you create a new post or page, be sure that your URL is clear and as simple as possible. Your URL will auto-populate with your post or page name in this case. You can pare down the wording if you have the Yoast plugin installed. Under the title, there will be an option to change which words show up in your URL. Click on that “Edit” button to make changes.
In many cases, you won’t want the whole title in the URL. Using the food blogger from the example before, the title of their coconut chickpea curry recipe might be “This Vegan Coconut Chickpea Curry Will Knock Your Socks Off” or something of that nature. That’s a good, attention-grabbing title, but she’d want the URL to resemble the example before (https://www.foodblogger.com/vegan/coconut-chickpea-curry) for SEO purposes.
Need a little more info about why you should switch over to an SEO-friendly permalink structure? Check out this article by Yoast.
7 | Content structure
Content structure is an easier-to-handle task and you can start with this if you’re overwhelmed. Your content structure involves the way you present the content of your site to its users. Is it broken up into easily-digestible sections? Is it easy to interact with?
On each page and post, be sure to use subheadings, images, videos, and other dividers or media to break up your text. The easier your post is to read, the more likely people will be to stick around and read it. Bullet points, lists, and well-cited research (in your post, have links to your other posts as well as to other websites, especially if you’re citing a statistic) all add readability and structure to your content. Would you rather read a huge wall of text or a post with headings and lists to highlight that main points?
How does content structure relate to SEO? The longer people stay on your website, the longer your average session duration will be. Google uses your average session duration as an indicator of whether or not your site has interesting, helpful content. You want this duration time to be as high as possible because this indicates to Google that people are getting value from your site.
To improve your content structure, dive into your most popular posts and pages and improve the readability of the article. Upload relevant images, create a new graphic for the post, or add a video for those who would rather watch than read. Send your posts to some friends and ask them for feedback.
8 | Meta tags
Meta tags help Google figure out what each page is for. As well as what role each major component of a page plays in terms of the relevant topic or keyword. There are a few different meta tags to know about.
- Title tag: The title of your article is what shows up as a clickable link in the search results.
- Image alt text: Google can’t “see” images, so the alt text of an image is a way to communicate what your image is about. Giving your image more context by writing a short description (with a keyword or two) to place in the alt text tag will help Google understand why the image is there and add to the overall “SEO juice” of your post. If you pin your image on Pinterest, the Pinterest description will auto-populate with whatever is in the alt text tag.
- Meta description: This is the text that shows up below the title of a webpage in search. Placing a keyword at the beginning of your meta description is a good idea. But the main way to optimize a meta description is to write a captivating description that encourages people to click on your link rather than the other links they come across. If you have the Yoast SEO plugin, you can edit your meta description for each page, post, and category archive on your website. Click “edit” on your page and scroll to the Yoast interface just below the content of the page.