This is Part 2 of our SEO 101 article series. In SEO 101: Part 1, we explore fundamental SEO principles, learn how search engines work, and understand how web pages are ranked in search results. In this article, we cover keyword research, on-site SEO and off site ranking factors.
Keyword research is an important skill to master if you are interested in realizing significant traffic from search engines. The important aspects of keyword research can be broken down into four components:
- Volume – Identifying keywords that have sufficient enough search volume to make them worth your while
- Competition – Evaluating the competition for the keyword to understand if you have the ability to rank
- Intent – You should seek keywords that have the right intent associated with them. If you are an e-commerce site, you are looking for phrases that may contain purchase intent keywords such as “buy”, “review”, “best” etc.
- Content – The best keywords to optimize for are the ones that you are ready, willing and able to commit to developing significant content for. Your keywords/content should be chosen for their longevity.
While Keyword Research is an expansive topic, I will attempt to present you with a solid foundation to get you started. For Keyword Research, I rely on three tools to help me:
Market Samurai – My recommended tool for niche and keyword research.
SEO Moz – Complete set of SEO tools. Includes keyword and competitor analysis, SERP tracking and much more.
Google Keywords – Free keyword traffic tool from Google.
The first step is to identify a potential list of keywords. Google’s keyword tool is ideal for this. Simply type in a search phrase and Google will present you with related search phrases and their search volume. The Google tool will also attempt to group your search phrases into “Ad group ideas” which may help you narrow down your search.
What the Google tool does not do well is evaluate the competition. For competition analysis, I use Market Samurai. With Market Samurai, you can create a list of potential keywords (actually it uses your Google account to come up with the list). More importantly, Market Samurai can present you with other metrics that allow you to see how competitive the search phrase is.
Market Samurai compiles other key metrics to help in your evaluation, including:
- Total Searches
- SEO Traffic
- Adwords Traffic
- Adwords CTR (Click Through Rate)
- Adwords CPC (Cost Per Click)
- SEO Competition
- Title Competition (SEOTC)
- URL Competition
Market Samurai allows you to filter or sort on these metrics or export to Excel. I use a combination of these metrics to help identify the best keywords. I focus on a combination of search volume, Title Competition (SEOTC) and Adwords CPC.
Market Samurai also includes a comprehensive SEO Competition tool.
The top ten web pages for your keyword are displayed. The tool also identifies 15 different metrics that can help you assess the competition. Each of the top web pages is given a color code for each of the metrics to let you easily determine how strong the competition is.
On Site SEO
After you have determined what keyword/phrase you are attempting to rank for, the next set of steps has to do with what is called “on site SEO.” The most important On Site SEO factors include:
- Crawlable Link Structures – If Google and the other search engines can’t find your page, then they can’t index it…and it will never come up in search results. Some sites make the mistake of creating orphan pages that have no links pointing to them. Some common problems that lead to uncrawlable pages include:
- Content accessible only from forms – If your content can only be found by submitting a form, or using a search box, then Google may not find it
- Wall of Links – Search engines may not crawl all of the links on a page. If you have a page that has 100s of links, some of the links may not get crawled and indexed.
Off Site SEO
Search engines use multiple off site factors to determine how important and authoritative your website and web pages are. The main Off Site factors that search engines look for include:
- Quality Links – Links, in general, are signals to the search engine that your web page is important. Links from higher authority sites (such as .edu, .gov and high pagerank sites) will carry more weight (essentially because they are harder to get)
- Link Anchor Text – The text that links use when they point to you is important. Ideally this anchor text is using some variation of the keywords that you are hoping to rank for. Be careful, though, since recently Google is penalizing pages that have limited diversity in the anchor text because Google believes this to be an indicator of a link scheme/paid links.
- Number of Links – The more links to your page, the better. This is a lesser factor than the quality of links, but still important. It is also important to have a diversity of links from different sites and different types of links.
- Social Media – Social media has become a much more important ranking factor over the last year. The search engines look at both the quality and quantity of your social network. From a quality perspective, if you have references from social accounts with good reputations this will help your ranking. From a quantity perspective, if you have a lot of social shares from Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ your rankings will improve.
- Trust/History – This is one of the least understood of the ranking factors. Google and the other search engines seem to reward sites that they view as trusted, authority sites, but there is little information on how those determinations are made. The age and history of a domain are a factor. The types of links to a site are also important.
This SEO 101 article just scratches the surface of search engine optimization. To learn more, consider these resources: