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.
- Search Engine Friendly Content – It is important that the search engines are able to find and understand your content. The easiest way to insure this is to make sure all of your critical is in HTML text format. Search engines will typically ignore other content types such as images, java applets, and flash components.
- Quality Content – Google rewards quality content. Make sure your content is unique and well written. Content length also helps – articles should be at least 600 words.
- Page Title – Page title (HTML title tags=what appears in the browser title bar) is an important factor. It is also what appears as the link in search engine results. The title tag should contain your keyword, preferably early in the title. The title display in search engines is 70 characters, so stay within that limit.
- Page URL – You should use “search engine friendly” (SEF) URLs that have your key words in them. Do not use cryptic URLs as generated by some content management systems (e.g., use www.yourdomain.com/seo-101 vs www.yourdomain.com/?p=47)
- Meta Description – The purpose of the Meta description tag is to describe what your page is about. The meta description is often what is shown in search results below the link title. Make sure your Meta description: is unique (don’t use the same description for multiple pages); is compelling (make the reader want to click on your link); and contains your keywords
- Headers – Use your H1 Header to specify your page title at the beginning of your content. Use H2 Headers to help format and clarify your content. Make sure your H1 and at least 1 of your H2 header tags has your keywords.
- Images – Every article should have an image associated with it. Make sure that the image is relevant to the article. Use your keyword in the images alt tags.
- Keywords – Your article needs to contain your keywords…in just the right amount! Too many keywords on your page could get your page penalized. Too few and your page may not be seen as relevant. I recommend a keyword density of between 1% and 2% meaning that for a 600 word article, your keyword should appear between 6 and 12 times.
- Site Speed – Google is using site speed as a ranking factor. Their rationale is that a faster site provides a better experience for a web user. They also consider faster sites to be more representative of a professional web site (vs. a spam website). You can see how Google views your sites web speed in Google’s webmaster tools or by visiting their PageSpeed Insights
- External Links – There is a lively debate in SEO circles on whether you should provide external links (links to other websites) in your content. I believe that you should provide external links for several reasons: 1) they may provide value to your reader, 2) they send a signal to the search engines of what your page is about 3) they reward other websites for good/useful content (much like you would like to have others link to you)
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: