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Search engine optimization often seems like magic to newcomers.
The elements of a strong SEO strategy often aren’t obvious to an untrained eye. However, once you understand how the basics work, you can:
Despite rumors to the contrary, SEO isn’t dead. Furthermore, even the best content needs some help getting found.
That’s where these 34 SEO tips will come in handy. Whether you’re a beginner just getting started, or an expert looking for a quick refresher, this post provides a basic understanding of the most essential elements necessary for SEO success. Plus, we’ve also included an on-page SEO checklist to help you nail every blog post you write.
Table of Contents:
You may have heard rumblings that SEO is an outdated practice. You might have even heard that basic search engine optimization is completely unnecessary in 2016.
However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, SEO is as important as ever. Furthermore, if you’re not paying attention, you might not be getting all the traffic you could be. While search engine algorithms and SEO best practices are constantly evolving, it’s still important to know the basics and not rely on luck to get your content to rank.
That’s where the following tips come in hand.
Keywords are essential to any sound SEO campaign. Search engines need them to understand what your post is about. Users need them to help find answers to their questions. Your goal is to create great resources that answers common search queries.
The Google Adwords Keyword Planner is every marketer’s trusted warhorse for keyword research. It’s useful for uncovering keyword search volumes and generating additional keyword ideas. Check out this video below to see how it works:
We love this free keyword tool from SERPs.com. It’s fast, effective, and incredibly easy to use.
Here’s how it works:
It’s as simple as that.
If you have a paid Moz subscription, then you know how useful their Keyword Difficulty tool can be. However, what if you can’t afford a premium SEO software suite?
While they do offer paid plans, you can easily use their Keyword Difficulty tool with a free subscription:
2. Find Keyword Difficulty in the left-hand navigation.
3. Enter keywords you’d like to check (up to 10 at a time)
We’ve covered how Google’s Keyword Planner is useful for gauging keyword search volumes.
However, you can also use it to generate keyword ideas based on your competition.
1. Start with a fresh search for keywords based on a website:
2. Enter a competitor’s domain or landing page URL to use as a basis for keyword ideas:
3. You have now generated tons of keyword ideas based on what your competitor could potentially target. Consider going after these keywords before they do, or check to see if they’re already ranking on these terms.
SEMRush is another useful tool for uncovering competitor’s keywords.
1. Log into your account and click on Organic Research:
2. Enter a domain and see which keywords it’s ranking for:
Using this process, you might be able to find keywords you wouldn’t have thought to target.
Sometimes, people use different terms to search for the same thing.
Google and other search engines know this. In order to deliver the best user experience, their technology needs to serve up results that match not only keywords, but the intent behind those keywords.
Latent semantic indexing (LSI) refers to the algorithmic technology that helps search engines understand the relationships between different but similar keywords. LSI keywords, then, are search terms that may mean the same thing, or are closely related to one another.
The LSI Keyword Generator makes it easy to find these keywords fast. Enter a keyword, and it’ll return a list of related terms to weave into your content.
Feeling lost? That’s okay. We’ve written an entire post on LSI keyword research that should help. Plus, we’ll talk more about how to implement these keywords in a few moments.
Meta tags are snippets of text that exist in your website or blog’s code. According to Search Engine Watch:
HTML meta tags are officially page data tags that lie between the open and closing head tags in the HTML code of a document. The text in these tags is not displayed, but parsable and tells the browsers (or other web services) specific information about the page. Simply, it “explains” the page so a browser can understand it.
The title tag tells users and search engines what your web page is about. Meanwhile, the meta description tag provides readers with more information about your page. Both are displayed in search engine result pages (SERPs).
Here is what they look like in the search results:
There are three essential elements (plus one that’s optional) to writing a quality title tag:
Meta tags should give readers a reason to click your search result. Think of them as ad copy for your blog post.
Here are a few important technical items to remember when writing meta descriptions:
BONUS TIP: Want to see what your title tag and meta description will look like before publishing? Use a free online SERP preview tool. Here are three different options:
You’ve probably heard the cliche “content is king.”
We’ve heard this line repeated more times than we’d like to count. However, the sentiment behind this phrase rings true. You can’t have an SEO strategy without quality content. Follow these tips to write copy that’s well-optimized for search engines without sounding spammy or mechanical.
It’s important to make sure your primary keyword is included in several different places in your post. This is one of the most basic elements of on-page SEO.
Longtail keywords are longer variations of your primary keyword.
For example, if your primary keyword was “content marketing,” some long tail variations might include:
These are just a few hypothetical examples.
Latent Semantic Indexing refers to the way search engines look for relevant themes on web pages, rather than just keyword densities. According to long-time SEO expert Bruce Clay:
In latent semantic indexing, Google sorts sites on the frequency of a variety of terms and key phrases linked together instead of on the frequency of a single term. Though your text content should include your main keyword or phrase, the content should never focus solely on that keyword or phrase. There is a possibility that Google may see the page as being over-optimized and penalties or a dip in rankings may result.
In other words, use synonyms and phrasing variations of your primary keyword. Don’t just repeat your primary keyword ad nauseam. This will look redundant and spammy both to readers and search engines alike.
Moz CEO Rand Fishkin does a great job of explaining how to use semantically connected keywords:
Always write content with your audience in mind. If something sounds overly mechanical and over-optimized for search engines, readers will notice.
This means you need to avoid keyword stuffing.
Don’t stick keywords everywhere possible in your post. Instead, spread them out naturally throughout your post. Odds are, you’ll include long tail keywords naturally as you write anyway.
Here’s an example of a well-written sentence including the keyword “burrito recipe”:
“Learn how to make this excellent burrito recipe at home.”
Here’s an example of what keyword stuffing might look like in this instance:
“This best burrito recipe will help you make better burritos using black beans than any other recipe.”
One of these sentences reads clearly and includes the primary keyword in a useful way. The other sounds unnatural and over-optimized.
Comprehensive blog posts should be as long as needed to thoroughly cover a topic.
1. Search engines want their users to have a great experience.
That means that you’ll need to help them find the right information fast.
For this reason, search engines prefer to rank content that thoroughly answers a user’s question about a topic. Ideally, they want your content to tell them everything they need to know without having to check another search result listing (which slows down the user and creates a weaker user experience).
2. It takes a fair amount of words to really cover most topics thoroughly (somewhere in the 1,500 t0 3,000 word range, or more).
This doesn’t mean you need to pad your content with filler to hit a high word count. That won’t help you create useful content or rank highly in search engines. Do the following instead:
SEO experts have been telling people to create unique content for years. However, they don’t always follow up with what “unique content” really means.
When it comes to content marketing and SEO, unique content:
Here are some ways to ensure your content is unique:
Using correct heading tags makes your posts easier to read. It also makes it easier for search engines to accurately interpret and index your content.
You can find your heading controls in WordPress here:
Search engines can’t “look” at your images to determine their content. Instead, they use a handful of other data points to understand what your images are.
File names are important element that search engines need to accurately interpret image content. Follow these guidelines:
Here’s what a well-formatted image file name might look like:
You get the point. This is something that’s often overlooked, but it can help you rank in image searches. It can also help support the overall SEO performance of your blog posts.
You might notice that WordPress fills in image titles by default.
However, there is some debate around how useful they are for SEO. After all, if you’ve given your image a descriptive file name and alt text, users and search engines alike should have all the information they need to understand your image.
Including title tags isn’t likely to hurt your SEO. It won’t help much either, and it could cause your images to appear over-optimized (by trying to stuff too many keywords in your image data).
Alt text essentially provides alternative information to describe an image’s content.
You can easily edit image alt tags in WordPress here:
Alt text is important for two reasons:
Bloggers often upload large images into WordPress, and then adjust the display size within the CMS.
However, this slows down page load speed because it forces WordPress to resize the image as it’s trying to load the page. Since page load speed is an important SEO factor, that can cause a problem.
The solution is to upload images with the exact dimensions you want them to appear with. That way, your CMS won’t have to work as hard to load your images.
For example, the column width of the CoSchedule blog is 770 pixels. Therefore, we upload our images at 770 pixels wide (or less).
If you want to find the exact column width of your own blog, try using this Page Ruler extension for Chrome. It makes it easy to measure pixels:
Search engines use links to determine relationships between different pages and web sites. That’s why it’s important to earn backlinks from high-quality sites to improve your SEO. It’s also important to make sure relevant pages and posts on your own site are linked as well.
However, going overboard with optimizing internal links can get you in trouble with search engines. Follow these two tips to make sure you don’t overdo it with internal linking.
This tip requires some explanation about what follow and no follow links are.
Google doesn’t want to see you creating garbage content just to get links. Readers don’t either.
To combat this, Google issued a warning to bloggers to make author box links no-follow. Even if your guest posts are legitimate and high-quality, making bio box links no-follow avoids creating the appearance of spamming (because search bots sometimes have difficulty telling the difference between what’s legitimate and what’s not).
Anchor text refers to the highlighted words used to link to another page.
Search engines use anchor text to help them understand relationships between linked pages. For example, if your anchor text is “burrito recipes,” search engines can infer that the page you’re linking to is probably related to making burritos. It can also understand that making burritos is relevant to the page where the linked text exists.
It’s important to make sure your anchor text is not over-optimized. This is especially when linking internally to your own posts.
However, you need to be careful not to use anchor text that is an exact match for the keyword the linked page is optimized for. For example, let’s say you have one page targeting the keyword “burrito recipes” and another page targeting “burrito catering services” (please bear with me and my burrito obsession here).
If you were to place a link (or worse, multiple links) from your burrito recipes page to your catering page, using the exact-match anchor text “burrito catering services,” this would be considered SPAM.
There’s a good reason search engines consider over-optimized anchors to be spammy, too. The tactic has been over-abused over the years because it’s an overly easy way to tell search engines, “Hey, I’m trying really hard to get this page to rank for this keyword.”
Instead, follow these guidelines when selecting anchor text:
1. Use a sentence fragment incorporating text that is relevant to the page being linked to, but is not an exact keyword match.
2. It’s okay to use brand names or proper nouns as text anchors.
Keep these two points in mind, and you’ll have smooth sailing ahead for your internal linking efforts.
Internal links are extremely powerful for SEO.
They help search engines understand which pages and posts on your site are related to each other. This helps Google and others better understand the meaning and context of your content, potentially leading to higher rankings.
There are two key items to keep in mind here:
Here’s an example of what we mean. In the screenshot below, we’ve selected the anchor text “create awesome evergreen content.”
And here’s the linked page. Notice that the anchor text and the destination page are tightly topically related:
This achieves two goals:
Make strong internal linking practices a habit, and soon enough, you’ll have a site that’s easier for both search engines and readers to navigate.
Backlinks from other websites are powerful for influencing search engine rankings. They tell search engines, “Hey, lots of people are directing traffic to this website. That must mean it’s an important topical authority.”
Unlinked mentions are references to your brand or blog on other sites that don’t include links.
These can easily be discovered in three ways:
The first option is the easiest. However, if you don’t have budget, the second and third options are free. This guide on uncovering unlinked mentions is a great place to start learning how to put them into practice.
Once you’ve discovered an unlinked mention, the next step is to find an appropriate contact person. This could be the author of a blog post, the owner of a site, or a technical help contact. Send them a quick message thanking them for the mention, and ask if they can add a link.
You’ll likely find your success rate is fairly high. If someone is already talking about you, they’ll probably be willing to add a link. Not only does this help your SEO, but it also makes it easier for their readers to find you.
The first goal of PR is often to raise brand awareness.
However, getting authoritative news sources to write about you can be a great way to build quality links, too.
The trick is to offer editors an interesting angle that makes them want to write about you. In most cases, that means they’ll link back to your site too.
If you’ve never written a press release, start with this guide from The Guardian.
Social media links don’t significantly impact SEO on their own.
However, social promotion is important for getting your content in front of people. Some of those people might even link back to your content as a source for their own content.
Search engines are smart. They’re able to understand when people are trying to game the system with unnatural links.
Once upon a time, SEOs and web masters would find ways to create high numbers of back links. Some still do, although their effectiveness has been almost entirely wiped out.
Some of these black hat tactics included:
In the darkest corners of the web, some people still try to pull these kinds of scams. However, their effectiveness has been almost entirely wiped out, thanks to search engine algorithm updates that prevent cheaters from winning.
If you get caught creating manipulative back links, you can expect to hit with a manual penalty notice from Google.
Next, you’ll notice your search engine rankings dropping. You might even get removed from search engine indexes altogether.
Before you panic, remember this is unlikely to happen if you follow these best practices:
This tip is a borderline cliche.
Of course everyone knows they should “create great content.” Nobody tries to create content that sucks and telling people to just “do better work” isn’t helpful. It’s lazy and vague advice that frankly insults people’s intelligence.
However, there are some concrete ways you can create content that’s more likely to draw links. Try some of these:
WordPress has a number of unique SEO considerations. Follow these tips to make sure your WordPress blog plays nice with search engines.
If there’s only one WordPress plugin you use (aside from CoSchedule), make it Yoast. It’s packed full of powerful functionality for improving your SEO.
Here are some things it can do:
Download Yoast here. Then, watch the video below to learn how to use it in under 30 minutes:
Mobile web traffic is gaining ground over desktop usage. That’s why Google gives preference to mobile-optimized sites when calculating mobile search results.
That means it’s more important than ever to make sure your blog looks great on mobile devices.
The easiest way to do this is to use a mobile-optimized WordPress theme. A quick Google search for mobile optimized WordPress themes should generate tons of different options to choose from.
Search engines use keywords in URLs to help them determine what your pages are about.
However, WordPress uses weird, non-optimal URLs by default which usually look something like this:
What you want are URLs that look more like this:
That keyword is going to make 100% more sense to search engines than a question mark followed by a random string of numbers.
Watch this video to learn how to implement SEO-friendly permalinks:
Broken links won’t necessarily lead to problems for your SEO.
However, they do create a poor user experience (even if you have a really funny 404 page). That can hurt your overall SEO efforts indirectly by causing visitors to leave. They can also create missed opportunities to link valuable pages, weakening your overall search performance.
Fortunately, broken links are easy to fix. The Broken Link Checker plugin makes it easy to identify and resolve 404 errors.
It’s important to know whether your SEO initiatives are making a difference. By tracking the right metrics, the right way, you can make sure you know if you’re on the right track. You can also more easily identify areas for opportunity.
Google Analytics is one of the best tools for measuring the success of your SEO. If you’re just getting started, consider importing the New Google Analytics User Starter Bundle from Google. It’s packed full of dashboards that are set up to monitor SEO performance (and a lot more) with minimal effort.
Follow these steps to get started:
2. Click Import.
In two easy steps, you now have all the dashboards you need to measure your success.
When it comes to SEO, marketers tend to focus on rankings.
However, rankings are not a strong key performance indicator (KPI) on their own. This is partly because personalized search makes it difficult to accurately track rankings across all users. It’s also because rankings are a means to an end (driving traffic to your blog), rather than an end by themselves.
Instead, focus on traffic, conversion rates, and revenue (or leads generated, depending on which is more applicable to your situation). These metrics will tell you much more about your SEO success than rankings alone.
SEO software subscriptions cost money. However, they’re worth it if you can afford them.
These services allow you to do the following (and more):
Here are some popular options to consider:
SEO is a deep discipline. It covers a broad range of tactics, strategies, and best practices.
For this reason, it’s impossible to cover all there is to know in one post. In fact, if you’re just starting out, it may take a while to digest everything this post alone. While we’ve touched on the most basic elements most content marketers need to know, here are some other great resources to check out when you’re ready.
Resources For Further Learning
This comprehensive guide is broken up into ten chapters. It covers nearly everything you’d ever need to know. Best of all, it’s easy to follow and understand.
This book is intimidatingly thick, but fortunately, it’s well worth your time. As the most authoritative tome on SEO available in print, it walks readers through everything from the basics, up to more advanced techniques. If you’re ready to really take your SEO knowledge to the next level, start here.
This list from Kissmetrics includes articles breaking down nearly every aspect of SEO. If there’s something specific you want to know more about, you can probably find it here.
One of the best things about the content marketing and SEO communities is how open they are to sharing knowledge and welcoming newcomers. Inbound.org is an awesome place to ask questions and find answers to anything you’d like to know.
Do you have a favorite tip you want to share? Let us know in the comments below.
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