I have been on a real search engine optimization kick lately, sparked in large part by a recent meeting with Alex Miranda of PRUnderground. After implementing a long list of changes to my site with Alex’s recommendations in mind, I started to rank for specific keyword phrases – connecticut search engine optimization, connecticut web design, and connecticut wordpress. While the overnight boost in rankings was thrilling, I also started to realize how much ongoing work is needed to maintain and improve rankings. I dug through hundreds of articles on search engine optimization, tried virtually every tool available, and developed a sustainable strategy for both myself and my clients. In the interest of helping others, I’ve decided to publish the resources I’ve found most helpful, as well as short reviews of the tools I’ve played around with. I would love to hear your feedback and thoughts, so please share if you can. Shoot me an email or feel free to post a comment.
Before we dive into search engine optimization, let me recommend a few guides for anyone new to SEO entirely or just getting back into it. I have found SEO to be one of the fastest changing industries I’ve ever been involved in. Strategies are constantly changing and techniques that once worked can quickly become obsolete. My goal in this post is to guide you through the current ‘best practices’ of SEO that should work for the foreseeable future.
Getting Started With Search Engine Optimization – Overall Guides
- What is SEO? - A 10 section overview of SEO covering ranking factors, linkbuilding, on-page optimization, penalization, social media strategy, and more.
- Beginner’s Guide to SEO - A great beginner’s guide to search engine optimization
- The SEO Fundamentals Pyramid - Covers the most important aspects of search engine optimization
- How Search Engines Work - Great guide explaining how search engines deliver results
- Blogger’s Guide to SEO - A guide dedicated to bloggers looking to optimize their posts
Initial SEO Strategy and Optimization
I’ve broken this post down into two sections because this is how I work with clients and how other SEO strategists I know work with clients. The search engine optimization is broken down into two parts – the initial research and optimizing of your site, then the ongoing search engine optimization. Some of these processes might overlap – for example you should continue to conduct keyword research on an ongoing basis, but the majority of your keyword research will likely be done during the initial investigation phase.
This may be the most important phase of search engine optimization, because a mistake here will sidetrack all subsequent efforts. Keyword research is determining which keywords you want to optimize your site for. You want to determine which keywords have the highest amount of traffic with the least amount of competition. By selecting the right keywords and properly optimizing your content, it is possible to rank quickly, in some cases within hours. Everyone I talked to conducts keyword research in different ways. I have tried numerous methods, and can’t honestly determine which works best. Here are the best resources and guides I’ve found to gain a thorough understanding of keyword research:
- The Beginner’s Keyword Research Guide, by SEOMOZ
- Professional Keyword Research Guide, by SEOMOZ
- Keyword Research Articles, by SEOMOZ
- How to do Basic Keyword Research
Tools for Keyword Research:
I use a variety of tools for keyword research. I start by writing out keywords that I think are relevant to my site or my clients’ business. I then run those keywords through Google Adwords Keyword Tool to analyze the level of competition and search volume. What I’m looking to find are keywords with high search volume but low competition. I then create a list of variations for each set of keywords. I run this list through both SerpIQ and SEOMoz, and I’ve also started playing around with Market Samurai.
Google Insights for Search - I use this to see the average volume and trend for search terms over time. This can help determine seasonal patterns that would help me adjust my marketing approach accordingly.
Google AdWords Keyword Tool - Sign up for a free Google Adwords account to use this tool. I start by brainstorming some keywords then enter them here to gauge the level of competition and monthly search volume. If I can find terms that are searched frequently enough with medium or lower competition, I will try to rank for them.
SerpIQ.com - This is a paid product which can help you determine variations on keywords and gauge their difficulty when it comes to ranking for them.
Market Samurai – This is paid software that offers a free trial and is one of the most highly recommended pieces of software by the SEO ‘gurus’. I am going through the training videos to get fully acclimated
SEOMoz Keyword Research Tool – The SEOMoz Pro software offers a free 30 day trial, then cost $99/month thereafter. I love the keyword research tool for analyzing keywords, difficulty, and competition. Currently this is my preferred tool for keyword research.
LongTail Pro - Paid keyword research tool offering a free 10 day trial. I haven’t had a chance to mess around with this much yet but I have heard positive feedback.
While compiling a list of keywords, I make sure to carefully analyze my competition for each set of keywords. I do this by looking at the top 10 results for those keywords, then looking at their backlink profiles. I have found that SEOMoz’s pro software doesn’t re-index regularly, and that MajesticSEO offers better backlink analysis. Nonetheless, while reviewing my competitors backlinks I also take note of where there links are coming from and use this when building links later on. For example, when trying to rank for “connecticut web design“, I noticed that the top competitors had numerous backlinks from free web designer directories. Although many of these directories did not have a very high ‘page authority’, the links still carry some relevance in Google’s eyes.
Armed with my researched keywords, my next step is to optimize each page for the chosen keywords. I use one set of keywords per page. Read through the on-page optimization guide below, then feel free to use tools to double check your work.
On-Page Optimization Guide - This is the best guide to on-page optimization I’ve come across.
Tools for On-Page Optimization:
- SEOMoz Pro - as part of the SEO Software package, SEOMoz offers a nice tool which will review your on-page optimization for selected keywords and generate a report card offering actionable steps to improve the page
- Pineberry On-Page Analysis Tool - Similar to the SEOMoz tool, Pineberry is a free on-page optimization tool which will offer suggestions to better optimize your pages/posts
The clients I work with have their sites built on WordPress, typically because I’ve built it for them. The clients that I work with who had a non-Wordpress based site I asked to rebuild in WordPress. Wordpress allows for numerous SEO plugins to greatly increase the rate at which you rank for terms. I am going to devote a separate post to optimizing your WordPress based site for SEO, but in the meantime please check out Alex Miranda’s presentation from this year’s Wordcamp in New York City: Why Google Loves WordPress.
Ongoing Optimization Strategies
Write Quality Content – BLOG!
If there’s one area of consensus amongst SEO professionals, it’s that the primary focus of your ongoing optimization strategy should be to produce quality content relevant to your keywords. Quality content can include blog posts, infographics, and social media press releases. The goal of writing quality content is to get more traffic and links to your site. Additionally, writing a timeless piece such as the SEOMoz guides to SEO mentioned earlier in this post are guaranteed to generate thousands of backlinks. While researching Connecticut Web Design competition, I found an amazing example of the power of a single infographic image for a company’s website and online reputation:
I came across this infographic which breaks down the social demographics between Facebook and Twitter in 2010. The company that produced it, Digital Surgeons, generated thousands of backlinks from other blogs mentioning and reproducing this infographic. If Digital Surgeons sees this post, I’m letting them know – nice freakin work.
That being said, it’s important to have a strategy for producing quality content on an ongoing basis. Many clients I work with are too busy to think about blogging, so I work with writers to help produce content then run it by the clients before publishing. Here are the best guides I’ve found for content strategy:
- The Definitive Guide to Awesome Content
- In-Depth Guide to Content Creation
- How to Build and Operate a Content Marketing Niche
- The SEO Guide to Creating Viral Linkbait and Infographics
In order to build your sites’ credibility, you need to have other sites linking to you. A variety of factors will also affect the ‘weight’ of these links when Google calculates your rank for search terms – primarily the authority of the page linking to you and the link anchor text. Like I mentioned earlier, my first step when creating a linkbuilding strategy is analyzing my competition. I use Majestic SEO to view the top 10 competitors for search terms and comb through their backlinks, determining where they are getting links from. Sometimes this will uncover easy targets – business directories typically appear. I submit my site or my clients’ site to these directories immediately. Once the low hanging fruit has been picked, I create a long term link building strategy based around the continual creation of relevant content. The following resources are the best guides I’ve found to get started creating a linkbuilding strategy. In particular, my current strategy revolves around what I’ve learned from “The 6 Month Link Building Game (see link below)”:
- The Noob Guide To Link Building
- Learn Link Building
- Link Building Strategies
- The 6 Month Link Building Game
- The Professional Guide to Link Building
- Really Easy Guide to Link Building
Social Media Press Releases
I first learned about the value of Social Media Press Releases from Alex Miranda in March of 2012. When used effectively, social media press releases are a great way to build backlinks and generate spikes in traffic to your website. Alex talks about how to write an effective Social Media Press Release in his presentation Why Google Loves WordPress. In addition, here are some guides to get started writing high quality social media press releases:
As you continue each month to blog, submit press releases, guest post, comment on other blogs, and promote your business through social media, you need objective metrics to measure your progress. Google Analytics is my preferred tool for monitoring website traffic and referral sources. Google Webmaster tools I use to measure click through rates, average ranking for terms, site impressions, and what terms people are using to find me. Oftentimes it’s surprising seeing which search terms direct people to your site. I still routinely get a decent amount of traffic to my website from an article I wrote on nutrition earlier this year. A mention of intermittent fasting results has me in the 47th position for that term with a 4% click through rate. Another article I wrote on my current training protocol generates ~100 site views per month. Here are the tools and metrics I use to measure progress month to month:
This is a mandatory tool for any website. Google Analytics gives you a comprehensive overview of your site’s traffic, new vs. returning visitors, bounce rate, page views, referral sources, and tons of other metrics. It’s not only important to know how to use Google Analytics, it’s equally important knowing what to do with the data you receive. Here is the best guide I’ve found explaining how to use Google Analytics:
- A Guide To Google Analytics and Useful Tools by Smashing Magazine - This may be the only resource you need. The article covers all the basic elements of Google Analytics with videos and text then dives deeper into desktop applications to use Google Analytics data, Analytics WordPress plugins, Drupal Plugins, mobile apps, and links to other Analytics resources and guide.
Another mandatory tool for any website owner. Webmaster tools allows you to submit your sitemap and robots.txt files to Google to help with indexing. You can view the number of times your site appeared in search results and for what search terms, the average rank for search terms, number of clicks, click through rate, view crawl errors, scan for malware, ask Google to ‘fetch’ one of your pages for indexing, and more features than I’m going to bother listing here. There are some excellent guides available online to get started using Webmaster tools and to use the data more effectively if you’ve been working with the application for awhile. Here are some of my personal favorites:
- 2012 Guide to Google Webmaster Tools - Basic overview of Webmaster Tools covering the initial setup and most important metrics.
- Official Google Webmaster Tools Tutorial – A series of videos covering the most important features found in Google Webmaster Tools
- Making Data from GWT Actionable – A more advanced presentation from Richard Baxter at SMX in Sydney, Australia.
SEO Rank Reporting
There are several different tools that can measure rank progress for keywords over time. Personally I prefer SEOMoz Pro. I have used SEOMoz Pro, Raven Tools, Market Samurai, and Advanced Web Ranking. I find SEOMoz the most user friendly. It may not be the most robust software, but for rank reporting it produces clean, easy to read reports that I can show to clients. SEO Rank reporter is a plugin I also use on WordPress sites to monitor ranking over time.
I hope you’ve found this starting guide useful while learning about SEO or polishing up on your skills. Keep in mind this is only the tip of the iceberg in this fast changing industry. Check back in a few weeks for my post on optimizing your WordPress-based site for search engine optimization. I’d also advise you to devote a couple hours per week reading up on SEO from the resources at the end of this post. If you need help optimizing your site and are interested in a free consultation about how I can help you expand your business, feel free to contact me.
- SEOMoz Blog
- Search Engine Land
- SEO Book
- Matt Cutts
- Search Engine Watch
- Search Engine Roundtable
- Link Building Blog