13 Steps to SEO Success

SEO is going through big changes, making it increasingly difficult to know what factors you should and shouldn’t be paying attention to. Every Tom, Dick and Harry has a different opinion on the matter, but hopefully this guide will go some way to clearing things up.
  • Saying ‘yoga class in London’ 10 times in the space of 10 sentences will undoubtedly read very badly, and comes across as a blatant attempt to fool Google.
  • Because of Google’s famous ‘Panda’ update, the design of a website is now more important than it has ever been.
  • Before you can begin performing SEO, you will need to perform keyword research.
  • If the first link to your website is from a spammy directory then you are not off to a very good start

We have plenty of SEO guides on the site in our SEO glossary section – but we thought we could try and simplify the art of SEO even more with 13 steps to success.

SEO is going through big changes, making it increasingly difficult to know what factors you should and shouldn’t be paying attention to. Hopefully this post will go some way to clearing that all up. If you think so, we’d love it if you could show your appreciation by sharing it with as many people as possible!

1. White hat & black hat SEO

Before you begin any SEO or inbound marketing campaign, you first need to understand SEO best-practice. White hat and black hat SEO are two terms you will want to be very familiar with. They basically mean good and bad, or right and wrong. Google makes the rules, and if you play by them, and if Matt Cutts (Head of Google Webspam) is your hero, then you can call yourself white hat. If however, you try and ‘fool’ Google into ranking you higher in the results pages by using naughty spam tactics, you are black hat.

Using black hat tactics can – and often does – work. But don’t plan a long-term SEO strategy around them. Websites ranking as a result of these tactics will eventually be penalized by Google. Every day the Google algorithm becomes more sophisticated at spotting offending black hat cheats and punishing them accordingly. This can either mean a drop in rankings or even total removal from the Google index.

2. Web spam

Spam (also known as web spam, spamdexing, and search engine spam) is the name given to the process of deliberately manipulating on-site and off-site website factors in order to rank higher in the search engines. Spam is the weapon of black hat SEO practitioners, and can manifest itself in many ways: keyword stuffing, invisible text, meta-tag stuffing when it comes to ‘on-site’ factors, and the use of link farms, link networks and link directories when it comes to ‘off-site’ factors.

How do you avoid spam? It is all about appearing natural. Saying ‘yoga class in London’ 10 times in the space of 10 sentences will undoubtedly read very badly, and comes across as a blatant attempt to fool Google, for which the site will be punished. And don’t buy backlinks. Buying 10,000 backlinks for £5 is only going to do one thing to your site: damage it. Do build links – but make sure you understand how to do it first.

3. Link metrics

Familiarising yourself with link metrics is time very well spent when trying to understand SEO, because links still hold a huge amount of importance as a ranking factor. PageRank is probably the most well-known factor, and is a score given out of ten to every page on the Internet. Generally speaking, pages with high ‘PR’ are more likely to rank higher in the search engines than those with a lower PR. The PR is determined by the quality of the pages that link to that page.

PageRank is rather an old measure nowadays. You should now also consider Page Authority (PA) and Domain Authority (DA). These metrics measure, crucially, not only the weight (or authority) of a link giving page, but also of the whole domain. A high PA but low DA should get alarm bells ringing, as it often indicates that the site could be spammy. Sign up to OpenSiteExplorer to gain access to these metrics and more, including Domain Trust.

4. Website design

Because of Google’s famous ‘Panda’ update, the design of a website is now more important than it has ever been when determining where a website should be ranking in relation to other sites aiming to rank for the same keywords. Aim for an un-cluttered, clear design, and do not fill the site with advertising banners. Do not fear empty space, ensure there is a balance of images and text, and make sure that everything is unique. Make life easy for the visitor.

Good website design will hold visitors on the website for longer. This in turn reduces the ‘bounce rate’, which is another factor taken into account when ranking a site. A bounce is when a user leaves a site quickly because it has failed to meet their needs, or is poorly designed. This says to Google that the website should not be ranking for the keyword that sent that visitor, and you may suffer a rank drop as a result.

5. Website content

If we had to pinpoint the single most important SEO ranking factor for any website, it would be content. Simply put, content is the ‘stuff’ on the website. Text, images, videos – the lot. The more unique high quality content on your site that gets added on a regular basis, the more that a search engine crawler will be convinced that your website deserves to rank. You are believed to be an authority on the subject, offering a genuine service to people landing on your site through the search engines.

Good content also hold visitors on the site for longer, which increases their chance of ‘converting’. Good content also gets other websites linking to you, and can be used to market yourself through social media channels. It is time consuming, but ultimately it is the direction in which search engines are moving, so act now. Little secret for you: the SEO Glossary on the Go Up website is the main reason we rank so well for so many SEO-related keywords.

6. Keyword research

Before you can begin performing SEO, you will need to perform keyword research to find the keywords that you want to rank for. Use Google’s Keyword Planner to do this. From there you can determine the approximate monthly search volumes of any keyword, so you can choose which ones will be worth targeting and which ones to steer clear of. Pick a core 4 or 5 primary keywords, and go from there.

The holy grail of a keyword is one that has a sizeable search volume, has either ‘medium’ or ‘low’ competition and is searched with transactional intent as opposed to informational intent. For example, ‘emergency plumber south london’ will have a far lower search volume than ‘plumbing’, but the intent of the searcher is clearly to buy, now. Therefore, it is far more worth your time trying to rank for it. Ranking for ‘plumbing’ is of course not a bad thing, but should be considered a longer term goal for someone starting out in SEO.

7. Internal linking

You now know that getting links from other websites (external linking) to your own is beneficial for ranking, but the way you link to pages within your own site (internal linking) is also important. Control the flow of links throughout your site, so that they are spread evenly throughout. This will give the best chance for all of your pages to rank (rather than say, just the homepage), which in turn helps in the targeting of long tail keywords and elevates your overall Domain Authority (DA).

Make sure that you are not passing link ‘juice’ to pages that would serve no purpose in the rankings, such as the ‘Privacy Policy’ page if you have one, for example. This would be a waste. You can do this with the use of nofollow tags or robots.txt. Link to pages on your website from other pages with the use of anchor text (clues as to the content of the link destination), but be careful not to overdo it, so as to not appear spammy and contrived.

8. Meta data

These are some of the first on-page indicators looked at by search engine crawlers. The title tag and meta description are the main ones, and though less important than they once were, they still need to be used to mention your primary target keywords. See the significance of this in the example below. The search term is ‘SEO London’, and Google has highlighted these words in bold on the results page, and returned a 1st page ranking:

go up meta data

Other meta data you should optimize on your website are the alt attribute (the text that Google reads to learn the content of a particular image) and the noScript (like the alt attribute, but for videos and flash on the site).

9. Duplicate content

Duplicate content really is a dirty phrase in the world of SEO. Websites that are guilty of it can be viciously and mercilessly penalized in the search engines. Think of it as online plagiarism. A website is only as good as its content, and for content to be good, it has to be unique. It cannot be unique if there are multiple copies of it across the web, or even multiple copies of it on different pages of your own website.

Make sure that you are not suffering from this easily avoidable detriment to your website’s rankability. Tools available to you are the 301 re-direct, the canonical tag, the NoIndex and more. You may need someone with experience in development or SEO to help you with these, but it is worth making sure that you are ‘clean’. Particularly, avoid duplicate URLs. e.g. www.yoursite.com and yoursite.com. To a search engine, that is 2 separate websites and therefore a lot of duplicate content.

10. Submit to online directories

When you are at the stage that you are happy with the website and its content, and you believe the site is well optimized for your target keywords, it is time to let it out into the public domain! A good way to get the ball rolling on this is to submit your website to some online directories. They are a good way to create multiple brand impressions online, and can also send you plenty of direct traffic from the regular users. Furthermore, it allows Google and chums to compile vital information about your business

Now, we cannot stress how careful you have to be when selecting the directories upon which to list your site. Check for obvious signs of spam. If the first link to your website is from a spammy directory then you are not off to a very good start in the eyes of the search engine crawlers, and you don’t want to have to waste time in the future frantically trying to remove, or ‘disavow’ any links that you have damaging the reputation of your domain.

11. Link building

Link building should be central to your SEO plans. In Google’s eyes, a link to a website is a ‘vote’ or ‘endorsement’ from the linking website to the linked destination. Those links (or votes) carry more weight if they come from a website that is an authority on your topic. For example, one link from NASA to a space rocket manufacturer’s website will have more effect on rankings than if that website had 500 links from pet owner’s blogs.

We mentioned the danger of spam earlier, so be careful about who is linking to your website. Run regular backlink checks with one of the many free tools to make sure that no bitter competitors are trying to ruin your good rankings by linking you to spammy, irrelevant areas of the web. It sounds nasty, but it is a very real danger in the world of SEO. Use Google Webmaster Tools to ‘disavow’ offending links.

12. Social media marketing

With the way that online habits have been changing over the last few years, it makes sense to suggest that social media marketing effects the way Google perceives your website when it comes to ranking it. Some reports suggest that social media metrics could make up 60% of the Google ranking algorithm by 2015, so it worth acting on that now.

Ensure your social media platforms are all linked to your website, and that you keep them all active. Give users on your website the option to Like, Share, Tweet, +1, and Pin pieces of content on your website with their own social media followings. Not only will your content being shared generate more direct traffic to your website but the metrics indicate to Google that there has been a ‘human’ endorsement of the content on your website, giving them little doubt that the site is of good quality and should therefore be rewarded with favourable search engine rankings.

13. Analyse and improve

There is no point spending a lot of time on performing SEO on your website unless you are able to keep track of what is and isn’t working for you. Did your rankings shoot up the day after you got a new backlink? If so, try and seek more backlinks like that one. Did your blog post get Tweeted by key players in your industry, leading to lots of traffic to your site and increased rankings? Do it again!

Make sure that you have Google Analytics installed on your website so that you track visitor behavior on a weekly, daily, even hourly basis. What keywords send the most traffic to your site? Which traffic-sending keywords end up with a high bounce rate once they visitor is on your site? Could it be harming your rankings for other keywords? Analytics is key to any marketing campaign, and SEO is no different. Ensure you are working efficiently and that your website is performing as well as it possibly can for you.