A Guide To SEO

Welcome to my "Beginner's Guide To SEO"! This is an in-depth, comprehensive guide for learning about the fundamentals of SEO and search engine marketing. I wrote this guide for anyone who wants to get into search engine optimization and digital marketing. 

Jump To A Section:

What Is SEO
How Search Engines Work
Why SEO Is Important
Keywords For SEO
URLs For SEO
On-Page Ranking Factors
Off-Page Ranking Factors
Negative Ranking Factors
Conduct An SEO Audit
Building An SEO Toolkit
Conclusion
Required Reading
Further Reading

 

What Is SEO

SEO or Search Engine Optimization is the process of improving the ranking position of a website for specific keywords. SEO has changed a lot since the early days of the internet; the algorithms used by search engines like Google and Bing to rank websites in search results are constantly being updated and as a result, SEO is an evolving discipline. In order to maintain consistent rankings for keywords related your website, it's important to understand the fundamentals behind of search engine optimization and how websites are ranked. 

How Search Engines Work

Matt Cutts, former head honcho of Google Search, explains how the Google works. 

Search engines are ubiquitous in today's hyper connected world but how they work is still a mystery to the majority of the people who use them. At their core, search engines work by crawling websites using a spider (or bot) and indexing them in their database. When a user enters a query, the search engine will display web pages and content that the index has ranked as the most relevant according to the keywords in user's search query.

Search engines are constantly updating and tweaking their algorithms and how they rank websites; their only purpose is provide users with relevant content. When you are optimizing your website for search engines, you're number one goal should be to provide users with a relevant content and a pleasant experience. 

If you haven't already, visit Google's official page on "How Search Works" where they sum up perfectly how their search engine works.

Different Types Of Search Queries For SEO Infographic

Queries
A search engine query is when a user enters a specific keyword or phrase into a search engine. By their definition, a query happens when someone is looking for information. Broadly speaking, there are three types of search queries. 

Informational Queries - When a user is looking know more about a particular topic.

Navigation Queries - When a user is looking for information relating to geographic location such as looking for directions.

Transactional Queries - When a user is looking to do a specific action such a buying a product.

Crawling
A primary function of search engines is to use an automated program called a "spider" -- also known as a 'bot' or 'crawler' -- that travels through the internet and gathers information about a website or web page. 

Crawlers move through the website from page-to-page; meaning they will scrape (or read) the information on one page and then move to another page based on the information it finds on the first page. 

Website navigation and hierarchy is important for bots but also for users too! Crawling isn't just the automated process of scraping website data, search engine bots are looking to see if a website is easy for users to navigate.

Indexing
After the "spider" has finished crawling the website, the next step is to index the results in the search engine's database. The crawler will analyze the results it finds and then set sort the information based on the site content. The information is then stored in a huge database call an index. The index contains all the information that a search engine will use when someone makes a search query.

Ranking
Ranking is the final step and arguably the most important for digital marketers and SEOs. Now that the bot has crawled a website and stored the information in its index, it will rank the page according to a number of different search signals. 

Search signals are the factors that a search engine take into account when they are ranking a website. There are over two hundred known search signals that are used when a search engine is determine the position of a website for any given search query. Some of these factors or signals include:

  • Domain and Trust Authority,
  • External link (backlink) authority,
  • Internal link ratio,
  • Meta data,
  • Social graph,
  • Spammy links,
  • Thin or Duplicate content,
  • And many more.

It's important to follow each search engines best practices. As a general rule, search engines will reward websites who follow their guidelines with higher rankings in search results and will penalize websites that don't. Ensuring that your website complies with their standards will help your site rank better and keep it from being penalized. 

Why SEO Is Important

It's no secret that search engines are some of the biggest traffic drivers for a website. For individuals or business selling their products or services online, SEO is crucial to getting found by potential customers and staying competitive. 

The process of ranking a website high in search-engine-results-pages (SERPs) and optimizing a website for search engines is a constantly changing discipline with new guidelines and best practices being introduced regularly. As the way we use the internet changes, so does SEO. Search engines like Google and Bing alter their algorithms and processes in order to provide the best (most relevant) answers to their users. 

SEO takes time too! You won't see immediate results after optimizing one aspect of your site. Over time (and with more content), you will see your site's rank slowly crawl up for specific terms related to your content. 

Keywords For SEO

Keywords are phrases and terms used by search engines to show relevant content to users. Maintaining a concise keyword strategy with relevant terms to your content is crucial if you want to get found in search engines. 

A well optimized web page uses specific keywords that relate to the content on the page. Search engines take into account things like keyword relevancy and density. If your content isn't related to the keywords on your page or if you are stuffing your page with lots of keywords and nothing else, search engines will catch on and your pages could be poorly ranked. 

A holistic keyword strategy is required to ensure that you are using specific keywords relevant to potential visitors and that you provide them with interesting and relevant content. Remember, a search engine's purpose is to provide users with answers to their questions; your keyword strategy is responsible for ensuring that you use relevant words and phrases that people will be using when searching for your topic or niche.   

Short Tail Vs Long Tail Keywords

Short Tail Keywords Vs Long Tail Keywords Infographic

Keywords generally fall into two categories; short-tail and long-tail keywords. Short-tail keywords tend be more broad and consist of one or two words. Long-tail keywords are longer and more specific. It's important to understand the difference between the two and how utilizing a mix of the two is your key to a successful keyword strategy.

Short-Tail Keywords - These keywords tend to have larger search volume but much higher competition. Short-tail keywords should be used sparingly and only when describing general aspects of your niche. This helps search engines as they rank a website for type and category. Example; "podcasts".

Long-Tail Keywords - Longer and more specific phrases have less people searching for them but far less competition when compared to short-tail keywords. People tend to use longer phrases when they're searching for a specific question or topic; if you optimize your website (and your content) for these types of searches, your site is more likely to rank well for those long-tail keywords. Example; "best comedy podcasts".

Long-tail search queries often include phrases like "how to" or "where to find", it's important to consider these variations as you looking for long-tail keywords with low competition and higher search traffic. Most long-tail keywords receive a lower volume of traffic so you should be on the lookout for long-tail keywords related to your niche with a relatively higher amount of traffic volume. Long-tail keywords have a higher chance of converting because they're are more specific and targeted towards providing answers to a user's search query. Not only that, but they're easier to rank for so you'll have a higher chance of driving some of that targeted traffic to your website. 

Determining whether or not a long-tail keyword is valuable or not can be difficult to guess but tools like Google Trends, Keyword PlannerSEMrush and many others will assist you in determining potential search traffic from specific long-tail phrases. 

As you're creating content for your site, it's important to keep things like short and long tail keywords in mind. You should try to include long-tail keywords in your Header tags (h1, h2, h3) and find ways to include them organically in your content.

Developing A Keyword Strategy

So what does a good keyword strategy looks like and how would you go about creating a keyword strategy for your website? Chances are; if you have a website with content, you already some semblance of a keyword strategy already in the works. 

Keyword strategy starts with your niche (or category). In other words, your keyword strategy starts with what you're already writing about on your site. Whether you're blogging about entrepreneurship or selling designer handbags, you are already using different keywords throughout your website. Your goal is to optimize these keywords for phrases that visitors are using in their search queries. 

Step 1: Compile A List Of Your Most Popular Keywords

Google AdWords Keyword Planner For Keyword Ideas and Search Volume.png

Start by compiling a list of your website's most popular keywords and keep track of them in a spreadsheet. One of the best tools for generating a list of keywords is Google's Keyword Planner. Keyword Planner will not only give you keyword ideas for your site, but you'll also get search volume traffic and average CPC. This will help you determine whether or not a particular keyword is worth your efforts to rank for. A certain keyword may have lots of traffic but if the CPC is relatively high, there's a good chance that there's a lot of competition for it. Once you've combed through enough data, choose some keywords that are the most relevant your website and niche.

Step 2: Determine Keyword Search Traffic And Competition

SEMrush for SEO keyword research.

After you've found the keywords you want to build your strategy around, you will want to determine how much traffic those keywords have the potential to generate to your site and how much competition there is to rank for them. Tools like Keyword Planner and SEMrush are perfect for this as they give tons of data (more than you could possibly need). Record stats like traffic volume, keyword difficulty and take note of any keyword suggestions or other metrics you'd like to track -- cost-per-click (CPC) is a good one to keep track of if you are planning on launching a paid search campaign. Remove any broad keywords with low-search volume as long-tail variations will yield even less impressive results.  

Step 3: Find Variations and Build Long-Tail Keywords

Now it's time to take your broad keyword list and find variations that will become your long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords should strive to closely resemble the phrase that a visitor uses as their search query.

Here are some tools to help you find keyword variations and ideas for long-tail keywords:

Wordstream provides a free tool for quick and dirty SEO keyword research.

After you've picked some awesome long-tail keywords, throw those into your spreadsheet and record their search traffic using SEMrush. You'll notice that search volume for these keywords are much lower than shorter, more broad keywords. This is good. You'll be targeting these long-tail keywords because you'll have a higher chance of ranking for them. Broad terms with lots of volume are harder to rank for because there are literally thousands of other websites competing for those terms. By targeting more specific keywords with less competition, you'll have a higher chance of ranking for those keywords. 

Step 4: Choose Your Primary and Secondary Keywords

You now have a big list of short and long tail keywords with an approximate amount traffic volume. Now what? It's time to separate your keywords into something called a Keyword Hierarchy. Keyword Hierarchy refers to the placement of keywords on your website. 

Primary keywords are the main keywords your website will use. These keywords tend to be more broad and relate specifically to the niche of the site. These are the most important keywords for your website and are normally found in site headings, navigations, meta descriptions, H1 tags and in page URLs. 

Secondary keywords are longer and more focused on the value your site offers to potential visitors. They tend to be used in H2/H3 tags, bolded and italicized text, and blog categories as well as throughout your content.

You should include a mix of both long and short tail keywords when choosing your primary and secondary keywords. 

Step 5: Optimize Your Website For Your Most Valuable Keywords

Now that you know which keywords you want to use, it's time to optimize your website for those specific terms and phrases. This will arguably be the most time-intensive and continuous part of your keyword strategy. Optimizing your content for keywords requires careful thinking and placement. Look for logical and organic places to use your keywords; stuffing your page with search terms and keywords is an easy way to get penalized. 

Where To Use Keywords For SEO:

  • URLs,
  • Title tags,
  • Meta descriptions,
  • Page titles,
  • Header tags (H1, H2, H3),
  • Bolded and italicized text,
  • Anchor text and links,
  • Image titles and alt text,
  • Page content,
  • Blog categories, tags and posts.

Step 6: Monitor Your Rankings

Doing keyword research and optimizing your website isn't enough. Keeping track of results will let you know whether your strategy is working or not. Using tools like web analytics and rank tracking, you can monitor your results and make improvements as needed.

Use Google Search Console to monitor your keyword rankings.

Use "Search Analytics" tool in Google's Search Console and select "Queries" and "Position". This will give you a list of different search terms that your website generated impressions and clicks from as well as your position in Google's search result. This kind of information is goldmine of data - both for monitoring your keyword rankings but also for getting keyword ideas. Search Console will generate a list of search terms that actual users have typed into their search bar. Use this information as you continue to optimize your website. 

A report for my website from the Keyword Position Checker from Small SEO Tools.

A report for my website from the Keyword Position Checker from Small SEO Tools.

To stay "above-the-fold" (the area a user can see without scrolling), you should strive to rank within the top four or five positions. Obviously you want to get as close to the top result as possible, but ranking for a particular search term can often take time. Set realistic expectations for your keywords and work continuously to improve your rankings for them. Write blog posts that use specific terms you'd like to rank better for and use tools to diagnose your rankings and offer suggestions for on-page optimization. Here are some free tools for tracking your keyword rankings:

RankTank's free DIY spreadsheet for checking keyword rankings.

RankTank's free DIY spreadsheet for checking keyword rankings.

Keeping track of your rankings is important if you ever want to move up in search-engine-results-pages (SERPs). Regularly audit your keyword performance and strategy and make changes as necessary. 

URLS For Search Engines

URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator. More commonly know as a website address, URLs are used to find specific websites and web pages. Good URL structure and naming is essential to a good SEO strategy and you should understand the importance of URLs when it comes to ranking and optimizing a website for search engines. 

Dynamic Vs Static URLs

Good URL structure is straightforward and makes sense. Static URLs stay the same and do not change. Dynamic URLs, by definition, are dynamic and change; often they will contain additional tags and parameters. You should always strive to use Static URLs whenever possible. Read Google's official release about Static vs Dynamic URLs

Don't use numbers or weird punctuation. Crawlers and bots are looking for clean, readable and user-friendly URLs. Users are too! When a URL appears on a search-engine-results-page (SERP), they are more likely to click on a clean and understandable URL as opposed to a long string of characters. 

URLs should also include keywords. Search engines use URLs as a primary ranking factor and if you take advantage of using keywords in your URL, your page is more search-engine friendly. 

Robots.txt And Sitemaps

No URL on any given site is equal. For example, a website's homepage is far more important than a blog category page. Your site's URL structure should clearly define the importance of each page. This can be achieved using several tools, the most important of which are the Robots.txt file and the Sitemap. 

Robots.txt - A text file on a website used to tell search engines and crawlers how to crawl it's pages. This file allows you to block irrelevant or unimportant pages on your website.

Sitemap - Usually an XML file that contains a list of all the pages on a website. This file is submitted to search engines and helps them crawl your site with ease. 

URL Mapping: 404 Errors And 301 Redirects

 
The 404 page for my website.

The 404 page for my website.

 

404 errors occur when a user clicks on a link to a page that doesn't exist. Often these are called 'dead links' and this usually occurs when a page is deleted or the original URL is changed. Dead links and 404's will hurt your site's SEO and will often result in visitors immediately bouncing from your site. 

Find a list of links that lead users to a 404 page in Google Search Console

Find a list of links that lead users to a 404 page in Google Search Console

You can avoid 404 errors by setting up what is called a 301 redirect. 301 redirects are used to forward a user from a page that doesn't exist to a page that does. It is a good practice to regularly audit your site using an SEO crawler or by using Google's Search Console to find 404 errors and using your CMS to set up a redirect to a new page. 

A good practice is to redirect or "map" pages one-to-one; meaning you should map dead or broken links directly to their new location on your site. If you decided to permanently delete the content from your site, map the broken link to another relevant page on your website. 

Another best practice for URL mapping is to create a custom 404 page with a friendly message letting them know the content doesn't exist anymore, convenient links to popular content on your site, and a search bar.

On Page SEO

On-Page SEO refers to the ranking factors on a website, such as metadata and content, that influence its position in search rankings. When it comes to optimizing your website for search engines, On-Page SEO is where you have the most control. 

As you go about optimizing your on-page SEO, keep your list of keywords handy and remember that this is another continuous part of the SEO process. As you create more pages and blog posts, you will always have optimize them for SEO. 

URLS

We've already talked about URLs pretty in-depth, but the importance of URLs cannot be stressed enough. Search engines take a number of things about a website's URL into account when they are determining a ranking. For example, how old the domain name is plays a big factor in determining a website's authority. 

Be sure to use clean URLs that are easy to read by crawlers and bots. Using keywords in your domain name and URL slugs will also assist with ranking for certain terms. As you go about optimizing your site or creating new content; create short and memorable URLs for your pages. Shorter URLs works better when linking or sharing to social media. You can also avoid your URL being cut off with an ellipsis [...] in SERPs. 

SEO Best Practice:
Less Than 100 characters (best practice to keep URL slugs to 3-5 words).

Title Tag

The title tag is an HTML markup tag used on webpages to define the title of a particular page. The title tag appears in the top of the browser above the address bar; it's also used as the name when bookmarking a website. More importantly, it's used as the primary headline in search-engine-results-pages. It's important to optimize your title tag to describe your page and include your keywords. Title tags are a primary ranking factor so you should place extra care in your title tags. 

SEO Best Practice:
50-60 characters.

Meta-description

Meta-descriptions are HTML tags used to describe what is on the page. Search engines use meta-descriptions as the preview text in SERPs so it's important to use meta descriptions to explain a page's value proposition. A well optimized meta-description should be relevant to the rest of the content, use keywords and stay within Google's recommended 160 character limit. Meta descriptions longer than 160 characters are cut off with an ellipsis [...].

SEO Best Practice:
150-160 characters.

Header tags

Header tags are the headlines on your website. In HTML, these tags are designated H1 for the highest level (giving it the most importance), H2 being the second level, H3 being third and so on. The general rule of thumb for header tags is that there should be one H1 tag, two to three H2 and generally no limit on H3, H4, H5, or H6 tags. H4-H6 are not used nearly as often as H1-H3 tags. 

SEO Best Practice:
Optimize your header tags for keywords and only use H1 tag per page (excluding site title).

ALT-TAGS

Alt or image tags are HTML attributes for images. Bots and crawlers cannot see visually so alt-tags are used to describe the image. These tags are usually hidden from user but you can tell if an image contains alt-text by hover your mouse over an image - if a small box with text appears, the image is using an alt-tag. Alt-tags are important if you want search engines and crawlers to know that the images you're pairing with your content are relevant. They are also an opportunity to use short and long tail keywords.

SEO Best Practice:
Always use alt-tags when including images on a webpage. 

ANCHOR TEXT

Anchor text is the word of phrase that contains a hyperlink to an internal or external webpage. Link building is vital to the weight search engines give your website when it's being ranked. When a search engine is crawling your website, it reads the anchor text and then follows the link to another page. It will be looking if the anchor text is relevant to the page that follows, so you should try to be as descriptive in your anchor text as possible. The user might understand the context of the hyperlink, but a crawler cannot.

SEO Best Practice:
Don't highlight a single word, stretch the anchor text out into a short phrase that.

Internal And External Links

Links have been called the most important search ranking factor so it's important to have a good understanding on link building and how links affect your site. First some definitions; an internal link is a hyperlink that sends the user to another page on the same website. An external link is a hyperlink that sends the user to a web page on a different website. When a bot is crawling your page, they will be looking for and following the links on your site. Search engines want external links to lead to reputable websites that they trust. When reputable sites link to your content, search engines take note and associate your site with relevant, linkable content. 

Broken links also affect your website's SEO. Search engines don't like when your pages send users to 404 pages. Fix broken links by setting up 301 redirects and sending users to pages that actually exist.

SEO Best Practice:
Avoid sending your users to scammy websites with bad reputation and fix broken links whenever they're found. 

Schema.org Tags

Schema tags are rich snippets that allow search engines to crawl your site more easily. Schema.org was a collaboration by major search engines to standardize meta data so you know that crawlers will be looking for this tag while reading your webpage. Take advantage of Schema tags whenever possible but ensure that you use the correct tag for your content. 

SEO Best Practice:
Use appropriate Schema tags on all of your pages. Learn more about Schema.
 

Content

The overall content of your site needs to be unique, relevant and helpful. Duplicate, thin or keyword-stuffed pages are quick to get penalized. Aim to have at least 500 words of unique content on every page of your site. Your content also needs to be consistent and related to rest of your site

SEO Best Practice:
At least 500 words of unique content.

User Experience (UX) Design

When a search engine is ranking a web page, one of the factors they take into account is the user-experience and design. If a site is difficult to navigate or is plagued by pop-ups and ads, search engines will penalize it. Search engines want to display clean, friendly results for users. 

Bots are inherently reading code as they're crawling any given site so the neatness of the code is also important. 

SEO Best Practice:
Use a polished, aesthetically-pleasing website design. 

Page Load Speed

No one likes waiting for a web page to load; especially search engines. Have you noticed that with every search you do on Google, it tells you how long it took them to generate the results? They pride themselves in providing answers to users as fast as possible. They expect the web pages they provide their users to do the same. 

If a web site a bunch of fancy Javascript plugins that need to load in a browser or lots of high-resolution images, the site will take a lot longer to load. Removing external dependencies and unnecessary plugins will speed up your site.

Google provides a free tool called PageSpeed Insights that provides you with render information and suggestions for improving the page load speed of your site. Plug your site in a start optimizing!

SEO Best Practice:
Use an image compressor like Compressor.io or TinyJPEG to make your images smaller without minimal loss in quality.

Responsive and Mobile-Friendly

Responsive design means that a site automatically scales according to the display of the browser. If you resize your browser window, responsive websites will automatically scale. As smartphones generate a large majority of search traffic, a website needs to look good on mobile devices. Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) are a relatively new development designed to quickly render pages on mobile devices. 

SEO Best Practice:
Ensure your website is mobile-friendly and that all clickable elements are large enough and adequately spaced. 

Accessibility

A web page needs to be accessible by the bot that is crawling it. If a web page is being blocked in the Robots.txt file, the bot will ignore the page entirely. For SEO, there are two main attributes used in the Robots.txt file. 

NoIndex - This attribute tells search engines not to index the page.

NoFollow - This attribute tells search engines not follow any links on the web page. 

Ensure that your most important pages are not being blocked and use NoIndex and NoFollow on pages that you don't want to be indexed by search engines. 

SEO Best Practice:
Check if any pages on your site are being blocked unnecessarily using Google Search Console.

Off Page SEO

Unlike on-page SEO that deals with the ranking factors on a website, Off-Page SEO refers to the rankings factors that search engines consider that occur off the specific website. The includes; domain and link authority, social media platforms, even personalized search results.

You typically have less control over off-page ranking factors as most off-page SEO occurs, well, off your website. Links are vital to your Off-Page SEO strategy and you should strive to earn links from respected and trusted websites.

Just what is a "respected and trusted" website? These are websites with huge amounts of traffic and that are trusted almost universally by users. Search engines assign trust and authority to different links based on the quality and quantity of internal and external links. 

Inbound Links

Inbound links are hyperlinks from other websites that lead to your website. Inbound links from trusted websites are vital to growing your traffic with SEO. 

Domain and Page Authority

Moz has created two metrics, Domain Authority and Page Authority to determine the quality and trust of any given domain or web page. Using their free extension, MozBar, you can learn important information about not only your own website, but websites that you want to link to as well. 

When a respected and trusted website links to your content, this is hugely beneficial to your website and search engines will start giving your site more weight when ranking for search results. 

As you build trust and authority, your organic search traffic will be directly influenced. Likewise, if you diminish your credibility by spamming links to your site in comments or forums, search engines will see links from your site as spammy and they won't want to use your website in their SERPs. 

SEO Best Practice:
Avoid PBNs (private blog networks) and Link Farms. Google actively penalizes websites with spammy external links.

Social Media Platforms and BookMarking Sites

Search engines give a lot of weight to popular social media platforms. If your website's links receive shares, likes, favorites, follows or retweets, your SEO will be impacted (not to mention your traffic!). Creating official Facebook pages, Twitter handles or YouTube channels with links connecting your site is an easy way to take advantage of social media for SEO. 

Search engines will also prioritize your site when social bookmarking sites like Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon or Product Hunt pick up links to your site. Search engines want to see engagement and interaction with your website. 

SEO Best Practice:
Create social media profiles and bookmarking accounts for any sites relevant to your niche and connect them with your website. 

Identity and Personalized Search Results

Search engines strive to deliver the best results to their users and part of that means personalized search results. Search engines will tailor search results based on a user's browser history and geographic location. Google will try to show location-based results whenever possible. If you are optimizing a website for local search results, you can take advantage of this by using services like Google Places and other local review sites and connecting them with your website and NAP.

NAP is short for Name, Address and Phone Number. You should strive for consistency in your NAP throughout all external links. Any directories or sites you add your information too should use the same NAP. 

SEO Best Practice:
Keep identity and personalized search results in mind when auditing your SEO performance. Remember to clear your cache/cookies or use an incognito tab to view your website in SERPs.

Negative Ranking Factors

When a search engine is crawling a website; they don't just look for the good, they're also looking for the bad. There are a number of factors that can negatively impact your site's performance in search engine rankings. 

THIN or Duplicate CONTENT

If a website lacks quality or many pages contain the same content, search engines will penalize it. Each page should contain at least 500 words of unique content. 

Keyword Stuffing

Repeatedly using the same keywords is another factor looked down upon by search engine. Yes, they want you to use keywords; but, they want you to use them appropriately. One metric to avoid keyword stuffing is keyword density. Keyword density is the ratio of keywords to rest of the content on the page.

Keyword Density Tools:

Ads and Pop Ups

Ads and pop ups are frowned upon not just by search engines but by users too! Avoid using intrusive pop ups and ads. 

Spammy Links

A site riddled with external links to spammy websites or if a domain is being spammed on other websites, search engines will negatively rank the site. Websites that have been flagged for piracy or other infractions will also see a drop in rankings. As a rule of thumb, don't go around spamming your link on other sites or linking to sketchy sites with zero authority. 

Conduct An SEO Audit

An SEO Audit should be conducted regularly to ensure that your efforts are not going to waste. While we've touched on various strategies for evaluating your SEO, knowing how to conduct an SEO audit will give you a better understanding of your current position and give you new ideas for optimizing your strategy. 

Step One: Crawl Your Website

Crawling your website using a tool like Screaming FrogSEOCrawler.co, or Rob Hammond's SEO Crawler. These tools will crawl every page on your site and look for areas you need to address. You should also plug your site into BrowSEO so you can get an idea of what a bot "sees" when it crawls your website. 

Run your site through a couple website analyzers like SEOptimer or Site-Analyzer; these will highlight areas you should focus on as you optimize your site. 

Step Two: Review Google Analytics and Search Console

Google Analytics For SEO

Review your Google Analytics account for metrics like Bounce Rate (the number of people who leave your site after viewing only one page), Pages Per Session and Session Duration. Google Analytics is a goldmine of traffic data so don't be shy to dig in and learn as much as you can about how people are using your website. 

Your site needs to be connected with Google Search Console. Search Console used to be known as Webmaster Tools and it gives you information that directly relates to the search performance of your site. Traffic Analytics, Search Terms and Crawl Errors are areas where you can find ideas for optimizing your site. 

Step Three: Generate A List Of Your Best Performing Keywords

Use the "Search Analytics" report to generate a list of search queries that have generated impressions or clicks to your site. Find new keyword ideas using the "Keyword Planner" and find long-tail variations using tools like UberSuggest and KeywordTool.io. 

Step Four: Fix Any Accessibility and 404 Errors

Go through your crawler report and find any accessibility errors or 404 pages. Set up any redirects and edit your Robots.txt file as needed. 

Step Five: Optimize Your Pages For Your Keywords

Optimize your on-page content for your keywords and ensure the keywords you use relevant to the rest of the content on your page. Go through the following page elements in order and optimize each area according to your keyword strategy.  

  1. URL,
  2. Title tag,
  3. Meta description, 
  4. Header tags, 
  5. Alt tags,
  6. Body content.

Step Six: Create An Inbound Link Profile

Use a tool like Moz's Open Site Explorer to generate an 'inbound link profile'. An inbound link profile is a report of all the websites and links that lead to your website. It's important to know who is linking to your website and where. You can uncover new opportunities and ensure that links leading to your website are from reputable websites. If you find any sketchy or spamming sites linking to your site, use a 'disavow' tool to disassociate your site from it. 

Step Seven: Monitor Social Media Influence

Social media is an off-page ranking factor that you have some degree of control over. Use a service like Klout or Social Mention to gain insight to your social media influence. Observe any changes and record your current metrics. 

Step Eight: Conduct A Competitor Analysis Report

Now that you have a solid understanding of your own SEO performance, it's time to take a peek at your competitor's. Using tools and services, you can dig into a competitor's estimated traffic, social influence, keyword strategy, and more. Competitor analysis tools like SpyFu and SpyOnWeb allow you to gain insight into the strategy and focus of your competitors. This allows you to stay ahead of the curve when implementing a new ranking strategy. 

Building An SEO Toolkit

Conclusion

Well, there you have; I know it's a lot to take in. SEO can be a tough nut to crack but by building a strategy and following tried-and-true guidelines for optimizing your website, it is possible to drive large amounts of organic search traffic to your website. It won't happen overnight but by using this guide as a framework and continually striving to deliver relevant, thoughtful content to visitors; you can succeed with SEO.

Required Reading

Further Reading