Search Engine Optimization or SEO is the creation of content that will rank on search engines for the desired keyword(s). This is achieved by employing various ‘on-page’ and ‘off-page’ optimization techniques.
What is SEO? What does SEO stand for?
SEO stands for ‘Search Engine Optimization’. This means creating content around carefully targeted keywords or phrases and then using various on-page and off-page optimization techniques to get that content to rank on the search engine results pages (SERP’s).
The exact words or phrases that people use to search for content online are called keywords or key phrases. By using specialized software like SEMRush it is possible to know exactly how many people on average are searching for a particular keyword or keyphrase online.
For example, SEMRush shows me that there are 135,000 average searches per month for the keyword ‘SEO’ and 22,200 searches for the keyphrase ‘What is SEO’.
This is called the ‘search volume’ for that keyword or phrase.
So it makes sense to create content around keywords like ‘SEO’ and ‘What is SEO’ because the search volume is so high and so many people are searching for it online.
Of course, it is not that straightforward because you have to also factor in other things like competition. Obviously, there will be many other blogs trying to rank for those very keywords.
SEO tools like SEMrush will show you a ‘Keyword Difficulty (KD)’ factor which is calculated using various metrics like the number of websites that are currently ranking for that keyword and their domain authority.
The Keyword difficulty (KD) factor is measured by a percentage and the higher this number, the more difficult it will be for you to outrank the competition for that keyword.
As you can see the keyword difficulty for the keyword ‘what is seo’ is 80.63, which is high. It means that it will be difficult for a new blog to compete and rank for that keyword.
Use a keyword research tool like SEMRush to find keywords and phrases related to your industry or niche that have a large search volume and low keyword difficulty.
It stands to reason that any keyword or phrase that has a large search volume will have a lot of competition and consequently the difficulty factor is bound to be high.
The ‘search intent’ or ‘the reason why’ behind the search is also an important factor that should be considered before you decide which keyword you want your page to rank for.
Why is Search Engine Optimization Necessary?
Well, the sheer number of websites and blogs out there is mind-boggling.
There are a total of about 1.5 billion websites. Of these, there are around 500 to 600 million blogs and around 2 million blog posts are being added daily. So you need to stand out if you want to be counted.
Proper search engine optimization helps search engine bots to get an idea of what your blog is about so it can be indexed properly and rank higher in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for the right queries.
What is On-Page and Off-Page SEO?
On-page search engine optimization or SEO is what you do within your blog to rank on the SERP’s (Search Engine Result Pages), such as the use of appropriate keywords in the Title tags, Alt tags, Meta descriptions etc.
Off-page search engine optimization or SEO is what you do outside of your blog or how your blog links to the other blogs out there. Is your blog authoritative enough for other blogs to link to it? Do the blogs that link to you have a high domain authority themselves? Are they from your industry, niche or otherwise related to your product in some way?
Before proceeding further it is important to note that Google will be shifting 100% of all websites worldwide to Mobile-First Indexing starting from March 2021.
This is because close to 60% of all searches today are from mobile devices and this is only bound to increase in the future.
This was first announced in 2016 and started rolling out in 2018. As of March 2020, almost 70% of all sites had been shifted to Mobile-First Indexing.
Any new site that will be launched here-on will be automatically shifted to Mobile-First Indexing. This is a huge paradigm shift of massive proportions, the effects of which are going to be tremendous.
It means that from March 2021, Google will only index and rank the mobile versions of all websites/blogs worldwide. And no! there isn’t going to be two indices, one for mobile devices and another for the desktop.
There will be only one index and that will be the mobile version of your website/blog. It’s almost as if suddenly the desktop and laptop have ceased to exist.
So while all of us continue to use a laptop or desktop for creating content or designing our blogs and websites, we need to remember to check how our pages load and look on mobile devices, because from now on that is the only thing that will matter.
You may have created a blog or website that looks great on a laptop or desktop but if a lot of that content does not load or is incompatible with the smaller screens on mobile devices, then that content is not going to be indexed at all.
Most sites will definitely not look the same on both desktop and mobile. This is because of the smaller screen size on a mobile device. From March 2021, Google is going to completely ignore the desktop version of your blog/website.
So what should you do? At a very basic level start by choosing a responsive theme. A responsive theme is one that automatically adjusts the layout of your page depending upon the screen size, so you don’t have to maintain two separate versions of your website for desktops and mobile devices.
This means that your page will look equally good on all devices including mobile devices.
If you are using WordPress to create your blog, go for a fast, responsive theme like Astra.
You can refer to our step-by-step guide on how to install theme Astra to your WordPress blog.
Google has a free online tool to check if your page is mobile-friendly and if there are any technical issues that you should fix.
We tested our homepage and below is the result.
The pressure to get quick results may lead some SEO’s to adopt methods that are shady or ‘black hat’ as they are referred to.
SEO is generally never a quick fix and results do take time. Black hat SEO techniques may get you quick results but if it catches the attention of the search engines then it may get your site penalized or worse, barred from the SERPs altogether. It is up to you to decide if you want to take the risk.
What is Black Hat SEO?
Black Hat SEO techniques are those that violate search engine guidelines and are used to trick search engines into thinking that your site is the best fit for a particular search query and get it to rank higher on SERP’s or Search Engine Result Pages. While these may offer quick short term results, they are harmful in the long run.
All the same, it is necessary to learn about these techniques if you are to recognize them and avoid unwittingly using them on your websites or blogs.
So, what are these black hat SEO techniques? Let us list some of them.
Automatically Generated Content
Generating content by using AI-based software is against Google’s quality guidelines. That is not to say that it is not being done at all, but as they say – you ain’t guilty until you are caught.
And Google is getting better and better at spotting such violations, so it is a risky game to play. Any keyword laden content that seems unnatural is likely to raise a red flag.
Cloaking or Sneaky Redirects
This happens when you present one page to the search engine bots and then redirect the reader to a completely different page.
You could buy a domain that may not even be related to your industry or niche that already has some pages ranking on the search engines and redirect the user who clicks on the link to that page on the SERP to a page on your website instead.
While this is against Google’s guidelines and will get your site penalised, it is also not advisable as you will be basically attracting the wrong kind of traffic and users whose intent will not match with what your site has to offer.
This kind of traffic will not benefit you in any way.
Link Schemes/ Paid Links
Paying another website to link to yours in exchange for money is not allowed under Google’s guidelines.
How will Google know that you have paid money for a link to your website? Probably they will never know but think about it. A site that offers links in exchange for money must surely offer this ‘service’ to others as well and will be linking to a lot of sites including spammy ones that may not have any relevance or add any value. These are patterns that raise red flags and suspicion of link buying/ selling and will result in both parties getting penalized.
Hiding Texts or Links
Hiding and stuffing keywords so they are only visible to the search engine bots but not to a human visitor is another shady practice that used to work in the past.
This was done by hiding keyword-rich text against a similarly colored background e.g. white text against a white background or by hiding text behind an image, or text with font size equal to zero, etc.
This kind of practice is easily caught by Google and should never be done.
Scraping Content from Other Sites
Copying content from high-ranking pages and then using content re-writers or paraphrasing tools to spin that content to use in your own blog as supposedly ‘original’ content is downright unethical.
Moreover, the chances of you achieving a ranking similar to the high ranking source of the original content are pretty slim. This is because the original website has already been indexed (by Google) and when Google encounters the same content duplicated elsewhere they would consider the page that was indexed first to be the original, which means that your site will be the one that is flagged for having ‘duplicate content’ and will never rank.
Most high authority sites, therefore, do not waste their time or bother about content scrapers.
What if you are at the receiving end and someone has copied your content? How will you know?
Just open Google Search Console for your domain. Under the heading ‘Links’ you will find a list of all the sites that link back to yours.
If the content scraper has copied your content as it is (with the links and all), then all your internal links will still be there and will now link back to your site from the copied content.
Visit each of the sites listed under ‘external links’ in search console to check if any have copied your content.
Another good reason do to this is to check if any of the sites linking back to yours are shady or spammy types, as you would want to ‘disavow’ these links to not negatively impact your SEO.
Is there an easier way to check for duplicate content? Or what if they have copied only the content text? In this case, you could use a service like CopySentry. This is a paid tool that automatically monitors the web for copies of your content and sends you alerts by email.
What can you do to prevent someone from copying your content? Very little actually. Nothing that a smart scraper can’t bypass.
At best, you can make things difficult. You can do this by disabling ‘right click’ on your website. There are WordPress plugins that can help you do this. You can also disable ‘Cntrl-C’, ‘Cntrl-X’ etc with the aid of such plugins. All these are but just inconveniences and a savvy scraper can easily get around them.
What action can you take against content scrapers? You can start by sending them an email and ask them to take down the duplicate content. If they do not do as requested, you can file a complaint directly with their web host or domain registrar. You can get this information by doing a ‘whois’ search for the domain.
All web hosts and domain registrars are required by law to conform to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
You can also file a DMCA complaint directly with Google and other search engines.
So after all the stuff that we listed above which are against search engine guidelines and which you should never indulge in, you wonder then what it is that you can do for Search engine optimization to get your site to rank in the search results.
Where Should I Start?
Well, for one, you can start by picking the perfect topic to write about. You need to know how many people are searching for information on the topic that you are planning to write about?
There is no use writing about topics that no one is searching for. Use a tool like SEMRush to search for high volume and low competition keywords.
You need to know what a keyword is and what is meant by keyword research.
Do remember to factor in search intent before deciding the topic or keywords/ phrases that you are going to optimize your content for.
Search intent is the ‘reason why’ behind the search.
Search intent can be,
Ideally, you should be writing content to satisfy each of these search intents.
For example, when a person searches for ‘How to choose the right air-conditioner?’ the search intent is ‘informational’. However, when someone is searching for ‘Where to buy LG airconditioner model XYZ?’, that is a ‘transactional intent’
The search intent sort of mirrors the stages that a buyer goes through in the buying process. Once a buyer has identified a problem (e.g. current refrigerator is old and breaks down often), they move to the information gathering phase i.e. Informational search intent (e.g. Which are the different models and brands available?). Once the buyer has gathered some information, they move on to the evaluation of alternatives i.e. Investigative intent. (comparison of brands, models, etc.).
You should write comparison posts like ‘Product X versus Product Y – Which is Better?’ to rank for ”investigative intent’ keywords.
The investigative intent phase somewhat coincides with the navigational intent phase. Here the buyer has a few brands or websites in mind and wants to navigate to them. But instead of typing in the exact URL find it convenient to just use a search engine.
Finally, after considering all aspects the buyer makes a purchase decision i.e. transactional intent (eg. Search for ‘buy LG Refrigerator’ etc.).
Keeping the search intent in mind before deciding the keywords that you want to optimize and rank for is crucial.
If your article is informative in nature then you should optimize for informational intent keywords. Ranking for the wrong user intent keyword may result in an increase in traffic but not of the kind that is of any value.
For example, if you are a website offering an online course in sales (not free), then it would be useless to be ranking at the number one spot for the keyword ‘free online course in sales’.
Once you have identified the keywords that you want the article to rank for, you need to start optimizing your article for those keywords.
The title of your article or blog-post (the H1 tag) is what sets the tone for the rest of the article. Ensure that you mention your keyword in the title tag.
Remember that title tags have a limit of 600 pixels on Google so ensure you keep your title within this (approximately 55 characters) limit.
There should be only a single title or H1 tag per article or blog post.
The Meta Description
The Meta description is the little snippet that appears just below the title in the search engine results. Although it may not have a direct impact on the ranking, it does have an effect on the CTR (Click Through Ratio). Having a good meta description is important. Your meta description should be compelling, and make the reader want to click through to your page and not any of the others.
Mention your targeted keyword in the URL of your article, but remember to not make it too long.
Include your targeted keyword in your subheadings (H2 to H6) wherever possible. The earlier it appears in the article the better.
Mention the targeted keyword in the Image ALT tag wherever possible in a meaningful way.
Include your targeted keyword in your content in an organic manner. It should not be forced or unnatural. While there is no fixed number for keyword density, a figure of 0.5% to 1% is acceptable. That is 5 – 10 times for every 1000 words.
However, even the best SEO effort will amount to nothing if your content doesn’t measure up. Good content that satisfies user intent is the basis of all SEO.
If people who land upon your blog post don’t stay for long, then it is a signal to search engines that your blog does not satisfy the user intent for that particular search query. That is, if the ‘bounce rate’ of your blog is high then you will lose out on ranking.
The freshness of content is an important factor for SEO. Posting regularly and consistently has a positive effect on rankings.
So, once you have written and published your content, you cannot just let it be and forget about it while you are busy creating more blogposts.
SEO is extremely dynamic in nature and things keep changing all the time. Old blog posts should be constantly updated.
Refer to Search Console and Analytics data to see how your blog posts are doing. Which are the keywords that they are ranking for? Are they ranking for the right keywords? If it is ranking for the wrong keywords then you have to revisit your SEO efforts.
If your blog is new then it may take some time for it to rank. It won’t happen overnight. Many amateur bloggers are guilty of not being ready to play the long game and giving up too early.
Keep it Long Form
Google loves long-form content. While it is a good idea to let the content length be dictated by the topic at hand, i.e. content being as long or as short as required to explain the topic, it is generally a good idea to go in-depth and deal with the topic at length.
It has been found that long-form articles tend to rank better in search results. The average length of the top 10 results shows most are between 2000 to 2500 words.
Of course, Google doesn’t rank content by simply counting the number of words it contains. There are hundreds of signals that Google uses to determine whether a page deserves to rank or not.
Some of these are the dwell time and number of inbound, outbound, and internal links. It just happens that long-form content is favorable to creating all of these.
The amount of time that visitors spend on your page is an indication to Google that your page is providing value and satisfies search intent. Good quality long-form content does tend to keep people around longer.
A study by Hubspot showed that long-form content tends to garner more backlinks, which are important from an SEO standpoint.
Internal and External Links
Internal and external links lend context to your article and help search engines understand what your article is about.
Internal links (i.e. links from one page to another page/post within the same blog/website and vice-versa) are important also because they help search engines discover all your pages/posts by following these internal links.
External links (both outbound & inbound) can be either one of two types ‘nofollow’ or ‘dofollow’. For anyone involved in SEO, it is critical to know the difference between the two and also where to use them.
Any link by default is ‘dofollow’
A ‘nofollow’ link is a link with a rel= “nofollow” tag attached. It tells the search engines to not follow that link and so it does not offer any SEO advantage to the page to which it is linking to (the destination).
Most of the comment sections in blogs that allow you to leave your website address are ‘nofollow’. This is not to say that they are totally useless. They do have some value but definitely less compared to a ‘dofollow’ link.
Outbound links may not have the same heft as Inbound links when it comes to Search Engine Optimization but are nevertheless important.
Just like the internal links within your site, they add context and help the search engines understand what the article or post is about.
It also helps build trust. When you back up your data or statistic by linking to a research paper or a study conducted by an authoritative site, you are telling the reader and the search engines that your article is well researched and authoritative and not based on just your opinion.
Google pays a lot of emphasis on E.A.T. (Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness). Outbound links are one of the ways to demonstrate this.
Google Search Central Blog has this to say about expertise questions that you should ask yourself to determine your content quality.
It clearly mentions presenting information such as ‘clear sourcing’ to build trust and showcase your expertise.
This is what it says.
Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author, or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site’s About page?Google Search Central Blog
Inbound links (backlinks) are links from outside (from other blogs/websites) that link back to your page. An effective inbound link strategy is the backbone of any SEO.
Search engines have always considered backlinks as a kind of endorsement that your content is authoritative. It is like a certificate given by the blog that is linking to you that your content is trustworthy. Why would a blog link to yours otherwise?
For example, when I mentioned earlier that there are 1.5 billion websites in the world, I have linked out to the site ‘Internet Live Stats‘. Why? Because that site is trustworthy and is an authority for that kind of information.
The more the number of sites that link back to your page, the better your domain authority will rise and you will have a better chance of ranking higher in the search engine result pages or SERPs.
It follows to reason that if a site that links to your site has a high domain authority, then that single link will carry more ‘link juice’ than a hundred backlinks from spammy sites with less domain authority.
Creating good quality backlinks is one of the most difficult and time-consuming activities that you will have to do as an SEO consultant.
An Eye for Speed
Google is always trying to improve the ‘user experience’ and the speed at which your page loads is an important ranking factor.
Crucial factors like choosing the right hosting or installing the right theme which is optimized for speed can make or break your SEO efforts.
As we have mentioned earlier, come March 2021 Google will shift all sites to its ‘Mobile First Index’ which means only the mobile version of your website will be indexed.
So it is imperative to focus your SEO efforts on the mobile version of your website/blog. When you are optimizing for speed, check how fast your page loads on a mobile device and not on a laptop or desktop.
We have seen above what search engine optimization or SEO means, why it is required, and the different ways in which it can be achieved.
In the early days, search engine results were limited and contained very little information. Now it shows rich snippets, youtube videos, knowledge panels, and more. The SERP of today is completely different.
Search Engine Optimization is not only a vast subject, but it is also dynamic and ever-changing. SEO marketing is both challenging and interesting.
There is Local SEO, International SEO & Mobile SEO which have gained importance.
Local SEO is important for businesses that operate in a certain geographical area such as a dentist’s clinic or a bakery. An example is the website of the local bakery store which appears in the search results when you search for ‘bakery store near me’.
International SEO is creating and optimizing content for people from different countries who speak different languages. The same keyword will show a different list of results depending upon location. Google India will show a different list of results for the same keyword than say Google UK or USA. The level of competition may be different too.
So if you are targeting a global audience, you may want to optimize your pages for each target location.
SEO is not an exact science and nobody outside of Google knows exactly what the ranking factors are on which search results are determined. At best, it is an educated guess by SEO’s based on observation, experience, and information that Google gives out from time to time.
Some factors are even beyond your control like the ‘browsing history ‘ of the person concerned. If the person has visited a particular website many times in the past then pages from that website are more likely to show up in search results for that particular person.
Your social media presence also has an influence on SEO. If someone has liked your post on social media, then your page is likely to show up in search results for that person.
In the end, content matters more than anything else. Original, good quality, useful, in-depth, and long-form articles that add value and provide useful information is what matters. Everything else comes after that.
Search engine optimization is necessary if you desire a solid online presence for your website/blog.
While this article may have only scratched the surface of an incredibly complex subject, I hope that I have inspired you to dig deeper and learn more. If so the purpose of this article is served.
SEO results don’t show up overnight, it takes time so the best time to start is now.
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