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Whether you're a business owner, marketer, freelancer, or simply a hobbyist, increasing your website's ranking in search engines is one of the most, if not the most, cost-effective long term marketing strategies there is.
In this article, I will start by explaining the necessary terms you must understand to fully comprehend and successfully increase your website's search engine rank. By the end of this article you should better understand:
- Search engine ranking terminology
- A search engines goal (and better understand their thought process behind ranking)
- How search engines work
- The one thing you need to be doing at the very least
- Four search engine ranking categories and numerous factors in each
There are numerous search engines, and although these methods and recommendations should help in;all of them, I will be focusing on the Google and Bing search engines.
It's good to know that most of the smaller, or niche search engines (like duckduckgo or dogpile for example), pull from Google or Bing and Yahoo's search is directly pulled from Bing. If you optimize and rank in Google and Bing then you are going to be ranking in countless others as well.
Also, ranking your website in search engines is not an exact science. Google nor Bing publishes a guide or criteria on how to initially rank, or increase your search engine ranking. They leave hints at times, but that's the extent of "guaranteed knowledge".
Most of what's known, and agreed upon best habits, are discovered through extensive testing and case studies involving the analysis and rankings of 10,000's of websites at a time. It's now broken down to a pretty accurate science, but no where near exact or guaranteed even if you should follow these recommendations exactly.
I will be covering a lot of information throughout this and will try to simplify things as much as possible. If you have any questions, feedback, or simply want to participate in the discussion, please comment at the bottom and I will follow up as soon as I can.
Search Engine Ranking Terminology
SEO is the acronym for Search Engine Optimization. This is the process of optimizing your website, websites content, and other factors not located on your website in order to increase your websites ranking in search engines in general as well as for specific words or phrases.
These are the words, or phrases, you are attempting to rank for or increase your page ranking of.
These are the same as keywords but are 3 or more words and are more specific either by niche or demographic. They are generally easier to rank for due to less competition. An example of a keyword could be "search engine optimization" and a long-tail keyword would be, "st louis search engine optimization".
Backlinks are hyperlinks or website links from another site to your own. These are a critical part of increasing your ranking in search engines and will be discussed thoroughly. Not all backlinks were created equal, they range in value based on the authority of the linking website and some can even hurt your ranking potential in search engines.
A social share is your url or website page being posting or shared on social platforms. The primarily tracked platforms include Facebook, Google Plus, and LinkedIn. Twitter has been deemed no longer relevant in search engine rankings. These are treated much like backlinks in how they help your website rank.
A website's Domain Authority is the overall rating of a domains ability to rank in search engines. There is no universal standard for this metric, most seo tools use this metric but have slightly different algorithms. I will be referring to commonly accepted practices across platforms when I mention this.
A webpages URL Authority is the same as the Domain Authority only segmented down to just the specific URL. This is generally calculated through number of banklinks, quality of backlinks, and URL social shares.
On Page SEO
These are factors on your article or webpage which affect how well it will rank in search engines. Some are throughout the content while others are in the backend coding of the page. These is generally the most important and easiest to control aspect of ranking your website in search engines.
Off Page SEO
These are ranking factors not actually located on your website. Backlinks and social shares are the bulk of this factor.
Search Engine Index
A search engines "Index" is all of the website pages it has saved to pull from and show in search results. Each search engine (unless it's simply a rebranded Google Search etc.) has it's own index and its important to manage your websites pages in each.
What is a Search Engines Primary Goal?
An important thing to understand when you’re trying to optimize for Google, or Bing, is what their goal is and the real purpose of the search engine. Now you might say, “Zach, that’s easy, they want to list websites that make sense to whatever you’re searching for.” And, yes, you would be right. But, it’s a little bit deeper than that.
Google’s purpose and goal is to put the most relevant and highest quality websites in front of their users. Now keep in mind, relevant and highest quality. Their algorithms are trying to prove this. You need to remember this the entire time that you’re optimizing.
Your whole goal is to prove that your page is the most relevant and the highest quality for whatever you’re actively trying to target.
Search engines want their users to be able to find whatever they’re looking for as quickly as possible. They don’t want them to have to go through multiple pages. Ideally, people don’t ever have to leave page one. And, they don’t want you to have to click through multiple websites to find what you’re looking for.
How do Search Engines Work?
Next you need to understand how the search engine actually works (this will be extremely simplified for the purposes of this article. If requested, I will do a much more detailed article around this topic alone).
Google and Bing each have an "Index". It’s a database of all the websites they know about and relevent information they store and use to identify ranking. They send automated systems, called bots, which go from website to website, crawling them (pulling all of the information off the page, and then saving it.)
When they do this, they jump from website to website based on websites linking to each other. They may also find your website if you submit a sitemap or simply request your page to be indexed in their online tool.
When a user searches for a keyword or phrase, Google and Bing take the search term/phrase, go through their indexes running an algorithm to try and determine what is the most relevant and highest quality content.
They then display the results they find in the order their algorithms determined relevancy and quality for that specific search.
Two additional things to take away from this are: 1) Search engines are saving and caching your website and 2) You need to make sure your website is actually getting crawled and getting crawled on a regular basis. Now we’re going to cover how to make sure this happens.
The Number One Thing You Have to Be Doing
What you need to do first, before we even worry about search engine ranking factors or how to optimize content, is make sure you have your website and sitemap submitted to Google.
The sitemap is a list of all the pages on your website which you’re giving to Google and Bing to tell them to crawl on a regular basis. It is critical to making sure your website is always in Google’s and Bing's indexes and every page on your site is getting crawled regularly.
Otherwise, you’re optimizing something that Google and Bing potentially don't even know exists.
Start by creating a Google Webmaster tools account and a Bing Toolbox Account. Once you have an account you will then create a sitemap submit it. They can find your website by crawling external sites who link to you, but this is by far the best way of ensuring your website's being crawled and always up-to-date in search engines.
Search Engine Ranking Factor Categories
Search engine ranking factors are what search engines look for in order to prove what we talked about earlier, relevancy and quality. Now I break them up in multiple different categories so that way it’s easier for you to understand and target.These factors can be broken down into four major categories:
- Sitewide Search Engine Ranking Factors
- On-Page Content Optimization Search Engine Ranking Factors
- On-Page Technical Optimization Search Engine Ranking Factors
- Off-Page Search Engine Ranking Factors
First you have your site wide ranking factors. These are factors which can be done to help your website, as a whole, rank. These help every single page on your website rank up together.
On-Page ranking factors are broken up into two seperate categories since they are generally handled by different teams or professionals.
On-page in generally being elements specfic to an individual URL which help that URL rank. On-page content optimizations are exactly as they sound, optimizations in your content on that page to better target specific keywords or phrases. On-page technical optimizations are perfomance and more coding based factors which assist in ranking.
Lastly, off-page ranking factors. These are ranking factors having to do with other websites or other platforms assisting your website in ranking. These are the most tricky since they aren't easily in your control as they deal with external websites.
1. Sitewide Search Engine Ranking Factors
Sitewide Search Engine Ranking Factors assist your website as a whole in ranking. It is suggested that every website has a Domain Rating (DR) which is a numbered rating, from 0 to 100, which identifies your domains ranking potential as a whole.
This is a relative number which changes as websites move up and down. 100 is the best on the internet and everything else is compared to those.
Numerous websites and tools have their own way of calculating Domain Rating, but most of them judge this off backlinks to your website. Using a tool like ahrefs or moz can show you their calculation of your Domain rating and let track your backlinks to see how they're affecting your site.
Most people don't know that backlinks to your website not only help the page they link to, but your website as a whole.
The number of total backlinks to your websites pages, unique referring domains, and the quality of the pages and domains linking to you affects this score and your overal ease of ranking.Luckily for you, focusing on generating backlinks for your ideal ranking pages will naturally build your website's Domain Rating.Some other easier to cover sitewide search engine ranking factors are:
- The age of your domain (older the better)
- Previous or current malware/suspected malicious activity
- Having an SSL
- How far out your domain is purchased for (the longer the better)
- Not having Privacy Protection on your domain (Matt Cutts stated it could be an identifier for malicious intent)
2. On-Page Content Optimization Search Engine Ranking Factors
On-page content optimizations are optimizations with the text, the title, the url, and anything else on the page in terms of content that you can control for whatever keyword that you’re actively targeting.
Let’s start with the url. It’s very important to try to have whatever keyword or phrase that you’re trying to rank for in the url in the exact word order that you’re trying to rank for it.
That would be the number one thing to really try to focus initially. Now what if you want/need to rename a url?
Maybe you launched an article as one url and you realize you want to change your target keyword or you haven’t already optimized for ranking so you didn’t take this step when you first launched it.
You can go ahead and edit the url, you just have to make sure that you have a 301 redirect from the original url to the new one. Pretty much, that tells Google, “Hey anywhere you find this other link, go ahead and go here instead.”
It also sends anyone who accidentally goes to that first url to the second url. So, editing a URL isn't something that you absolutely can’t do, you just have to make sure you’re also setting up a 301 redirect and that you’re organizing them properly.
Next is the title tag on the page. So, the title tag isn’t something that actually shows up in the content. It’s what shows up in the tab and what shows up as the Title in the google search if you rank.
If you’re using WordPress, what you name the page is also set in the title tag. Other platforms will do it in a similar way. You do need to make sure you have a title tag on the page. It’s the next most important ranking factor.
Not only do you want the title tag on the page, but you want to make sure you’re using your keyword or the keyword phrase at the start of the title tag ideally.
You can check to see if your website has a title tag by right clicking on your website and viewing page source and then searching for the word “title” in two bracket like this "<title>".
Just make sure you find that with text within it. If you find it, great you have it on your page just make sure that your keyword or keyword phrase is not only in it but ideally at the start of it.
Next up is the h1 and headers on the page. If you don’t know how it works, your header hierarchy on your page generally goes h1, h2, h3, all the way to h6’s.
It’s pretty much telling the browser and Google what are your important headers. Also, you probably have some different css stylings so an h1 is probably going to be bigger or maybe a different color h2’s will be slightly smaller maybe underlined.
You’ll have some different css that’s your way to kind of easily break up the page and put in an easier to see structure. So, again make sure you have your keyword or keyword phrase in an h1 tag and at the start of it.
Next one is keyword density. This is how many times the keyword actually shows up on the page compared to how many words you have on the page total.
So, if you have a 2% density and you have 100 words on the page, out of the 100 words on your page, 2 of them are your keyword or keyword phrase. A good density to shoot for is about 1.5-3%.
You don’t want to go too far because again this is another negative ranking factor if you try to spam it. It used to be where websites would just throw the keyword on there as many times as possible and get roughly a 10% keyword density and Google would actually fall for it and rank it first.
It no longer does that. It’ll see that you are maliciously overusing the keyword or that you’re taking away quality content by just trying to throw your keyword everywhere you possibly can.
Again, keep track of it, try to keep it around 1.5-3%, that seems to be a good range because you do want to make sure it shows up on the page enough, but don’t try to trick Google.
Also, don’t do any of those tricks where maybe you make the words a different color to match the background so the user can’t see them but you can stack keywords on the page or maybe make the css hidden so that way it’s technically there in the code but it’s not there for the frontend user.
Google is looking for those now too and sees them as a negative. Pretty much, don’t get caught trying to trick Google is your best bet at ranking success.
3. On-PageTechnical OptimizationSearch Engine Ranking Factors
So, lets dive into on-page technical factors now. Now the reason I separate these two is because a lot of times it’s not always the same person working on both.
So, I think it’s easier to separate them up into a few different categories even though they both have to do with the same page. So, that way when your testing them and optimizing for them they’re going to the most relevant people.
But maybe you are. Maybe you’re like me, maybe you are doing the technical as well as doing the content. Technical factors being like page load time, page size, how many resources you’re pulling. All of these things are very important.
Theoretically though, it seems to be the load time and the size of the page and everything only matters because it affects the load time so if you keep the load time down you should be good.
Really with this, the size of your page should be as small as possible and load as quickly as possible without taking away from your user experience.
Compress your images use something like Google’s page speed tools. Again, search google for page speed tools. It’ll run a little test and tell you. I use a tool called GT Metrics. It will tell you the size of your page, all of your resources, break up the load and more.
After the test is complete, send the report over to your developer if you’re not happy with the results. GT Metrics will compare you to the rest of the internet and anyone who has ran through that tool.
You also have pingdom, they’re a speed test tool as well which will tell you how fast your website is compared to the rest of the internet. Now this is secondary to the on-page factors and off-page factors, the other ones show the keyword optimizations and backlinks and social shares.
But it is still a very important factor and the nice thing about this one is that if you have a good sound code base, you won't have to worry about it moving forward.
So, for instance, I put a lot of work into it initially so our site loads very fast and as long as we make sure we’re optimizing images on any new posts we get to benefit the rewards from this for something we did the work for once.
That’s why I recommend readily keeping track of how well you're doing with these factors and putting a lot of effort into it because you generally only have to do it once and from their its just upkeeping the work you've already done.
Just make sure you’re resizing your images later on. You can use a tool like imageresizer.net to compress your images a little bit. Switch over your big stock photos into jpegs make them a max width of 1920 pixels because you really don’t need a 6000-pixel wide photo on your website. Somebody isn’t going to be opening your website on a massive projector and if they are then they should understand.
4. Off-Page Search Engine Ranking Factors
Off-Page search engine ranking factors are search engine ranking factors that aren’t actually on your website, but do help your website rank.
Now, there’s really two primary off-page ranking factors, backlinks and social shares. A backlink is when another website links to your website. Google sees this as a quality factor because it thinks if another website is linking to your website, obviously you must have some good, quality content and there’s a reason other websites are linking to yours.
The issue with this is backlinks can be both positive and negative. Google does take in account the authority and the relevancy of whatever site is linking to yours. If you own a SEO site for instance, and you have a shoe site linking to you it’s not as relevant as another SEO site or inbound marketing site linking to your website.
More importantly though, Google keeps track of other spam and malicious link farming websites. So, if you have a website that has thousands of links on a page, or a website that’s selling out links and is known for it or other malicious activity, Google will see that as a negative factor of your website and it can hurt your ranking potential.
That’s why it’s important to never do those ads you see where it asks for you to buy a hundred or a thousand backlinks. All you’re going to do is get your site possibly blocked by Google. Which is absolutely the worst-case scenario.
Being blocked by Google means that Google will refuse to show your website in their index and in searches. And best-case scenario it’s going to hurt your ranking potential. Neither of these is ideal and Google thankfully has something called, “disavowing” that you can do in the Google Webmaster tools account that we talked about earlier.
If you see poor quality backlinks coming to your website, you can tell Google, “Hey I didn’t approve these, I don’t know why they’re linking to me. Don’t have it affect into my site’s factors.”
Again, backlinks being when other websites link to your website. You can get these in a few different ways. Ideally, organically, so you’re putting out quality enough content that other people are wanting to link to you.
Otherwise, you can interact with other sites, do guest posts, comment on other people’s blogs. Quality comments of course that add to whatever the user base is or the person is speaking about.
Backlinks are broken up into two types, you have no-follow links and follow links. Most comments and those types of things are given a no follow link. That’s whenever the website is saying, “Hey Google, there may be links on this page but we’re not condoning them, we don’t know what they are, we’re not going to pass value.”
Google has said that for the “most part” they don’t follow no-follow links, but studies have shown that no-follow links still do have some positive authority in terms of ranking so they are better than nothing.
The best types of links are follow links. That’s when other sites are linking to you and just leaving the link open, meaning not adding the no follow tag, therefore telling Google they are purposely linking to you and you are a quality website.
The other major offpage factor is social shares. This is how many times your website is shared on different social platforms like Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. This is a key reason why every business needs to use a Google+ account whether or not they think their target audience is there.
Google sees these linking posts as a positive thing very similarly to backlinks, in that the more people, and higher quality people, that share your content the more valuable your content must be.
The only social platform that Google seems to no longer be able to pull from is Twitter just because Twitter had some development updates to their api and how things work. So, social shares and backlinks, are two very important factors that you need to be optimizing for.
I hope you found this information beneficial and feel free to comment down below any thoughts or questions you may have.