Search engine optimization can be confusing! If you've talked to any SEO consultants recently, you'll probably have found that they all suggest slightly different strategies, and you may have come across some trying to hide their real methods and tactics with promises of "you'll rank for sure, but we won't tell you why or how". In the news you may have heard about algorithm changes that keep upending the industry. SEO has certainly built itself a questionable reputation.

However SEO is an amazing source of traffic, leads, and revenue for many businesses. That includes both local business and those competing on a larger National or International scale. Yes, there's a large number of factors to consider when undertaking a search marketing campaign but it doesn't have to be as confusing or intimidating as people make it out to be.

Read on to learn more! First we're going to get a handle on what SEO is so you know what parts of a Google search your changes will be affecting. Then we'll delve into the different components of SEO: how to find the search phrases to target first; the best places to make on-site changes to your website; and finally the off-site techniques that dramatically improve your rankings.

What is SEO?

You'd think this would be the easiest part, but sadly it's not. SEO consultants have done a great job of confusing their potential customers, often purely to make it seem like you need them for everything related to online marketing: like they're magic. And unfortunately, this confusion starts by defining SEO in wildly different ways. Yes, SEO is connected to many aspects of web marketing, but that doesn't make them SEO.

google search results layout

We created this diagram to help illustrate what parts of a typical Google or Bing search result SEO applies to.

Search engine optimization (SEO), at its core, is about making the necessary changes to your website's internal and external link profile and content to help ensure it reaches top rankings (e.g.: #1 position) in the Organic search results section of any search engine (this is the blue section in the diagram).

While local map results are a part of SEO, they're typically not the primary focus. This is because those results should not require a large amount of attention on the part of your SEO consultant. It's a set it and forget it component, assuming you do it right from the start.

What is SEO not?

  1. SEO is not reselling pay-per-click ads. Far too many firms (such as Yellow Pages and Register/Web dot com) have been using the term SEO to refer to search advertising -- paying for advertisements on search engines then charging you double or triple. This is actually just marked up Search Advertising - a component of Search Engine Marketing (SEM). This is the service that results in your website appearing in the yellow "Ads" sections of our diagram above. Click here to read more about search advertising if this is what you're interested in pursuing.
  2. SEO is not just throwing the keywords you think searchers will be using to find you all over your website, everywhere possible.
  3. SEO is not simply submitting your website to as many sketchy directory sites as you can find. This strategy is bound to get your website blacklisted sooner or later.

The Goal of SEO: How to Be #1 on Google

We partake in search engine optimization to get top rankings on search engines, like Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go, etc.

We're asked this question all the time: how do I get my site ranked number one on Google? We give a good chuckle and think if only there was a secret equation to get a number one spot all the time. So here is the truth: there is no secret, but there is a process.

There are many search engine optimization companies out there and each bring their own unique skill set to the table. Unfortunately, some tend to promise results that they can not guarantee. You should not take the advice or utilize a company that promises or guarantees a number one spot in Google. Similarly, if they withhold their tactics, be very wary.

Obviously there are some SEO experts that deliver better results than others, however, this is due to experience, research and experimentation, common sense, and hard work: not secrets.

The rest of this guide is a detailed and organized guide to how SEO works and how best to approach it.

The Three Pillars Of Search Rankings

There are three major areas that when combined will help you to improve your search rankings and increase traffic to your website:

  1. Keyword & Market Research
  2. On-Site Content & Structure
  3. Off-Site SEO: Link Building/Acquisition

1. Keyword Research & Understanding Your Market

Everything starts here. Understanding your market, researching what people are looking for and what problems and questions they have is incredibly important.

In many cases it's better to focus your efforts on more targeted keywords that have less volume but also less competition than trying to go after the hugely popular keywords. This is because of relevance. You want as targeted traffic as possible. Take this example: if you're a personal trainer, you could try to target the keyword "weight loss" - it's a keyword that is searched for thousands of times a day. However, the traffic would be very off-target and your return on investment would be very low.

You'd be much better off ranking for a term that focuses on both your location and the service you deliver. "Halifax personal trainer" for example is much less competitive and would result in better targeted traffic, looking for the services you provide, and therefore better qualified leads for you to convert into customers.

Understanding your market and their search behaviour is extremely important.

Competing Locally? Ask us about creating your Google My Business page (used for Maps results), setting up a content strategy, and linking it effectively to your website.

But how do I know who my audience is if I'm just getting started?

We get this question a lot and it's particularly prevalent for bloggers. At least if you're selling a particular product you've got a (very general) idea who your target market is: people that want to buy your product (though clearly it goes into much more detail than that). But bloggers may not yet know what to write about.

The key to remember is that if you've got a website, then you've got a potential audience, and finding out more about who your potential audience is will help you to build that audience faster and more effectively.

When you're engaging in keyword research (via the keyword planner video below), try to think about what you're planning on writing about or what you're selling. Then think about what your audience (or customers) might be searching for to try and find your content or products/services. You'll be looking to find the combination of search phrases that yields the highest number of searches per month, then focus in on that for your SEO across your website. Try to pick just one or two search phrases, then expand outward to new phrases after you've found success with those ones.

Finding Keywords & What People Are Searching For

Click here to open the Google Keyword Planner Tool in a new window >>>

You can find more on keyword research on our blog. Just click here!

2. On-site Content & Structure

This is an important component to obtaining a good ranking for two reasons: because you have control over everything (if you're using a high quality content management system), and because the only direct cost is your time. Every good search marketing solution starts with looking at your website.

As far as your website goes, content is king. Great content will drive traffic to your site, brand you as an expert and leader, and build a community of customers, potential customers, and fans. There is nothing better for search engines than great unique content. But how do you get it?

Articles and blog posts are an excellent way to generate new content for a website. It is also very important to describe and write about your products and services. Tell your audience about them and why they are so great. Convince them with content. Be creative.

More details on content marketing here.

New Website Structural Optimizations

If you're creating a new site, it's important to ensure you're using a content management system (CMS) that's SEO friendly. For example, one that doesn't use pretty permalinks (also known as friendly URLs) by default makes for a poor website for both humans and search engines alike. Similarly, it's important to ensure that your CMS or one of its well-maintained plugins allows you to control meta tags like the title and description on both a global and per-page basis.

Website Redesign URLs + Redirects

Search rankings are often overlooked when redesigning a website. When you change pages, titles, URL structure, all while adding and removing pages, you can serious influence your rankings. If you're not careful you can often drop in rankings that you spent a lot of time, effort, and money investing in.

Two key things that get overlooked in redesigns are:

  1. Changing a page's address to make it more friendly (remember the above part about Pretty Permalinks). What you may not think about is that any traffic / links your previous URL for that page had is now being sent... nowhere! Protect yourself by creating a 301 redirect. These redirects tell Google and your visitors that the page they're looking for has permanently moved to a new location. The upshot of this? People are automatically redirected to the correct page, and Google assigns all the ranking of the old page location to the new one. Pretty snazzy.
  2. Removing a page because you're consolidating some content? You'll want to do the 301 redirect as mentioned above for this situation, too. Redirect the traffic to the most relevant page you have. You can even use anchor tags to redirect traffic to the specific part of the most relevant page.
    Whether we design your new site or someone else does the development work, we can help in the final steps of your redesign to make sure that your users experience no broken links, and that all the old content is properly forwarded so that visitors find the correct page and your rankings stay strong.

If you want to build or rebuild your website yourself, make sure you're using WordPress to do so. That will give you the necessary flexibility and tools to ensure your on-site optimization efforts have maximum effect. Check out our guide to creating your own WordPress site.

If you'd rather not spend your time learning everything there is to know about creating a website and optimizing it simultaneously, that's understandable. Check out our SEO friendly web design options here.

Once you know what your potential customers are looking for and what problems they have, you need to make sure that your website provides the solutions and answers. Creating great sharable content is always a plus when it comes to SEO.

It's more than just content though - paying attention to your Titles and Meta-Descriptions and making sure they reflect what the page is actually about will help tell search engines and searchers what to expect.

Navigation & Internal Links

Internal linking and navigation structure can make it easy or difficult for both a user and a search engine to browse through your website. Sitemap XML files, keyword density, Analytics and tracking, broken links, and many other factors all come into play when optimizing the structure and content of your site.

How do you manage this with a WordPress website? Watch this video! We'll show you how to get a great SEO plugin installed and configured.

URL Structure / Permalinks

What are 'pretty permalinks' or 'friendly URLs'? Look at this page's address in your web browser, it probably shows up like this:

That's a friendly URL; you can read it and it makes sense! It's visually appealing, and - thanks to the wizards at Google things that are friendly to users are considered friendly to search engines as well. Comparatively, if you've ever created a website at Wix, you'll likely note that your page address looks a lot more like this: http://yourwixwebsite.wix/#2839dljsflkj3s

Look at that address and tell me what the page is supposed to be about. My immediate guess is that it's about somebody's cat jumping on their keyboard, but in reality that's just what Wix's default permalinks (URLs) look like. Yes, it is entirely possible to make them prettier, but it's not a default setting. That seems a bit counter-productive.

Titles & Page Description Meta

Using proper page titles and header titles go a long way in increasing your search results. If you do not currently use header tags (such as h1, h2, etc.) you may want to consider implementing them in place of your current titles.

The same goes for the page description meta. With a WordPress site any SEO plugin like SEOPress or Yoast SEO will provide you with fields to fill out for the page title and description. No code editing necessary!

Image Filenames and alt Tags

Ensuring your images use readable filenames that match the content within like 'web-marketing-graph.jpg' and an alt value of "web marketing graph" helps ensure those images get ranked well in search engine's image search functionality and help to reinforce the SEO benefits of all the content around it at the same time!

Also check out our quick article on alt tag optimization for your logo image.

Linking and rel tags

Search engines like it if you specify what each type of link is for, so this is what the rel tag is used for. Here's a few examples, a couple of which are new as of 2020:

rel="sponsored": This attribute can be used to identify links on your site that are part of an advertisement, sponsorship or some other paid agreement.

rel="ugc": This attribute is recommended for links appearing in user-generated content, like comments and forum posts.

rel="nofollow": This attribute can be applied to any scenario in which you want to link to a page but don’t want to pass along ranking credit to it.

Source & More Info

More on-site SEO Tips

Here's a bunch more on-site SEO tips to look out for:

  • Secure (https) or not (http)? Subdomain (www) or not? Are there the right type (301) of redirects in place to ensure you're only ever using one pre-determined combination? If not, you may be splitting your rank!
  • Site Speed. Is your site responding as fast as ours? If not, you need to find a new web host (like our high performance WordPress hosting!)
  • Mobile Friendly? A responsive web design is not just optional. It's a requirement these days if you want to rank.

How we can help

Already have a website? We can provide you with a free, researched report that tells you what you need to focus on to improve your SEO. Whether that be on-site content structure and tags or getting more backlinks.

Don't yet have a website, or want to redesign first? Learn how to create a website yourself, or check out our web design plans and have us do it for you.

If you've been doing your research, you'll be comparing us to two different types of typical SEO firms. The first type is a blackhat SEO firm that spams your keywords throughout your website and then does the same with backlinks, haphazardly spreading them throughout the Internet. These firms are the quickest way to a month or two of great rankings, then years of recovery from being blacklisted by Google. We know this from experience: years ago, we did the very same thing to one of our own websites, then vowed never to do it again.

The second type of firm are whitehat SEO providers. They'll build your brand slowly but surely, creating meaningful one-to-one relationships with other companies for backlinks. After years of investment, you'll get the rankings you want. Conveniently (for them) these guys also charge thousands of dollars per month. They offer a great service, but it's typically well outside of the budget of a small business.

We're a balance between these two types of agencies. Our RankBooster plans are an approach to link acquisition that was built using industry expert knowledge to inherently have next to no risk and provide comparatively fast ranking improvements. On average it takes just three weeks for first page results.

We'll also be here to provide you with advice regarding developing and using the content, social, and online advertising strategies that best support your SEO efforts and therefore reach as many people as possible.

Ready to find out more?

Get your website assessed today! We'll analyze everything from your on-site tag structure and content to your backlink portfolio and provide you with a report that tells you exactly what you need to be focusing on to get more traffic to your website.