Laying the foundations of good SEO: the most important tasks (part 1)

Nobody ever said SEO was easy. It not only requires a myriad of different methods that evolve over time and follow no particular pattern, but is also impacted by ever-changing search engine policies.

Yet SEO is actually quite methodical. While you will need to mix and combine multiple on-page, off-page, local and other factors to come up with an effective SEO strategy, you can’t just start anywhere. You must prioritize tasks — from basic to advanced SEO — to succeed.

If you do not begin by laying a foundation, you will end up spending a lot of time without achieving the results you need to support your bottom line.

Set up and check SEO tools

SEO deals with data, so your first priority should be to make sure your tools to collect and analyze that data are working properly. The most important are:

  • Google Search Console. You will not be able to track a site’s performance in Google search without this. It is also useful for keyword analysis, implementing and fixing technical SEO, and analyzing UX factors, for example
  • Bing Webmaster Tools. While not as popular as Google, around one quarter of all searches in the US are performed using Bing, and it does have some useful features that enable users to analyze keywords, inbound links, traffic and more
  • Google Analytics. Make sure that your Google Analytics account is properly connected to Google Search Console, then set up specific reports and goals to track your website’s performance stats (e.g. traffic, top-performing pages, page views, bounce rate, CTR)
  • Yoast SEO for WordPress. Since WordPress is one of the most popular CMS systems on the Web, chances are you will be using the Yoast SEO plugin. Intuitive and user-friendly, it helps with titles, meta descriptions, URLs, keywords, and content quality. More technical like sitemaps and robots.txt is also covered.

Keyword research

Keyword research is the foundation of all SEO activity. Once you have ensured that your SEO tools do their jobs, figure out which keywords you need to optimize for and which errors you need to fix to avoid penalties. There are three key areas to keep in mind:

  • Over-optimization. Keyword stuffing will quickly put you on the wrong side of Google, so you should ensure that keywords are placed naturally (you will notice if over-optimization is an issue). On average, you want to have up to five ‘required’ keywords and keyword phrases per page.
  • Long-tail keywords. It’s important not to use one keyword repeatedly, so to optimize for user intent placing long-tail keywords in your content is a must. Use Google Suggest, Google Keyword Planner and Keyword Tool to research the long-tail keywords your customers are searching for.
  • Synonyms and LSIs. Another way to show to Google that you cater for your audience is to include multiple variations of keyword synonyms and LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) phrases in your content. As a rule, these are low-competition keywords and you can rank for them pretty easily. Carry out some research using Quora, Reddit and other forums to figure out which keywords your customers use in searches. Tools such as KWFinder, LSIGraph and Answer The Public may also will help.

On-site optimization

To improve your site’s rankings in search engines, you must provide clear signals that your pages are better than those of your competitors. In other words, you need to excel at on-page SEO. Here are some key areas to focus on:

  • According to Brian Dean’s search engine rankings research, shorter URLs featuring one keyword rank better than longer URLs. Since Google prefers this format, it naturally makes sense to shorten them and place your target keyword in the URL to make it more descriptive.
  • Tags and descriptions. Titles, subtitles, alt tags and meta descriptions are important on-page SEO factors. Ensure that:
    • They all feature your targeted keyword
    • The title does not exceed 70 characters
    • h1, h2, and h3 tags are scannable (i.e. allow users to get a post’s meaning without reading it)
    • The alt tag allows users to figure out the image’s meaning if it is not displayed on the page
    • Meta descriptions are descriptive and feature LSIs for user intent.
  • External links. Links to trusted, authoritative websites are indicators that a piece of content is well-researched and well-referenced. Furthermore, they provide additional value to users. Use between five and eight external links in your content pieces.
  • Internal links. You should link your pages together to create crawling paths for Google bots and conversion funnels for your users. Place between two and five internal links per content piece.
  • Website structure, navigation, and UX factors. According to the three-click rule, users should be able to find any information on a website within three mouse clicks. No matter how much sense this rule makes, it comes down to the fact that any website must be easy to navigate and use, and its structure simple and cohesive.

Conclusions

In this article the author has shared his perspectives on the most important SEO tasks with regard to SEO tools, keyword research, and on-page optimization factors.

These three areas are the foundation of any SEO campaign as will they allow you to efficiently collect and analyze data, optimize the keywords your customers search for (and thus drive targeted traffic), and enhance your website by optimizing URLs, tags, descriptions, structure, navigation and UX.

Other areas to keep in mind are technical SEO (specifically, the factors related to mobile-friendliness and loading speed), content, and off-page optimization. These will be discussed in the next article.

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