SEO, short for search engine optimization, is the name used for the activities one does to improve their website’s ranking on a search engine. The higher up on the search engine results page that you appear, the more likely you are to have users click to your website. Therefore, it’s incredibly beneficial to use SEO efforts to influence and improve where your site appears on the page.
There are multiple different SEO tactics one can utilize in order to impact results. In this blog we will be focusing on white-hat SEO, meaning the tactics that are meant to target human audiences and are approved and encouraged by search engines like Google. Black-hat SEO refers to the techniques that users sometimes use even though they break the search engines guidelines. Typically, black-hat SEO targets the search engines more than actual humans. These could include keyword stuffing, spamming and any other technique that is not a natural, user-focused action. At the end of the day, search engines like Google are incredibly smart and they will know if you are using black-hat SEO for a quick win instead of approved, white-hat SEO for long-lasting results. There are consequences for those actions which is why it’s never worth it to try to fool the search engines for a quick boost in your rankings.
White Hat SEO
White-hat SEO techniques include both on-page SEO and off-page SEO. Some examples would be keyword selection and implementation, title tag and meta description writing, internal linking strategies and writing strong, relevant content.
Let’s start with the on-page SEO techniques that an SEO company may use. On-page refers to any changes or updates you make directly to your website that may help you rank higher. These include changing any of the HTML code, changing the title and meta tags and writing new content. These are things you have direct, full control over. On-page SEO lets you tell the search engines what your website is all about!
The first thing you’ll need to determine is what are the keywords you want to rank for. What words and phrases are the most important for your website to show up high on the search engine results page for? Determining those keywords will be crucial to the on-page SEO efforts.
Where will you include those keywords? First, the title tags of each of your pages. The title tag is the small snippet of text that appears on the results page and tells the user what the page is about. You’ll also include keywords in the description tag. The description tag is that longer piece of text that appears on the search engine results page and is a way for you to set the expectation of what the user will see on your site. Additionally, you’ll use keywords in your headings (the titles of the sections on your site) and your URL structure. You can design your URLs to include keywords right in the path! You can also include relevant keywords as alt text for images. Search engines cannot read images – they simply see them as black boxes. Alt text for images is a way for you to tell the search engines what your picture is about.
The biggest, most important way for you to use keywords is in the content on your website. Any place that you can naturally include your most important keywords is encouraged. Many users even write specific blogs about important topics that they want to rank high for. This is a natural way to show Google you are a thought leader in the space and about that topic.
Along with creating relevant content, another important aspect is creating fresh content. This doesn’t mean that you need to re-write your pages every week. It just means that Google certainly pays attention to how much content you put out and how often you do so. Depending on your product or industry, aiming to update content every 12 months or so would be a good goal to have.
Aside from all of the SEO tactics and efforts that you can have complete control over, there are also the off-page SEO factors. This includes anything that takes place off of your actual website like backlinks, social signals and other items. The main difference with off-page SEO is that you do not have direct control of what’s happening. Where on-page SEO tells search engines what you’re all about, off-page SEO sends signals of authority to influence ranking.
A good way to think about the importance of off-page SEO is in terms of authority and word of mouth. You can praise yourself and your products all you want, but it’s only worth so much. It’s much more valuable when it comes from third parties and multiple different credible sources. That is why it’s so important to work on what SEOs call a linking strategy. The more sites that link back to your site, the more positive effect that’s going to have on your overall domain authority. Basically, those links signal to Google that you are a credible source and they should rank you high because of that.
Link quantity is less important than link quality. Meaning that 100 links to your site from small, un-noteworthy sites are not going to do as much for you as one, solid link from a credible, important website.
How do you gain these links? The easiest, most natural way to do it is by creating quality content on your website that others will naturally want to share with others. You should be creating this great content regardless, so it’s just an added bonus when a credible third-party site picks it up and links to it from their own website. This is also how you can get social signals which increase your off-page SEO as well. In the same way that credible sites can link back to your site, your content can also end up going “viral” so to speak with people sharing and interacting with it on different social media sites. The more users who interact with it, the better it is, because that also signals to Google that it is a relevant piece of content.
Besides creating amazing content that others will share naturally, there are still other things you can do. One is email outreach and one is guest blogging. Email outreach is as simple as it sounds – you can take the time to reach out to other industry leaders and influencers in your space and simply ask them if they will link back to your website from theirs. This is not as recommended as content creation because it’s very time consuming and often not very successful. While it doesn’t hurt to try, you can feel as if you’ve wasted time if you get no responses and no links back to your content.
Guest blogging is an easier way to achieve a similar output. If you write a blog for a website that is similar in content to your own, you can easily link back to your own site and create some backlinks that way. While they are probably not the highest of quality, there is no harm in adding them to your list.
There are also technical SEO elements to take into account as well. An incredibly important way to rank well on Google is by making sure your website has a good mobile experience. Since Google’s shift towards mobile-first indexing, it’s more important than ever to design your site with mobile in mind. This means that Google will take your mobile site into account first before ever looking at the desktop version. You should be designing mobile-first, not just mobile-friendly.
Other technical elements to consider are page load speed and website crawlability. Page load speed is quite simple to understand: you want your website to load as fast as possible. If it takes longer than 3-4 seconds to load, users are most likely not going to wait around. They may even go back to the search engine and choose one your competitors instead. The faster your site, the higher you will rank. Additionally, website crawlability is incredibly important for your technical SEO efforts. If search engines can’t crawl your website (which is what it’s called when the read your website and decide where to rank you), then you will never have a chance to rank well. To make sure your site is crawl-able, you need a strong site architecture. This means having both an HTML and XML sitemap as well as a robots.txt file. These things instruct Google (and other engines) how to read your website, what to take into account, what to ignore, and what are the most important items.
So, which is more important? On-site SEO efforts, off-site SEO or technical SEO? The answer is all of them. You want to focus on both simultaneously to achieve maximum success. At the end of the day, SEO takes time. It can take a while for the techniques you put into place to be recognized and rewarded by the various search engines. That’s why it’s even more important for you to be tackling all the various aspects of SEO at the same time in order to maximize your results because some efforts may take longer to come to fruition than others will.
Ranking high on search engines ultimately comes down to one thing. Google (and others) are very smart. You can’t outsmart them by using black-hat tactics to rank high on their site. A search engine’s ultimate goal is to provide a nice, smooth user experience and to answer the user’s question. Your site will rank high if Google thinks that your site is the best solution for that user’s search query.
With that in mind, the best advice is just to think like a human – think like yourself! Don’t get caught up in the nitty gritty aspects of SEO and forget that you have good content to offer. What do you offer that other sites do not? What would a user get from your website that they wouldn’t get elsewhere? That is your value proposition and that is what you should focus on. That is your answer for every aspect of SEO. If you focus on providing value to users, not on outsmarting search engines, you will be successful.
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