Website SEO: the beginner’s guide to ranking on Google
With over 1.7 billion websites on the internet, and new ones being created every second, how are you supposed to stand out? In this guide, we’ll show you what it really takes to drive visitors to your website via the power of SEO — even if you just created your website today.
As new people adopt the internet daily, competition for attention online is growing. This means that making sure you have proper website SEO is now a necessity and not just an option. I know, you know, how important it is to get people to visit your website — especially if you’re a startup trying to get traction.
The whole concept of trying to attract people to a website is extremely fascinating. It has intrigued me a lot and it’s what made me fall in love with startups and marketing. I’ve spent quite a long time trying to understand how to grab people’s attention online, specifically with methods that don’t require a lot of capital to start.
It’s taken a good amount of mentorship and trial and error to get right — a lot more of the latter. But, judging that I’ve been doing this for a while, I think I know a thing or two by now. And no I’m not here to brag at all. I didn’t learn this stuff straight out the womb. I’m just trying to make you understand that if you read this post to the end, it’s not written by someone who simply took a course and is regurgitating this info back to you. I do this stuff often, and I love it.
In this post, we’ll go over almost everything useful you need to know about SEO and driving new visitors to your website. And yes, I said everything. I’ll even show you a real case study in this post. So grab some popcorn, pour your favorite drink (I’ll be sipping on a LaCroix), and get ready to either woo your boss or start driving visitors to your business.
What is website SEO in 2020?
SEO stands for search engine optimization and it’s the process in which algorithms figure out how to rank content within search engines. It doesn’t just apply to Google. SEO principles can be applied to almost any platform that has a search engine — YouTube, Bing, Etsy, and Pinterest just to name a few. However, because we are talking about website SEO, we’ll mainly be talking about Google SEO.
SEO requires both technical and artistic skill to get right, but don’t worry if you’re a non-technical person. On the technical side of things, you just need to understand how Google “crawls” and “indexes” the web to find content. On the more artistic side of things, you need to learn what makes great content that ranks high in Google’s SERP (search engine results pages).
The primary reason why SEO is so important is that it drives free traffic to your website. And by free I mean it’s organic.
Unlike using social media ads, Google ads, or paying for sponsorships to drive visitors to your website, SEO traffic ensures that you constantly have a steady stream of new visitors to your website — even if you’re not spending money on ads.
Note: I use the word “traffic” and website “visitors” interchangeably — they essentially mean the same thing.
To be honest, SEO is pretty simple. But, unfortunately, a lot of businesses don’t get it right when building their website or creating content — especially when blogging. It actually blows my mind that a lot of websites don’t think about SEO. In all honesty, it should be one of the first things you think about when building your website and planning for growth. Just look at companies like Quora, Medium, and TripAdvisor. They literally built their entire business on the concept of SEO.
In order to show you how important SEO is, and how to do it right, I’m going to first take you on a trip down memory lane — back to when Google was born.
How Google actually works
Back in the mid to late 1990s, Larry Page and Sergey Brin wanted to find a way “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” In the early days of Google, most online search engines would categorize websites, and their content, based on how many times a specific keyword popped up on a page.
Larry Page (left) and Sergey Brin (right). Photo taken by Kim Kulish (source)
For example, if a website wrote an article on “how to get rid of the flu,” content would be ranked in search engines based on how many times the phrase “how to get rid of the flu” would show up on the page. I’m overgeneralizing a bit here, but it’s essentially how search engines knew what content to show users.
However, this had major flaws. If you think about it, this meant that many people could game search engines with bad content that would ruin a user’s search experience — simply by stuffing their content with keywords.
And in some naughty cases, websites would add a section on their page full of keywords that were the same text color as the background of the web page. This way the human eye wouldn’t be able to see them, but search engines would. Sneaky sneaky.
But Larry and Sergey originally wanted to create a search engine that would enhance a user’s search experience. This meant Google had to come up with a better way for search engines to analyze the relationship between websites, allowing quality content to appear higher in search results.
And thus, we introduce Google’s core algorithm — PageRank.
Talk about a throwback!
Google’s PageRank algorithm focuses on something known as backlinks (we’ll go more in-depth on them later in this post). Essentially, Google theorized that if another website was linking to your website, it meant that your website had quality content on it and deserved to be ranked higher in search results. Google wanted to make sure relevant, and high quality, content received the highest search engine rankings. And backlinks are what they used to measure this.
Now, simply having websites link to yours doesn’t always mean higher rankings. The quality of these links greatly matters, and it’s only one of many important ranking factors for Google. Granted, it’s probably the most important one, but we’ll get into more ranking factors later in this post.
Besides getting links to your website, Google also needs to find and know what your website is. Thus comes the concept of crawling and indexing.
Remember how Google’s main mission is to organize all the content on the internet? Well, in order to do this, Google needs to find all the content on the internet. And just like how a spider crawls through its web, think of Google as a spider that needs to crawl the world wide web. Google can’t understand what websites exist without crawling them. And once they’re found, Google can’t understand what the content on a website is without indexing it.
This means the bigger your web, and the easier it is for Google to crawl and index, the more of a web presence you’ll have — inevitably equating to more traffic to your website. And by “your web” I’m referring to your website, all of its content and pages, all the websites and pages you link out to, and all the other external websites that link to you.
Each colored circle represents a web page, with arrows showing linking patterns between them.
All of these connections create your web. And you want to make sure it’s as easy as possible for Google to figure out what your web is really all about. It’s the only way Google will know how to properly rank your content in its search engine.
To make sure Google crawlers can easily crawl and index your web, you need to make sure your technical and on-page SEO is designed in a way that speaks Google’s language. We’ll get more into technical and on-page SEO later, but I hope you now have a better understanding of how Google actually works and why it’s so important to optimize your website for Google.
Why is SEO important for businesses?
Today, getting people to visit your website is the first step to creating any successful online business. You may be able to create an amazing product or service. But if no one knows about it, there’s no way you’re going to create a sustainable business.
On the same token, getting people to simply visit your website won’t keep your business alive. Actually, I take that back. Some businesses are designed to generate revenue based solely on ad revenue through things like Google Adsense or paid sponsorships. But if you’re selling a product or service, sales will be the oxygen of your business. And you’ll need more than just a website visit to make that happen.
So what makes SEO different than other marketing channels, and why is it so important if you’re running a business? I’ll give you 2 reasons:
- Organic search traffic
- Strong buyers intent
Knowing that SEO traffic is essentially “free” traffic should immediately make any business owner curious about what it can do for them. I put quotations around the word free because nothing is really free. While you don’t have to specifically pay to receive traffic from Google SEO, building a website and creating content is not free — it can cost you in both time and money.
And just to note, you can use Google PPC ads to pay for Google traffic, but that’s not SEO nor is it free.
What makes creating content for Google so worth it is that once the content is created, and ranking in Google, the ROI (return on investment) is priceless compared to paid advertising or social media promotion.
The second reason why SEO is important, and why I think I love SEO, is because it has strong buyers intent. If you think about it, how do you use Google? To find a solution to a problem, right? I’m going to guess that most of your Google searches are done to find solutions to problems you have — with the occasional search for “cat memes” here and there. But the point is, most people use Google to find solutions to problems.
So the real takeaway is that SEO is important for businesses because people who search are primarily looking for solutions to their problems, and you need to use that to your advantage. When someone has a problem, they “Google it” to find a solution. And your business should exist to be the solution to a user’s problem.
Notice how all of this is very different compared to buying ads, say on Facebook. I consider most paid advertising as disruptive. And no that doesn’t mean bad — I love paid advertising as a distribution tool. It just means that there often is no intent, as it’s not something a user is actively looking for, but rather presented to when doing something else online. And if you’re a millennial like me, you may be almost blind to ads.
To visualize the power of SEO for businesses, I’ll use the example of Honest Paws — one of my favorite ecommerce websites utilizing SEO in a world where most ecommerce stores are just buying ad traffic.
For some context, Honest Paws is an ecommerce store that sells CBD products for pets. Now, Honest Paws could use Facebook ads to get customers to their business, but remember what I said about ads being “disruptive” and the user intent may not be there? They could target dog lovers on Facebook, but not every dog lover needs CBD treats for their dog. Instead, Honest Paws took a clever content marketing route through blogging.
If you have a problem and notice your dog is sick, you might search for something on Google. For example, heaven forbid, your dog vomits and there’s blood (sorry for the graphic visualization). You might Google search something like “dog vomiting blood.” And if you were to do that, you would see an article ranking number 1 in Google from Honest Paws (at the time of me writing this). And after reading the article, you may find that treats infused with CBD could help your dog. So you go ahead and buy one of Honest Paw’s great CBD products. Seeing the power of SEO yet?
Alright, now that I’ve hopefully convinced you on the power of SEO, let’s go over how to actually do it.
Types of SEO: technical and on-page
When I think about SEO, I think about it in 2 different ways, technical and on-page. To sum it up in the easiest way possible, technical SEO is concerned with how your website is built and structured, while on-page SEO is concerned with how you create content on your website. Some might even say there’s “off-page SEO” but I just consider that as a by-product of distribution — more on that later.
Technical SEO: should you worry about it?
Or worse, you don’t know what makes a good hosting provider and you cheap out on hosting, causing slow load times that negatively affect your Google rankings. We’ll talk more about what affects your SEO rankings in another section in this post, but I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about technical SEO unless you’re building a whole website from scratch.
Technical SEO hierarchy of needs (source)
For example, when engineers were building Quora, technical SEO was extremely important to them. This is because Quora receives website traffic from UGC (user-generated content). And Quora needs to be designed in a way so that when someone submits a question a new page on Quora is created with proper URL structures. Without it, you wouldn’t see Quora answers indexed in Google when you search for specific questions. So unless you’re trying to build the next Quora, I would simply focus on using tools like Webflow, WordPress, or Squarespace to build your website, and focus your attention on on-page SEO.
While technical SEO is more concerned with things like your XML sitemap, robots.txt files, website speeds, and quality/design of your code, on-page SEO is concerned with how content is created on your website. For most businesses, I would say you should focus more on on-page SEO over technical SEO if you’re not coding the website yourself.
However, not all of them approach it in the best way possible. For example, if you use something like WordPress, you’ll need to be extremely careful with installing plugins as they can make your websites vulnerable to security threats and can sometimes hurt your technical SEO. Even if you were to use a template, or hire someone to create a custom WordPress website for you, you need to make sure the web design was built with SEO best practices in mind. Something unfortunately not all developers pay attention to.
Not hating on developers, I envy y’all. But please, think about SEO.
On the same token, using something like Squarespace can be great to build a simple website and easily get your web presence up. But you never really know the quality of the code with drag and drop solutions, and customization is limited when it comes time to scaling your website.
It’s the reason why some websites see a huge initial boost in SEO traffic when they switch over to Webflow from a different solution
Related reads: SEO and Webflow: the essential guide
This graph from Google Search Console shows Kisi’s organic traffic after migrating to Webflow early March
Plus, you don’t always have to design a website in Webflow from scratch. You could simply use a template or any of Webflow’s responsive pre-built layouts. All templates in Webflow’s template marketplace go through strict quality control to make sure they’re all designed and built to today’s web standards. Plus, you can always alter and customize templates to fit your brand. You can even check out the Webflow showcase for cloneable websites and assets to piece together for yourself.
This means Webflow can be a great solution for business websites because you can literally build any custom design to fit your brand — with interactions and animations that make your website stand out from your competitors. There are even businesses currently building full web apps with Webflow! Companies like Zestful, Bolt Travel, and Turtle built their entire site in Webflow — crazy. Just check out Makerpad for some awesome no-code tutorials.
Anyways, if you’re still skeptical, know that what you’re currently reading is entirely built and hosted in Webflow. But again, I could just be biased because I use Webflow — professionally and personally. I’m not saying it’s the only option. I’m just saying be wary of technical SEO if you decide to go with other solutions.
Okay, now that you have a better understanding of technical SEO, let’s get into what really brings in traffic and customers to your website — content!
On-page SEO: why you need to focus on it when creating content
Assuming you have a website that was built cleanly with SEO in mind, let’s move on to the actual content creation side of things. To break it down simply, on-page SEO is concerned with how you create and present content on your website. It’s a practice of making sure pages on your website are optimized to be easily indexed by Google. This will apply to any page on your website that has content on it — so pretty much every page. But, I’ll primarily explain things in the form of blog posts on a website as it’s probably the easiest way to understand. Again, a lot of assumptions here on my part, but I’m assuming you’re a business that needs visitors and customers, and you’ll definitely need content to persuade people to buy from you.
Moz’s on-page SEO hierarchy of needs (source)
On-page SEO is extremely important because it’s your opportunity to “give Google what it wants.” Actually, with any platform, whether it’s YouTube, Pinterest, or whatever, making sure you understand and play to how algorithms read content is extremely important.
If we take a short trip back to the beginning of this article, I mentioned how Google’s mission is to categorize all the content in the world. Making sure you follow on-page SEO best practices is how you’re going to make sure Google can easily index your content and know what it’s all about. In a lot of cases, you can rank a piece of content on the second or third page of Google simply by following on-page SEO best practices, without much promotion. And if you have a really high domain authority, you can even reach the first page without much promotion — more on that later.
Speaking of rankings in Google, I think at this point you’re dying to just know how to rank content. So, let’s go over exactly how to utilize on-page SEO, and other ranking factors, to get your content seen in organic search results.
How to rank your content in Google
Want to hear a secret that most “SEO experts” don’t tell you about ranking content in Google?
Google makes the hardest things to manipulate the most important ranking factors.
Write that down and read it back. Let it soak in.
Knowing this, stop looking for “tactics” and “hacks” to rank your content on Google. I’m talking to you PBN lovers. SEO is a slow and steady game. You don’t want it to be fast and easy. Otherwise, everyone would invest their time into it. If SEO results came fast, you would lose rankings just as fast as you received them. And we would just call SEO viral marketing (yuck).
Google is extremely smart. In fact, a lot smarter than you think. Way smarter than me or you. Don’t try to game it. Instead, focus on the hard stuff. The stuff most businesses aren’t willing to invest in. Because that’s where the real long-term ROI will come to play. Never play the short-term game — that goes for everything beyond just your business.
So, let’s go over some ranking factors that affect how Google decides to rank your content. These will be listed in order of most important to least — but they are all very important regardless. Don’t take the list I’m about to present as hard facts. They are just mere observations on what I believe to be true based on lots of experimentation.
What factors affect your Google rankings?
From most important to least, aka from the hardest to easiest to manipulate, Google cares about:
- Content quality and its relevance to a search query
- Your domain authority
- Backlinks and page authority
- Your on-page SEO
- Keywords in your domain and it’s age
- How many page views you’re receiving at a given time
Now, there’s actually a lot of different ranking factors … so they say. According to Brian Dean of Backlinko, there are over 200 ranking factors.
However, the above 6 or so things I mentioned are probably the top “hardest” things to manipulate — making them outweigh almost any other ranking factor that other sources will tell you about. I know this because I’ve experimented with all of them. So, let me show you how to nail each one for your business.
1. RankBrain: how Google judges content quality and relevance
Throughout the years, Google’s Rankbrain algorithm has been getting smarter and smarter. This is because Google has a lot of data. A lot. Think about it, there are over 63,000 Google searches every second. In the amount of time that it took you to read this sentence, there were over 250,000 searches on Google. All those searches, coupled with over 2 million articles posted each day, allows Google’s machine learning algorithm to know exactly what makes good content. Plus, not everything on Google is a blog post. So there are actually way more data points than I just mentioned.
I don’t consider myself a Google algorithm expert, no one is. Not even Google employees. But I can tell you that the most important thing to Google is to give searchers great content in the least amount of clicks as possible. Google wants users to search for something and have the first link they click on to be the best possible resource for them. Heck, Google cares so much about this that they created featured snippets so people don’t even have to click on anything for some search queries.
This is why you’ll hear some people say, “just create better content” than what’s currently ranking in Google if you want to outrank them. But how do you know that your content will be “better?” It’s extremely hard to create amazing content, and that’s exactly why it’s probably the most important thing you should focus on.
I can’t 100% tell you what makes good and bad content, but a rule of thumb is if you search something in Google, and click on the first link, it should answer your problem right away. If you notice that the first link for a certain query/keyword doesn’t give you the answer you think it should, there’s your opportunity to shine. It’s very subjective, I know. But it’s the most honest answer I can give you.
And Google knows this. For example, if you click on an article that ranks number 1, then back out and proceed to click on the article that ranks number 2, it sends Google a signal that the first article you clicked on did not answer what you were looking for. Then, it starts to consider making the second article rank first instead — assuming you didn’t keep clicking on different articles after you viewed the second one. Hope that makes sense.
“Pogo sticking” between articles can be a bad Google user experience signal
On the same token, relevance to a keyword search is extremely important. To get a better understanding of relevance for certain keywords, just Google something (in an incognito or private window) and see what comes up.
For example, if you search “dog toys” you’ll see a bunch of links that go straight to websites that actually sell physical dog toys. If you write a blog post on dog toys, and try to rank for that keyword, you best believe it’ll never make it to the first page of Google. This is because Google knows people searching for dog toys are looking to buy physical dog toys, not read articles talking about them. So, it will always favor ecommerce stores selling dog toys as it believes that this is the most relevant option to the given search.
On the flip side, if you search for “what are the best dog toys for puppies” you’ll notice that all the top-ranking articles are blog posts talking about the best toys your puppy needs. Again, this is because Google decided that these are the most relevant options for the given search term. So, if you want to rank for that keyword, write a blog post.
Google also looks at things like CTR (click through rate) and TOS (time on site) as ranking factors. We won’t get too in-depth on these because they’re pretty self-explanatory. To have a high CTR you just want to make sure your title and meta description are appealing to a searcher, and for time on site you want someone to spend as much time on your page as possible. The latter sends Google a signal that your page is interesting and that it should show it to more users as a result.
If there’s something to take away from the first ranking factor it’s to create better content and only create content that is relevant to the search. Creating great content is hard because it’s subjective — making it the hardest thing to manipulate. But, if you think you have a unique or better way of explaining things compared to the top-ranking articles, go for it. And creating content that’s relevant to the search is simply a matter of Googling a keyword and seeing the type of content Google likes to rank.
2. Your domain authority
Domain authority is something I pay a lot of attention to, sometimes more than I actually need to. This is because I’ve noticed, in a majority of cases, websites with higher domain authorities tend to rank higher in search results. I’d actually go out and say that domain authority is actually the number one most important ranking factor. But because a high DA (domain authority) is a by-product of great content and a strong brand, we’ll keep it as the second most important ranking factor.
But first off, what is domain authority? I like to think of it as your brand’s strength and quality. For example, in a world where soda companies are websites, Coke would have a higher DA compared to Shasta (hope I didn’t offend anyone there).
DA is actually an arbitrary number, from 1-100, created by Moz — not Google. Google would rather you not calculate the strength of a domain based on a number. DA is based on a handful of things, but mainly on the quality of backlinks you have — which essentially means external websites that link to your page. If you’ve ever used any sort of SEO tool, you’ll notice a lot of them rank difficulty based on things like “domain rating,” “domain authority,” or in the case of Ubersuggest, “domain score.”
In the SEO community, domain authority is probably the one most looked at. Whatever SEO tool you use, the ratings will be relative to each other so pick one SEO tool and stick to it. It won’t make sense to compare Moz’s domain authority to Ubersuggest’s domain score as the values are calculated differently.
Personally, I just stick to SEO tools that show the Moz domain authority. I’ll explain more about the specific tools I recommend in a sec, just keep reading.
Now, you might be thinking “how am I going to compete if I’m just starting out?” And that’s a valid point. It’ll be hard to rank for the keyword “best quotes” if you’re a brand new website because all websites on the first page of Google for that keyword have a DA of at least 50. And it will take a good amount of effort and time to reach a DA of 50. But, even if you’re just starting out, you shouldn’t let websites with high domain authorities discourage you from trying to compete. It wouldn’t make sense because no website starts out with a high domain authority — it takes time and effort to get there. Instead, you need to be strategic with what type of content you create.
Instead of trying to rank for “best quotes” you can choose a long-tailed keyword like “best quotes from 1917.” Where, at the time of writing this post, there is a website with a DA of 6 ranking on the first page of Google for that term. And getting a DA of 6 is almost as easy as just creating your website and having your social media profiles link to it.
So, understand that building up your domain authority takes time. If you can get links from websites that have really high DAs like Forbes or Inc, then it could help expedite the process.
If your website is brand new, focus on long-tailed keywords with low competition and create great content, something we talked about earlier. As a result, people may share your article and your DA will increase. Of course there will be less search volume for these keywords, but you need to start small in order to grow. Growing to a high DA of something like +50 is not impossible. It just takes effort and time. Again, going back to the concept of making the most important ranking factors the hardest to manipulate.
Domain authority ranking factors (source)
One thing I usually tell my friends that want to start creating content in a specific niche is to always start with a sub-niche. For example, if you want to create a website that teaches people how to build websites, focus on a small cohort of people trying to build websites. As in, focus on something like people who specifically want to build photography portfolios.
If you can, try diving even deeper. For example, people who want to build photography portfolios specifically in Webflow. Or, people who want to build a photography portfolio for a job interview. The competition will be much less for these topics compared to targeting everyone who wants to build a website. Starting super sub-niche, then branching out broader into your niche later, is how you’re going to slowly build up your website traffic and domain authority as a new website.
Now, how exactly would you grow your DA to help you rank easier for different keywords, and more importantly how would you rank a specific article higher in search results? Well, here are where backlinks come to play.
3. Backlinks and page authority
Backlinks are links from different websites that link back to your website. For example, if you were to share this post in one of your blog posts, you would give this page a backlink. Which if you liked this post, I hope you do because this content is completely free and took me a while to write. Similarly, I could give another page a backlink by linking to it — just like I did right there.
A visual representation of a backlink (source)
This goes back to Google’s core algorithm, PageRank. Google decides to rank content in its search results based on how many backlinks a website, or article, has. Now, just because you have a lot of backlinks doesn’t mean you rank higher. Backlinks are not created equal.
For example, if you were to search “how to learn python” in Google, the first ranking article has a fraction of the number of backlinks as the second ranking article. At the time of writing this, the first ranking article also has a lower DA (by more than 30) compared to the second ranking article. So why is the first website still ranking higher?
It could be due to a multitude of things, but if I had to quickly guess it would be because the first article is written a lot better (think back to the first ranking factor), and because the backlinks that the top ranking article has come from quality sources that also have high DAs.
For example, if Forbes were to link to your article it would be a lot more valuable compared to if a niche lifestyle blog were to link to you. This is because Forbes has a strong and reputable brand that has an insanely high DA — 95 at the time of writing this. If Forbes links to you, it gives Google a signal that your website must be valuable to some degree.
However, Google is also now focusing a lot on backlink relevance. This means that the anchor text, and the website you receive a link from, should be relevant when you’re getting a link. For example, in the previous sentence, I linked out to a post that explains what anchor text is. The backlink Moz just received from this post is a highly relevant backlink because we are talking about anchor texts and I linked to an article that explains what it is.
Making sure your backlinks come from relevant anchor texts can help with the quality of your backlinks and help improve the page authority of an article you are trying to rank for. Now, we didn’t get much into what PA (page authority) is but it’s essentially a DA for a specific page.
While DA gives you an overall score of your entire domain, PA gives you a score for an individual page on your website. A high DA will naturally yield a fairly strong PA, but strong backlinks to an article can actually increase your PA past your overall DA in some cases. This is why sometimes websites with lower DAs rank higher. PA can increase from things like backlink quality, social likes/shares, and internal links from other pages on your website.
I hope I explained that in the least confusing way possible, but I’ll show you what I mean visually in the case study section. If you’re a bit confused feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this article and I’ll try to respond.
Anyways, let’s get into the next ranking factor, and one I believe to be quite important — on-page SEO.
4. On-page SEO: how to create content on your website
When I think of SEO, I primarily think of on-page SEO. Even though it probably isn’t correct to think this way, I see on-page SEO simply as speaking Google’s indexing language. In a lot of cases where you are doing SEO for another business, optimizing on-page SEO can be the low hanging fruit to go after.
In the example of a business blog, most businesses write just for the sake of writing, so a lot of them have pretty bad on-page SEO. And because this ranking factor is 4th on our list, it’s not insanely hard to do.
This ranking factor can be an entire post on itself but I’ll make sure to only give you what you need to know and nothing of what you don’t.
First, on the technical side of things, you want to make sure your website has an SSL certificate and is secured. Most hosting providers, including Webflow, already come with this as a standard. Just make sure when your website loads it has HTTPS in front of the URL and not HTTP.
In Chrome, you’ll see a lock next to a URL that shows the website is SSL secured
Next, you’ll want to make sure your website loads fast. Preferably, you want a page to load in less than 3 seconds. You can test page speed with Pingdom’s speed test. If your website takes longer than 3 seconds to load, consider either finding a new hosting provider or cleaning up the code on your website to speed things up. With Webflow, you should experience load times to be less than 2 seconds, with smaller websites loading in half a second.
Next, you’ll want to make sure your website is responsive. This is extremely important as you should optimize for mobile SEO whenever you can. If your website design doesn’t look right on a mobile device then this could seriously hurt your SEO. Just use Google’s mobile-friendly test tool to check for this.
Okay, now let’s get into how you’re going to optimize your content around a specific keyword. I’ll show you an example from the Webflow Blog in a small case study at the end of this post. But for this part, you need to understand the fundamentals.
First, you want your keyword to appear in your URL. Say you wanted to go after the keyword “best puppy food.” You would want your website URL to look something like:
Both are okay, it doesn’t matter if your post is on the root of your domain or in a folder (name could be different from blog). But the point is your URL slug should include the exact keyword you’re going after.
Next, you want to make sure the keyword “best puppy food” is in your H1 title tag. In the example of a blog post, this means it should be in the main title. If we do a quick relevance check, we can see that Google likes to rank listicle type articles for the keyword “best puppy food.” So an example of a title we could use is:
10 best puppy food options in 2020
That probably isn’t the best title, but the idea is that you want your keyword, or some variation of it, in the title. To help you write great titles, try using a headline analyzer. Just Google “headline analyzer” to find a handful of solutions. CTR (click-through rates) are going to matter a lot because it’s how you’ll initially get people to even click on your website. So make sure you title things properly and accurately.
Next, you want to make sure your keyword is in the meta tag, or description, of your post. The meta description is the little paragraph you see under the title when you Google something. It gives you a sneak peek of what the article is about, and you want to make sure that your keyword is somewhere in there. This way when Google crawls and indexes your page, it can quickly figure out what the content is about.
Next, you want to make sure any images you use in your blog post have proper alt text. I won’t get too deep in them, as this post will be longer than it already is. Just Google it.
Another key tip with images is to use proper file names. Don’t have the file name of your images be a random string of letters or numbers. Actually name them properly, as this will increase your chances of having them rank in Google’s image search. It’s also ideal to have any images with transparent backgrounds to be uploaded as PNG’s, and ones without transparent backgrounds to be JPEG’s. This is mainly due to image file sizes, as you want your images to load fast. So make sure any images you use are under 300kb. If your images are too big, Google “PNG compressor” or “JPEG compressor” and use a tool to help bring down the file size before you upload them to your site.
Next, you want to have LSI keywords within your content. LSI stands for latent semantic indexing and it’s just a fancy way of saying synonyms or variations of your main keyword — makes me sound smart saying LSI. Use a tool like LSIGraph and type in your main keyword and see what other keywords pop up. In the case of our main keyword being “best puppy foods,” some LSI keywords that pop up are “dry puppy food,” “wet puppy food,” “large breed puppy,” and much more. We want to use some of these keywords within our content about “best puppy foods.”
Another great tool you can use, that’s like LSI on steroids, is Clearscope. Clearscope essentially analyzes the first several ranking posts in Google, for a given keyword, and tells you what keywords to have in your content for maximum relevance and reach. It’s a bit pricey, but worth it if you output lots of content.
Alright, that’s about all you need to know about on-page SEO. You can dive deeper if you want by reading more about it elsewhere. But we pretty much went through the fundamentals.
5. Keywords in your domain and its age
The fifth ranking factor on our list is domain age and what your domain name actually is. Now, I won’t get much into domain age because it basically just means how long your website has been live for. If your website is brand new and you start building backlinks to the website quickly, Google may think you’re using “tactics” to grow your DA. So take things slow, especially if you use something like a PBN to start growing a website’s authority quickly — Google will flag you.
But what’s more important is what your domain name actually is. It took me a while to realize this, but it does matter for SEO. For example, go in a private window and search for the keywords “website” or “what is consulting” and see what the first ranking result is. I rest my case.
But on a serious note, while keywords in your domain do help, it only really matters if you’ve also focused on the above 4 ranking factors. Keywords in your domain are good, but it doesn’t make sense for every website. So don’t worry about it too much.
Last on our list is how much traffic a page is receiving at a given time. This one might make you go, “huh?” I actually didn’t even know this was a thing until I tested it. But it made sense once I realized that Google does rank breaking news articles pretty high in its SERP.
Essentially, when a page is receiving a surge of traffic, it sends Google a signal that it’s “breaking news” or really important, and starts to rank it higher for others to easily find. For example, we had a post ranking in position 8 for a while and it wouldn’t move up. So, we sent it in a newsletter to give it a sudden surge of traffic.
After a couple of weeks, the post was ranking number 1. We also tested this with running paid ads to a blog post and it worked just the same. There’s actually a recent blog post by Grow and Convert on this that you should check out to learn more in-depth.
Alright, that about concludes it for the top ranking factors. Again, there may be a few more. But these are the only ones I really pay attention to — at least for now.
Case study: ranking number 1 in Google
As promised a little earlier, here’s a small case study of how we ranked number 1 for the keyword “UX design tips.”
First, we used an SEO tool that showed us Moz’s DA. I’m not going to tell you exactly what tool to use, but for this example I went ahead and used a budget-friendly tool called Keysearch.
We knew we wanted to write an article around “UX design tips” so we typed in the keyword into the tool:
In Keysearch you can see PA, DA, and backlink count — all things we talked about earlier
Now, at a quick glance, you can see our article is ranking number 1. But when we initially did our keyword research our article wasn’t there (duh), so ignore the first result. Knowing we had a stronger DA than the first 2 articles made us sure we could rank for this term.
However, the first ranking article (again, ignoring ours) had a lot of backlinks. But, because we knew DA is valued pretty highly, it didn’t scare us away.
Next, we followed all the protocols mentioned in the on-page SEO section of this post — making sure relevant keywords and the content quality was there.
We wrote and published the post and then followed a distribution strategy. Generally, I like to wait until I know a post is indexed in Google before going hard on distribution. It’s important to treat content on your website as a product launch. So making sure you share the article on your social media accounts and email list is important. In some cases, you can even use paid advertising to help boost the promotion of posts. We also followed a link-building strategy by making sure we interlinked any of our previous relevant articles to the post.
After about 3 months the post ranked number 1. And at the time of writing this, it’s been in that position for a while. Voilà!
See, I told you SEO was simple.
You can actually follow this exact process for existing content on your website too, especially if you’re doing SEO and content marketing for a website that already has lots of content. This can be a huge quick win.
A beginners guide to republishing posts for an SEO boost
Because SEO is a long term game and can take a while for content to rank, sometimes over 6 months, updating old posts will yield quicker results compared to creating new ones. This is because if you already have a post ranking in Google, it’s already gone through the long process of Google indexing it.
We did this with one of our old posts that had been on our blog for a couple of years. And this happened …
A Google Analytics screenshot of a single blog post. The red arrow indicates when we updated the post.
Talk about a 100% increase in traffic! What happened was we went back, followed the on-page SEO protocol, republished the post (making sure the date was updated), and followed our distribution strategy again.
Related reads: How to double your page views without publishing anything new
And no, this wasn’t a one-off. Here’s one that grew by over 300%:
See, we know what we’re talking about. But seriously, you can do this too. Just make sure to go back and read this post whenever you forget something. Bookmark it so you can refer back at any time. In a future post, I may even explain more on developing an actual content strategy. If I included that here, this post would be twice as long. But, before I give a recap over everything we went over in this post, I want to explain one more thing about republishing.
In some cases, you may have URL slugs that are not on-page SEO friendly. If you want to update a post that is already ranking somewhere on the first page, say between 5-10, don’t worry about changing the URL. You’ll break things, especially if you change the original canonical tag.
However, if you notice a post is on the second, third, or even fourth page, and you want to republish it and follow this protocol, update the URL slug and 301 redirect it to your SEO friendly URL slug. But make sure you keep the original canonical tag. We didn’t get much into canonical tags, but they’re essentially a way of telling Google that this is the original article so you don’t have duplicate content. So, once something is published for the first time, never mess with the canonical tag. If you want to update URLs, just 301 redirect the old page to the new one — while keeping the old canonical. I thought I’d mention this because I’ve broken posts in the past when I didn’t understand this logic.
Anyways, I hope all this helps.
If you made it to the end of this post I salute you. Knowing all of this will put you ahead of the game when it comes to being an SEO master and content marketer. While I don’t consider myself an expert in anything, I am fairly competent when it comes to SEO — only because I’ve spent a while focusing on it. I wrote this guide for you and my younger self. If you learned just 1 thing from this post, I did my job.
Anyways, as a recap, we discussed:
- What website SEO is
- How Google actually works
- What makes SEO special
- Types of SEO: both technical and on-page
- How to rank your content
- All the (important) ranking factors
- A mini case study
- A beginner’s guide to republishing content
It’s also a good idea to check out tools such as:
- Google Analytics
- Google webmaster tools
- Moz, Ubersuggest, or Keysearch
- Clearscope or LSIGraph
- Keywords Everywhere chrome extension
We didn’t get much into the exact tools, besides a few of the ones mentioned above. But what’s more important than the tools are the fundamentals, and knowing how to apply them to your research when using any tool you choose to use.
Let us know in the comments below what you thought of this post. If you have any questions we’ll be sure to do our best to respond.
Now go make some awesome content, the world needs it!