What is SEO?


SEO stands for: “Search Engine Optimization” and it’s the process of getting traffic from the “free,” “organic,” “editorial” or “natural” search results on search engines. (Search Engine Land)

So, in practical terms, this means that you have to follow a set of actions in order to make your website appear more frequently and in higher ranks in search engine results (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.).

Supposedly you have a website about dog food. Once someone types in Google “dog food”, the place where your website is displayed in the search results, depends on SEO.

Obviously, you want your website to be on the first page of the search results and as higher as possible (even hopefully at number #1).

While there are many search engines, Google is the “go-to” search engine. The word “Google” has come to mean “search online”; “you don’t believe me? google it”.

In the following image, you can see that Google wins the search war by controlling 67,5% of the US searches in February 2014. It follows pretty much the same pattern in the rest of world.

google search ranks


While Bing and Yahoo searches are not to be ignored, I am going to focus solely on SEO strategy for Google.

If you are interested in Bing or Yahoo specific SEO analysis you can take a look at these two articles for Bing and Yahoo respectively.

Undoubtedly there are numerous SEO guides and tips out there. Unfortunately, most of those guides are incomplete, provide wrong information and may damage your strategy in the end.

The following guide will go over all the ranking factors for Google. The data comes mainly from Google’s official posts, guides, and statements; something that seems to be eluding many people.

Google provides a lot of material regarding its policies about SEO:


There are two types of SEO:

  • On Page SEO: refers to all the actions you can perform on your website in order to rank better in search engines
  • Off Page SEO: refers to all the actions you perform outside the website environment. (Social Media, Link Building, Social Bookmarking, etc.)

Both are important and play a significant role in search engine ranking.

This is a complete guide on how Google ranks websites.

What you should be looking for On Page and Off Page and what actions you need to do in order to start climbing that Google ladder.


URL and Keywords

The keyword for which you want to rank a page or a post has to appear in the URL regardless of the main domain:

URL keywords


In the example above, the targeted keyword is “monetize”. The website domain is “swiftbranding.com” which doesn’t affect the targeted keyword when your are building your post’s / page’s URL.

Furthermore, it is suggested that the earlier the targeted keyword appears the better for SEO. So if “monetize” were to appear last in the URL, it would “weigh” less.

So you have to make sure that you include your targeted keyword in the URL and it appears preferably early.


Keyword Density and TF-IDF

Back before major Google algorithm updates, marketers used to stuff their posts with the targeted keyword and that would rank the page high in the search results.

That isn’t the case anymore. You can’t simply fill your content with your keyword everywhere and expect results.

The keyword has to appear within your content but don’t overdo it.

TF-IDF stands for Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency. In simple terms, it means how the keyword appears in context.

Hint: Google doesn’t only search for a keyword in a piece of content, it looks for how well it blends and if it is “normal” to the rest of the content.

If you spam the keyword without any contextual sense, Google will penalize your content.


Inbound Links

Inbound links refer to links from others that drive traffic towards your website.

So if someone finds your material valuable, they may post a link on their site to your content.

The higher authority the other website has the better for your website. It will help rank your content much faster.

Quality and quantity, both, are important when it comes to inbound links.

BUTQuality > Quantity

So if a high authority website links to your content; that’s much more valuable than several inbound links on less important websites.

High authority ranks content faster and better.

The aforementioned strategy is the same both for a page and a domain.

You need inbound links both to single pages and to your main domain.

If we take the example I used earlier, the single page would be: /how-to-monetize-your-website and the domain would be: swiftbranding.com/

Hint: Domain authority received by other sites, functions as distributed internal PageRank.


Keyword in Headings & Text Formatting

Keywords in heading tags receive more attention from Google.

  • H1: most important
  • H2: less important
  • H3: less important

Outside the SEO factor, you should use headings inside your text because it makes everything much easier and comfortable to read. As you can see, I have used several headings in this article.

SEO extends to another noticeable formatting as well. Keywords in bolditalics, or other format have a higher importance in Google search.


Keyword Proximity

The closer two targeted keywords are, the better it is. If one word is close to another, it suggests that they are associated.

For example, if you are looking for: “babies clothes” then it’s only natural that the word “babies” should be close to “clothes”.

If one word is on one line and the other in another line or paragraph, then they become more disassociated.

Keep your relevant and associated keywords together or in the closest proximity possible.


Keyword in Image ALT Attribute

When you enter the keyword in the ALT attribute of an image, that helps the search engine, find and identify the image and correlate it to the rest of the content.

ALT attribute


Hint: Especially Google Image Search utilizes the ALT attribute to find images.


Domain Name is the Keyword

This was used by Google to help companies and brands connect their name with the keyword. For example: “Toyota” the car manufacturer would identify with: www.toyota.com which is only natural and the keyword would be associated with the domain name itself.

Obviously, you can use that to your advantage if you manage to connect keywords to your main domain.


Search Query Terms Exact Match

As you search for a specific keyword or a phrase, the returned results contain either part of the content on a page or even the exact same phrase if the search query term, match exactly word per word the text on the page.

So, the more terms the search query matches to the content on the page, the higher the score the page receives.


Keywords Place on Page

People read websites usually in an F-shaped pattern.


As you can see the human eye moves from the top left to the right and then down. Similarly to the way we write.

This eye tracking experiment has produced results which are used by every major website out there.

Websites are designed with it in mind, strategically placing promotional material and quality content to the red areas.

But what does it have to do with SEO and Google ranking?

Well, I guess you could say that Google has followed something similar to each SEO policy.

The targeted keywords that appear higher and earlier on a page seem to have higher weight when it comes to SEO.


More Keywords with the same Core

Let’s make this clearer.

Assuming the targeted keyword of  page is: “travel”, words like: “traveling”, “travel-agent”, “backpack-traveling’, etc add value to the SEO score.

So words that use the same core (“travel” in our case) as the targeted keyword, benefit our SEO standing.

Hint: This doesn’t affect negatively the keyword density factor as described in the first part of the guide.


External Link Keyword Anchor Text

Anchor text is the visible characters and words that hyperlinks display when linking to another document or location on the web. (What is Anchor Text – Moz)


via Moz

The targeted keyword of a page or post, has to appear in the anchor text of the link.

Hint: The less terms the anchor text matches, the less SEO weight it carries.


Relevant Niche Sites Links

Links originating from other websites in the same niche as yours, add value to your SEO score.

In order to find the most relevant experts we use a custom keyword-based approach, focusing only on the text that best captures the domain of expertise (the document title, section headings and hyperlink anchor-text). Then, in following links, we boost the score of those targets whose qualifying text best matches the query. Thus, by combining content and connectivity analysis, we are both more comprehensive and more precise. (Source: Web Archive)


Link in Text

When a link appears in contextual text it adds more SEO value than a bare link.

In one technique for improving the quality of a document index, additional terms found near hyperlinks in documents are used to enhance the description of the linked document. The premise of this technique is that web authors tend to described or comment about the content of other web pages in the descriptive text located near the link to the other page. This descriptive text may be used to enhance the quality of the index. (Source)


Query Deserves Freshness (QDF)

In some cases the freshness of a query plays an important role. For example, when it comes to news site, the date and the freshness of an article is a ranking factor. The “fresher” a post is the more SEO value it gets.


Domain Age

Older domains gain a little higher SEO value. That’s why some marketers prefer to by some existing domain from someone who isn’t using it instead of getting a new one.

While new domain might earn a temporary SEO boost, the truth is that you are safer with an older domain that has built some authority.


Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)

While SSL might make your website a tad slower, it’s worth it. Sites that use SSL gain SEO value.

For these reasons, over the past few months we’ve been running tests taking into account whether sites use secure, encrypted connections as a signal in our search ranking algorithms. We’ve seen positive results, so we’re starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. For now it’s only a very lightweight signal — affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content — while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS. But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web. (Source)


Fresh Content when Query Deserves Freshness

This is different that what’s described above about QDF.

Some queries benefit more sometimes from newer content.

Hint: Make sure to keep your posts updated, with new versions, new data and information as the time passes by. Don’t forget to check your links and sources and update when needed.


Old Content Boost

Depending on the nature of the content, date plays a different role.

For other queries, the older content benefits more and it is re-ranked as the time goes by.


Outbound Links

Outbound links to quality websites and sources are always beneficial and improve page rank.


Media (Images, Videos, Audio)

Using various high quality media in your content, boosts your SEO ranking. Videos especially benefit your site a lot.

Searchmetrics has a pretty good track record of figuring out who lost after one of Google’s Panda Updates. Among the latest victims of this week’s Panda Update 2.5, some unexpected surprises: popular tech blog The Next Web, blog aggregatorTechnorati, and NBC’s The Today Show. Winners include Google’s own YouTube, along with Fox News and several other mainstream news sites. (Source)

Apart from SEO, using various media makes the content smoother and easier for the user to consume.

Walls of text without any image stop people from reading your content.


Mobile Friendly

In April, Google deployed its mobile friendly update (Mobilegeddon). Since then, websites that are mobile friendly (having a mobile version or responsive design) earned a significant boost to their SEO standings. Accordingly websites that forgot to update their website took a hit.

So keep improving your sites for mobile searchers and don’t use the underwhelming mobile update as an excuse not to. If you’re not yet mobile-friendly, make it happen. And if you are mobile friendly,prepare for the next update — because in this new era of SEO, it’s no longer possible to ignore mobile searchers and mobile sites and compete with those who don’t. (Source)

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