Being ‘relevant’ comes down to keywords & key phrases – in domain names, URLs, Title Elements, the number of times they are repeated in text on the page, text in image alt tags, rich markup and importantly in keyword links to the page in question. If you are relying on manipulating hidden elements on a page to do well in Google, you’ll probably trigger spam filters. If it is ‘hidden’ in on-page elements – beware relying on it too much to improve your rankings.
Understanding the balance of terms that might be a little more difficult due to competition, versus those terms that are a little more realistic, will help you maintain a similar balance that the mix of long-tail and head terms allows. Remember, the goal is to end up with a list of keywords that provide some quick wins but also helps you make progress toward bigger, more challenging SEO goals.
Both use keyword research to uncover popular search terms. The first step for both SEM and SEO is performing keyword research to identify the best keywords to target. The research includes looking at keyword popularity to determine the top keywords or buying keywords that your ideal audience searches for. It also includes looking at keyword competition to see what other brands are targeting the same keywords and determining what you will need to do to compete with those other companies.

A navigational page is a simple page on your site that displays the structure of your website, and usually consists of a hierarchical listing of the pages on your site. Visitors may visit this page if they are having problems finding pages on your site. While search engines will also visit this page, getting good crawl coverage of the pages on your site, it's mainly aimed at human visitors.
QUOTE: “I think that’s always an option. Yeah. That’s something that–I’ve seen sites do that across the board,not specifically for blogs, but for content in general, where they would regularly go through all of their content and see, well, this content doesn’t get any clicks, or everyone who goes there kind of runs off screaming.” John Mueller, Google 
QUOTE:  “Tell visitors clearly that the page they’re looking for can’t be found. Use language that is friendly and inviting. Make sure your 404 page uses the same look and feel (including navigation) as the rest of your site. Consider adding links to your most popular articles or posts, as well as a link to your site’s home page. Think about providing a way for users to report a broken link. No matter how beautiful and useful your custom 404 page, you probably don’t want it to appear in Google search results. In order to prevent 404 pages from being indexed by Google and other search engines, make sure that your webserver returns an actual 404 HTTP status code when a missing page is requested.” Google, 2018
Onsite, consider linking to your other pages by linking to pages within main content text. I usually only do this when it is relevant – often, I’ll link to relevant pages when the keyword is in the title elements of both pages. I don’t go in for auto-generating links at all. Google has penalised sites for using particular auto link plugins, for instance, so I avoid them.
Try and get links within page text pointing to your site with relevant, or at least, natural looking, keywords in the text link – not, for instance, in blogrolls or site-wide links. Try to ensure the links are not obviously “machine generated” e.g. site-wide links on forums or directories. Get links from pages, that in turn, have a lot of links to them, and you will soon see benefits.
QUOTE: “So if you have different parts of your website and they’re on different subdomains that’s that’s perfectly fine that’s totally up to you and the way people link across these different subdomains is really up to you I guess one of the tricky aspects there is that we try to figure out what belongs to a website and to treat that more as a single website and sometimes things on separate subdomains are like a single website and sometimes they’re more like separate websites for example on on blogger all of the subdomains are essentially completely separate websites they’re not related to each other on the other hand other websites might have different subdomains and they just use them for different parts of the same thing so maybe for different country versions maybe for different language versions all of that is completely normal.” John Mueller 2017

For example, within the HubSpot Blogging App, users will find as-you-type SEO suggestions. This helpful inclusion serves as a checklist for content creators of all skill levels. HubSpot customers also have access to the Page Performance App, Sources Report, and the Keyword App. The HubSpot Marketing Platform will provide you with the tools you need to research keywords, monitor their performance, track organic search growth, and diagnose pages that may not be fully optimized.


SEM is a broader term than SEO, and is used to encompass different options available to use a search engine’s technology, including paid ads. SEM is often used to describe acts associated with researching, submitting and positioning a website within search engines.  It includes things such as search engine optimization, paid listings and other search-engine related services and functions that will increase exposure and traffic to your Web site. 

QUOTE: “high quality content is something I’d focus on. I see lots and lots of SEO blogs talking about user experience, which I think is a great thing to focus on as well. Because that essentially kind of focuses on what we are trying to look at as well. We want to rank content that is useful for (Google users) and if your content is really useful for them, then we want to rank it.” John Mueller, Google 2015
QUOTE – “So it’s not that our systems will look at your site and say oh this was submitted by a user therefore the site owner has like no no control over what’s happening here but rather we look at it and say well this is your website this is what you want to have indexed you kind of stand for the content that you’re providing there so if you’re providing like low quality user-generated content for indexing then we’ll think well this website is about low quality content and spelling errors don’t necessarily mean that it’s low quality but obviously like it can go in all kinds of weird directions with user-generated content…” John Mueller, Google 2019
When optimising a title, you are looking to rank for as many terms as possible, without keyword stuffing your title. Often, the best bet is to optimise for a particular phrase (or phrases) – and take a more long-tail approach. Note that too many page titles and not enough actual page text per page could lead to doorway page type situations. A highly relevant unique page title is no longer enough to float a page with thin content. Google cares WAY too much about the page text content these days to let a good title hold up a thin page on most sites.
To prevent users from linking to one version of a URL and others linking to a different version (this could split the reputation of that content between the URLs), focus on using and referring to one URL in the structure and internal linking of your pages. If you do find that people are accessing the same content through multiple URLs, setting up a 301 redirect32 from non-preferred URLs to the dominant URL is a good solution for this. You may also use canonical URL or use the rel="canonical"33 link element if you cannot redirect.

It's important to check that you have a mix of head terms and long-tail terms because it'll give you a keyword strategy that's well balanced with long-term goals and short-term wins. That's because head terms are generally searched more frequently, making them often (not always, but often) much more competitive and harder to rank for than long-tail terms. Think about it: Without even looking up search volume or difficulty, which of the following terms do you think would be harder to rank for?

Your Brand Persona and Target Audience. When you eventually start creating content, you have to know who you’re talking to and tailor your brand voice to appeal to them uniquely. If you aren’t targeting the right audience (those people who will lean in to hear what you’re saying), you won’t find success. And, if you can’t find a way to stand out, you’ll blend into the hordes of other brands competing for attention in your industry.
However, we do expect websites of large companies and organizations to put a great deal of effort into creating a good user experience on their website, including having helpful SC. For large websites, SC may be one of the primary ways that users explore the website and find MC, and a lack of helpful SC on large websites with a lot of content may be a reason for a Low rating.
Most small businesses owners and marketers know a little something about SEO (search engine optimization) and the different tactics to help your website rank well in organic search engine results. Another important tactic for any Internet business to know about is SEM (search engine marketing), which includes things such as search engine optimization, paid listings and other search engine related services.
QUOTE: “To summarize, a lack of helpful SC may be a reason for a Low quality rating, depending on the purpose of the page and the type of website. We have different standards for small websites which exist to serve their communities versus large websites with a large volume of webpages and content. For some types of “webpages,” such as PDFs and JPEG files, we expect no SC at all.” Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines 2015
Domain authority is an important ranking phenomenon in Google. Nobody knows exactly how Google calculates, ranks and rates the popularity, reputation, intent or trust of a website, outside of Google, but when I write about domain authority I am generally thinking of sites that are popular, reputable and trusted e.g. are also cited by popular, reputable and trusted sites.
In Chapter 2, we learned about SERP features. That background is going to help us understand how searchers want to consume information for a particular keyword. The format in which Google chooses to display search results depends on intent, and every query has a unique one. Google describes these intents in their Quality Rater Guidelines as either “know” (find information), “do” (accomplish a goal), “website” (find a specific website), or “visit-in-person” (visit a local business).

QUOTE: “When our quality algorithms go to your website, and they see that there’s some good content here on this page, but there’s some really bad or kind of low quality content on the bottom part of the page, then we kind of have to make a judgment call on these pages themselves and say, well, some good, some bad. Is this overwhelmingly bad? Is this overwhelmingly good? Where do we draw the line?” John Mueller, Google 2016

How much of your marketing strategy should be done online and which internet marketing elements you use depends on the nature of your business, your budget, your time, and your goals. Many small business owners do it all themselves in the beginning, but as their businesses grow, they begin to pay for services or outsource work to a virtual assistant that can help them with online marketing.
Technical SEO optimizes the non-content elements of a website and the website as a whole to improve its backend structure and foundation. These strategies relate to: site speed, mobile friendliness, indexing, crawlability, site architecture, structured data, and security. Technical SEO improves both user and search crawler experience, which leads to higher search rankings.
If you're struggling to think of more keywords people might be searching about a specific topic, go to Google.com and take a look at the related search terms that appear when you plug in a keyword. When you type in your phrase and scroll to the bottom of Google's results, you'll notice some suggestions for searches related to your original input. These keywords can spark ideas for other keywords you may want to take into consideration.
Try and get links within page text pointing to your site with relevant, or at least, natural looking, keywords in the text link – not, for instance, in blogrolls or site-wide links. Try to ensure the links are not obviously “machine generated” e.g. site-wide links on forums or directories. Get links from pages, that in turn, have a lot of links to them, and you will soon see benefits.
You can more strategically target a specific location by narrowing down your keyword research to specific towns, counties, or states in the Google Keyword Planner, or evaluate "interest by subregion" in Google Trends. Geo-specific research can help make your content more relevant to your target audience. For example, you might find out that in Texas, the preferred term for a large truck is “big rig,” while in New York, “tractor trailer” is the preferred terminology.
A poor 404 page and user interaction with it, can only lead to a ‘poor user experience’ signal at Google’s end, for a number of reasons. I will highlight a poor 404 page in my audits and actually programmatically look for signs of this issue when I scan a site. I don’t know if Google looks at your site that way to rate it e.g. algorithmically determines if you have a good 404 page – or if it is a UX factor, something to be taken into consideration further down the line – or purely to get you thinking about 404 pages (in general) to help prevent Google wasting resources indexing crud pages and presenting poor results to searchers. I think rather that any rating would be a second order scoring including data from user activity on the SERPs – stuff we as SEO can’t see.
Use common sense – Google is a search engine – it is looking for pages to give searchers results, 90% of its users are looking for information. Google itself WANTS the organic results full of information. Almost all websites will link to relevant information content so content-rich websites get a lot of links – especially quality links. Google ranks websites with a lot of links (especially quality links) at the top of its search engines so the obvious thing you need to do is ADD A LOT of INFORMATIVE CONTENT TO YOUR WEBSITE.
If you want to *ENSURE* your FULL title tag shows in the desktop UK version of Google SERPs, stick to a shorter title of between 55-65 characters but that does not mean your title tag MUST end at 55 characters and remember your mobile visitors see a longer title (in the UK, in January 2018). What you see displayed in SERPs depends on the characters you use. In 2020 – I just expect what Google displays to change – so I don’t obsess about what Google is doing in terms of display. See the tests later on in this article.
Google, in many instances, would rather send long-tail search traffic, like users using mobile VOICE SEARCH, for instance, to high-quality pages ABOUT a concept/topic that explains relationships and connections between relevant sub-topics FIRST, rather than to only send that traffic to low-quality pages just because they have the exact phrase on the page.
QUOTE: “The quality of the MC is one of the most important criteria in Page Quality rating, and informs the E-A-T of the page. For all types of webpages, creating high quality MC takes a significant amount of at least one of the following: time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill. For news articles and information pages, high quality MC must be factually accurate for the topic and must be supported by expert consensus where such consensus exists.” Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, 2019

QUOTE: “The Knowledge Graph enables you to search for things, people or places that Google knows about—landmarks, celebrities, cities, sports teams, buildings, geographical features, movies, celestial objects, works of art and more—and instantly get information that’s relevant to your query. This is a critical first step towards building the next generation of search, which taps into the collective intelligence of the web and understands the world a bit more like people do.” Amit Singhal, Google 2012
SEM is better for testing than SEO. Because you can immediately turn SEM paid ads off and on, it’s a great strategy for testing. You can quickly revise your ad copy, target new audiences, and change landing page content to test your new tactics. This flexibility allows you to see differences in your strategies immediately. You cannot accomplish this through SEO, as it would take too much time to make changes and monitor differences in results.
QUOTE: “Over time, we’ve seen sites try to maximize their “search footprint” without adding clear, unique value. These doorway campaigns manifest themselves as pages on a site, as a number of domains, or a combination thereof. To improve the quality of search results for our users, we’ll soon launch a ranking adjustment to better address these types of pages. Sites with large and well-established doorway campaigns might see a broad impact from this change.” Google, 2015
I’ve got by, by thinking external links to other sites should probably be on single pages deeper in your site architecture, with the pages receiving all your Google Juice once it’s been “soaked up” by the higher pages in your site structure (the home page, your category pages). This tactic is old school but I still follow it. I don’t need to think you need to worry about that, too much, in 2020.

The higher the search volume for a given keyword or keyword phrase, the more work is typically required to achieve higher rankings. This is often referred to as keyword difficulty and occasionally incorporates SERP features; for example, if many SERP features (like featured snippets, knowledge graph, carousels, etc) are clogging up a keyword’s result page, difficulty will increase. Big brands often take up the top 10 results for high-volume keywords, so if you’re just starting out on the web and going after the same keywords, the uphill battle for ranking can take years of effort.
You don’t have to be better than your competition at absolutely everything, so long as you identify enough points to build a keyword strategy around. For smaller companies, this means that you probably have to be better at the things the bigger fish haven’t thought of or aren’t actively looking to do. If you can’t think of anything at all then you have a much bigger problem than just coming up with keywords…
A page title that is highly relevant to the page it refers to will maximise usability, search engine ranking performance and user experience ratings as Google measures these. It will probably be displayed in a web browser’s window title bar, bookmarks and in clickable search snippet links used by Google, Bing & other search engines. The title element is the “crown” of a web page with important keyword phrase featuring AT LEAST ONCE within it.
QUOTE: “Anytime you do a bigger change on your website if you redirect a lot of URLs or if you go from one domain to another or if you change your site’s structure then all of that does take time for things to settle down so we can follow that pretty quickly we can definitely forward the signals there but that doesn’t mean that’ll happen from one day to next” John Mueller, Google 2016
QUOTE: “Sitemaps are an easy way for webmasters to inform search engines about pages on their sites that are available for crawling. In its simplest form, a Sitemap is an XML file that lists URLs for a site along with additional metadata about each URL (when it was last updated, how often it usually changes, and how important it is, relative to other URLs in the site) so that search engines can more intelligently crawl the site.” Sitemaps.org, 2020
Understand that search engines are the key to most online marketing. Businesses are looking for ways to make sure their site and product are listed on the first page of a Google, Yahoo or Bing search. The main ways of doing this are SEO, meta tags, press releases, social media content, videos and paying for an ad to be placed at the top or side of the search page.

QUOTE: “What makes a page spammy?: “Hidden text or links – may be exposed by selecting all page text and scrolling to the bottom (all text is highlighted), disabling CSS/Javascript, or viewing source code. Sneaky redirects – redirecting through several URLs, rotating destination domains cloaking with JavaScript redirects and 100% frame. Keyword stuffing – no percentage or keyword density given; this is up to the rater. PPC ads that only serve to make money, not help users. Copied/scraped content and PPC ads. Feeds with PPC ads. Doorway pages – multiple landing pages that all direct user to the same destination. Templates and other computer-generated pages mass-produced, marked by copied content and/or slight keyword variations. Copied message boards with no other page content. Fake search pages with PPC ads. Fake blogs with PPC ads, identified by copied/scraped or nonsensical spun content. Thin affiliate sites that only exist to make money, identified by checkout on a different domain, image properties showing origination at another URL, lack of original content, different WhoIs registrants of the two domains in question. Pure PPC pages with little to no content. Parked domains” Miranda Miller, SEW, 2011


When using the Keyword Explorer, Ahrefs will also produce the "parent topic" of the keyword you looked up, as you can see in the screenshot above, underneath the Keyword Difficulty meter. A keyword's parent topic is a broader keyword with higher search volume than your intended keyword, but likely has the same audience and ranking potential -- giving you more a valuable SEO opportunity when optimizing a particular blog post or webpage.
You’ll likely compile a lot of keywords. How do you know which to tackle first? It could be a good idea to prioritize high-volume keywords that your competitors are not currently ranking for. On the flip side, you could also see which keywords from your list your competitors are already ranking for and prioritize those. The former is great when you want to take advantage of your competitors’ missed opportunities, while the latter is an aggressive strategy that sets you up to compete for keywords your competitors are already performing well for.
QUOTE: “Ultimately, you just want to have a really great site people love. I know it sounds like a cliché, but almost [all of] what we are looking for is surely what users are looking for. A site with content that users love – let’s say they interact with content in some way – that will help you in ranking in general, not with Panda. Pruning is not a good idea because with Panda, I don’t think it will ever help mainly because you are very likely to get Panda penalized – Pandalized – because of low-quality content…content that’s actually ranking shouldn’t perhaps rank that well. Let’s say you figure out if you put 10,000 times the word “pony” on your page, you rank better for all queries. What Panda does is disregard the advantage you figure out, so you fall back where you started. I don’t think you are removing content from the site with potential to rank – you have the potential to go further down if you remove that content. I would spend resources on improving content, or, if you don’t have the means to save that content, just leave it there. Ultimately people want good sites. They don’t want empty pages and crappy content. Ultimately that’s your goal – it’s created for your users.” Gary Illyes, Google 2017

Google Ads (formerly Google Adwords) is the search provider most commonly used for this strategy. With this tactic, brands conduct keyword research and create campaigns that target the best keywords for their industry, products, or services. When users search for those keywords, they see the custom ads at the top or bottom of SERPs. The brand is charged each time a user clicks on the ad.
Hey Sharon, great post! Re. dwell time – I’ve read conflicting opinions, some saying that Google DOES consider it an ‘important’ ranking signal, and others saying that it doesn’t, because dwell time can sometimes be a misleading indicator of content quality. For example when a user searches for something specific and finds the answer immediately in the recommended page (meaning that the content on the page is actually spot on) so he returns to the SERPs very quickly. I have been unable to locate any definitive statements (written/spoken) from anyone at Google that suggest that dwell time IS still a factor in ranking considerations, but it makes sense (to me, anyway) that it should be. Do you have any ‘proof’ one way or the other re. whether Google definitely considers dwell time or not?
Users will occasionally come to a page that doesn't exist on your site, either by following a broken link or typing in the wrong URL. Having a custom 404 page30 that kindly guides users back to a working page on your site can greatly improve a user's experience. Your 404 page should probably have a link back to your root page and could also provide links to popular or related content on your site. You can use Google Search Console to find the sources of URLs causing "not found" errors31.
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