As of October 2018 almost 4.2 billion people were active internet users and 3.4 billion were social media users (Statista). China, India and the United States rank ahead all other countries in terms of internet users. This gives a marketer an unprecedented number of customers to reach with product and service offerings, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The interactive nature of the internet facilitates immediate communication between businesses and consumers, allowing businesses to respond quickly to the needs of consumers and changes in the marketplace. "Everyone has the internet in their pocket all the time, and this changes everything for small businesses" (Cory Capoccia, Forbes).

Before you do anything, and this is key, you need to know what makes your company unique. You need to have a clear concept of the mission of your company. You need to determine exactly what you have to offer because that’s what’s going to make you rank. It’s that simple. SEO is just like regular business. If you’re doing everything on the same or inferior level as your competition, you’re not going to stand out. If you’re not the best result, why should people want to find you? Why should Google rank you? This seems simple, but this factor is often forgotten.


If you have a commenting system (like Drupal, Joomla or WordPress) that allows for search engine friendly links (commonly called dofollow links) from your blog or site, you will probably, eventually be the target of lots of spam, be complicated in tiered link schemes and potentially fall foul of Google’s webmaster guidelines on using the attribute in certain situations.
QUOTE: “Think about whether or not this is a link that would be on your site if it weren’t for your actions…When it comes to guest blogging it’s a situation where you are placing links on other people’s sites together with this content, so that’s something I kind of shy away from purely from a link building point of view. It can make sense to guest blog on other people’s sites to drive some traffic to your site… but you should use a nofollow.” John Mueller, Google 2013

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
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.
Keywords are as much about your audience as they are about your content, because you might describe what you offer in a slightly different way than some people ask for it. To create content that ranks well organically and drives visitors to your site, you need to understand the needs of those visitors — the language they use and the type of content they seek. You can do this by talking to your customers, frequenting forums and community groups, and doing your own keyword research with a tool like Keyword Explorer.
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?
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.
Both require knowing your audience. To succeed at both strategies, you must have a good understanding of your audience and how they act. By using buyer personas and psychographic segmentation, you can get to know your audience, discover what their needs are, and what they are searching for. Then you can create valuable content that shows up when they go looking for solutions related to your brand.
How do you figure out what keywords your competitors are ranking for, you ask? Aside from manually searching for keywords in an incognito browser and seeing what positions your competitors are in, SEMrush allows you to run a number of free reports that show you the top keywords for the domain you enter. This is a quick way to get a sense of the types of terms your competitors are ranking for.

Since heading tags typically make text contained in them larger than normal text on the page, this is a visual cue to users that this text is important and could help them understand something about the type of content underneath the heading text. Multiple heading sizes used in order create a hierarchical structure for your content, making it easier for users to navigate through your document.
QUOTE: “So there’s three things that you really want to do well if you want to be the world’s best search engine you want to crawl the web comprehensively and deeply you want to index those pages and then you want to rank or serve those pages and return the most relevant ones first….. we basically take PageRank as the primary determinant and the more PageRank you have that is the more people who link to you and the more reputable those people are the more likely it is we’re going to discover your page…. we use page rank as well as over 200 other factors in our rankings to try to say okay maybe this document is really authoritative it has a lot of reputation because it has a lot of PageRank … and that’s kind of the secret sauce trying to figure out a way to combine those 200 different ranking signals in order to find the most relevant document.” Matt Cutts, Google

QUOTE: “And we do that across the whole website to kind of figure out where we see the quality of this website. And that’s something that could definitely be affecting your website overall in the search results. So if you really work to make sure that these comments are really high quality content, that they bring value, engagement into your pages, then that’s fantastic. That’s something that I think you should definitely make it so that search engines can pick that up on.”  John Mueller, Google 2016

In the last year, Google and Bing have both indicated a shift to entity-based search results as part of their evolution. Google has unscored this point with rich snippets and Knowledge Graph, and Bing has now upped the ante on personal search results with Bing Snapshots. Find out how you can adopt strategies to stay ahead of the curve in the new world of semantic search results.
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.
Google ranks websites (relevancy aside for a moment) by the number and quality of incoming links to a site from other websites (amongst hundreds of other metrics). Generally speaking, a link from a page to another page is viewed in Google “eyes” as a vote for that page the link points to. The more votes a page gets, the more trusted a page can become, and the higher Google will rank it – in theory. Rankings are HUGELY affected by how much Google ultimately trusts the DOMAIN the page is on. BACKLINKS (links from other websites – trump every other signal.)
Think, that one day, your website will have to pass a manual review by ‘Google’ – the better rankings you get, or the more traffic you get, the more likely you are to be reviewed. Know that Google, at least classes even useful sites as spammy, according to leaked documents. If you want a site to rank high in Google – it better ‘do’ something other than exist only link to another site because of a paid commission. Know that to succeed, your website needs to be USEFUL, to a visitor that Google will send you – and a useful website is not just a website, with a sole commercial intent, of sending a visitor from Google to another site – or a ‘thin affiliate’ as Google CLASSIFIES it.
QUOTE: “Google will now begin encrypting searches that people do by default, if they are logged into Google.com already through a secure connection. The change to SSL search also means that sites people visit after clicking on results at Google will no longer receive “referrer” data that reveals what those people searched for, except in the case of ads.” Danny Sullivan, Google 2013
QUOTE: “If you have comments on your site, and you just let them run wild, you don’t moderate them, they’re filled with spammers or with people who are kind of just abusing each other for no good reason, then that’s something that might kind of pull down the overall quality of your website where users when they go to those pages might say, well, there’s some good content on top here, but this whole bottom part of the page, this is really trash. I don’t want to be involved with the website that actively encourages this kind of behavior or that actively promotes this kind of content. And that’s something where we might see that on a site level, as well.” John Mueller, Google 2016

QUOTE: “Important: The Lowest rating is appropriate if all or almost all of the MC (main content) on the page is copied with little or no time, effort, expertise, manual curation, or added value for users. Such pages should be rated Lowest, even if the page assigns credit for the content to another source.” – Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines 2019
QUOTE: “And we do that across the whole website to kind of figure out where we see the quality of this website. And that’s something that could definitely be affecting your website overall in the search results. So if you really work to make sure that these comments are really high quality content, that they bring value, engagement into your pages, then that’s fantastic. That’s something that I think you should definitely make it so that search engines can pick that up on.”  John Mueller, Google 2016

QUOTE: “The average duration metric for the particular group of resources can be a statistical measure computed from a data set of measurements of a length of time that elapses between a time that a given user clicks on a search result included in a search results web page that identifies a resource in the particular group of resources and a time that the given user navigates back to the search results web page. …Thus, the user experience can be improved because search results higher in the presentation order will better match the user’s informational needs.” High Quality Search Results based on Repeat Clicks and Visit Duration


QUOTE: “What happens when you have a page with “ten PageRank points” and ten outgoing links, and five of those links are nofollowed? Let’s leave aside the decay factor to focus on the core part of the question. Originally, the five links without nofollow would have flowed two points of PageRank each (in essence, the nofollowed links didn’t count toward the denominator when dividing PageRank by the outdegree of the page). More than a year ago, Google changed how the PageRank flows so that the five links without nofollow would flow one point of PageRank each.” Matt Cutts, Google 2009
How do you figure out what keywords your competitors are ranking for, you ask? Aside from manually searching for keywords in an incognito browser and seeing what positions your competitors are in, SEMrush allows you to run a number of free reports that show you the top keywords for the domain you enter. This is a quick way to get a sense of the types of terms your competitors are ranking for.
QUOTE: “Some things don’t change — users’ expectations, in particular. The popups of the early 2000s have reincarnated as modal windows, and are hated just as viscerally today as they were over a decade ago. Automatically playing audio is received just as negatively today. The following ad characteristics remained just as annoying for participants as they were in the early 2000s: Pops up – Slow loading time – Covers what you are trying to see – Moves content around – Occupies most of the page – Automatically plays sound.” Therese Fessenden, Nielsen Norman Group 2017
Content Marketing: Writing articles or blog posts related to your business and submitting them to be published on other websites is another great way to reach your target market for free. Although mass distribution of a single article across the web doesn't have the same SEO benefits it once had, submitting exclusive articles to a specific site can still reap many rewards including SEO, boosting your credibility, and reaching a market that might not otherwise know about you. Because writing can be time-consuming, you may want to consider how you can repurpose what you write into other forms of content or with new angles for other audiences.
QUOTE: “Doorways are sites or pages created to rank highly for specific search queries. They are bad for users because they can lead to multiple similar pages in user search results, where each result ends up taking the user to essentially the same destination. They can also lead users to intermediate pages that are not as useful as the final destination.
QUOTE: “I’ve got a slide here where I show I think 8 different URLs you know every single one of these URLs could return completely different content in practice we as humans whenever we look at ‘www.example.com’ or just regular ‘example.com’ or example.com/index or example.com/home.asp we think of it as the same page and in practice it usually is the same page so technically it doesn’t have to be but almost always web servers will return the same content for like these 8 different versions of the URL so that can cause a lot of problems in search engines if rather than having your backlinks all go to one page instead it’s split between (the versions) and it’s a really big headache….how do people fix this well …. the canonical link element” Matt Cutts, Google 2009
While that theory is sound (when focused on a single page, when the intent is to deliver utility content to a Google user) using old school SEO techniques on especially a large site spread out across many pages seems to amplify site quality problems, after recent algorithm changes, and so this type of optimisation without keeping an eye on overall site quality is self-defeating in the long run.
In the last year, Google and Bing have both indicated a shift to entity-based search results as part of their evolution. Google has unscored this point with rich snippets and Knowledge Graph, and Bing has now upped the ante on personal search results with Bing Snapshots. Find out how you can adopt strategies to stay ahead of the curve in the new world of semantic search results.
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.
QUOTE: “Cleaning up these kinds of link issue can take considerable time to be reflected by our algorithms (we don’t have a specific time in mind, but the mentioned 6-12 months is probably on the safe side). In general, you won’t see a jump up in rankings afterwards because our algorithms attempt to ignore the links already, but it makes it easier for us to trust the site later on.” John Mueller, Google, 2018
Publicity: Getting your business featured on media outlets can be a great way to reach new customers, but connecting with the right people to make it happen can sometimes be difficult. You can always submit and post press releases for news and announcements from your business through online press release distribution services. While press releases can work, they can also be time-consuming and are often ignored. Another option that often produces better results is to sign up for media requests through Help A Reporter Out. Once you sign up, you'll receive emails listing requests for professional sources from media outlets, including newspapers, magazines, radio and TV programs, blogs, and podcasts.
Many blogging software packages automatically nofollow user comments, but those that don't can most likely be manually edited to do this. This advice also goes for other areas of your site that may involve user-generated content, such as guest books, forums, shout-boards, referrer listings, etc. If you're willing to vouch for links added by third parties (for example, if a commenter is trusted on your site), then there's no need to use nofollow on links; however, linking to sites that Google considers spammy can affect the reputation of your own site. The Webmaster Help Center has more tips on avoiding comment spam40, for example by using CAPTCHAs and turning on comment moderation.
QUOTE: “common with forums is low-quality user-generated content. If you have ways of recognizing this kind of content, and blocking it from indexing, it can make it much easier for algorithms to review the overall quality of your website. The same methods can be used to block forum spam from being indexed for your forum. Depending on the forum, there might be different ways of recognizing that automatically, but it’s generally worth finding automated ways to help you keep things clean & high-quality, especially when a site consists of mostly user-generated content.” John Mueller, Google
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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
QUOTE: “So there’s three things that you really want to do well if you want to be the world’s best search engine you want to crawl the web comprehensively and deeply you want to index those pages and then you want to rank or serve those pages and return the most relevant ones first….. we basically take PageRank as the primary determinant and the more PageRank you have that is the more people who link to you and the more reputable those people are the more likely it is we’re going to discover your page…. we use page rank as well as over 200 other factors in our rankings to try to say okay maybe this document is really authoritative it has a lot of reputation because it has a lot of PageRank … and that’s kind of the secret sauce trying to figure out a way to combine those 200 different ranking signals in order to find the most relevant document.” Matt Cutts, Google
I used to think it could take more to get a subfolder trusted than say an individual file and I guess this sways me to use files on most websites I created (back in the day). Once subfolders are trusted, it’s 6 or half a dozen, what the actual difference is in terms of ranking in Google – usually, rankings in Google are more determined by how RELEVANT or REPUTABLE a page is to a query.
Publicity: Getting your business featured on media outlets can be a great way to reach new customers, but connecting with the right people to make it happen can sometimes be difficult. You can always submit and post press releases for news and announcements from your business through online press release distribution services. While press releases can work, they can also be time-consuming and are often ignored. Another option that often produces better results is to sign up for media requests through Help A Reporter Out. Once you sign up, you'll receive emails listing requests for professional sources from media outlets, including newspapers, magazines, radio and TV programs, blogs, and podcasts.
Provide full functionality on all devices. Mobile users expect the same functionality - such as commenting and check-out - and content on mobile as well as on all other devices that your website supports. In addition to textual content, make sure that all important images and videos are embedded and accessible on mobile devices. For search engines, provide all structured data and other metadata - such as titles, descriptions, link-elements, and other meta-tags - on all versions of the pages.

We’ve used other tools in the past, but SE Ranking offers more up-to-date data and information, which benefits our agency and clients. SE Ranking allows us to access historical data with just a few clicks without ever having to leave the interface. From daily ranking updates to current search volume trends, there are numerous aspects that are essential when formulating client strategies, and with SE Ranking’s continuously updated system we are able to use this data to help our clients succeed.

You can go all overboard and make a thorough analysis of all the competitors in your field, and that can certainly be worthwhile. But let’s stick to the basics for now. It’s actually quite easy to get a general idea of your SEO competition. Just Google some search terms you would like to rank for and see which companies show up and compare them with where your site ranks. How big are the companies you are competing with for those top three rankings? Would your company fit within these results? This is all quite easy to determine using only Google search results.

QUOTE: “I think there is probably a misunderstanding that there’s this one site-wide number that Google keeps for all websites and that’s not the case.  We look at lots of different factors and there’s not just this one site-wide quality score that we look at. So we try to look at a variety of different signals that come together, some of them are per page, some of them are more per site, but it’s not the case where there’s one number and it comes from these five pages on your website.” John Mueller, Google 2016

QUOTE: “I think there is probably a misunderstanding that there’s this one site-wide number that Google keeps for all websites and that’s not the case.  We look at lots of different factors and there’s not just this one site-wide quality score that we look at. So we try to look at a variety of different signals that come together, some of them are per page, some of them are more per site, but it’s not the case where there’s one number and it comes from these five pages on your website.” John Mueller, Google 2016
QUOTE: “The duration performance scores can be used in scoring resources and websites for search operations. The search operations may include scoring resources for search results, prioritizing the indexing of websites, suggesting resources or websites, protecting particular resources or websites from demotions, precluding particular resources or websites from promotions, or other appropriate search operations.” A Panda Patent on Website and Category Visit Durations

Comparing your Google Analytics data side by side with the dates of official algorithm updates is useful in diagnosing a site health issue or traffic drop. In the above example, a new client thought it was a switch to HTTPS and server downtime that caused the drop when it was actually the May 6, 2015, Google Quality Algorithm (originally called Phantom 2 in some circles) that caused the sudden drop in organic traffic – and the problem was probably compounded by unnatural linking practices. (This client did eventually receive a penalty for unnatural links when they ignored our advice to clean up).
Great guide Sharon! Thank you so much for sharing. I was wondering if off-page SEO is still worth it? Like using Personal Publishing Accounts or other social media where you can share your content. I’ve been trying for some months now to spread around content but still waiting for better results. I’ve read it needs diversity but I still haven’t figured it out yet.

QUOTE: “For the most part it should be fine I think the the tricky part that you need to be careful about is more around doorway pages in the sense that if all of these pages end up with the same business then that can look a lot like a doorway page but like just focusing on the content duplication part that’s something that for the most part is fine what will happen there is will index all of these pages separately because from  from a kind of holistic point of view these pages are unique they have unique content on them they might have like chunks of text on them which are duplicated but on their own these pages are unique so we’ll index them separately and in the search results when someone is searching for something generic and we don’t know which of these pages are the best ones we’ll pick one of these pages and show that to the user and filter out the other variations of that that page so for example if someone in Ireland is just looking for dental bridges and you have a bunch of different pages for different kind of clinics that offer the service and probably will pick one of those pages and show those in the search results and filter out the other ones.
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.
It is important you spread all that real ‘PageRank’ – or link equity – to your sales keyword / phrase rich sales pages, and as much remains to the rest of the site pages, so Google does not ‘demote’ pages into oblivion –  or ‘supplemental results’ as we old timers knew them back in the day. Again – this is slightly old school – but it gets me by, even today.
There are a lot of definitions of SEO (spelled Search engine optimisation in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, or search engine optimization in the United States and Canada) but organic SEO in 2020 is still mostly about getting free traffic from Google, the most popular search engine in the world (and almost the only game in town in the UK in 2020):
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