As an SEO guy, I’m always being asked what I think about this or that by people who have a website and everyone seems to be looking for free SEO tips these days. Totally understandable, and most of the time I don’t mind answering as I’m generally happy to help (as long as I don’t have to get up or put my beverage down).
The problem with something like free SEO tips & advice, however, is that it can be very subjective and any ‘certainty’ can only come from past results: It’s more of a “I can definitively state a result that happened to me, but I can’t say for sure that you will get the same result” kind of thing.
And so it occurred to me one evening, while answering questions for an acquaintance-of-a-friend, that I should create an advanced version of an “FAQ” page for those who wish to try SEO out themselves.
And here it is, in no particular order of importance. Happy reading.
Crappy websites were all the rage back in the day, but, like scurvy, there’s really no excuse for it any longer as professionally-made and Responsive HTML5 templates are more affordable than ever (and some of them are even free).
Sailors didn’t have access to oranges on their ships, but you don’t have that excuse when it comes to creating an acceptable website.
Crappy websites include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
A lot of people forget that good SEO doesn’t stop at just getting people to your website, but it also focuses on keeping them there. You may rank well in the search engines right now, but a high bounce-rate* will eventually affect your rankings
* Bounce-rates refer to people landing on a page on your website and leaving before checking out any other pages.
More importantly, and aside from being visually and logically offensive, crappy websites do not instil confidence in potential customers.
And if you are still in any way unclear as to what a crappy website would consist of, check out the Web Pages That Suck website.
Not all websites need to be, but if you’re handling personal information such as names, addresses, credit cards and more, you definitely need a secure server. This topic can be quite technical and the SEO benefits of SSL are still being debated, however you can read this SSL article to get a better understanding.
In order to gain the trust of your online customers, you will need to use a decent shopping cart and payment system. This seems obvious enough, however a lot of websites continue to use crappy systems and experience the potential trouble that comes with having used them.
Here are some of the more popular and user-friendly systems available:
Paypal offers X-Cart and offers a free version to smaller businesses. Using their shopping cart and online payment system is pretty easy and they only take a small percentage from each sale.
One of the more popular shopping platforms, Shopify provides you with an online store and a secure shopping cart. Pricing starts at $29 a month.
A “Point of Sale” system, SquareUp is free to use and includes online tools such as an invoice creator and sales reporting analytics. They also take a small percentage from each sale, but so will any other system you use.
This will at least give you an idea as to what people are actually searching for. Don’t guess.
The Google Adword Keyword Planner and the “Searches related to…” at the bottom of a Google search result page are good places to start. There are more advanced ways of selecting keywords, but these will at least help you to stay on target.
You can try to rank for “Best Toronto restaurants”, which yields 128,000,000 results and is highly competitive, or you could go for “best Toronto souvlaki”, which yields 290,000 results and isn’t very competitive at all.
The answer is usually somewhere in the middle and depends on how strong your website is and how competitive your market is. Less competitive search terms are that for a reason: few people use them.
Keywords are basically divided into 3 categories: Head, Body and Tail.
Head keywords are one and two word search terms that are highly competitive. “Best Pizza” is an example with 162,000,000 results, and most of the websites that rank for that term would be very difficult to beat organically.
Body and tail keyword-strings yield less traffic, but they are more likely to convert and are way less competitive. “Best New York style pizza Toronto” delivers 1,490,000 results. Definitely doable.
“New York style pizza delivery downtown Toronto” serves 204,000 results. Bingo! A website in the restaurant industry could easily compete for search terms like this.
You may only get a few searches per month for that search term, but the people searching are probably looking to have some New York-style pizza delivered to them in downtown Toronto. It’s specific for a reason and you should never dismiss the power of the long-tail keywords. You can build pages over time and before you know it you’ll have a steady flow of potential customers finding your website.
Landing pages are a great way to monitor specific campaigns, and although normally used together with paid advertising (PPC), you can create them for SEO purposes as well.
There’s nothing worse (okay, earthquakes are worse) than not being able to figure out how to get around a website. Give people a clear and direct way to navigate and lead them where they expected to be led. A “Contact Us” button should only ever go to a page where the person can contact you, for example.
A great use for your Landing Pages, right?
People love a bargain and it gives you an excuse to do a mailout, or a Facebook / Twitter announcement, or whatever. Keeping people engaged serves as a reminder that you’re here. No point in letting them forget about you if you can help it, right?
This kind of speaks for itself and doesn’t require much imagination. If it’s free, someone will show up for it. Maybe launch a contest on Facebook, or use subscribing to your mailing list as bait.
Always make sure that the important information on your website appears first and as close to the top as possible. If you’re having a “50% Off Sale”, it should be the first thing people see when they come to your website. Believe it or not, the search engines are treating the information that appears first as being the most important, so make sure your important stuff is up there.
As if you aren’t busy enough already, right?
The search engines are looking for you to be active and established online, so making friends, getting likes and receiving good reviews can only help. It’s also a form of free advertising for you that can reach crazy amounts of people.
It’s also a good habit to get into since just about everyone will be using Social Media in the not so distant future.
Google needs to know about your website’s pages if it is going to index them properly, so always ensure your sitemap is updated and formatted correctly before submitting it to Google Webmasters. And if you make any changes to it, make sure that it is uploaded or you can even manually submit it to Google again if you’d rather not wait.
The search engines accept these permanent redirects and issue no penalty to you for using them.
So use them.
If you rename a page, use the following syntax in your .htaccess file:
Redirect 301 /old-page-name.html http://www.your-site.com/new-page-name.html
You can do this with as many pages as necessary, too.
Every day matters and you’re only going to fall farther behind if you wait. If your website is new, start developing it while it acquires trust with the search engines. You can also use that time to develop your social media profiles and other off-site SEO strategies. Keep busy.
Don’t expect much in the way of search engine placement for the first year or so, despite all the work you may have put into it and all. SEO can be a painfully slow process and this is especially so in the beginning.
Sometimes, the only way to compete in a given market is to spend money. If you don’t have a lot of it or would rather not spend much of it, be realistic with your expectations and the markets you compete within.
Ensure that you have a customised 404 page that contains all of your menu structure. Mistakes happen and servers hiccup from time to time, but it’s no reason to lose a viewer and potential customer. Include prominent links back to your most popular pages and even a comment form for feedback.
Turning a glitch into an opportunity is smart.
Website structure means a lot when it comes to SEO and creating clear and logical navigation is part of that. Name the directories as clearly as possible using keywords that match your
website’s overall theme.
www.shoes.com/mens-shoes/mens-running-shoes.html www.shoes.com/womens-shoes/womens-running-shoes.html www.shoes.com/childrens-shoes/childrens-running-shoes.html
Do you recognise a pattern developing here? So do the search engines.
If you don’t recognise these as Google algorithm updates, you will need to not only learn them, but be aware of future updates as well.
For websites that are above-board with their SEO practices, like this local real estate agent’s website offering lower commissions, the updates typically aren’t an issue. But this isn’t always the case and you’ll need to be able to diagnose why someone has suddenly lost rankings.
Not to be confused with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, this is probably one of the best SEO spider tools around. It’s also free for websites that have less than 500 pages and is great for checking such things as on-page SEO, broken links, competitive websites and much, much more.
Download Screaming Frog SEO Spider and check it out, but be forewarned that you will need to do some reading in order to use it effectively.
There will be websites that already have some clout in your space and you can ask them to feature some of your content. Everyone needs good content and there’s no easier way than to use someone else’s. Get your words out there.
The way your pages are formatted and the words you use within them matter a great deal to the search engines. They need to know what your website is about and the way in which you present your website to them will determine how they see it.
Spend time learning about on-page SEO ranking factors and apply them consistently.
Off-page SEO simply relates to how other people are seeing your website and what they think of it.
If you’ve got a ton of respectable websites linking to you, and a ton of social media pointing your way, and other websites talking about you, well, you get the idea.
Search engines are looking for social validation these days and you definitely have to be active when considering these factors.
The websites that rank for your keywords have already done a lot of the SEO work for you because they will reveal what it took to get them into the top spots in the search engines. Do a little research and see what they have done.
Which keywords are they specifically targeting? How is their on-site SEO? Off-site? What about social media profiles? Do they have a ton of backlinks from reputable websites?
Do your homework and the process will be a lot simpler.
No exceptions here. There are too many variables involved to even think you could get the same results by doing the same thing for two different websites.
Even if they are in the same space.
As counter-intuitive as it may seem, some websites have such a strangle-hold on those top spots that your time is probably better spent focusing on different keywords and/or niche phrases. Part of the expertise in SEO is knowing when this is the case and that almost no amount of skill, time or money is going to make much of a difference.
Check out this article for some of the more difficult keywords for SEO.
Having a lot of unique visitors to your website is never a bad thing, but it should always be noted that what really counts are the visitors that convert into customers. Simply stated, broad markets may get lots of traffic with little conversion and niche markets may have less traffic but higher conversion rates.
Knowing which market you represent and the types of visitors to target will go a long way in determining your overall SEO strategy.
And if you currently have no traffic or conversions, hire me right away.
In real life, you don’t make friends overnight and the same is true when developing your online presence. Contact a few people at a time and ask them to ‘like’ you on Facebook. Or contact a few previous clients at a time and ask them to write a positive review on Google+ or Yelp.
The search engines are looking for your online relationships to evolve naturally and you will be penalised if they think you are playing with that process.
Yep, that’s right: ignore it. You’ll read elsewhere that it matters somewhat, but I personally started to ignore it a few years ago and haven’t experienced anything negative from having done so. It’s an older metric and lots of sites with low page rank routinely outperform websites with higher page rank.
A great example is a website I recently worked on. They currently have a page rank of “2”, yet their traffic quadrupled, their pages rank on the first page of Google for competitive terms and they have several sales each day.
There are better things to be doing with your time than obsessing over Page Rank.
You’ve probably received an email from some guy named “Sammy” in India that promises to submit your website and content to 1,000s of search engines and directories. And all for the low price of $19.99.
That’s very generous of “Sammy”, but these tactics will get you banned (and deservedly so). Search engines will index your website automatically and most “directories” are spammy in nature and virtually worthless to your SEO efforts.
There are a couple of purposes for this technique, but the basic premise is that you are giving away some of the strength of your page whenever you link somewhere else and “nofollow” prevents this from happening.
<a href="" title="" rel="nofollow"></a>
If you want to link to another website but would rather not give any search engine credit to that website, use “nofollow”.
This type of thing was done years ago and isn’t worth anything to your website’s SEO. They are almost always low-quality links that are not only worthless, but they might actually hurt your efforts if you have too many of them.
Need an example of how these can hurt your rankings? Google released their “Penguin” update in 2012 specifically for this reason and a lot of websites were negatively affected.
I jokingly refer to SEO as being more of a journey than a destination, mainly because the work never ends and you are always learning as you go along.
You do your homework, apply it to your site and wait for the results. And then you do it again. And again.
A co-worker of mine once proudly stated that “Google doesn’t index alt tags”. Well, they most certainly do and Matt Cutts released a video saying as much.
If you’ve “heard” something about Google’s ranking algorithm, go to their website and search for the official documents. They always release them, so you really shouldn’t be relying on what you’ve “heard about”. Check it out for yourself and be absolutely sure.
There’s really no such thing as a perfectly-optimised page, but you can come close with a bit of effort.
I have page that explains a lot of on-page SEO examples
if you want to learn more.
Google Webmaster Tools will tell you which pages are the most popular on your website, along with the search terms people used to find them. This is valuable information because you can build on that success and make additions or improvements to those pages to make them even more attractive.
Much the same as above, but in reverse. This is your opportunity to make improvements, try another approach or perhaps just ditch the page altogether.
Weak pages can bring your site’s rankings down, so be sure to keep an eye on the weakest links and take action.
Few people seem to think of this as off-site SEO, but it definitely is. Giving someone your business card increases the likelihood that they will visit your website, which in turn increases the likelihood that they may “like” you on Facebook or even buy something from you.
So go and get yourself some cheap business cards printed and make sure you always have a few on you. There is no down-side.
Choosing keywords that are too competitive is a waste of your time, as is creating an extensive article that few people will find or even read.
You want to spend your time and money wisely (or at least I’ll assume you do), so take the time beforehand to ensure whatever you’re doing will give you the best return.
SEO is a guessing game in a lot of ways and it’s easy to go overboard if you don’t know what you’re doing.
And by “going overboard”, I’m of course saying “get penalised by Google”.
Part of effective SEO includes knowing what not to do, so learn the rules and stick to them.
This is more of a diagnostics kind of thing for your website and you can submit your sitemaps and fix any errors that Google finds with your site.
This is also handy for checking on how your website measures-up in the mobile world as well.
Probably the best free tool online, you can check out how much traffic you get, where they go on your website, set up advanced tracking and a ton more.
Spend some time learning how to use it as the insights into how people are using your website are invaluable.
Your local rankings with Google pretty much depend on it.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that your public business profiles need to be exactly the same across all platforms and websites. Don’t have different telephone numbers or business addresses listed if you can help it.
I had 3 goals in mind when I decided to put this page together: Have some fun with it, provide people with something interesting and informative, and boost my own rankings if possible.
Of course there are other factors involved, such as knowing what others might find interesting, but my general premise holds true.
Find a niche or an angle about something that relates to your overall theme and come up with something worthwhile for people to check out.
Say that quickly 3 times.
Anyone can create crappy little articles or pages every 5 days, but few people will be interested and Google will just flag you as having uninteresting content, regardless of the amount of pages you produce.
One good, solid article every 3 months will get you better results.
And especially when it comes to website SEO. Google indexes the pages of your website and gives your website an overall ranking based on those pages. It’s not the other way around and particular focus should be given to individual pages and what they offer.
You can say whatever you want on your homepage, but if the rest of your website doesn’t back it up, Google will know.
Google always knows.
This one drives me crazy, and here is why:
<title>YouRankWell.ca | SEO for small business websites in Toronto.</title>
Unless people are actually searching for my business name, why would I place it first in the title tag? Coca Cola? Sure. Nike? Definitely. Apple? Absolutely. Me?
Not a chance.
Those types of brands don’t actually need any SEO and can do whatever they want.
Google places emphasis on the first few words it finds in the meta title, so always, always, always place your main keywords there first and add your company name if you have enough room (55 characters).
<title>Small business SEO Toronto. YouRankWell.ca.</title>
I also realise that we hear a lot about “branding” and “recognition” and our egos as business owners want our names to be out there. The challenge in this case, however, is that you only have so much space to cram everything into and your keywords are more valuable to you at this point than anything else.
We’re talking about SEO here, so focus on what people are searching for at the beginning and then slowly work your ‘brand’ into a more visible position.
Fight the urge.
As long as they reciprocate, that is.
We’re all in the same SEO-boat here and the understanding is that you have to be social and share things to get ahead. No website is an island, so to speak, so reach out and develop relationships through blog posts, re-tweets, likes or whatever else is available. Get involved in forums if you can (as long as they are quality forums) and make yourself visible to others in your market space.
Your business is your area of expertise, and you prefer to be hands-on when it comes to your business. Totally understandable.
But sometimes it’s best to hire someone else for their expertise.
Unless you really know what you are doing, find a professional to help you with your website’s SEO.
Customer service is one thing that can set you apart from bigger businesses, so take advantage of it. Add references to it in your meta titles and descriptions.
You probably aren’t the only person selling your product or service but you might be one of the few who provides excellent customer service. Make sure people know about it.
Answer customer emails promptly (and in proper English). Honour discounts even if they’ve expired. Do what you can. People will take notice and word will get around.
More to the point, word really gets around when you don’t provide proper service.
Offer people an incentive to promote you. Tell friends you’ll give them “X-Amount-Of-Money” for each paying customer they send your way.
Hey, we’re an incentive-based species and nothing speaks louder than free cash, right?
While not a major source of traffic, Bing.com also has a webmasters area where you can manage your sitemaps and check on your website’s analytics and diagnostics. Their guidelines are a little different than Google’s, so try to become aware of those differences and optimise your website so that it will be indexed by as many search engines as possible.
Linking from one page to another page of your website helps people find important information and it also helps the search engines learn about how your website relates to itself.
This is especially effective if you’re mentioning something in passing that you have written about extensively elsewhere on the website.
So try not to worry too much about being in second spot one day and fourth spot the next. You can do the same same search from the spot location and on the same computer and get a different result. It happens.
Pay more attention to major changes, like dropping to the fourth page from one day to the next.
Toronto is a big place. It’s huge. And trying to corner the market on “[Keyword Here] Toronto” is probably going to be very difficult.
But people can’t be everywhere at once, either, and most of them want to find things that are either near their homes or where they are going to be.
The amount of traffic you get will be much smaller, but at least it will be dedicated traffic and more likely to use your services or products.
Launching a sale? Announce it.
Created an informative page for your website? Definitely announce it.
You’ll get good results, but just be sure to use it properly and not to announce random things with little value to your audience.
Not for search engines.
The goal is to create content that’s indexable by search engines yet appealing to people. That’s the balance you need to find.
Start by writing something without giving any consideration to how Google will view it.
Then sprinkle in some supporting terms and keywords.
Eventually it will take shape.
Google is much smarter these days and if it catches a whiff of a spammy title tag, it will truncate it.
If you think about it, how much sense can cramming 6 or 7 keywords into a 70-character space make? That’s what Google thinks, too.
Here is a title tag that repeats keywords and uses too many characters:
<title>SEO For Business Websites: Using SEO For More Traffic On Business Websites.</title>
And this title tag basically says the same thing without repeating itself:
<title>SEO for business websites and getting more traffic.</title>
Just by looking at it, I know this will not be truncated nor will it will be flagged for any type of violation of any search engine’s guidelines.
You’ve got 135 characters to elaborate on your meta title, so use them wisely and create something that is interesting, useful and inviting to potential viewers.
Google will truncate it if it’s too long or replace some-or-all of it by scraping information from your page.
I don’t know about you but I prefer to have some control over it.
This many characters also fits into the mobile and tablet search result windows. No truncating will occur and they will ALWAYS look the same regardless of which device is being used.
As in, 50-55 characters kind of short.
Don’t treat every page on your website like a Tokyo subway during rush-hour.
Each page should really only be about one thing and 50-55 characters provides enough space for you to describe it intelligently. Use the “meta description” tag to elaborate.
This many characters also fits into the mobile and tablet search result windows. No truncating will occur and they will ALWAYS look the same regardless of which device is being used.
Back in the day they were over-used by just about everyone and then the spammers really took them to a new level. As a result, none of the major search engines give them any credit and they won’t help your rankings in any case.
And using them does give your competitors an edge as they can specifically see what you are targeting.
Google doesn’t use them for ranking purposes, so there’s no real reason to bother with them.
There is no magic number or percentage for keyword-to-content ratios.
And thinking in these terms probably means you’re more focused on how Google will index your page, rather than focusing on how people will relate to your content.
Playing those games only opens you up to penalties when Google updates its ranking algorithms.
Don’t bother with it.
It sounds a little clichè, I know, but you really do have to set yourself apart from your competition.
Why should someone buy something from you when they can probably get the same thing elsewhere?
Price? Customer service? Selection? Location?
Figure out what sets you apart and convey it on your website. People will feel the difference.
An address and embedded Google map are great, but it never hurts to have specific directions that include which side of the street you are on and any nearby landmarks.
Let’s say you have a business located on Queen Street West near Spadina Avenue in Toronto. A street address will work, but so would saying “we are on the north side of Queen Street, east of Spadina Avenue and 3 doors east of the Black Bull Tavern”.
Visitors to your website will notice that you are trying to make it easier on them.
All things being equal, older sites tend to do better in the search engines than newer websites do. It’s the whole “website trust” factor and there isn’t much you can do about it other than to give it time.
In the meantime, build an awesome website.
You just have to be better than your competitors.
There are enough niche markets available without having to go head-to-head against a strong competitor. Find something they haven’t within your market and develop some strong keywords and content around it.
Did you know that you can get very specific search results from Google? They call them “Search Operators” and the “allintitle” one is very useful.
When used, they basically return results that contain your search terms in “Meta Title” tags. Being this specific means you can find who has optimisedtheir pages using your keywords and what the competition levels are.
Just be sure to begin your keyword phrase immediately following the colon (without any spaces):
allintitle:best WordPress SEO
Typing that keyword phrase into Google normally gets around 27 million results.
But using the “allintitle” operator brings in around 8,000.
Here is a reference of other useful Google search operators if you want to check them out.
This is a goldmine of information for titles, descriptions, keywords and sub-headings.
And you know they’re good because people are actually paying for these courses.
If 3,000 real people have paid for a course based on the author’s description, that’s good enough for me to use as a guideline when creating content.
LinkedIn offers a blogging platform to users and it’s a great way to find an audience for your content. It launched last year and is still a bit of an SEO secret, although it will eventually catch on, I’m sure.
Not everyone qualifies and LinkedIn seems to choose from the articles submitted, but either way it’s worth checking out.
Just like the old saying, one good backlink is worth several average ones.
You are going to spend time developing backlinks, so it’s just a matter of how productively you want that time to be spent.
And use it.
Provide opportunities on your website for people to subscribe and offer them something in order to do so. Coupons and discounts are always a good idea, but you can use whatever works. Send out an article a month, or announce an upcoming sale or product launch.
Keep people engaged as much as you can.
And be ready for a bit of a shock when you do.
Personalised search results have been around for a while (with Google, anyway), and it basically means that the relevance of your search will be tied to websites you’ve visited before. If you’ve looked at the pages you are trying to rank for – which you definitely have – the SERP will be higher for you than it will be for someone else.
To try it yourself, log into one of Google’s properties (like GMail) and type in a strong keyword phrase for a given page. Note the position and then search again after you have logged out.
Facebook pages are for businesses (and other things).
They have it set up so that you have to create a personal profile in order to attach a business page to it. Clever for their needs but a definite pain in the butt for us.
Well, you actually can set up just a business page, but it comes with limitations that I won’t get into here.
Trying to be clever by creating a business page on a personal page will eventually result in them just deleting it.
Rich Snippets provide you with the opportunity to stand out in the SERPs and can be used for products, recipes, reviews, events, videos, software and articles.
You’ve probably seen these types of results before:
Which one are you most likely to click?
It’s a little technical, so here’s a link to the Rich Snippets section on Google’s website.
There are probably hundreds of things I could mention here, but if you have some free SEO tips that I haven’t mentioned, send it to me and I’ll be sure to give you the credit!
And if you found this list to be helpful at all, please consider throwing me some social love. Every little bit helps.
Thanks for reading!