Best Practices for Mastering SEO

Search engines are constantly changing their algorithms. This makes it hard to stay ahead of your competition and have your website rank on the first page of search results. But, incorporating search engine optimization (SEO) best practices when creating or refreshing your site content will help you drive traffic and keep your brand’s online profile top-of-mind.

In my previous post, I explained what SEO is, why it’s important, and how it benefits your business. In today’s post, I’ll go through some steps you can take to apply SEO best practices.

There are seven topics I’ll cover:

  1. Research
  2. Analytics
  3. Usability
  4. Content
  5. Keywords
  6. Backlinks
  7. Social media

I’ll also briefly touch on a few “black hat” strategies you’ll want to avoid when putting together your SEO plan.

Sound good? Let’s dive into it.

1. Research

Start by reviewing your current practices to determine your site’s strengths and weaknesses.

This includes looking over and analyzing your current:

  • SEO strategy
  • Design, content, and usability
  • Customer/user feedback

Next, review which keywords your site is ranking for, average position in search results for each of those keywords, and click-through rates. There are several sites and programs you can use to find this information such as Google Analytics, HubSpot, and SEMRush.

Keyword research will help distinguish which keywords and phrases your company should focus on to gain the most traction to your site (we’ll elaborate on choosing keywords later).

You will also want to examine what your competitors are doing to ensure that your site can either:

Image reads: A) Compete with them or b) Be different enough to pull a targeted, niche audience

2. Analytics

Take a look at your site’s analytics and evaluate its traffic to discover:

  • How visitors are finding your website
  • How visitors interact with your site and progress through your goal funnels
  • Unusual traffic patterns and possible underlying reasons for sudden shifts (in which case, immediately find ways to rectify these issues)

This information will help you discover roadblocks your users are facing. You may also see opportunities to get visitors to complete a goal, or to complete more goals, on your site (i.e. by adding calls-to-action to dead end pages).

3. Usability

Next, you’ll want to assess your site’s accessibility to ensure your audience, and search engines, can make their way around your site efficiently. Your accessibility assessment should include checking for:

  • Page titles (keyword-oriented, where applicable)
  • Image text alternatives (keyword-oriented, where applicable)
  • Headings (keyword-oriented, where applicable)
  • Suitable colour contrast (see our tool,
  • Internal search options
  • Site speed
  • Succinct, relevant URLs
  • Basic, working site structure

You’ll also want to evaluate your site’s flow and architecture to determine whether it is easy to navigate and if it guides visitors on a path that leads them to completing a goal.

Image reads: Do you have effective calls-to-action, where appropriate? Are there any "dead end" pages? Are you using internal linking to move users from page to page?

4. Content

Content and content structure are very important parts of SEO. You will need to examine (and possibly modify) your content hierarchy to make sure you are incorporating SEO best practices.

  • Header tags (an organized, logical use of h1 to h6 tags)
  • Proper body copy format
  • Bullet points
  • Meta descriptions (on every page and keyword-oriented)

Your website’s content must be unique, user-friendly, and written with your target audience’s personality, needs, and wants in mind. Frequently refreshing or updating your website with targeted content for your audience is great for SEO.

The most popular way to keep content fresh is through regular blogging.

Blogging helps prove you’re a subject expert, which gains your business credibility, and creates more opportunities for search engines to index pages on your site.

Image reads: Don't forget to incorporate relevant internal and external linking within your website's content

Internal linking means linking to other posts and pages within your site. This can increase your overall website page views, and further prove your expertise on a subject.

External linking means referencing and linking to sites that are not your own. This can be effective for gaining backlinks (we’ll talk more about backlinks later), but essentially, if you link to other sites and authors, they’ll be more likely to link back to you.

Your content should also incorporate keywords and phrases your target audience are searching for, and be relevant to your organization. Don’t overdo it. Too much keyword stuffing may lead search engines to deem your content as spam and subsequently penalize you.

5. Keywords

Developing your keywords list is an important step to SEO. A good size list will include about five primary and five secondary keywords and phrases.

To choose these, you can take a list of keywords and phrases that your business would like to own, and compare them to current impressions and click-through-rates your website is already gaining for these keywords. You’ll also want to take a look at which keywords competing businesses are already vying for, and the keywords’ overall popularity.

Picking generic or highly popular keywords (such as “pizza” or “computers”) for your list is unlikely to benefit your business because, even though they are being searched for often, you will face fierce competition and it can be hard (or very costly) to rank for certain words no matter how hard you try. However, in some cases, generic words may work for you if you’re just looking to increase overall traffic to your site.

Image reads: Using generic keywords and phrases could drive a slightly higher percentage of traffic to your site, but they might not be great, qualified leads.

The key to success typically involves choosing keywords and phrases that are highly relevant to your target audience. It’s even better if your list includes words and phrases that represent your business’ unique selling proposition.

And don’t forget about long-tail key phrases. They allow you to be very target-specific, which can improve your overall conversion among niche groups.

6. Backlinks

Credible links back to your website can improve your search engine rankings and increase site traffic.

There are many opportunities to gain backlinks, including:

  • Asking employees to include a link in their email signatures
  • Asking clients/partners to link back to your site if they are sharing your work
  • Adding a backlink to your site as part of your social media profiles (e.g. in an “about us”)
  • Linking back to your website through social media posts (when it makes sense to)

Some websites have more authority than others. This means the site is highly trusted and credible, and if it links back to you, your search engine rankings can improve significantly more than with backlinks from sites with low authority. You can check the authority ranking of a website here.

Examples of high authority sites include government, schools, news, popular bloggers, and credible influencers with large followings.

You may be able to gain authority backlinks by sharing useful content with these sites, where applicable. You can do this by contacting the right people, or by sharing the content with them via social media, in which case, if they deem it worthy, may share it with their audience.

Social bookmarking is another great SEO tool that can help you drive targeted traffic to your site.

Standard bookmarking of a site is the process of saving a link to a website on your device so you can review it again later. Social bookmarking is the same concept, but public.

Instead of bookmarking a link on your computer, you would save the link on an online platform, such as StumbleUpon or Dzone. This means other people can see what you’re saving and choose whether or not to click the link and share it as well.

7. Social Media

There has been a lot of debate about whether social media affects search engine rankings. The short answer is, yes, it does. But, maybe not in the way you think.

Social media is correlated with high search engine rankings because it helps you get your brand and expertise out there, which, in turn, leads to more awareness and more traffic to your site.

Image reads: The more people are talking about, liking, or sharing your content, the more likely others are to discover it and put it on their websites, link to you, or reference your site as a credible source.

In order to get your site noticed on social media, you must have shareable content such as useful and interesting blogs, articles, or images. Ask yourself what your target audience would love to see or gain from you. Put yourself in their shoes. What content would be so great that they couldn’t NOT share it with their networks?

After you create a great, shareable piece of content, post to it on your social media profiles. Remember to include a call-to-action and a benefit for your reader.

You will also want to make sure that you have visible social media sharing icons above, beside, or below content that you would like your audience to share. Making it as easy as possible for your audience to share your content increases the likelihood of them doing so.

And don’t forget to place icons to your social media profiles above the fold of your site. This is how you will gain followers that will “subscribe” to the content you post on your social profiles. The more active, engaged followers you have, the more likely your content will be shared, which will expose your site and brand to more people.

Avoiding “Black Hat” SEO Strategies

When you’re putting together your SEO plan, you’ll want to avoid black hat techniques. These are ploys that search engines have deemed unethical, such as having hidden content on your site to boost keyword density, unrelated meta tags and descriptions, and taking part in link schemes. Applying these techniques can lead to your site being penalized, and in some cases, banned from search engines.

For more information about what is and isn’t allowed, refer to your search engine’s guidelines. We will also be posting more about this topic on our blog over the next few weeks, so keep your eyes peeled.

Put Your Knowledge to Work

Optimizing your site for search engines is not just a one-time, quick fix. But, there are several simple things you can do to start applying best practices. Great SEO involves keeping your content fresh, shareable, and useful. It’s a commitment to keep your brand on the first page of search engine results, and more importantly, top-of-mind.

Have Your SEO Done Professionally

If optimizing your site for search engines sounds challenging and time-consuming, you may want to consider having it done professionally.

Acart Communications offers many SEO services:

  • Auditing websites/SEO
  • Improving sites by increasing accessibility and usability
  • Developing strategies for social media, content marketing, and backlinking
  • Creating content for social media
  • Writing blogs
  • Developing a list of desirable keywords (primary and secondary)
  • Optimizing content for increased online search visibility

Want to set your site up for search engine success?

Contact Acart Communications today and learn how we can help you achieve your online goals

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