SEO Best Practices: The Essentials for 2015

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Search Engine Optimization or “SEO” is the process of designing your website and marketing strategy to get high quality, un-paid traffic from Search Engines to your website.

Several years ago, the term “SEO” conjured up an image of shady characters working in dimly lit back rooms to “trick” search engines into ranking a site’s pages higher – but those days are long gone. Nowadays, paying for links to your site, hiding content, keyword stuffing or deceptive “black-hat” practices are much more likely to hurt your site than help.

In this article, we will discuss basic SEO best practices that will help you boost the authority of your site on the web, and as a result, increase the value and visibility of your business.

What Search Engines Want

A good place to start thinking about SEO is to consider the goals of Search Engines companies. In order to keep people coming back, Google and other search engines want to display the best, highest-quality results for any given search query.

So, your strategy for SEO should:

  1. Make sure that the pages of your site actually do have the best, highest-quality content for keywords relevant to your site.
  2. Make sure that Google and other search engines are aware that #1 is true.

That begs the question – What defines high-quality content? Over the past few years, Google and other searches engines have gotten much smarter about understanding both website content and user experience. Google has published clear quality guidelines that are a great framework to abide by.

The good news is that for the most part, what’s good for your visitors will also help your search rankings.

Quality Experience

The first part of quality is making sure that your site is reputable. Your site must be free of spam, malware and other problems. Excessive ads or pages filled with nothing but links are signs that your site is not reputable. And, as mentioned above, any deceptive practices are another sign of a bad-quality site. If you sign up for notifications in Google Webmaster tools they will tell you if they detect any issues on your site.

Another measure of high quality is a fast site. Faster is clearly a better user experience. And, studies have shown that a faster site also converts better. A study by Akamai reports that 47% of people expect a web page to load in two seconds or less. What’s more, just a one-second delay in page load time results in a 7% decline in sales (source). Several years ago Google started factoring in site speed into search result rankings, so delivering on this has never been more crucial to site visibility. Alexa’s SEO Audit Tool can crawl your whole site and flag your site’s slowest pages to make sure your performance is optimized.

For people searching from a mobile device, a measure of quality content is that the site is mobile-friendly. Google began labeling mobile optimized sites in search results this fall, presumably giving ranking preference to those that are responsive. With 1/3 of search result clicks going to the top organic result, the need to perform well in organic search has never been more crucial. You should make sure your site renders well on tablets and phones to maximize web traffic from mobile searches.

Freshness is also a factor. A site that hasn’t been updated in months or years is most likely lower quality. With out of date content, this also probably means the site hasn’t earned any new inbound links. Without a good “freshness factor”, search engines will likely pass over a site for newer, more current content.

Spelling errors and broken links are signs of bad quality. The Alexa Site Audit regularly monitors your site for broken links, which are bad both for your visitors and for SEO.

Quality Content

Quality content is copy that is original, clearly written, and relevant to the user’s search query. Writing good copy is hard work, so you need to make the copy as effective as possible in making the connection between what people are searching for and the pages of your website.

The pages of your site should be, for the most part, focused on individual topics – not individual keywords. But it is important that the content include the keywords or phrases you want to rank for in search engines naturally in the text.

The process of picking the right keywords – Keyword Research – is one of the most important parts of SEO and is a big topic unto itself. But some questions to get answers to are:

  • What keywords do people who are genuinely interested in my topic/product/service/organization use when searching?
  • What keyword phrases are currently driving traffic to my site?
  • What keyword phrases are driving traffic to my competitors’ sites?
  • How often do people search for certain keyword phrases?

The Alexa keyword tool, which is part of the Alexa Advanced subscription, can help you find keywords driving traffic to your competitors’ sites. You can also search by keyword, and find the top sites receiving organic or paid traffic from that keyword. Google Trends is another useful tool to help you understand how search patterns change over time. In all, comprehensive keyword research and testing can give incredible insight into your customers needs and buying behavior, trends in demand and market constraints, and even your competitors’ strategy.

Quality content is also reflected in engagement metrics. Metrics like bounce rate and session length allow a search engine to determine how happy a visitor is with the result. Over time, usage patterns emerge and search engines can differentiate fairly accurately between what visitors find engaging, quality content and what they don’t. If you’re offering substantial, differentiated value, your engagement metrics will show it. When you consider that content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing but generates about 3 times as many leads, it’s more than worth the effort (source).

Helping Search Engines Understand Your Content

Although search engines are much smarter than they used to be, that doesn’t mean they don’t need some help. You should make it as easy as possible for search engines to find and understand the pages of your site.

Your site should be well organized. The directory structure for your pages helps both people and search engines understand and navigate your content. For example, if you’re selling both kitchen appliances and consulting services, it can be helpful to put the appliances stuff in an /kitchen-appliances/ directory and the consulting services in a /consulting-services/ directory.

Another way to help search engines understand your site is on-site links – the links from one part of your site to another part of your site. If you have any links where the anchor text is “Click here” you are throwing away an opportunity to let search engines know what the page is about! For example, instead of “Click here to use our kitchen planner” use “Try our kitchen planner.”

Still, there are a still lot of little things to get right. Whoever is building your site should understand Google’s technical guidelines. Some basics:

  • Each page on your website should have a unique title that describes what the page is about.
  • Images should have “alt” text which describe them.
  • Avoid multiple pages with the same content.
  • Your robots.txt file should not block search engines.

The Alexa Site Audit can help make sure that you’ve got these basics right.  On an ongoing basis it audits your site to make sure you’re following best practices. This 25-Point SEO Checklist is also a great resource to remind you of all the essentials that should be optimized on your site.

How does Google know that your content is important?

At the end of the day, even if you’ve followed all the best practices for quality and technical guidelines, you are still competing with many other sites for search traffic. One of the early key innovations of Google was PageRank – which is built on the idea that links to a web page are like votes for the importance of that page. When other sites link to your site it indicates that the content is of high credibility. When people share your content on social networks it indicates that it was valuable or interesting to them.

Many early SEO strategies focused on planting, buying or trading links.   Although inbound links to your site are still a very important part of SEO, modern SEO is more about earning links through effective content marketing – creating content that is interesting, valuable and shareable. Easier said than done!

You can use a tool like Alexa’s “Sites Linking In” tool to monitor what sites are linking to your site and to your competitors’ sites. If you see new links to your site or your competitor’s site, learn from that success and build on it!

Bottom Line

As they get smarter and smarter, Google and other search engines are leveling the playing field. SEO is no longer about technical tricks. Once you’ve got the best practices implemented, SEO becomes more like all other marketing – understanding what your customers need, and making sure they know that you’ve got it!

Greg Orelind

Greg is a Senior Product Manager at Alexa. When he’s not busy making Alexa’s products better, you can find him biking, hiking, and camping around California. This includes trading the standard commute for a scenic bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge every day. Greg holds a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

Latest posts by Greg Orelind (see all)

About Greg Orelind

Greg is a Senior Product Manager at Alexa. When he’s not busy making Alexa’s products better, you can find him biking, hiking, and camping around California. This includes trading the standard commute for a scenic bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge every day. Greg holds a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

  • tarık
  • Does SEO still work for our blogs?

    • Well, it really does. But, what is your real question?

  • Thanks for info

  • Aysu Baceoğlu

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  • Hi,

    Thanks so much for reaching out. SEO is definitely still important even after the recent Google updates. Improving your search engine results takes time and effort, but if you continue to follow SEO best practices, it will pay off in the end.

    Keep up the good work!

    Best,
    Alexa Team

    • Thank you for your prompt reply.

      I will them continue to learn SEO and implement SEO best practices into my website.

      Thank you and I wish you happy holidays!

  • Hi,

    Thanks for reaching out! Freshness really depends on the type of content you are publishing. If some of your content is evergreen, or doesn’t change very often, if may not need to updated on a regular basis. Below a good article on content freshness that goes into additional detail.

    http://commonseoquestions.com/2014/08/21/how-to-think-about-content-freshness/

    Hope this helps!

    Best,
    Alexa Team

  • Thanks for the SEO tips. Is video format better than audio format or reading article?

  • Thanks for that. May I then ask if this means that to add to “freshness” it is then desirable to change the look, and architecture of the site? And to possibly add the blog where new info gets loaded regularly? My concern is that being a platform we prefer to focus on user experience and often leave the ‘cosmetic’ freshness till last. Will this impact us negatively then unless we start adding blogs to the site and publish new content regularly?

  • eric jordan

    In 2015, google will more focus on user engagement as now for all SEO people
    there will be less backlinks more social sharing will work to get good rankings
    in google. So what I had learned is to brand your site more and be user friendly
    so that people can share your blogs and material. Hope for the best in ’15.

  • NIce Post

  • Well explained Grey Orelind.

  • Interesting article! Content is king 😉

  • Content is the King! SEO is a Must and social media is the Queen!

  • Cool and informative article.

  • very nice

  • Some really good advice for SEO. I try and keep to these guidelines for my blog, at the moment it seems to be working and I’m improving my ranking.

  • Ecase Gr

    very cool article

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  • Bibek Kumar

    Alexa ranks a website or blog but I’m very much eager to know about how alexa can help in improving the seo expect of a blog….!! although ranking is due to the the fact seo but how alexa can play a major role in seo of a wesiite

  • SEO How does Google know that My content is important

  • Silver Merc

    Thanks for such informative article

  • Thanks for the article, yes content is king and search engines giving more importance who provides best user experience.

  • Excellent advice

  • Hi Greg..thank you very much keep in touch from INDONESIA.

  • Satyendra Pratap Singh

    nice suggestions

  • www.lifenow.xyz

    Very informative post, the role of content is very important in alluring and retaining visitors.

  • useful article. thanks

  • salman

    Cool and informative article.

  • It’s true that ranking in Google or other search engines are getting harder these days. What used to work are now considered low quality tactic that can actually do more harm than good. It only goes to show that both search engine robots and readers are getting smarter. It also sends a message that digital marketers should not allow themselves to stay on the grey side but to level up, quickly adapt and improve.

  • sunny brown

    Social networking is all time best

  • William Kiel

    Just to put this in context from someone that was really there in that time and I mean from 1995 when the first major search engines showed up as major ones until about 2001 when the last of them died off, outside of Google, Yahoo and Microsoft search was about all that was left, well, unless you also want to count AOL also, let me clue you in to the reality of what happened. But in context to your opening statement.

    “Several years ago, the term “SEO” conjured up an image of shady characters working in dimly lit back rooms to “trick” search engines into ranking a site’s pages higher – but those days are long gone. Nowadays, paying for links to your site, hiding content, keyword stuffing or deceptive “black-hat” practices are much more likely to hurt your site than help.”

    Okay, now lets get past several years and start off at 20 years. Originally search engines were dumber then a box of rocks. Until major search engines evolved to the state of major the vast majority of sites were very large for their time and content rich already. When search engines like Alta Vista, Excite, Lycos became the major players in traffic these rich content sites could not rank on them.

    It became quickly apparent why they couldn’t. First, the search engines would only read the first 100 to 200 words on a page to begin with. And second the keyword weighting that was originally optimal for them was about 15 percent on page within that first 200 words maximum and you didn’t even need that much. 8 words was enough with 3 primary keywords in them. Total optimal keyword weighting was closer to 30 percent by the time you added up everything, on page, metas, description, title, alt tags.

    So when the search engines were basically saying what we value as relevant is a 30 percent total weight, nothing but keyword stuffing stood a chance. So here is what people did that had real content pages. However many real content pages they had that stood no chance of ranking they made corresponding search engine optimized pages that could rank and directed from there to their real content.

    This was not originally black hat, it was reality if you wanted to have any chance at all at ranking. From there it did indeed evolve into black hat because a second realization came along. You didn’t even need real content to begin with. You just needed search engine optimized pages to collect traffic to sell it to sites with real content.

    I am bringing this up for two reasons. The first is that it was the dumb as a box of rocks search engines respecting 30 percent weighted pages to begin with, totally ignoring real content pages that brought this little phenomena about to begin with. Their hands were far from clean on this. They had no real content of their own. Their business was the business of traffic and selling advertisement and they used a very dumb system to do it. As long as they got their traffic searches, sold their products they did not care until their indexes were becoming completely useless as nothing but spam central.

    Last point. This is still a game to a great extent and Alexa itself is one of the biggest games in town because there are well over a dozen common practices going on to lower those Alexa ranks that are seriously effective to a point. And people do it all the time because the difference between that 1.5 million Alexa rank and that 200,000 one is not hard to achieve off the game of lets play Alexa because if we don’t, the advertisers won’t like us and people will think we are not popular at all.

    One of the very easiest ways to dramatically lower Alexa ranks is simply write either glowing articles about Alexa and how wonderful and handy that toolbar is, or write one and bash Alexa to death on how gameable this system is and they must know it, but obviously don’t care either as long as its working for them. Now whether you can search engine rank that glowing or condemning post or not, just link drop that post about how you feel about Alexa all over the place and people that think alike will reference that post. People in mass armed with Alexa toolbars will start showing up at that post and down goes your Alexa rank. At some point your post whether praising Alexa or condemning it will gain authority like status on the subject, driving that estimated Alexa rank way down.

    Is anybody other then me since this is the we love Alexa thread see a bit of a repeat of history taking place here? Search engines that could have been smarter and weren’t from lack of caring creating the market for black hat SEO practices. And now a popularity metric where you get involved in a game you might as well call it Alexa cheat poker for what it is worth, and your playing the game, either as a winner as a cheater, or a loser by not cheating and seeing your numbers go up.

    I personally don’t care since I run no ads on my blog what my Alexa rank is. I am not going to be tempted to compromise the content by ad targeting my post. After some years at it when the blog has real PR, DA, PA, SERP and hopefully by then Alexa has its act together and a real Alexa rank system that is trustworthy itself is established, I might run ads.

    In the meantime, until Alexa does recognize if it is going to be thought of as a serious legitimate metric instead of a neat little toy at the top of browsers and gets real with it, it is nothing but a neat little toy. One that is seriously impacting people by being taken to seriously, but a toy none the less.

    Want to fix it? There are two legitimate ways. Get it built into every major browser there is. Alexa probably can’t pull that one off so that leaves option two. Make it so every webmaster can certify their site for free, and you only count those certified sites and hits to them, displaying that and only that on the browser tool bar. Now I doubt Alexa wants to do this because it is anti marketing against itself to play the trust card.

    But however long down the road when Alexa is finally forced into this position from so many webmasters playing the Alexa shuffle like they had to play the search engine shuffle, don’t bother coming around and saying we did because of those black hat shaddy characters sitting in back rooms gaming Alexa, when it was Alexa that set the table up, shuffled and dealt themselves.

  • the article is very useful
    I recently joined alexa

  • cool post

  • Anjan Kant

    Thanks Greg Orelind! Very well explained about SEO essentials. It helped me out.

  • Syamsul Doank

    this is very good

  • Thank you giving best tips