The A to Z of SEO

This article (updated December 15th 2013) contains what I consider many of the most important factors in SEO, from A to Z, from Authority to Zeitgeist, and is based on SEO information accumulated over the past two years, drawing on 18 years experience as a web programmer and internet marketing consultant.  Naturally a lot changes in that time, so if anything seems factually inaccurate, please feel free to say so (I’ve tried to bring it up to date), post Hummingbird.

Also, I’d really appreciate your participation. If there’s anything substantial you would like to see added to the guide – I’m sure I must have missed a few facts here or there – please leave a comment or get in touch and I’ll bring the guide up to date when I have time to.  Don’t agree with what I am saying or think I made a mistake?  Please say so!

All that’s left to say is, go grab a coffee, sit back and I hope you find the article of interest and that it gets the brain juices flowing. I also sincerely hope some of you will find some hidden gems contained within, or some quick tips that help.

Authority

Today it’s important to increase your perceived authority level everywhere on the web. You can no longer do this from your own site alone when others are contributing to numerous similar authority sites and increasing their authority level from doing so. It used to be that the only site benefiting from your contribution was the target site, but Google is seeing things much more clearly these days, thanks in some part to their authorship program. It’s important to be aware that Google is constructing a footprint for you as an individual and your website, and the two are intrinsically linked.

Similarly with social networks, it’s important to build up a quality authority level, participating in communities and forums. Google is not only watching you on Youtube and Google+, but also from places way beyond its apparent reach, so make your time on the Internet a positive one.

Quick tip: Get involved. Participate in, and create discussion in topics that relate to your own website. The more you are involved, the higher your authority level.

Authorship

Google’s Authorship program didn’t really have the anticipated impact on the industry, and if the truth be known, it was probably due to its over-complicated nature. However, that’s not to say it should be ignored. Despite what you might read elsewhere, Google isn’t ready to drop this just yet and there’s still value to be found in attaching your own credentials to every site Google has a hand in. For non-Google sites, be advised that your contributions around the Internet still weigh far more heavily in your favour with a link pointing from the source site to your own if it’s possible to add such an outbound link in a comment or profile. However…

This only applies if you’re providing a quality contribution to authority sites, and you don’t overdo the anchor text (i.e. Don’t start leaving comments using ‘Web Programming in Essex’ as your username). More on why comment anchor text should be looked at now…

Quick tip: Be consistent with authorship. This includes using the same avatar across the Internet and similar user profile information.

Anchor text

It was once the case that using the same anchor text wherever you got the chance to add it would add to your site’s effectiveness. This started to change when Google took interest in the quality of the incoming links, and then it followed that up by looking at just how natural and realistic the anchor text linking to your site was. Thousands of incoming links all optimised with the same anchor text will now give you a dramatic drop down the rankings for that keyword/phrase. As Google puts it, “it’s just not natural”.

Today your keyword text should be both semantically written and varied. Don’t use identical anchor text everywhere, it’s only going to ultimately see your site being overlooked.

Quick tip: Use backlink checking tools such as the one on backlinkwatch.com to monitor what anchor text links to your own website. More on backlinks now.

Backlinks

Everyone knows that backlinks have always been the driving force behind positive search engine rankings. This is still the case today, but things are very different. Google is looking at a number of factors concerning those incoming links including:

  • The overall quality of the site and article linking to you
  • The number of similar incoming links from one place
  • The size and information contained within the content linking to you
  • Just how natural the incoming link is – are all links suspiciously similar to one another?

Look for backlinks that are semantically written and varied from sites that relate to your own industry.  Build them naturally and DO NOT purchase paid links or even advertising if you’re doing it for SEO purposes.  If you have purchased advertising backlinks, ensure they are of the nofollow variety.

Today more than ever it’s vital that the majority of incoming links are from authority sites, and many people today are even killing ALL existing backlinks via Google’s disavow tool, because a fresh start is better than a negative start. That’s all a bit extreme to me, but there’s one thing for certain (see tip):

Quick tip: You must become aware of who’s linking to you, and more importantly take control of those incoming links. Check this on a weekly basis and remove negative links.

 Canonical Links

Duplicate content can be a real killer as far as SEO is concerned.  To help combat this in 2009 Yahoo, Google and Microsoft announced support for canonical URLs, a new link element that allows the user to tell the search engine that the current page URL isn’t the preferred location for the information required, allowing you to effectively group your content in one place.  For more on canonical URLs click here

 Content

Rich content has always been important, but today it’s effectively the rocket fuel that powers the machine. Your content has to be:

  • 100% original – use Copyscape to check duplication
  • Keyword rich – The content needs to contain the keywords in H1 tags, the title and the opening paragraph, but don’t overdo it after that. Write it in a natural style as though you’re giving a speech on the subject.
  • Informative – A paragraph won’t be enough to help your ranking if others are providing much more and your own thoughts are already contained within a much more comprehensive guide.
  • Engaging – Provoke thought and discussion. The more your article/page is discussed, the more Google sees your opinion as worthy of discussion.
  • Updated frequently – Google gives a SERP boost to new articles, so the more you are able to add, the better you will rank.
  • Not regurgitated – While Google boosts new articles, it won’t rank content that is very similar to the previous content. You can update articles and link to the original to give a wider view of the subject matter or an updated point of view, but simply adding the same things written in a different way won’t work for you.

Quick Tip: Bullet points, number lists, Q&A’s and FAQ’s are a fantastic way of providing quality information, whilst giving you the opportunity of ranking for more semantically styled key phrases.

Quick Tip 2: Evergreen content (content that doesn’t become dated) will really help your SERPs.

 Domains

Your domain should have been a careful consideration if marketing your site was a factor in your planning stages. Google will look at:

  • Your domain’s age – while it may not carry the weight it used to, age is still a factor in how you rank
  • Keywords in your domain – useful to have, if you do use keywords put the keywords before anything else, i.e. web-programmer-site.com
  • Your domain’s extension – the location of your primary domain will be taken into account with local listings so if you’re looking for local business, be specific to your location.
  • Your domain’s IP address – multiple links to your own website from other sites on the same web server are now being ignored to a large extent. This means that if you’re a webmaster and wish to have a link back to your site on every client website, it won’t do you any good other than as an advertising tool.

Quick tip: Having multiple domain names pointing to one site now has very little value in SEO terms. For example, pointing web-programming.co.uk to warrenchandler.com and hoping for a boost for the “web programming” keyphrase and the UK market. It used to be possible, but it isn’t any longer.

Duplication

Duplication of content has become a real problem of late due to Google’s clustering system. Clustering is essentially the process of grouping pages in the SERPs that appear identical and only showing what Google feels provides the greatest value. Of course, even if the original content is yours, other sites may be seen as more valuable by Google, so the work you put in will essentially be hidden under the duplication (if you look at it like it’s a pack of playing cards).

Quick tip: Use sites such as Copyscape to search for duplications online. You’ll find them in more places than you’d imagine. When you are creating profiles online (for example on your Facebook page, or any other profile system), DO NOT copy and paste content from your site. This is a common mistake and can cause major problems.

Errors

It’s a lesser known fact that your site won’t rank well if there are errors on it. Whether they are PHP errors, 404 errors, 501 errors, or even spelling or grammatical errors, they need to be fixed immediately. Google doesn’t like errors and penalises sites that are riddled with them.

Quick tip: A simple redirect for 404 errors to your website’s home page, site map or focal point will generate a lot of traffic. You’d be surprised the amount of 404’s that happen due to old backlinks or incorrect data from external sites.

Friendliness

This may seem trivial and truth be told I was struggling for SEO terms for the letter ‘F’ beyond frameworks, futureproofing, feeds, filters and FTP. That said, being friendly doesn’t relate to the traditional “user friendliness”, it’s all about your own personality and it’s strangely far more important than it sounds.

Google actually wants you and your website to develop a personality, its own identity if you will, and to essentially tell a story. It wants to know the bigger picture, the ‘who you are’, and the ‘where you came from’, based on a historical journey of your contributions on the web.

It wants you to welcome the internet user into your world, and it’s going to send them there to be greeted based not only on search terms, but also on the personality of you and your site. It’s going to match your personality to the user based search. Google Dating anyone?

I know what you’re thinking. What a load of rubbish! And I agree it sounds a little unbelievable – a little too much artificial intelligence and sci-fi, right? However, I suggest you let Matt Cutts know, since it’s not the first time he’s brought up the subject and in his recent PubCon 2013 address he highlighted the importance of developing your own unique “friendly” personality online – a personality that is also connected to your authority level and will be used ultimately to send similar thinking individuals to your site.

Quick tip: Factual articles are useful for SEO, but you won’t be alone in doing this. Find your unique personality and niche and deliver content with a slightly different slant. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to develop a following when your articles have personality.

 Google

Google is so powerful today that it’s become a verb in the English language, so the A to Z of SEO wouldn’t be complete without a mention, even if we already know what the big ‘G’ is about.

What I will note however is that the more of Google’s services you utilise and the more you use your Google logins throughout your surfing, the better you’re actually going to rank. Google Plus is a perfect example of this, with a huge SERP increase measured for users of the Plus system, when compared to their positions of the past 18 months. You’d probably be surprised at the power of a +1.

Essentially, be a friend of Google, use as many of their services as you can, Google Plus or Google Local for example – just keep the information consistent and genre focused. Even take the time to take a look at their browser. Why Google Chrome? Well, aside from it being a decent browser…

Quick Tip: Unbelievably, Google Chrome actually appears to have a very nominal SEO value if you’re using it and you’re logged in. Google of course tracks your history and notes which sites you visit directly, this we already know, but more and more people are reporting that the sites you visit are given a very small SERP authority boost. It may be small, but if it really can been quantified and holds a tangible value, every little bit helps, right?

Editor Note: Personally I think this is likely a rumour to get people to use Chrome, but I wouldn’t put this strategy past them either. It’s pretty smart if it’s true.

Hosting

The uptime and reliability of your web server are important, especially the more popular you become. Obviously you won’t honestly want to miss a single user, but you won’t want to miss that all important visit from Googlebot either and other crawlers/spiders.

The location of your server also plays a part, but not as much as it once did. Lots of companies are moving their data centres to Europe for cost effectiveness, but it’s still worth finding a server or data centre that’s close to home.

Quick tip: When choosing web hosting package, purchasing a dedicated IP address for your main site will give you a very slight boost in your SERP.

Bonus tip: When your site is up and running and all content added you should be looking at a page loading time of 1-2 seconds. Ensure your hosting meets this need to avoid SEO penalties.

Images

Your images are a vital consideration when optimising your website. Each and every one should be given the appropriate alt and title tags, a description, and a semantically written filename should also be considered.

Keep the file sizes small and optimised so the page loads fast and avoid images that are larger than 1024×768 if possible, unless you’re serving a market that demands this such as desktop wallpapers.

Quick tip: If you’re in the habit of borrowing freely available images from Google for your websites, edit them in Photoshop or a similar image manipulation tool to strip the existing meta data attached. Create your own version of the file and include your key phrases in the new meta data.

Javascript and Ajax

It’s still essential you don’t overuse Javascript or Ajax scripts that require mouse actions and the like. While Google is getting better at crawling sites that are based on such technology, Googlebot still has problems from collecting the full range of data. Essentially, and according to Matt Cutts, it takes a snapshot of the page’s code, “it won’t be physically moving the mouse around to reveal hidden content.”

Quick tip: For now, avoid elements like loading more content when the user scrolls to the bottom of the page. While it’s a lovely thing for the user, Googlebot won’t always physically do this and so your content will be overlooked.

Keywords/Key Phrases

Keywords are dead. Long live keywords. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, keywords and phrases definitely aren’t dead, but they’re being looked at in a very different way now. It’s still advisable to research your desired keywords, but the way you use them should be very different.

Previously you could fill your content with unnatural sounding content such as “Web Design Frinton”, but in grammar terms those three words together make no sense. Don’t focus on anything that doesn’t read well. That phrase today would perform far better as either “Frinton Web Designer” or “Web Designer in Frinton”.

Your keywords and key phrases today should be far more English sounding, written with semantic indexing in mind and most importantly you need variety.   Don’t use the same keywords over and over, use all the tools at your disposal and even your thesaurus to find synonyms that will work.

Quick tip: The same applies to Backlinks as described earlier. Find what sites are linking to your own, check the anchor text and if there is anything that seems to read poorly, disavow or edit the link where possible.

Bonus tip: Use Google Instant (the search auto-complete) to see what’s popular before you write content. Typing in “web prog…” brings up the following suggestions:

  • Web programmer
  • Web programming
  • Web programmer job description
  • Web programming languages
  • Web programming courses
  • Web programming tutorial
  • Web programming jobs
  • Web programming salary
  • Web programming for beginners

These are what people are looking for, so make sure you include these phrases in a semantic form somewhere in the first few paragraphs without keyword stuffing.

Links

Links! Where do we start? Today we have incoming links, outgoing links, internal links, dofollow links, nofollow links, canonical links.. and the list goes on. They’re fairly straightforward for anyone who knows SEO, so I won’t try to reinvent the wheel, but for reference Google takes a number of link based factors into account, including:

  • The quality of incoming links – just how “trusted” is the external site
  • The quality of outgoing links – again just how “trusted” is the external site
  • The number of incoming links
  • The number of outgoing links
  • Internal links – if you have a focal point of your site it’s important that internal links let Google know which pages are most important. Get it wrong and your blog articles will outrank the service you are trying to sell over and over. Of course, in most cases you’d hope it was the other way around.
  • The nofollow/dofollow relationship – it’s essential the links on your website are correct when it comes to which Google should follow and which it shouldn’t. You really need to take great care in protecting your authority level, especially if you allow guest posting or comments.
  • Paid links and advertising modules – Google has strongly adopted the approach that you shouldn’t be rewarded when paying for backlinks. This is worth noting if you’re even contemplating purchasing a link from a high PR site that sells them.

  “If you have to pay for something you shouldn’t get any page rank or SERP boost out of it” – Matt Cutts

One final point to note about links is that they should be obvious and visible. It may seem obvious, but it’s important you show the user that there’s somewhere else they can click and make that link stand out.

Quick tip: Cite your sources – If you have a source that’s respected, link to them. Google appreciates this and gives both sites an authority boost in turn.

Bonus tip: Your site will perform much better with breadcrumbs on the page and it’s been shown to increase the click through rate, whilst decreasing the bounce rate. Don’t make them too long however.

Markup

Your markup must do a lot of the heavy work for you. It’s essential to have your keywords/phrases in your title, often preferably at the start of it, and it should also be present in your opening H1 tag and prevalent in the first 150 characters of content.

But there’s much more to markup than the few standard foundations I’ve mentioned above. You should apply correct markup to just about everything if you want the search engines to index your website in the most efficient way. The tip below will help you with that and also give you an idea of the huge array of objects it applies to.

Quick tip: Rather than providing the ins and outs of markup, take a look at the fantastic resource at http://schema.org – it has everything you’ll need in one place.

Media

Media is something that is oddly overlooked by many SEO experts and wrongly so. We should all be aware of the power and importance of media and it’s vital to optimise it accordingly. The correct use of media can really push your authority level through the roof. Without utilising it you’re effectively driving a car with no wheels, so it always surprises me that pages and articles are still most often so text heavy.

Think about it – you do a Google search and see tabs at the top for Web, Images, Video, Maps, Shopping, News etc. Why would you only be looking to rank highly in one of them? Do you honestly think the others have no value and noone clicks them?

Rank well in all of them and your ranking in the one that you’re focusing on will increase too!

Quick tip: Ensure your site has a nice balance of media, including images, maps, videos, and charts, and ensure that media is attached via the relevant Google authorship links where applicable (e.g. ensure your Youtube account is correctly linked to your website).

Meta Tags

As with your markup, your meta tags must include the same keyword focuses information, but be in a far more attractive and engaging format since they’re the exact information that Google is going to present to the user. Make sure it’s to the point and engaging, and reassure the user that the search results are correct by ensuring your keywords are also still there for all to see.

Quick tip: Meta Keywords are largely overlooked by Google today ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jK7IPbnmvVU ), but they should still be included. Just because Google isn’t using them, it doesn’t mean that the likes of Bing aren’t. Similarly sites such as Facebook that are collecting vast amounts of incoming data from links are able to parse and retrieve meta keywords and they could be used behind the scenes for a number of reasons

Niche

Niche markets exist in all industries and can be a great source of success. The same should be applied to your website. To be successful you need to find your main niche, and then break it down into a number of smaller sub-niches which link internally to the main niche content to create the proper structure and relevance.

Creating a sub-niche doesn’t devalue the site at all no matter how abstract it may be, but only so long as it’s seen as just that – a sub-niche – effectively just a spoke off of the main wheel.

For example, if my main niche was ‘Web Development’, an abstract sub-niche might be ‘Energy Drinks for Web Developers’. Whilst it might not carry a lot of weight on its own, it still adds slightly to the weight of the overall main niche, and also sends traffic your way from the small percentage of people who might just be looking for the extraordinary.

Quick tip: Don’t be afraid to look for and try the abnormal. Try thinking outside of the box and create a sub-niche from that. However strange it may seem to you, by finding new angles of approach you’ll at least be adding to your main niche’s overall authority and you’ll be one of the main authorities in your sub-niche if you provide relevant information, do it correctly and are among the first to do so.

Organic

Again, the letter ‘O’ wasn’t an easy one to write (Ontology maybe?), but the main thing I’d consider above all else today is that everything on your site is organic.  By this I mean there should be nothing that seems unnatural or might confuse either a visitor to your site or Googlebot itself.  No confusing page titles, links, content – just engaging and informative content.  Backlinks too should appear organic.

The Hummingbird update may have been focused on a more semantic way of thinking and looking more for user intent, but the Penguin and Panda updates that ran alongside it were all about boosting sites that appeared organic, while eliminating user spam.  It’s essential today to do things correctly and don’t be tempted to try to cheat the system.   Google will catch up with you eventually and the initial benefits you get will be reversed and your website will be penalised accordingly.  Fixing a website that isn’t organic and recovering in the rankings is very difficult indeed.  Don’t be fooled – do it once and Google will be watching everything you do closely for years to come.  Despite what people may tell you, Google does remember.

Quick tip:  Imagine your website is a magazine, just like the ones you’d buy off a shelf.  Would you expect to be confused by some random text in a magazine page saying “Web Design Essex”?  It wouldn’t happen, and so it shouldn’t happen on your website either.

Bonus tip:  Evergreen or timeless posts or pages are a sure-fire way of increasing your site’s organic value.

 

PageRank

PageRank, the ever popular quality metric invented by Google, doesn’t actually do as the name would suggest, contrary to the misguided belief of many marketing experts. The name PageRank only actually has a little to do with where a “Page Ranks” (though a larger correlation was there for a time), and the name was actually coined by using the name of Google owner Larry Page.

Nonetheless, name aside, PageRank is still a source of contention among SEO experts, mainly because no one is really sure exactly how it’s calculated or just how important it is. Even so, website owners and SEO experts still strive to increase that magic number year after year – just in case.

Previously Google did use PageRank quite heavily to determine your site’s ranking in the search results, but this has lessened dramatically as Google evolved and the Google of today has 200 other factors that are being considered.

An indication of its insignificance can be seen through Google’s now infrequent PageRank updates, which would suggest that it’s not as influential as it once was.

What we do know about PageRank today is that high PR backlinks do help your authority, but ONLY if they’re relevant to your genre.

Quick tip: In the same way as it’s important to remove any incoming links that look like they come from black hat techniques, it’s equally important to disavow high PR backlinks that look unnatural.

Quality

The quality of your website’s content is often mentioned as the most important factor in SEO today. Your site must be engaging from the opening line, informative, well written, and well structured. Do this correctly and you’ll be increasing your authority with every new page or article. Ultimately you’re looking for a low bounce rate on your quality articles.

However, in order for the quality level to be high, you must keep an eye on the following factors:

  • Article length and accuracy of facts
  • Duplicated content
  • Keyword padding
  • Too many adverts
  • Too many internal/external links
  • Comment spam
  • Malware

Quick tip: Write for the user, not for the search engines.

Responsive

Mobile phones and smart devices are a way of life today and you’re really shooting yourself in the foot if people can’t read your site properly on a mobile phone (note, this one still isn’t optimised – but it will be if I get the time and ever finish this article!).

It used to be the case that you needed a separate mobile site for smaller devices, which caused all sorts of problems with SEO shortfalls and indexing, but then in 2010 Responsive Web Design (RWD) was born. By 2012 it was the #2 most searched for term in the web design industry and in 2013 responsive design is going from strength to strength.

Essentially, with responsive design there is no SEO shortfall and you only need one optimised website – that much is obvious.

But the real story about responsive design and mobile websites is that according to Google figures, if your website is difficult to read on a smart phone, over 60% of users will instantly leave and go elsewhere. That is something you’d want to address as a priority, surely?

Quick tip: When getting a website designed, know the difference between adaptive design and responsive design. They may sound similar, but they’re two completely different entities. If you’re worried about SEO, responsive design is the one you need unless you don’t mind a bit of extra work.

Semantics

Why is semantic content writing important?” (see what I did there?)

Google’s semantic methodology is about offering search results that are related to the intent of the query, and not just necessarily limited to results that include a specific keyword or keywords.

Semantic searches take into account the context as well as the meaning of the search query and they’re very much more like the spoken word than unrelated words joined together.

Basically, Google is learning to read and understand. It may be at a very elementary level for now, but after Google’s Knowledge Graph announcement in 2012, Amit Singhal commented:

We’re proud of our first baby step—the Knowledge Graph—which will enable us to make search more intelligent, moving us closer to the “Star Trek computer” that I’ve always dreamt of building.

I’ve written quite a few articles about semantics and Google’s move to a more semantic approach, and so I’ve listed a few of them below for your convenience (and so I avoid duplication).

Quick tip: The semantic approach is a huge change of approach for content writers and you’re not too late to re-optimise your content to be an early(ish) adopter. In fact, you’re right on time! You can certainly get a nice boost in SERPS for doing so. Ask more questions and give more answers, and do it as you’d speak it.

Social media

All SEO experts are aware of the power of social networking, and it’s important to build a legitimate and organic following, making a valued and topical contribution to the network and your circles/groups/pages.

Google will take into account a number of factors (these have all been verified as having value) when calculating your social footprint and authority level including:

Google+

  • How many Google +1’s you have
  • How many Google followers you have
  • How many circles you’re in
  • Whether you have a local listing. Are you on the Google map?

Twitter

  • How many Twitter followers you have
  • How many retweets you receive
  • How many informative or relevant tweets you serve to your genre
  • (I can’t confirm that Google factors in Twitter ‘Favourites’)

Facebook

  • How many Likes you have
  • How many Shares your content receives
  • How many Comments your content receives

Linkedin

  • How many connections you have made in your genre
  • How many Linkedin groups posts you have made and your contribution
  • Your recommendations/endorsements (minor value at present)

Pinterest

  • How many pins your site’s content receives

Quick tip: Without doubt Google+ is by far the most powerful social network out there for SEO value at the moment. Embrace it, use it and contribute wherever you can by joining communities similar to your site’s genre, but ensure you have correct Authorship set up between your Google+ account and your website before doing so.

Did you know: If you make a post on Google+ linking to a page or article on your website, each +1 you get on Google+ counts as though they’d visited your site and +1’d it from there.

Structure

Your website’s structure is important of course – you want it to be easy to navigate and even easier to crawl, but your site also needs a very intricate SEO structure.

You need to see your website as a family tree of sorts, and ensure that the parents (your services for example) at the top of the tree are seen as a focal point and that the children (related blog articles, portfolio/gallery) are all pointing towards the parents where possible. Of course this is different if your blog is the focal point and you don’t really offer services, but it’s vital to identify where you ultimately want the user to end up and put that at the top of the tree.

Make no mistake, this is very difficult to do right and it’s something that SEO experts constantly overlook, but ask yourself which you’d prefer – the user searching for “Web Programmer” and being directed to the services you offer, or being directed to a blog post entitled “Web Programmer Tips”. The user is likely looking for a web programmer, not tips, and will overlook your site in the rankings in favour of the next one down that offers exactly what they’re looking for.

Quick tip: Where optimising is concerned, optimise the parents to include only the main, strongest key phrases, and then use the same key phrases to a lesser degree in the children pages/posts. Don’t over optimise the children pages/posts and use a combination of dofollow and nofollow links internally to find the right balance.

Traffic

This goes without saying, but busy sites generally rank much better, but not only due to the fact that people are likely to share them or link to them. Google tracks your site’s traffic through a number of methods (even the Chrome browser is tracking your direct links), and your site is giving a small SERP boost accordingly.

Increase your traffic naturally and ultimately aim to just be far more visible. The more you have on your site and the more you share, the more traffic you will get, so keep your website fresh and updated regularly. The more quality content you have, the more people will visit.

Quick tip: Don’t date your content unless the information is likely to change. Google pays a lot of attention to articles like “Web Design Trends 2013” because these things are ever evolving and it wants to serve the user current information, but evergreen content and static historical facts should not have any reference to a timestamp.

Bonus tip: A fantastic way of getting a boost in SERPs is to actually pre-date content. Look to the future and write articles like “Web Design Trends 2014”, but ensure they are actually looking at the future and not just regurgitating a 2013 article with little more than a title change. These articles have a head start when the applicable date arrives because they’ve already built up an authority level and as such your 2014 articles will be weighted more due to past successes.

URLs

URLs that are simple to understand will convey your information easily and give the user the confidence that they are in the right place, as opposed to a URL that contains unrecognisable parameters and variables. Furthermore, a category or file structure that is descriptive will not only allow the user to find what they require, but it will also lead to better crawling by search engines.

With regards to links from external sites, the URL structure also had the added bonus of being a readable representation of where the user is about to visit, but it also acts as keyword based anchor text. This type of keyword based anchor text (a URL) is, according to Google, the only type of anchor text you won’t be penalised for if repetition occurs on numerous external sites.

Quick tip: Make URLs as short as possible whilst containing all the pertinent information. This makes it possible for the user to recall the URL from memory and either refer your site to someone else or type it in directly for a return visit. If you’re using articles, make sure you add a semantically written article name as the final part of the URL.

For example: http://www.yourdomain.com/services/internet-marketing/the-a-to-z-of-seo/

Bonus Tip: Allow for part of your URL structure to be removed and consider what happens when this occurs. For example, should the user visit www.warrenchandler.com/services/programming, and then remove the “programming” part, ensure the user is directed to the services parent page.

Viral

One of the most incredible things to see in today’s age of social media is when an article, video or image goes viral. This is something that everyone should strive to achieve. Of course, there is a lot of luck involved, and often some real genius creativity at hand, but if you are able to attain viral status from content originally posted on your website or one of your authored sites, the benefits that will follow are nothing short of extraordinary.

When content goes viral, practically every aspect of your SEO footprint is given a huge boost. It doesn’t always last, but while it’s there you are able to market your other content to a far larger audience, providing a perfect platform for the next best thing you create to also go viral.

Quick tip: When you see content go viral on any social network, get involved in the discussion, post related follow ups and provoke detailed discussion. You can take away a piece of that viral community and receive a huge boost from doing so. It’s important to note however, that this should NOT be in the form of posting links to your website in comments, unless those links are 100% relevant, natural and in context.

White Hat and Black Hat

Black hat SEO (the deliberate manipulation of search engine indexes) still thrives today, but Google is catching up fast and actively targeting unethical techniques in favour of a natural and more authentic or “real” Internet (White Hat).

If you’re serious about having a site that performs well you must avoid the following Black Hat techniques:

  • Keyword stuffing – keep those keywords natural
  • Unrelated keywords in your content – “Britney Spears pictures” on a site that’s clearly unrelated will cause a penalty
  • Hidden text or links and small unreadable content – text must be visible, relevant and visible to the user’s naked eye
  • Masked SERP data – presenting a page of information to Google but having the link take the user to an adult site
  • Ping spam – notifying ping servers that content is new when it isn’t
  • Page Content Shift – changing a page’s content entirely after it ranks well in an attempt to fool the rankings
  • Mirror sites – sites that duplicate your page’s content
  • Fuzzy URLs – purchasing a domain with the intent of directing misspelled search traffic, i.e. “webprograming.com”
  • Blog or comment spam – there must be a direct correlation between the site you comment on and your own site and your comments should be relevant to the subject matter
  • Link farms and paid links – AVOID at all costs. Google is hitting paid links hard and if you think you can get away with it, you’re wrong. You could be next in line for the Google penalty treatment.
  • Social networking spam – again, ensure your social footprint is relevant to your brand or identity. Don’t visit programming groups and post links for your car sales website.

Quick tip: This is a tip I really like. One thing I’ve noticed that’s great White Hat SEO is to provide case studies. Focus on a company or individual in your genre and write an extensive case study of who they are and what they offer. The company or individual you are talking about will link to your site in turn and market your article for you.

XML Sitemaps

You’ll likely be amazed at just how much you can get out of having a properly constructed sitemap in XML format attached to your blog. With a correctly structured sitemap you are able to not only tell Google what’s on your site and where it is, but also include relevant data concerning when it was last updated, and indicate which pages are the most important on your website.

Quick tip: The parent/child relationship as detailed in the Structure section can be heavily influenced by a sitemap using the “priority” attribute. You can specify which pages you deem more worthy than others, though it’s still ultimately up to Google to decide.

Youtube

The power of video marketing is already well known, but it’s about to become much more powerful. Creating videos that attract an active audience is going to become an essential marketing tool, thanks to the integration of the Google+ comments on Youtube, coming in the very near future.

Again linked to authorship, your topical videos and the buzz surrounding them is going to carry much more weight than it currently does, and it’s worth planning for the G+ and Youtube integration well in advance.

Quick tip: Sites like Fiverr.com offer affordable and professional video creation that can really help boost your website’s brand.

Footnote: If you do frequent Fiverr, avoid the SEO packages on the website at all costs.

Zeitgeist

I’m scraping the barrel a little here when it comes to the letter Z, but trends are all important in SEO and Google’s Zeitgeist website offers the most comprehensive and accurate guide of what was trending in the previous year, and gives you an indication of what might be trending this year.

That’s not to say that you should be writing articles on “Hurricane Dave” if your site has nothing to do with it, but look for trends related to your industry and build on them. Do this correctly and you’ll be rewarded with a steady stream of traffic and an authority boost.

Take a look at Zeitgeist here: https://www.google.co.uk/zeitgeist/2012/

Quick tip: Zeitgeist may give you an indication of what was trending last year, but Twitter and Google+ are great ways to find what’s trending RIGHT NOW. If you can spare the time, take a look at what’s trending and participate in discussions if they relate to your industry.

Footnote

I really appreciate you taking the time to read this article, and I hope it’s given you some food for thought as to what you might be missing out on, or at least made you question a little of what you know.  Of course, you may question much of what I have written, and I accept you may be right and I may be wrong, or vice versa.

The truth of the matter is that we all belong to the church of Google and while I have tried to validate every piece of information you’ve just read, the truth is that ONLY Google knows all. Sadly no matter how much we know at this point they’re just going to reinvent the wheel anyway in the future and we’ll all be back at square one!

Thanks again.