Want to be an expert in SEO but you don’t know where or how to start? Start simple with these hacks from SEO expert and author Stephan Spencer who co-presented with his daughter Chloe Spencer at BlogHer17 in the highly acclaimed session SEO: Search Engine Algorithms. Stephan was kind enough to write this up for us so we could give more SEO information to the community at large. Take it away, Stephan!
Maybe you thought you’ve done what is needed to SEO your website. Maybe you even did all the “easy” stuff: good keywords that suit your niche, an XML sitemap, optimized titles and copy. But nothing seems to let you get past your competitors in Google search results for your keywords of choice.
You find yourself asking what to do. You don’t want to go through all the work again and wait for some unknown period of time to get results. In short, your time and resources are limited. Is it even possible to do a few tweaks on the existing blog you’ve created?
Lucky for you it is. The following hacks I have are made for SEO beginners and these hacks don’t cost a lot or require extensive work. Curious? Let’s start then.
1. Link to your most important blog posts from your home page
Barring some unusual circumstance, Google considers your homepage as the most important page of your blog and has the most voting power. When you link from your homepage, you send a strong signal to Google that the particular post is very important. Yet, most blogs only link to the 10 most recent posts and not to the all-time top performers. This is a big missed opportunity.
Which posts should you feature on your homepage? The ones you most want to rank! Aside from the category navigation that serves as a great pathway into your archives for Google, a leaderboard or list of most popular posts can provide a nice shortcut for both your readers and for Googlebot. In short, feature your best stuff! Resist the temptation to just stick these links in your footer, because footer links aren’t valued as much by Google.
2. Be aware of your image size
One thing that will annoy your readers to no end is a long wait for the page to load. One of the most common culprits is large image sizes. So remember to compress your images to the smallest file size possible that still looks good on the screen. I’ve seen images as big as 6mb on the homepage. Crazy! Slow pages will hurt your rankings and your conversion.
Use WebPageTest to check the file sizes of your images. When you find overly large images, simply resize them in your favorite photo editing app and upload them again.
3. Check for Links Leading to 404s
Did you know that 404 error pages can be bad for your SEO? That’s because 404 pages are a dead end for PageRank. In other words, any links to your site that point to a 404 error aren’t counted as votes by Google.
To check for 404 pages on your site and any links associated with them (internal or external links), use Google Search Console. If you have an externally linked page that is a 404, fix it, quick! Fortunately, recovery on link equity and/or traffic happens pretty fast, so this fix is a no-brainer and soon you should start seeing results.
To do this on Google Search Console:
- Go to Crawl > Crawl Errors > Not Found.
- Click on each URL returning a 404, choose the “Linked From” tab, and it will show you the URLs linking to that error page.
- If it shows links, whether external or internal, place a 301 redirect to the 404 URLs to the next best page on your site which you feel is the most relevant. An easy way to add the redirects is with the Redirection plugin for WordPress.
There are many other cool tools you can use to reclaim your broken links, such as Link Research Tools’ Link Juice Recovery Tool and Ahrefs’ Broken Links report, but for SEO newbies, we’ll keep it simple for now.
4. Leverage your off-site content that is not published on your blog
You may have garnered online exposure by being featured on a popular website, perhaps in the form of a post, video or podcast. While the exposure to a new audience is great for brand awareness, when it comes to SEO, there is really not much benefit unless the content itself has links directing back to your blog. Take HuffPost, for example. If you contribute there, not only will the links contained within your post not count for SEO, the post itself gets “noindexed” by HuffPost and doesn’t show up in Google or in HuffPost’s own search engine. Why even bother writing for them? I’ve stopped – ever since they migrated to “direct to publish” last year and instituted their contributor-unfriendly “noindex” policy. More on the ins and outs of contributing to other sites and the SEO implications in my article here.
The best option in my opinion, from an SEO perspective, is to have your best content first on your own blog. You can also syndicate that content on other blogs, but not right away. When you repost, make sure there’s a link not only to your blog’s homepage, but also to the original post. That will help Google ascertain that your blog is the original source for the post, thus sparing you from Google’s duplicate content filter.
5. Keep up with the social trends to find valuable keywords
Be the first to discover a valuable keyword before your competitors by staying up to date with conversations and activity on social media and forums. Even though a keyword is not directly related to your blog, as long as it is within your niche, take advantage of its trending status by incorporating it into a blog post. For example, a crochet blogger could have written a humorous post about “covfefe” and tied it in with crochet, when that first appeared in Trump’s Twitter stream. Perhaps crocheting a covfefe-branded scarf and photoblogging a pic of it with an invitation for others to crochet covfefe-branded items and submit photos, then you’d publish a compilation of these contributions as a follow-up post. This is called “newsjacking” and it works like a charm! Another great service to help with the newsjacking ideation process is Buzzsumo.
By staying one step ahead of the trends, especially in your niche, you are in a great position to not only help your blog rank, but to already have the answers to the questions people will be searching for.
6. Enrich your snippet for better SERP listing visibility
Which ones of these snippets look more credible?
At least for me, it’s the one with the star ratings and the vote numbers. Think of rich snippets as icing on the cake. Sure, first page rankings are super, but what makes them extra sweet are rich snippets. It really draws the searcher’s attention. Recipes can have an image thumbnail, cooking time and calories. Events can have the date and location. Products can have price and stock availability. And so on.
How do you attain rich snippets? By using Schema.org markup. If you’re using WordPress, there are some helpful plugins to assist with the “marking up” of the appropriate elements in your posts, so I’ll just direct you to a helpful tutorial here.
It goes without saying that you should be writing enticing meta descriptions and title tags that make your search listing stand out in terms of the words that you display. If you haven’t done that yet, well then you need to get right on that! Bear in mind that meta descriptions aren’t used by Google in its rankings algorithm. What you are trying to accomplish with the meta description is to write something compelling that draws in the searcher to click on your listing instead of a competing listing.
While on the topic of snippets, I can’t resist telling you to look into “featured snippets” as another great SEO opportunity. Those are the answer boxes at the top of the search results that preempt the first organic listing. So it’s essentially ranking at position #0. That’s sounds even better than ranking #1, doesn’t it? Well it is! Winning featured snippets in Google is outside the scope of this article, as it’s a little complicated, but I have a nice primer on it here if you’re interested.
7. Don’t reinvent the wheel – see where your competitors’ best links are coming from using link analysis tools.
Links from authoritative and trusted sites are critical to high Google rankings, but acquiring these can be a challenge. One relatively easy thing that you can do is find sites that link to multiple competitors of yours. These are called hubs. A hub is a site that links to the top blogs/sites in a given niche. You can find hubs using Majestic’s “Clique Hunter” or SEO Profiler. Since they are already linking within your niche, it should be an easy sell to get them to link to you as well, assuming you have great content that’s on par with the sites you are competing with.
By analyzing from where your competitors are acquiring their links, and approaching those sites as well, you are skipping a lot of the grunt work in link building – namely the finding of sites to target for link outreach. Your competitors have already done the hard work for you of identifying the sites. Now you just need a great pitch for why you deserve a link too. More on that process in chapter 7 of my book The Art of SEO (download the chapter here).
Want an easy next step and didn’t make it to my session at BlogHer17? Watch the recording of the session here.