It's dangerous to go alone! Use this.

The Definitive Digital Marketing Strategy Guide

Enter your email now to get a permanent copy of this guide sent directly to your inbox.

Download Now

World Map: What is SEO?

SEO Guide World Map Section Illustration

Search engine optimization (SEO) is, very simply, all the stuff we do to drive traffic from search engines to our digital assets.

In most cases, this just means your website, but it could also be a social media account, a product listing on an eCommerce site, or a mobile app.

There are going to be people out there trying to convince you that it’s this incredibly difficult process that takes decades of experience and unknowable amounts of talent and innate skill.

SEO Strategy Skill

It’s not true.

SEO is simple for those who understand how it search engines fundamentally work.

Most super technically complex stuff just doesn’t apply to 99% of people doing SEO.

If I only had 30 seconds to tell you how SEO works, I would tell you it’s these three things:

  1. Keyword research: understanding what people are searching for in Google and other search engines 
  2. Document relevancy: making it easy for search engines (robots) to understand what your content is about
  3. Increasing authority: all the things we do outside of our page in order to let search engines know we’re trustworthy and useful to users
  4. Technical optimization: all the behind-the-scenes engineering to make it easier for search engines to find your content

There’s also lots of hype out there about whether or not SEO is dead.

No matter how many articles you read online, if there’s one important takeaway you should keep from this guide, it’s this:

SEO is (still) an extremely powerful tool for increasing website traffic.

Just think about it. As complicated as the internet has become, there are really just a few ways in which people get to websites nowadays:

  1. By typing the website URL directly in a browser. This is what’s called “direct traffic”—although I bet if you try to think about the websites you visit this way, you’ll probably come up with fewer than 20 (and Google will be one of those!)
  2. By following a link from a friend or one that you found on another website. This is what’s called “referral traffic” and it’s what happens when your friend emails you a dumb link to a “[random/stupid/ridiculous article]” (made you click!)
  3. By clicking on articles people post on social media.
  4. By going to Google and searching for something.

Of all of these, search is the largest referrer of external traffic, driving almost 35% of all online visits (vs. 26% from social media).

That means that if you can get your content ranking on search engines, you’ll have a steady source of free, targeted traffic to your site.

We designed this guide to teach you how to do that.

Strategy: How to Get Massive Traffic From Search Engines

SEO Guide Strategy Section Illustration

Many people will try to convince you that SEO is hard and highly technical.

Don’t believe them.

The most powerful thing you can do to learn SEO and increase your traffic from search engines is to understand how search engines, like Google, make money.

The TL;DR of a search engine’s business model is:

  1. Search engines compete to provide the most relevant results to user queries
  2. People use the search engine that gives them the best answers to their questions (a.k.a. Google)
  3. Search engines monetize their users by selling ads on the search results page (more users = more ad revenue)

It’s as simple as that.

If you want to succeed at SEO, your best strategy is to help Google make more money…

…and you can do that by helping them answer their users’ questions.

Here’s how to do that:

  1. Understand what users are searching for (and create content that answers their questions)—this is called keyword research
  2. Help search engines understand what your content is about—this is what’s called on-page optimization
  3. Demonstrate to search engines that you have the authority to answer the users’ questions—this is called off-page optimization
  4. Make sure search engines can easily find your content—this is called technical optimization

Next, I’ll explain how each of these work.

Keyword Research: Understand What Users are Searching For

Keyword research is the act of searching, organizing, and analyzing user queries (searches) to create an SEO content strategy.

In fact, the analysis of keywords is the reason why SEO even exists.

By performing keyword research, you can easily:

  • Assess market demand for your product or service
  • Gain a deeper understanding of your target market
  • Discover “hidden” opportunities that you might have missed otherwise

One of the great things about SEO is that access to keyword data is more or less available to everyone…

…which means you can compete – even against massive companies.

To run keyword research like a professional, all you really need to understand is:

  1. How popular each keyword is—to know how many people are searching for it
  2. What the person typing the keyword is looking for—to understand what content you need to create
  3. How much competition there is for each keyword—to discover how hard it will be to rank for it
  4. Where does the keyword fit in your sales funnel—to create the best content to convert these visitors

Most people go as far as step 1 and go on to create weak SEO strategies.

Don’t be like most people.

Search volume

First, to determine how popular a keyword is, look for its search volume using a third-party tool (more on this in the “Tools” section of this guide).

Search volume is a metric of how often a particular keyword is typed by users in a search engine: The higher the search volume, the more demand there is for a certain keyword.

Often times, you’ll find that the search volume for keywords varies (sometimes a lot) depending on the tool you use to do research. For example:

Keyword Search Tools Example

That’s why you should think of search volumes as relative metrics instead of absolute.

From the data above, you could conclude that “flowers” is 4 to 7 times more popular than “flower delivery” so, at first glance, it’s the first keyword that looks like a more attractive target.

Searcher intent

Next, you should try to understand what the users typing that keyword are searching for—this is what’s called “searcher intent.”

One of the most important things you can do is to grab the keywords you’re researching and plug them into Google yourself.

Sometimes, you’ll realize you were wrong about what people were searching for.

For example, you could think that people searching for “how to write good” on Google are looking for copywriting tips—it may be a great keyword for a company offering content marketing services, right?

Wrong.

In reality, most people typing this into Google are looking for an autobiographical book titled “How to Write Good” written by a well-known YouTuber.

Wrong Keyword Example

That’s why it’s important to not only know how popular a keyword is but to also really understand what users mean when they type them into the search bar.

Keyword difficulty

Another major thing to consider is keyword difficulty.

If a keyword seems like a great fit for your website, it’s probably a great fit for plenty of others too—and you’re likely not the first one to notice.

If you find that all the websites ranking on the first page for the keyword you want to target belong to big brands with authoritative websites, it’s usually better to pursue other opportunities.

There are many ways to determine the authority of different websites (more on that in the “Off-Page Optimization” section of this guide,) but some keyword research tools already include a metric for competition that you can use.

Keyword Difficulty Example

Stage of the funnel

Finally, you want to map your keywords against your sales funnel.

The basic idea here is you want to figure out where each searcher is in the buyer’s journey:

  • At the top of the sales funnel, you have people who are at least a little interested in the topic of your business, and the most interested users are at the bottom of the funnel.
  • Then, you have to add another layer to this. You’ll need to figure out who your customer persona is, what their wants and desires are, and where in the funnel they are.

Let’s go over an example and look at a website that’s dedicated to selling real estate in New Hampshire.

You might want to create content for newlyweds looking to buy a house.

Let’s assume you did some keyword research and found a number of keywords and the monthly search volume for them. You can break these down in terms of where they are in the funnel.

For example, let’s say you have keywords like “best cities for newlyweds”, “best millennial cities in 2020”. Those might be top of the funnel queries.

Other keywords like “best cities Newlyweds New Hampshire” and “Newlyweds NH Cities” might be middle, and then “Real Estate Agents Portsmouth NH” or “Realtors New Hampshire, November 2017” would be keywords used towards the bottom of the funnel.

Here’s an example of how different queries can represent different phases of the funnel.

keyword research mapped to buyer intent

Let’s recap

That’s really all you need to be in the top 5% of people doing keyword research.

  1. Create content for keywords that people are actually looking for
  2. Make sure that you understand the searchers’ intent for the keywords you’re targeting
  3. Go after keywords that you can actually compete and rank for
  4. Understand how each keyword fits into your sales funnel

Eager to get started? These are some great resources to help you take your first steps into keyword research:

On-Page Optimization: Help Search Engines Understand What Your Content is About

On-page optimization is the process of improving the content of your pages so it’s easier for search engines to understand what they are about.

As sophisticated as Google’s algorithm is, it can’t understand the content of a webpage as easily as you and I can.

Robots are amazing – but they’re not there yet.

For example, when a search engine crawls a webpage with the word “bat”, it needs to figure out if the page content is about:

  • The British-American Tobacco group
  • The winged mammal
  • The baseball equipment

While you can probably take a quick look at the page and figure it out, computers need to look for clues that reveal what the content is about.

Mainly, search engines will look for these clues in content in the form of:

  • Keywords (and placement of these keywords on the webpage)
  • Synonyms
  • Contextually relevant keywords
  • Image alt text
  • The theme of the website that published the webpage

Over time, search engines have gotten smarter and figured out that how their users interact with the content is a great way to understand what content is about.

For example, let’s say you Google the phrase “baseball bat” and are presented with three options:

  1. An analysis of the British-American Tobacco group
  2. Ten reasons why bats are the coolest mammals
  3. Where to buy used bats (and other sports equipment)

If you click on option 3, you’re giving the search engine a signal that this page is about baseball bats.

Here are just some of the user signals that search engines probably look at:

  • Click-through rates (CTR): The percentage of people who click on a specific search result for a specific query
  • Bounce rates: The percentage of people who visit a site and leave after viewing just one page
  • Time on page: Pretty self-explanatory
  • Pages per session: Also self-explanatory

If your website presents a great answer to searchers, your page will likely get more clicks than others shown in the search results page, searches will be less likely to bounce, and they will probably spend more time and view more pages on your site.

By providing all of these clues to search engines, you’re essentially helping them to provide better answers to their users (and make more money)—which they will reward by giving you higher rankings.

Win-win!

The best part? On-page optimization is perhaps the most powerful element of SEO that is 100% within your control.

Here’s a quick guide for you to get started.

Title Tags

title tag example

Title tags are one of the most important elements of on-page optimization.

Not only are they a huge ranking factor, but they’re massively important to your click-through rate.

There are a couple of things you have to keep in mind when it comes to title tags:

  1. Truncation limits

In general, you are going to want to keep your title tags within the truncation limits—that’s about 65 characters on Google.

If you’re working on a large enterprise, there are a couple of situations where it may be worth it to get more keywords in there, even if you’ll see the title truncated in the search results, but overall, you want to keep them within the 65 characters limit.

  1. Click-through rate

When you are writing the title tag, keep your click-through rate in mind—it’s massively important.

You don’t want to just stuff your title tag with keywords, you want to make it attractive and interesting so that you drive users to click them.

  1. Uniqueness

Your title tags should be unique for every page of your website.

Make sure that your titles are not duplicated across all several pages. This is often a problem with some content management systems, they duplicate a lot of their titles over a lot of different pages.

Meta Descriptions

meta description example

Meta descriptions don’t impact your search engine rankings, but they will impact your click-through rates.

Meta descriptions are in a similar boat with title tags.

  • Meta description should be about 160 characters long
  • You usually want to use your primary keyword in here because it gets bolded

Sometimes (and this is what’s really annoying about meta descriptions), you will find yourself spending a lot of time writing your meta description and working on it to be really good from a marketing point of view—but Google will reserve the right not to use it.

Basically, if Google thinks there’s a snippet of text on your site that’s better, they’ll replace your hard-worked meta description with that.

Even so, the main point about meta descriptions is that you should write them, then read them out loud and make sure they’re great. They should be compelling, interesting, and worthy of a click when users find them in Google search results.

There may be times when Google won’t use your meta descriptions, but there’s not much you can really do about that.

URLs

The rule of thumb here is:

  • When you are starting a new site and you have done your primary keyword research, it is perfectly OK to get that keyword into your URL
  • If you have an old site and you have just started to figure out SEO and it just struck you that “OMG, none of the keywords I’ve researched are in any of my URLs”, you should skip the whole URL changing process

Getting your keyword in your URL is helpful, but changing URLs can have severe consequences. Page migrations can be tricky, so when in doubt, it’s just better that you don’t do it.

The more traffic your page attracts already, the riskier changing the URL is.

There are things you can do to mitigate the impact of URL migrations. For example, you can use a 301-redirect from the old URL to the new URL but, in general, you often see a small traffic loss for a little bit of time when you do this.

Finally, an important rule to keep in mind here is that the closest to the root domain your URLs are, the better it will be from an SEO point of view.

As an example, “website.com/page” is better than “website.com/folder/folder/folder/page”.

Again, this is probably not worth re-architecting your entire site over, but if you’re starting from scratch, it can be generally helpful.

Some people might say “Hey, I had a bunch of blog post categories and they’re one sub-folder level deep (e.g. website.com/digitalmarketing/page), should I re-architect everything and kind of place the blog posts one folder closer to the domain”?

In general, I would say “no”.

That’s not worth it. In my book, that’s a “small potatoes” situation: the downsides outweigh the upsides because there are too many ways to mess this up.

Let’s take “PayPal” as an example. They are optimizing a page for “send money online”:

page optimization url 1

In general, it would be better for that page to be a bit closer to the root domain:

page url closer to root domain

But moving that URL is associated with a lot of difficult problems around enterprise and office politics—it would probably take months or quarters to achieve this.

Given that this URL even has the primary keyword in it, it’s fine to leave it as it is.

Headers

Headers are what we do to logically lay out a webpage. In general, these are the H1, H2, H3 tags.

The rule I follow here is getting the primary keyword in the H1 tag and then just move on—you should be good to go.

There’s a lot of debate about whether or not you should put your primary keyword in your sub-header tags. Again, I think this is sort of small and the upsides of doing it don’t outweigh the downsides.

Here’s an example of this.

Let’s say I have this WordPress site and I’m posting an article called “15 of the Best Email Marketing Campaign Examples You’ve Ever Seen”, where “email marketing campaign examples” is my primary keyword.

keyword title example

As you can see, the title is wrapped in the H1 tag.

Body Copy

This is really just a fancy way to say “the rest of the text on your page”).

You should try to get your primary keyword in the body copy at least two or three times.

There’s a lot of discussion about how long your content should be to rank in Google, but the reality is that there is no real minimum magic number here—I think that, generally, your pages should have at least 100 words.

The more text you have on a page, the better off you are, but you don’t want to hurt user experience. This really depends a lot on what your business is:

  • If you’re a text-heavy website, getting your keywords in the body will be easy.
  • If you’re an image-heavy website, however, and you don’t have a lot of text, it’s going to be much more difficult for you to rank.

Let’s say I’m optimizing a page for “Coffee Shop San Francisco”. I have the word “coffee” in there a couple of different times and I’m good to go.

body copy keyword optimization

Image Alt Text and Filename

When doing on-page SEO, you want to take the images on your site into consideration as well.

Search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) aren’t human—so they can’t see images the way we can.

We help search engines understand images by naming them correctly and by populating what’s called the “Alt Tag”.

Basically, the Alt Tag is a way to describe the content of an image to search engines and other tools.

This part of SEO very prone to over-optimization, so watch out.

What a lot of people do is they generally get really excited about SEO, and then kind of name their images like this: “Nike-Shoes-Buy-Nike-Shoes-Online-Discount-Nike-Shoes-Online-for-Sale.png”

Don’t do that.

The opposite of that is a very un-optimized filename, like “Home-Page-Graphic-6.png”.

Instead, a good one might be “Red-Nike-Shoes.png”.

Just be descriptive about it. Think about your primary keyword. Think about synonyms and Latent Semantic Indexing keywords. Get it in there and then move on.

Some people might say “Oh, do I really have to rename all of my images? It’s going to take months, and we have to ask for this engineering support”.

In general, I put image optimization pretty low on my priority list. If you can do it, great—it’s helpful in general, but everything else we’ve talked about prior to this would definitely be more helpful than image renaming and optimization.

Here’s an example from Zappos, let’s say they have a picture of a shoe on their site, and it’s called “mens-boat-shoe.jpg” and the alt tag is “Mens Boat Shoe”. That is fine.

alt text and file name

Internal Links and Anchor Text

TL;DR: Links from other pages on my site are important, and the text used in those links is important as well.

Linking to other assets on your site helps users and search engines discover more of your content.

Plus, search engines use the text used in links (also known as “anchor text”) to understand what the linked page is about.

  • That’s why “click here”, “learn more”, “this website” are all examples of terrible anchor text.
  • However, “men’s boat shoes”, “brown shoes”, “black Reebok shoes” would be great examples of good, descriptive anchor text.

In general, it’s helpful for users and search engines to understand what a document is if you name it properly, so remember this when linking to any of your documents.

Finally, the location of the link is very important as well.

Google’s getting a better idea of what the value of the links is based on where they are in the document.

Google understands what elements on the page belong to the top navigation is, the sidebar blogroll navigation, the footer navigation, etc.

For example, when an editor or author at The New York Times writes a piece and links to your site in the first paragraph, that link much more valuable to Google than a link in the 75th blog comment on that page.

In general, you want to get your links as close to the top as you can, where it’s also still useful for users—but not in the top navigation, not in the footer, and not on the sidebar.

A really good example of internal linking is Wikipedia.

wikipedia internal linking example

Wikipedia does some phenomenal internal linking. Every word or term that has its own Wikipedia article seems to be linked. Think like Wikipedia when you’re linking out all of your documents.

Link Neighborhoods

Creating a great resource for users is important, but you can also signal to Google and other search engines that you’re creating a valuable resource by linking up to stuff they already trust.

This is very controversial, but I love doing it.

This involves linking out to competitors. What I do is look at my primary keywords and Google them. I’ll look at the top 4 or top 10 results, and I’ll often find reasonable ways to link to my competitors from my own content.

When I do this, I’m signaling to Google that I have a high-quality resource and that I want to be embedded along with this high-quality neighborhood.

This lets Google know kind of who you’re associated with. It generally seems to help.

Freshness and Recency

In 2011, Google announced that fresh content would generally rank higher than stale content.

However, this doesn’t mean that your older content is useless or that you have to constantly create new assets for the same keywords.

What I find is a great way to get around this is to update old content that’s performed well in the past. This will usually give it a nice boost in results.

So, fix broken links, change dates, clean up your content a little bit, and add something to it. Fix it up—but don’t change the URL!

Let’s say you have a new client or start a new job and you just want to reboot the entire business. Going through your content and sorting it by search engine traffic, starting at the top, and just refreshing everything from there, you can often see a really nice boost in traffic.

Wrapping up

We went over pretty much all the things that you want to do to make sure our documents are optimized for Google and other search engines.

Here is a great guide for you to get started with on-page optimization:

Off-Page Optimization: Demonstrate That You Have the Authority to Answer the Users’ Questions

You already know that search engines strive to provide the best possible answers to their users’ questions.

However, with over one hundred trillion (that’s a 1 followed by 14 zeros) web pages indexed by Google alone, there’s bound to be more than ten (the number of pages included in the first page of the search results) good answers for each search query.

So how do Google and other search engines figure out which is the most relevant result for each query?

First, they filter by relevance—that’s why we discussed on-page optimization in the previous section.

But even after that, there are millions of possible results for each search query—next time you do a Google search, look for the total number of results at the top of the page.

Keyword Search Volume Example

Put simply, it all comes down to popularity.

Search engines have found that the more authoritative (a.k.a. popular) a web page (and the website the page belongs to) is, the more likely it is to provide better answers to their users.

Even though search engines don’t publish authority metrics, several tools have developed their own metrics for these:

Domain And Page Authority

(UR is short for URL Rating and DR is short for Domain Rating—ahrefs’ own metrics for the authority of a page and a website, respectively.)

In SEO, authority is mainly determined by links—more specifically, links from other sites to yours.

You can think of a link as a vote.

When a site links to your site, search engines will view that link as an endorsement of the content on your site.

Off-page optimization, also known as link building, is the process of strategically acquiring links from third parties to your site to increase the authority of your pages.

Let’s take as an example, a cookie recipe site.

Link quantity

In general, you want to go out into the universe and get a ton of links from other websites and point them back to your site. It’s an authority signal that tells Google and other search engines that your content is popular and trustworthy.

In the example below, the sites are exactly the same, even the same links—but the one with most links will win.

link neighborhood

Another important aspect of link quantity is the total number of unique domains (aka, websites) linking to your site.

A couple of links from different websites (website-a.com and website-b.com) link to your site are more valuable than a single website that’s linking to you 1,000 times. 

Link Quality

If you have a site and it has a ton of links, but they’re all from low-quality, spammy sites. And I have another site that is exactly the same but only has two links—one from stanford.edu and the other one from nytimes.com.

link quality

Generally, my site is going to win, precisely because of those quality links.

Link Relevance

Another piece in the link building cake is relevance.

If you have a ton of inbound links that come from low to medium quality sites, but they are very relevant, they might actually be more valuable than nytimes.com and stanford.edu.

link relevance

The main idea here is that the quantity, the authority of the site, and the relevance are all extremely relevant.

Link placement

Over time, Google has gotten better at understanding the layout of different websites and how that relates to the relevance of the content.

For example, Google might be able to determine that a link placed on the footer of a page about “vegan cookies” might be a generic sitewide link, and not strictly a link related to the topic of vegan cookies.

That’s why links in the body and near the top of the page are generally considered more valuable than other links on other locations of a page (e.g. the bottom of the page, footer, top navigation, or sidebar).

Link anchor text

Like we mentioned in the on-page optimization section of this guide, search engines use the text used in links (also known as “anchor text”) to understand what the linked page is about.

So you should aim to build links with descriptive text (e.g. “men’s boat shoes”, “brown shoes”, “black Reebok shoes”) instead of generic text (e.g. “click here”, “learn more”, “this website”).

Link building summary

Not all links are created equal—here’s the summary:

  • Links from unique domains are more valuable (for example, 10 links from 10 different sites are better than 10 links from a single website)
  • Links that come from high-authority pages and sites are more valuable (that is, pages and sites that also have a lot of links pointing to them)
  • Links that come from sites that are relevant to the theme or topic of your content are more valuable (that is, links from sites about a similar topic are better than links from sites about a completely unrelated topic)
  • Links that include relevant keywords are more valuable (for example, a link that contains your target keyword is better than one that just reads “click here”)
  • Links that are placed in the higher parts and inside the body of the page are more valuable (vs. links that are lower in the page, in the footer, sidebar, or header)

Link building is considered to be the hardest part about SEO—which is why, if you manage to master it, you’ll have an unfair advantage against the competition.

Companies that are great at acquiring links stand to gain massive amounts of traffic. Professionals who are good at SEO are able to command higher salaries.

Here is a great resource for you to get started with link building:

Technical Optimization: Make Sure Search Engines Can Find Your Content

So far, we’ve been talking about all the high-leverage things in an SEO strategy.

If you think of SEO as building a house, we’ve set the foundation, walls, roof, added furniture, and did landscaping…

…now it’s time to talk about the electrical, wiring, and plumbing.

Water and electricity won’t make your house look or feel amazing—but without them, the rest just wouldn’t matter.

That’s how you should think about technical SEO.

Technical SEO is everything you do to make it easier for search engines to find and index your content correctly.

This can sound intimidating if you’re not technical (like me!) but don’t worry.

You mainly need to take care of four major things:

Make sure search engines can index your pages

First things first, search engines can’t index and rank your pages if they can’t find them or if you’re accidentally blocking them.

The easiest way to do prevent this is to:

  1. Submit an XML sitemap to search engines
  2. Check that your robots.txt file is not blocking crawlers from pages you want to rank

These are some helpful resources on how to do that:

Fix errors and broken links

Sometimes, search engines will find errors when crawling your website.

For example, maybe you’ve deleted a piece of content and its URL is returning a 404 error.

If third-party sites are linking to a URL that’s showing an error, you’re missing out on the value that’s being passed from those links—search engines will consider these to be “broken links.” That’s one of the biggest problems with errors.

You can solve this by regularly checking your site for errors (we’ll explain the tools you can use for this in the “Tools” section of this guide,) and then decide whether you need to fix that error or not—most errors can be fixed easily with a redirect to a new URL.

Here are some great guides for you to get started:

Make sure your site is mobile-friendly

We don’t need to explain that everyone browses the internet on their phones. You already know how much it sucks to visit a site that’s not mobile-friendly.

In an effort to provide a better experience to their users, Google and other search engines have started to use mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor (especially for mobile search results.)

If you’re just getting started, most modern content management systems and website builders (e.g. WordPress, Squarespace, Shopify, etc.) have already taken care of this.

If you’re dealing with an existing site that isn’t mobile-friendly, you might need to talk to a developer about fixing this—ASAP.

If you’re not sure, Google has created a handy tool to test if your website is mobile-friendly:

Speed up your site

The last major thing that’s really important is to make sure your site doesn’t take forever to load.

According to Google, the longer it takes for content to load on their devices, the less likely users are to engage with it.

Page Speed And Bounce Rate Relation

This is why you can usually expect to see a ranking increase when you speed up your site.

This usually involves things like improving or implementing caching, optimizing images, and getting rid of unnecessary code—if you don’t have experience with this, you should probably talk to a developer.

Google has also created a helpful tool to check your site’s speed:

The important thing to remember with speed optimization is that it’s very easy to go down a rabbit hole when trying to fix everything on the list provided by Google’s PageSpeed Insights.

Don’t do that.

It’s usually enough to solve the big problems that are also easy to solve.

Spending weeks solving a ton of small issues will probably have little effect on your rankings or your users’ experience.

Technical SEO summary

Once you’ve gone over those four major things—indexing, errors, mobile-friendliness, and speed—you’ll probably have fixed most issues with your site.

To take things further, you can use these resources:

Stats: Metrics That Matter for SEO

SEO Guide Stats Section Illustration

Let’s dig into the nerdy stuff.

Like with any digital marketing channel, there’s a major risk that you’ll feel overwhelmed by too many metrics to measure your SEO efforts.

At ClickMinded, our philosophy is that you can go a long way in any channel by understanding and focusing on just five metrics or less—that’s it.

If we had to pick the most important metrics to focus on for SEO, they would be:

Domain Authority & Page Authority

When Google stopped publishing their PageRank metric, they left a void for a metric that allowed SEOs to determine and compare the authority of different pages in the eyes of a search engine.

Domain Authority and Page Authority were the metrics developed by the SEO analytics company MOZ to fill this gap.

Later on, other third-party tools developed their own versions too: ahrefs came up with Domain Rating and URL Rating, and SEMRush came up with Domain Score and Page Score.

Domain And Page Authority

In essence, all of these mean the same thing and you can use them interchangeably:

  • Domain Authority / Domain Rating / Domain Score: It’s a measure of the authority of a domain (i.e. an entire website) based on the characteristics of the links pointing to all of its pages (check the “Off-Page Optimization” section of this guide to learn more.)
  • Page Authority / URL Rating / Page Score: It’s a measure of the authority of a specific page (i.e. a single URL) based on the characteristics of the links pointing to all of its pages (check the “Off-Page Optimization” section of this guide to learn more.)

Most people believe that, when it comes to search engine rankings, the authority of a page is more important than the authority of a domain.

For example, if you’re comparing two URLs with the same content, the one with the highest page authority will generally rank higher.

However, if they have similar page authorities, the domain authority will “break the tie.”

BONUS: Want to see how your site is doing? Use this tool to check domain authority.

Rankings and CTR

Rankings are perhaps the metric that SEOs obsess the most about.

A search engine ranking is just the position of a specific page in the search results for a specific query.

The default setting for search engines is to show 10 results on the first page. So “being in the first page of Google” means to be in the top 10 positions for a certain keyword.

However, SEOs have realized that being in the top 10 isn’t enough anymore.

Several studies have found that more than half (>50% clickthrough rate) of the clicks on any search go to just the top 3 results.

SEO Ranking And CTR Chart

When performing SEO, your goal is to have a low ranking and a high CTR.

We’ve already talked about the importance of links throughout this guide.

The backlinks metrics is just the number of links from third-party websites to a specific site.

If you combine this metric with an analysis of the page and domain authority of the linking sites, you can get a pretty good idea of what SEOs call a “backlink profile”: A combination of the quantity and quality of the links pointing to a site.

In SEO, you should strive to have:

  • A high number of backlinks coming from high authority sites
  • More backlinks from unique sites vs. a lot of backlinks from fewer unique sites
  • Backlinks from sites related to the topic of your site vs. backlinks from sites about completely unrelated topics

Organic Traffic

We’ve talked about authority, rankings, and links—you could improve all of them but none of it will matter unless those optimizations lead to more traffic.

Organic traffic consists of all the visits to a website that are referred from a search engine.

Organic Traffic Chart Example

Obviously, more organic traffic = better.

Plus, once you have access to this metric, you will be able to run deeper analysis such as the behavior of organic visitors vs. other channels, or even the average conversion rate and value of an organic visitor.

One thing to keep in mind with regards to organic traffic is the distinction between branded and non-branded searches.

  • Branded searches are those that include the name of your brand or website in the keyword (e.g. “ClickMinded SEO course”.) As you would imagine, there’s likely very little competition for your brand name and people who search for these keywords are already aware of your brand—so organic traffic coming from branded searches is very similar to direct traffic (i.e. people who type your URL directly in the browser.)
  • Non-branded searches are those that don’t include your brand name in the keyword. When it comes to SEO, you’ll generally want to increase organic traffic from non-branded searches, since that likely means you’re getting new visitors who wouldn’t have found you otherwise.

Business Metrics

Business metrics will depend on the stage of the funnel each piece of content is created for.

These will determine if your SEO traffic is actually generating results for your business or if it’s just attracting the wrong kind of traffic.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • The success of a blog post that’s optimized to convert traffic into leads can be measured in terms of the number of new leads generated from organic traffic or the conversion rate from organic traffic to leads.
  • The success of a pricing page that’s optimized to get visitors to purchase can be measured by the number of customers it acquires from organic traffic or the average value per organic visitor.

To determine the impact of your SEO efforts in these metrics, you can use Google Analytics to filter organic traffic and drill down to specific URLs and check the performance for different goals.

SEO Guide Business Metrics Example

Check out the Website Analytics Strategy Guide to learn more about tracking your business metrics.

Power-ups: The Best SEO Tools

Now that you know how to play this level and the stats to look out for, it’s time to stock up on items to help you execute.

SEO Guide Power Ups Section Illustration

SEO is a massive channel with tons of areas to specialize in. This means you’ll have to pick from dozens of tools to perform any task.

To help you get started as quickly as possible, we will show you our favorite setup.

Basic SEO tools

These are must-haves. As an SEO, you should know your way around these.

  • Google Analytics: The most popular web analytics tool in the world. You’ll be able to use Google Analytics to keep track of your organic traffic and analyze how those visitors behave on your site (among many other things.) Check out Google Analytics
  • Google Search Console (or the equivalent for any search engine): Google developed this tool to help website owners manage their search engine presence. With Search Console, you can keep track of crawling and indexing errors, get information about search rankings and CTR, and even get notified of manual penalties. Check out Google Search Console
  • Google Cache Search: Want to check older versions of a website? View cached pages with the Google Cache Search Tool

Keyword Research Tools

Use these tools to find keyword opportunities, analyze search volume, and discover keyword competitiveness.

  • Google Ads Keyword Planner: This used to be the go-to keyword research tool for most SEOs. However, Google has drastically limited the amount of data you can get from this tool unless you are willing to spend a good amount of money in their advertising platform. It’s free and better than nothing—but we don’t recommend using it unless you have no other option. Check out the Google Ads Keyword Planner
  • KWFinder: This is our favorite tool for keyword research for beginners. It provides a ton of helpful features in a nice user interface for a nice price. Check out KWFinder
  • ahrefs: Even though it does much more than just keyword research, ahrefs has built one of the largest and most robust databases of keyword data. Just like KWFinder, it offers a great set of easy-to-use features but it adds several advanced features that will come in handy for experienced SEOs. Check out ahrefs

On-Page Optimization Tools

Use the following tools to optimize the content of your pages for search engines.

  • Yoast SEO: If you’re using WordPress to host your website, the Yoast plugin will make on-page SEO (and some technical SEO) 10x easier for you. We like to use it to simplify the management of our page metadata: Titles, meta description, and slugs. Check out Yoast SEO
  • LSI Graph: You can use this tool to discover LSI (or contextually relevant) keywords that you can add to your pages and help search engines better understand the topic or theme of your content. Check out LSIGraph

These tools will make the challenging process of discovering link opportunities and obtaining backlinks A LOT easier.

  • ahrefs: Basically our main tool for performing link building research and finding keyword opportunities. ahrefs provides valuable information on the backlink profile of millions of websites—which you can use to reverse-engineer their link building strategies. Check out ahrefs
  • BuzzStream: Finding link opportunities is arguably the easiest part of link building. Reaching out to webmasters and actually acquiring links is a completely different story. You can think of Buzzstream as a CRM for link building—it allows you to find and store contact information, launch outreach campaigns, and manage relationships with all the contacts in your campaigns. Check out BuzzStream

Rank Tracking Tools

Use these tools to keep track of your search engine rankings for large sets of keywords.

  • Google Search Console: You can get some data about your rankings directly from Google for free. However, the data is sometimes incomplete and hard to analyze because of the user interface. It’s a good start if you don’t want to spend money on this, but you’ll outgrow this tool really quick if you’re serious about SEO. Check out Google Search Console
  • SERPWatcher: A simple tool to track ranking changes for unlimited domains. It’s the best tool we’ve found that provides daily updates in rankings. Check out SERPWatcher
  • Ahrefs: Just another one of the features provided by this all-in-one SEO tool. The only downside is the lack of daily ranking updates—however, if you’re already using ahrefs for other SEO tasks, you might as well use it for rank tracking as well instead of paying for another tool. Check out ahrefs

Helpers: People and Companies Who Will Make SEO Easier For You

Unfortunately, there are a number of shady characters and companies in the digital marketing world – specifically within SEO.

When you’re getting started, it can be hard to figure out who is legit, and who isn’t. On top of all that, there’s also a sub-industry that has become more visible in the past few years—we call it the SEO Media Industry.

The SEO Media Industry is a group of websites and people whose sole purpose is to get your attention about every single “newsworthy” event in the SEO world—leading to a ton of unnecessary FOMO and overwhelming amounts of not-that-helpful information.

To help you stay away from both the bottom-feeders and the SEO Media Industry, we created a list of people and companies that, in our opinion, actually provide value to the SEO community and will make your journey into the SEO world easier.

Aleyda Solis
Focused on more technical aspects of SEO (specifically international SEO), Aleyda consistently puts out helpful tutorials and guides.
Glen Allsopp
Glen is one of the top link building experts in the game. We like Glen’s content because it constantly pushes the boundaries of what’s possible with super creative link building case studies.
ahrefs
You’ve probably figured out that we’re big fans of this company. On top of creating one of the most powerful SEO tools in the market, ahrefs has built a crazy valuable blog with actionable tactics that both simplifies SEO for beginners and provides advanced tactics for experienced SEOs.
Matthew Howells-Barby
Matthew is the director of acquisition at Hubspot and one of the founders of the Traffic Think Tank, a private SEO community. He usually shares helpful and interesting information.
Nat Eliason
Through his content, Nat reveals the tactics he uses to massively grow organic traffic with SEO-focused content marketing.

Quickstart Guide: How to Fast-track Your SEO Skills

SEO Guide Quickstart Section Illustration

The best way to learn SEO is to put it into practice.

Your experience in executing SEO campaigns (and actually growing organic traffic) trumps any amount of blog posts about SEO you may have read.

When you’re a beginner, you have three options to obtain hands-on experience:

  • Use SEO to grow your own business. If you already have a business, you can simply use what you’ve learned to get more traffic from search engines.
  • Find a business who you can help with SEO and who will give you access to publish and make changes to their website (maybe this is a business you already work for, a friend’s company, or a small business in the place where you live.)
  • If you can’t find an existing business to help, you can also start your own website or blog and try to get organic traffic—we know you might be excited about SEO and digital marketing, but try not to start a website in this niche since competition will make everything harder.

If you go with the last option, it’s likely that you’ll have to wait longer to see results since you’re starting from scratch—on the flip side, you will be able to try things (and break things) without risking anyone’s business and you might build a valuable asset for yourself.

Either way, this is the framework you can use:

  1. Finish reading this guide

Outcome: You should have the fundamental knowledge of SEO to take over a website, improve its rankings, and attract traffic from search engines.

  1. Perform keyword research to find opportunities, understand the searcher intent, and analyze the competition behind those keywords. Check the “Keyword Research” section of this guide for helpful resources.

Outcome: You should come up with a comprehensive list of keywords with attractive search volumes and low competition, organized by similar searcher intent.

  1. Create content (or edit existing content) and optimize it to target a keyword opportunity you identified in the previous step. Check the “On-Page Optimization” section of this guide for helpful resources.

Outcome: You should have between 2 and 5 content pages, each of which is perfectly optimized for its own target keyword.

  1. Identify backlink opportunities and run outreach campaigns to build links to the content you created and optimized in the previous step. Check the “Off-Page Optimization” section of this guide for helpful resources.

Outcome: You should build at least one link to each page from third-party websites that belong to a similar or relevant niche.

  1. Check that your website doesn’t have any major technical errors. Check the “Technical Optimization” section of this guide for helpful resources.

Outcome: Your content should be properly indexed and not returning errors. Plus, your website should be mobile-friendly and fast.

  1. Finally, measure the impact of your SEO efforts by tracking your rankings and organic traffic. For a clean and simple way to communicate your SEO success, try using our free SEO report

Outcome: You should be able to use an analytics tool and a rank tracking tool to see the progress of your campaigns. Based on these results, you’ll be able to formulate hypotheses, run tests, and iterate on steps 2-5 to continue growing organic traffic.

Traps: Avoid These SEO Traps

SEO Guide Traps Section Illustration

The SEO industry is full of terrible advice—perhaps more than any other digital marketing channel.

In the best of cases, following this advice will make you waste a ton of time and money on things that don’t work. In the worst cases, you might end with an algorithmic or manual penalty from a search engine.

Navigating these can be really hard for beginners—so we put together a list of things you should avoid:

Black-Hat Tactics

SEO is not fast.

This can lead people to want to try tactics that promise faster and drastic results—most of which don’t work.

However, there are some tactics that might be effective but also go against search engines’ terms of service.  In the SEO industry, these are called “black-hat tactics.”

Even though some of these might provide quick results, we recommend just staying away from them altogether.

The risks greatly outweigh the benefits of using these tactics and search engines ALWAYS catch up with them.

In general, stay away from things like private blog networks (PBNs), paid links, and link exchanges.

Obsolete Advice

Search engines constantly update their algorithms. The same things that worked 10 years ago probably won’t work today.

A lot of shady (or flat-out incompetent) SEOs will provide obsolete advice.

Always double-check the sources of information you find online or the SEO services that are offered to you. Make sure that what they’re recommending is still up-to-date.

Check out the “Helpers” section of this guide to find people and companies providing solid information.

In general, avoid anyone who mentions meta keywords, keyword density, or comments spamming.

Overly-Technical Advice

Many SEOs love to get super technical—sometimes way too technical.

This is normal and not meant with bad intentions.

Many SEO experts work with massive companies in which small technical details can generate huge results.

When you subscribe to a bunch of SEO newsletters, it’s normal to feel FOMO about these technical tactics.

However, if you’re just getting started, it’s usually better to stay away from overly technical tactics and just focus on getting a solid grasp on the fundamentals of SEO.

Rule of thumb: If something is way too complicated for you to understand after reading this guide, it’s probably too niche for you to worry about right now.

In general, stay away from things like AMP, structured data and schema markup, too much speed optimization, or voice search (at least for now—you can always go down these rabbit holes when you have tons of organic traffic!)

The Definitive Digital Marketing Strategy Guide

Enter your email now to get a permanent copy of this guide sent directly to your inbox.

Download Now

Check Out Other Strategy Guides

Share
Tweet
Share