I was originally going to publish my presentation about search engine optimization (SEO) after being a guest on the most amazing Doc Williams' podcast. I love talking about SEO and his guests had many questions about the topic. After looking through my presentation, last updated in 2019, I knew I needed a better way to host a living document for SEO. The algorithms search engines are built on update and change frequently, often in the black box of artificial intelligence (AI), to continually provide the best results to searchers. As a result, a stagnant PDF document simply wouldn’t cut it to provide the best and most updated SEO information to entrepreneurs. I hemmed and hawed (and procrastinated) on converting my presentation to a Google Slides deck for a couple weeks but I didn’t love that idea. I wanted a way to easily share this knowledge with everyone who asks.
There are a couple links in this post that we make commission from - affiliate marketing is how Metaranx can continue to support local and small businesses and we are grateful to our affiliate partners! The links are only used if relevant to the content.
Enter: my (kinda lengthy) content about on-page search engine optimization for small businesses, ecommerce shops, and entrepreneurs!
SEO is my expertise - I always speak with business owners and startup founders about it. I sit on calls, video chats, and provide keyword research, blog title ideas, and content swaps for a ton of companies. Part of the reason we changed Metaranx to support small and local shops was this gap in knowledge that people kept looking to us to fill. When we finally made revenue for Metaranx it was all about SEO, content, marketing, and other needs for small businesses. The first business my co-founder and I ran together was an agency for small businesses with a focus on website development and digital marketing.
Anyone with the time and willingness to learn the topic can carry out a successful SEO strategy on their own. I learned SEO by playing around with websites and content. I researched what was involved in a successful strategy. I found it very intuitive to build websites and content with SEO at the centre of it all and watched many businesses' websites I’d worked on rank for the keywords I intended. After that, I went to University of Toronto for their Digital Marketing Management Certification and discovered (free) tools and resources to drive a successful strategy forward under the guidance of a couple wonderful and knowledgable professors.
As I mentioned, SEO changes and so your strategy needs to remain up-to-date, too. I will do my best to update this content regularly for you. If you see anything that needs updating or you have any questions about SEO, please message me on Twitter!
What is search engine optimization (SEO)
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the ability to optimize your website to rank in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), such as SERPs on Google. SEO is organic or unpaid, meaning you do not invest advertising or marketing dollars into the process. A proper SEO strategy for your website centres around implementing on-page and off-page SEO components. We will mostly discuss on-page search engine optimization in this content.
There are different types of search engine optimization. The Float or Founder podcast has a different strategy than Metaranx and Metaranx's YouTube channel will have a new strategy, as well. Examples of the different types of SEO are:
- On page
- Off page
- Voice search
- App store
Optimizing for voice search is a really interesting and recent optimization. It is worth exploring if you are a business selling products. Optimizing your rankings for Amazon Alexa, YouTube, the iOS or Google App Stores, or for your podcast on different platforms looks very different from optimizing your website for Google Search. We are going to be focusing on your website's on-page SEO strategy for this blog post as I believe it's a great base to start from no matter if your business is a shop, a podcast, a product, or a mobile app.
Let's discuss the structure of your website: does size matter for SEO?
When you’re first considering the SEO strategy you want to implement, we need to discuss the type of website you’re building. You need to think of the goal of your website.
The case for one-page websites and SEO
A one page website can be a perfectly valid site that will rank well, especially for personal websites. If you’re a developer looking to make a website that hosts a portfolio to share with potential employers or clients, then a one page website is great. It provides all necessary information on the main page and links out to what you need. In terms of SEO, you can easily configure your one page website to rank for your name and, if your name is too popular or common in search, pair that search with your job title or field.
If you’re hemming and hawing on whether to do a blog for your personal website, be honest with yourself. Most people are overwhelmed with the idea of investing time into a personal blog and posting regularly. There’s no reason to put pressure on yourself to produce content if you don't enjoy it. Your one page website or few page website without a blog will be suitable to rank for your name and title/field, if a personal website is what you're looking to build.
When to use a multi-page website or website with a blog for SEO
If you’re a person whose portfolio and target job or paid opportunity surrounds writing, blogging, speaking, personal brand, or similar you will want to have a blog with relevant content. That content will speak to your expertise and what you’re capable of doing. It would be pretty challenging to enter content marketing without a personal blog or having any authored content online. If you have a lot of content on different sources, you can use a blog to link out to all these external pieces visually - much better than sending a boring spreadsheet to a potential client or employer!
If you’re a business, such as a software platform or a shop with products you can buy via ecommerce, you need to invest in a multi-page website. According to Enginess in 2017, 79% of customers claim a brand would need to establish trust with them before they would consider purchasing a product or service. A multipage website is a great place to share the story of your business, blogs that help customers with their queries, and other content that allows you to build trust through your website with customers you've never met in-person. If you are an ecommerce site or business selling anything, then you need legal pages, as well.
Domain name and domain authority
Your domain name is important to your brand. Make sure that it's easy to pronounce, spell, and associated with your company so customers can easily find or remember you in search. If you name your business or domain name before doing a trademark search or registering your business name you may find yourself in trouble! Unless you're inventing a word, you may want to check and be sure no other businesses are operating with that name.
A quick Google search can also tell you how competitive the word or words you're thinking of turning into your business name are. If your ideal word is available as a domain name, but you see many businesses using the word in their business name when you do a quick search, then you may not be able to compete in search for your business name.
I often speak about Domain Authority (DA) with business owners. Domain authority is how your website establishes trust with SERPs. DA is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how likely a website is to rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). To achieve a high DA, you are looking to have relevant backlinks to your website - this is relevant to an off-page SEO strategy, though.
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or security of your website
Security establishes trust with customers and if you're collecting information of any kind, be it a form or a payment page, you need to have these security measures in place on your website. Google has stated in the past that having a secure website with an SSL certificate will have an advantage over unsecured websites without an SSL certificate. We have all landed on websites where the toolbar at the top says your connection is not secure and it doesn't establish trust with that business when you're using their website. SSL is fairly inexpensive and most website builders include it in their hosting packages. There's no reason not to have a secure website nowadays!
Set your website pages up for success in on-page SEO
Below are important aspects of on-page SEO to consider when creating your website. I will describe each of these components and how you implement them properly as you scroll on through.
- Title tag/meta title
- Meta description
- Link names/slugs
- Anchor text/buttons
- H title tags
- Image link names and alt tags
Make sure all these items are working together for your website's SEO strategy. Most website builders make it easy to apply a proper on-page SEO strategy without needing to code. However if you are coding, all of these elements are entered in the HTML pages of your site.
Besides being important for SEO, having all these on-page SEO items implemented creates a better user experience. When your content is properly labeled in Google search results and provides a title and description that highlights what the article or webpage is about, this is helpful for the user. This can mean the user who really needs your content, and is likely to read it, will click. This has a benefit of contributing to a lower bounce rate and encourages users to continue exploring your website as they have found value out of it. Having well-labeled and organized content plus proper image names and alt tags that reflect what is happening in the image is ideal for screen readers plus complies with accessibility standards.
Ranking in Search engine results pages (SERPS): how is your success in ranking determined?
Who’re you trying to impress? Web crawlers and your audience!
A web crawler, or spider, is a type of bot that's typically operated by search engines. Web crawlers actively crawl or look through your website and web pages to index them. Being indexed is how you appear in search engines. You can help a web crawler better understand your website through a sitemap, breadcrumbs, meta descriptions, and implementing a holistic SEO strategy throughout your website.
If there is content you don't want or need indexed, such as your 404 page, you can add a "no follow" tag to the webpage you wish not to have indexed.
Write content people want and need that is valuable in goes in-depth into topics. When a person lands on your website from their Google search, they take a series of actions. Maybe the user bounces off your site, lingers for a long time on one page, navigates to a conversion page or action, or continues to a new link from your website. All of these actions and responses can help you build a better website design and content strategy.
The amount of time a user spends on your site seems to have a slight impact on Google rankings. While not entirely clear if it does, it would make sense. It can be presumed that your website page is answering the user's search query if they're spending ample time reviewing it or keeping it open so they can continue to refer to it. I know I keep important tabs open when the content provides the answer I need to complete whichever task I have Googled.
Bounce rate is often contested in how it impacts your site in search. In 2015, Google's own Gary Illyes stated that Google doesn't use analytics bounce rates to determine rankings. However, I would assume that bounce rate can tell search engines that your page doesn't answer the search query. Google's SERPs are all about providing the best answer to a searcher's query. In order to provide the best answers to a searcher's query, the right content needs to rank. If everyone who is searching for a certain topic lands on your website and it isn't answering their questions, the users will bounce. I would assume the algorithm would take multiple bounce rates on a page for the same search query over time into consideration to rank content that has longer time on page over content with a higher bounce rate.
Time to build your content and copy strategy
Keyword research: let's find the best keywords for your website
The first step in any successful search engine optimization strategy is to perform your keyword research and review your competitors’ online strategies. Assuming the search engine you aim to succeed in search on is Google, you can freely use Google’s Keyword Planner. Google Keyword Planner allows you to explore keywords of your choice or related to a domain name, as well as narrow search results by location and date. You can see the monthly search volume range of your target keywords and phrases as well as the competition for advertising on those keywords. For a successful keyword strategy, you want to pick the keywords with the highest search volume per lowest competition rating.
Keyword research: Competitor analysis
Research your competitors or similar businesses to form a proper SEO strategy! Read the type of blog content competitors or similar businesses write about, their best selling products, and how they structure their website. While your company will have its own strategy, plans, and business model that don’t necessarily reflect your competitors’, researching them can provide some perspective into the industry and customer trends overall.
On page SEO: Metadata
Your Metadata is all titles, descriptions, and other tags that describe the webpage they are on. You can edit this information in your HTML but most website builders have sections you can fill in.
- Meta title/title tag: This is your page’s title tag is what you see on the tab at the top of the browser or the title when you discover a webpage in search. Use keywords but proper grammatical structure to inform web crawlers and users what the webpage is about.
- Meta description: The description that describes what the page is about. Use keywords but proper sentences to inform web crawlers and users what the page is about. On desktop, a meta description seems to max out (or appear as "..." on Google search) at 160 characters, with less on mobile.
When determining your meta title and description, you want to factor in your keyword research, general topic, and how to convey the most information to the user about the page before they land on it. A great tip is not to repeat the same meta title and description on every page of your website - customize them for each page so they reflect the content and topic of each page of your website. If you are a shop selling products, for example, make sure your product pages' meta title tag and meta description reflect the product and same for your individual blog posts.
- Meta author: I don't believe it has any impact on search rankings in 2021 but it's a great way to credit the original author in the metadata.
- Meta keywords: Meta keywords don't impact search rankings. Many website builders still have the option to fill your meta keywords in. If your website builder uses keywords to create categories for blog posts then that is valuable to user experience, in-site search, and breadcrumbs for web crawlers.
On page SEO: H titles
Your titles are arranged by importance in HTML from title tag H1 through to H6, with H1 being the most important to web crawlers.
- H1-H6 title tag: Your main header would be in H1, with your subheadings in subsequent tags, based on importance. The H1 tag of your page should inform your audience exactly what the content is about. On a webpage, H1 is determined to be the most important title down to H6 as the least important title to web crawlers.
Example H1: What to Keep in Mind when Choosing a Domain Name for your Online Store with H2: Is your company name available as a domain name?
On page SEO: content
When I was first looking to enter marketing, I applied for a job as a copywriter, having no idea what that meant. What was copy? What was writing copy? During the interview they were testing me on standard grammar and spelling and I wrote a mockup piece for them that was more uh, content, than copy. Only until I later watched some Mad Men did I understand that copy was related to advertising and short bursts of quick-witted writing. I am not good at copywriting. I am good at lengthy pieces and often horrendously long posts (paired with run-on sentences, of course). Your copy and your content are very important to your SEO strategy, but they need to resonate with your user and website overall.
What is copy or copywriting?
Copywriting is short and sweet explanations or insights into your product or business.
Your copywriting should:
- Catch a user’s attention with quick, memorable, to-the-point wording
- Avoid jargon - you don't need jargon to be a great company. Use the words your users are using.
- Explain what your product or service can do for the user (as in, what problem you solve)
- Not overwhelm a page and look good within the overall website design, such as by being visible "above the fold" on desktop or mobile
- May include keywords but focuses mostly on user experience, understanding, and comprehension to push the user towards a certain goal on the website
What is content?
Content marketing, according to the Content Marketing Institute, focuses on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience. Content is large pieces of writing that answer user queries.
Your content should:
- Rank on search engines for its intended search query target
- Be engaging so a user spends time reading through it, clicking links on it, and navigating to other parts of your website from it
- Be in-depth and should be 2100-4000 words for a proper SEO strategy
- Link out to relevant sites and content
- Be linked out to from relevant sites and content
How to structure content for SEO
Content is about quality: you want to gain customer trust, become a go-to resource for them, and encourage them to visit your conversion pages through your content.
- <H1-6> as mentioned above, these are your title tags. Use your title tags for titles and subtitles throughout your content. Subtitles are great to break apart large chunks of content and provide context to a reader.
- <p> is your paragraph tag. Be sure that the content in the first paragraph contains the keyword(s) and topic(s) you wish to focus on for the article. If you forget to write a meta description, the first paragraph will often be used in its place. Also, people tend to skim content and you can use the first paragraph to really engage them and encourage the user to read on. Avoid using terms like "it" throughout your writing and alway opt to describe whatever "it" may be. This is beneficial for the readers who skim!
- Google’s Hummingbird update happened to ensure content is not only keyword-focused but user-focused. Do not make content for the sake of keywords. Answer search queries effectively and go in-depth.
- Keywords: As mentioned above, it’s important to use keywords (properly) throughout your content. Keep in mind that it still needs to read well and be of use to your customer base.
- Call to actions: Not every piece of content needs to end in a sales pitch to be a successful piece of content. Foremost, your content needs to resonate with your audience and their search queries by answering questions and being user-centric. If you can link out to helpful and relevant resources, even from your own website, in your content that lead a user towards a goal then that's great!
- Quoted content: Make sure when you are quoting sources you are using the <blockquote> tag. Do not choose to use a blockquote simply for the style. Use it if its content from another source. Google will disregard content in a blockquote as it assumes it's from another source that you're quoting.
- Quantity and frequency: While it doesn't necessarily impact your search ranking if you publish five pieces one day and zero for the next four weeks, it's important to keep relevant and fresh content on your website to encourage users to come back. Having new content provides you more pieces to share on social and in email marketing, too. It doesn't look good to have a blog whose last publication was from a year ago, so commit to one post per month if you start a blog.
- Don't keep old or irrelevant content around: Sometimes your business or your content strategy completely changes. We experienced this with Metaranx in January when I had to switch us from ranking for no code AI-related searches into shopping local searches. It's important to audit your existing content and make sure it's continually relevant to your strategy.
- Duplicate content: Duplicate content can confuse search engines. It doesn't seem to negatively impact a site but if you write two identical pieces for two publications, one will outrank the other so always strive to write unique content. It can be difficult if you're writing about a similar topic constantly, but do your best to reword and include new research and statistics in your pieces.
Should your content live on external sources?
I always recommend that you do not put your precious and amazing content on external content sources as your main content strategy. Unless your website is solely a content provider and you intend to invest in Medium or another content publishing site with a custom domain, I do not recommend using an external place for your content to live. Why would you give away all that traffic, and the opportunity to build brand trust with your audience, to another publication?
That said, Medium is really great for your business as an external content platform to reach a new and broader audience. Medium used to be “nofollow” and there's debate on whether that seems to have changed back and forth over the years. Links on sites like Medium are often no follow by default to prevent spam and poor link back quality. That said, your whole blog should still not be on an external platform - invest in a CMS to drive traffic to your website. Use Medium and other publishing sites for additional content to reach new audiences.
Finally, do not repeat large content pieces across different platforms. Copying a post from your blog to Medium or other sources can be seen as duplicate content, which can confuse search engines on which to rank first. Medium would likely outrank your website, in this instance. Always try to write unique content.
On page SEO: links and buttons
Your links matter.
- <A href> is the link tag or button tag in HTML
- Broken Links: Check your links and the links your site links out to often to be sure they're not broken. Google Search Console and SEO Site Checkup can let you know if you have broken links.
- Link Quality: Choose good quality content to link out to from your own content that would further explain the topic(s) at hand.
- Anchor text: Anchor text is the highlight text that links out to a given link. Make sure you highlight keywords or the H1 tag of the article you’re linking out to in your link tag. The more the words in the a href tag describe what is happening in the article it links out to, the better it is for SEO. Note that using phrases like "learn more here" and linking out the word "here" to your content is a really bad practice.
- Links to your website from your website: Link out from your blog or other content to other parts of your website.
- 301 directs: If you change anything about a link name on your website, be sure to update the original link with a 301 redirect to your new link. Don't lose all that great SEO and back-linking you've worked hard to build when you change a link name. Thankfully, Webflow does 301 redirects so easily when changing a link name. If you don't do a 301 redirect when changing a link then you waste all the backlinks and ranking you have accumulated for that link.
- Button names: Most websites like to keep button names generic. For best UX and accessibility practices, it's important to label your buttons. While you can use "Learn More" to define a button, you could also use "About Us" or "Buy Now" so the user knows exactly which page the button will take them to.
- Link names/slugs: Your link names help inform a person what your webpage is about. Having a website page called "/blog/random-words-1222u233" is not helpful but "/blog/your-seo-strategy" is helpful. You want to create "crawlable" links that are under 2000 characters in length.
- Sitemap: A sitemap is a file that connects all elements of your website together. It gives the web crawlers a map of the navigation of your website. Usually, Google can crawl your website without a sitemap, especially if your website pages are well linked to one another, but as it's very easy to generate one with most website builders, there's no harm is using one.
- Breadcrumbs: They help map and build connections between pages for web crawlers. Breadcrumbs also improve the UX and accessibility of your website.
- Dead links: A dead link is when a link on your site leads to a broken page but can also happen when off page content links to you and you've updated or removed links. Check your links often. Google Search console and SEO Site Checkup will usually be able to tell you if there are any dead links on your website. If you are updating your website's link name, then use a 301 redirect so sites linking to you and links within your website remain.
On page SEO: images
There’s more to images than what meets the eye.
- Name of image: Title your image file name as you would want it to be found in Google Image search results. Ensure you're describing the image in as few words as possible. Always use the proper format for the image (.ico for favicons, .jpg for images, .png for no background, etc.)
- Alt tag: It’s important to give an alternative name for your image for compliance with accessibility standards and in case the image does not load. If someone with a screen reader was scrolling through your website, what are two to three words you would use to describe each image? Keep the alt tag to around 100 characters max.
- Size of image: If your image is too large it may take a long time to load. This will impact website loading time and may increase bounce rates of those landing if your site is image heavy (such as with products). Be sure to keep your images to a reasonable size.
- Keyword Stuffing: Keyword stuffing is a super-old technique that I don't believe I've seen anywhere in ages, but it's worth noting. If you implement hidden keywords in images, background-coloured text, or other ways, it will be seen by web crawlers and will impact your site. Plus it's an awful user experience for anyone with a screen reader. Beyond that, having images with a lot of text often won't be accepted in social media ads, so don't bother with it.
Roundup of SEO-related tools that I love:
- Google Keyword Planner: Find keywords related to your keyword ideas, domain name, competitors' domain names, and filter by date and location. My recommendation is to use keywords that are ranked low in competition (fewer companies are bidding on them for ads) but ranking high in search (many people Googling that word).
- Google Search Console: Shares keywords associated with your website and your linkbacks across the web. A great way to recrawl changed pages or crawl new ones for faster indexing, as well.
- Google Trends: If you want to write content around trending topics in your industry, location, with your audience, etc. Google Trends is a great resource.
- Moz Keyword Explorer: Moz is a great resource overall for SEO. They offer yearly updates on SEO and ebook style content that’s very helpful for businesses.
- SEO Site Checkup: SEO Site Checkup offers a lot of information on any issues your website is currently experiencing, gives you your average loading time, keyword cloud, and much more information about how your design and site can be improved.
- Piktochart: Make infographic content that can be embedded into your site as text and images, rather than as a whole PDF. If you upload a PDF infographic to your blog or website then you’re missing out on all that sweet, sweet SEO value. You always want to use tools that let you embed an infographic with text, links, and images. Note that you need to pay to properly embed your creation. I think it is hosted through Piktochart, so if someone found your infographic in image search I believe it would link back to Piktochart, rather than your website, but am not sure.
Other content about SEO that is useful:
- Neil Patel: The original SEO-er. Neil's website has a lot of great content on SEO. A side note that his website shows you how to build a great personal brand site and display your expertise plus generate leads and email lists.
- Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: Interesting, and often horrible and surprising, look into how people search based on Google Trends and other data collected by the author. Initially published in 2017.
- Cathrin Manning: Recommended by a friend for YouTube SEO. I have not had the chance to play around with YouTube SEO ever but will for Metaranx soon. If all goes well (or poorly!) I can write a content piece about it.
- Slidebean: They share their journey in growing their YouTube channel and the tatics they implemented. Also, they offer great content for startups.
- 2020 SEO Case Study: Apollo Digital shares how they grew their traffic through their ranking, leads, and sales with an SEO strategy and the steps they took.
- Moz's Beginners Guide to Link Building: I first read this content on link building years ago and absolutely loved it. It's so in-depth and the art is great, hitting me right in the nostalgia. Moz's blog is a strong resource in general for SEO.
In this blog post, we reviewed a lot of aspects and important pieces of a successful on-page search engine optimization strategy. As i mentioned, there are different optimization techniques depending on what you're aiming to accomplish but this will give you a great base for your website to succeed in Google search. If you have any search engine optimization questions, you can reach out to me on Twitter, and I'll do my best to answer your questions. Thanks again to Doc Williams for hosting me on his podcast to discuss pivoting Metaranx. I had a great time speaking to everyone and discussing product-market fit, pivoting, small businesses, ecommerce, shopping local, search engine optimization, and more. I hope you found this post insightful on SEO!