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Introduction to SEO

Chapter 1: Crawling & Indexing 

Search Engines are answer machines – they return 2 types of results: 

1: Results which are useful to the user’s query 

2: Rankings of popular/relevant pages 

Tips for better search rankings/results

Make web pages for users and not for search engines 

Structure websites using a clear hierarchy

Create useful, informational, keyword rich content 

Links higher up on a page hold more value than links that are placed towards the bottom of the page or content. 

Chapter 2: How people interact with search engines

3 types of search queries.

“Do” Transactional Queries: Buying a plane ticket, listening to a song, etc.

“Know” Informational Queries: Name of a band, what’s the best restaurant in NYC, etc. 

“GO” Navigational Queries: I want to go to a specific website e.g. facebook.com or NFL.com 

The primary responsibility of search engines is to serve relevant results to their users, so make your content relevant to users. 

Chapter 3: Why Search Engine Optimization is Necessary 

Problems Crawling & Indexing 

Online forms: Search engines aren’t good at completing online forms (such as a login), and thus any content contained behind them may remain hidden.

Poor link structures: If a website’s link structure isn’t understandable to the search engines, they may not reach all of a website’s content; or, if it is crawled, the minimally-exposed content may be deemed unimportant by the engine’s index.

Non-text Content: Although the engines are getting better at reading non-HTML text, content in rich media format is still difficult for search engines to parse. This includes text in Flash files, images, photos, video, audio, and plug-in content.

Problems Matching Queries to Content 

Uncommon terms: Text that is not written in the common terms that people use to search. For example, writing about “food cooling units” when people actually search for “refrigerators.”

Language and internationalization subtleties: For example, “color” vs. “colour.” When in doubt, check what people are searching for (as well as where they’re searching from) and use exact matches in your content.

Mixed contextual signals: For example, the title of your blog post is “Mexico’s Best Coffee” but the post itself is about a vacation resort in Canada which happens to serve great coffee. These mixed messages send confusing signals to search engines.

Marketing your content: Engage your targeted audience and allow them to participate with your product/message/brand

Competition: Websites compete for attention and placement in search engine results pages (SERP), and those with the knowledge and experience to improve their website’s ranking will receive the benefits of increased traffic and visibility.

Chapter 4: The Basics of Search Engine Friendly Design & Development

Search engines measure how keywords are used on pages to help determine the relevance of a particular piece of content to a query. One of the best ways to optimize a page’s rankings is to ensure that the keywords you want to rank for are prominently used in titles, text, and metadata.

Generally speaking, as you make your keywords more specific, you narrow the competition for search results, and improve your chances of achieving a higher ranking.

Since the dawn of online search, folks have abused keywords in a misguided effort to manipulate search engines. This involves “stuffing” keywords into text, URLs, meta tags, and links. Unfortunately, this tactic almost always does more harm than good for your site; in fact this practice will directly lead to your site being penalized in search rankings.

The point of using keywords is not to rank highly for all keywords, but to rank highly for the keywords that people are searching for when they want what your site provides.

On Page Optimization: Use the keyword phrase….

In the title tag at least once. Try to keep the keyword phrase as close to the beginning of the title tag as possible. More detail on title tags follows later in this section.

Once prominently near the top of the page.

At least two or three times, including variations, in the body copy on the page. Perhaps a few more times if there’s a lot of text content. You may find additional value in using the keyword or variations more than this, but in our experience adding more instances of a term or phrase tends to have little or no impact on rankings.

At least once in the alt attribute of an image on the page. This not only helps with web search, but also image search, which can occasionally bring valuable traffic.

Once in the URL. Additional rules for URLs and keywords are discussed later on in this section.

At least once in the meta description tag. Note that the meta description tag (likely) does not get used by the engines for rankings, but rather helps to attract clicks by searchers reading the results page, as the meta description will in most cases become the snippet of text used by the search engines.

You should also generally not use keywords in link anchor text pointing to other pages on your site; this is known as Keyword Cannibalization.

Title Tags

Search engines generally display only the first 60 characters of a title tag in the search results

The closer to the start of the title tag your keywords are, the more helpful they’ll be for ranking, and the more likely a user will be to click them in the search results.

Include brand terms in your title tags, where applicable

Meta Tags

The meta description tag exists as a short description of a page’s content. Search engines do not use the keywords or phrases in this tag for rankings, but meta descriptions are the primary source for the snippet of text displayed beneath a listing in the results. Google bolds keywords within a search result.

URL Construction Guidelines 

Make your URLs easy to read and not too lengthy. Shorter URLs are easier to copy and paste into emails, blogs and texts, making them more useful and visible.

Include keywords in the URL however don’t go overboard or google will ‘ding’ you. 

The best URLs are human readable without lots of numbers, special characters, and symbols.

Use hyphens, not underscores, to separate words.

Chapter 5: Keyword Research Overview

It’s not always about getting visitors to your site, but about getting the right kind of visitors. 

Basic Process for assessing a keyword’s value: 

Is the keyword relevant to your website’s content? Will searchers find what they are looking for on your site when they search using these keywords? Will they be happy with what they find? Will this traffic result in financial rewards or other organizational goals? If the answer to all of these questions is a clear “Yes!” then proceed.

If your website doesn’t rank for the keyword, you can nonetheless buy test traffic to see how well it converts. In Google Adwords, choose “exact match” and point the traffic to the relevant page on your website. Track impressions and conversion rate over the course of at least 200-300 clicks.

Another lesson search marketers have learned is that long tail keywords often convert better, because they catch people later in the buying/conversion cycle and indicate a higher level of intent.

Average monthly search volume is a broad indicator of audience interest in a given term and/or topic. It is important to assess this metric in a contextual manner that takes into account the relative popularity of related terms; just because a search term has lower volume does not mean it lacks value or shouldn’t be used in your content so long as the volume is in line with other terms in a given niche.

In order to know which keywords to target, it’s essential to not only understand the demand for a given term or phrase, but also the work required to achieve high rankings. If big brands take the top 10 results and you’re just starting out on the web, the uphill battle for rankings can take years of effort. This is why it’s essential to understand keyword difficulty.

Chapter 6: How Usability, User Experience & Content Affect Search Engine Rankings

Signals of Quality Content

Engagement Metrics: When a search engine delivers a page of results to you, it can measure the success of the rankings by observing how you engage with those results. If you click the first link, then immediately hit the back button to try the second link, this indicates that you were not satisfied with the first result. Search engines seek the “long click” – where users click a result without immediately returning to the search page to try again.

The link structure of the web serves as a proxy for votes and popularity; higher quality sites and information earn more links than their less useful, lower quality peers.

Chapter 7: Growing Popularity & Links

Since the late 1990s search engines have treated links as votes for popularity and importance in the ongoing democratic opinion poll of the web. The engines themselves have refined the use of link data to a fine art and use complex algorithms to perform nuanced evaluations of sites and pages based on this information.

Growing the link profile of a website is critical to gaining traction, attention, and traffic from search engines. As an SEO, link building is among the top tasks required for search ranking and traffic success. 

The concept of “local” popularity, first pioneered by the Teoma search engine, suggests that links from sites within a topic-specific community matter more than links from general or off-topic sites.

If dozens of links point to a page with the right keywords, that page has a very good probability of ranking well for the targeted phrase in that anchor text.

Earning links from highly-trusted domains can result in a significant boost to this scoring metric. Universities, government websites and non-profit organizations are some examples of high-trust domains.

A website that links to spam is likely spam itself, and in turn often has many spam sites linking back to it. By looking at these links in the aggregate, search engines can understand the “link neighborhood” in which your website exists. Thus, it’s wise to choose those sites you link to carefully and be equally selective with the sites you attempt to earn links from.

Link signals tend to decay over time. Sites that were once popular often go stale, and eventually fail to earn new links. Thus, it’s important to continue earning additional links over time. Commonly referred to as “FreshRank,” search engines use the freshness signals of links to judge current popularity and relevance.

Although search engines treat socially shared links differently than other types of links, they notice them nonetheless. There is much debate among search professionals as to how exactly search engines factor social link signals into their algorithms, but there is no denying the rising importance of social channels.

The potential power of this shift towards social for search marketers is huge. Someone with a large social circle, who shares a lot of material, is more likely to see that material (and her face) promoted in search results. For publishers, it’s beneficial to have your content shared by these highly influential folks with large social followings.

Social Shares do not hold equal value as links, however social shares do influence rankings. 

Link Building: 3 types of link acquisitions…

1: “natural” editorial links: Links that are given naturally by sites and pages that want to link to your content or company. These links require no specific action from the SEO, other than the creation of worthy material (great content) and the ability to create awareness about it.

2: Manual “Outreach” Link building: The SEO creates these links by emailing bloggers for links, submitting sites to directories, or paying for listings of any kind. The SEO often creates a value proposition by explaining to the link target why creating the link is in their best interest. Examples include filling out forms for submissions to a website award program or convincing a professor that your resource is worthy of inclusion on the public syllabus.

3: Self-Created, non-editorial: Hundreds of thousands of websites offer any visitor the opportunity to create links through guest book signings, forum signatures, blog comments, reviews and ratings or user profiles. These links offer the lowest value, but can, in the aggregate, still have an impact for some sites.

Moz experiments have shown that if two links are targeting the same URL, only the anchor text used in the first link is counted by Google.

Chapter 8: Search Engine Tools & Services

Sitemaps-gives search engines an idea of how to crawl your site. 

Ensure sitemaps are submitted to Search Console and in a readable format, preferably xml. 

Chapter 9: Myths & Misconceptions About Search Engines

Once upon a time, meta tags (in particular, the meta keywords tag) were an important part of the SEO process. You would include the keywords you wanted your site to rank for, and when users typed in those terms, your page could come up in a query. This process was quickly spammed to death and was eventually dropped by all the major engines as an important ranking signal.

Not surprisingly, a persistent myth in SEO revolves around the concept that keyword density—the number of words on a page divided by the number of instances of a given keyword—is used by the search engines for relevancy and ranking calculations.

Put on your tin foil hats, it’s time for the most common SEO conspiracy theory: spending on search engine advertising (pay per click, or PPC) improves your organic SEO rankings.

Chapter 10: Measuring & Tracking Success

On a monthly basis keep track of:

Direct Navigation: Typed in traffic, bookmarks, email links without tracking codes, etc.

Referral Traffic: From links across the web or in trackable email, promotional, and branding campaign links

Search Traffic: Queries that sent traffic from any major or minor web search engine