I’ve been building test/money sites these past few months, which made more room for me to freely do a lot of experimentation on SEO. This is what I did:
TL;DR: Focus on optimizing these core aspects of Google’s search ranking factors:
Basic SEO is no longer enough.
Simplified Approach to Advanced SEO
Google uses hundreds of ranking factors in assessing which sites/pages are truly worthy of getting the top spot.
But the best way to simplify a very complicated discipline is to zero-in on the areas that will have the most impact.
So my optimization process mainly focused on everything that’s aligned with these core aspects:
Note: This particular framework is also very applicable when auditing/optimizing established websites.
Google obviously favors brands in search results (because people trust them, more often than not).
So how do you establish authority for a new website?
There are two ways: create highly credible content, and have credible entities/sites vouch for it (links).
A strategic approach to SEO always starts with a carefully planned out content strategy and keyword research.
Creating topic cluster models can help get both done (including your internal linking structure).
I recommend you to check out Hubspot’s extensive research on topic clusters.
It’s basically grouping your content by key topic areas, wherein a main page (pillar content that targets keywords with a broader audience) and stretches out by having a series of support content assets (cluster content that exclusively covers specific ideas/key phrases listed on the pillar content).
And most importantly, having both pillar and cluster content internally link to each other.
This is one of the first things we did for one of the websites we’ve built.
This concept for information architecture is quite the standard for ecommerce sites (on how product categories and product-level pages are displayed and on how these pages are linked to each other).
And apparently, it can work when implemented for informational content too.
If you’re starting an ecommerce site, you can also check out my post on SEJ on evergreen content ideas for ecommerce sites.
Links has certainly been the biggest reason why we’ve substantially improved some of our sites’ organic traffic in a short period of time.
As for link building, we’ve mostly focused on content-based outreach.
I’ve talked about most of the approach used in my previous post (audience-first link building).
But here’s a quick recap of the tactics we used:
- Resource link building: promoting assets we’re confident that would be useful to other publications’ audience.
- Repurposed our assets (distributable visual content): and distributing them to blogs/sites who are in need of high-quality content
- Published external content assets: we’ve also published comprehensive guides (3,000+ word guides) on other sites, where they’ll have higher chances of ranking well.
- Partnerships (reciprocal linking): mainly to promote both parties’ relevant linkable assets.
- Link Earning: to strategically rank for low-competition industry-specific terms – keywords that other content creators will usually have to describe when used in their writings.
Content relevance is one of the two most important Google’s search ranking factors.
I won’t cover the intricacies of content creation on this post, but here are some of the guides I’ve written in the past that tackle our processes in creating and optimizing content:
Today’s SEO has been more focused on satisfying users.
And it’s crucial to revisit your site’s key pages regularly to see how they’re being consumed by your site visitors.
Here are some of the things we did to improve our test sites’ content-level engagement (ensuring our content matches searcher’s intent).
1. Content formatting
The goal is to make your site visitors immediately feel that they’ve landed on the right page.
We’re continually testing how we format our content.
For lengthy guides, we’ve included quick post summaries (table of contents), to make sure that readers will instantly see the different sections covered by the content.
And giving them the option to go straight to the answers/information they’re only interested in.
Even for 500-700 word content pieces, we’ve included TL;DRs and placed them above the fold:
Getting people’s attention, specifically on the web, these days is getting trickier.
And it’s more difficult to prove how useful content is to users, if they won’t even get to reach your content’s most important parts.
Dejan Petrovic wrote a stellar guide on how to effectively write for the web. I encourage you to read that as well.
2. Improve SERP CTR & Dwell Time
Another set of data that you should also visit more often is the list of keywords that your key pages are getting searched for.
You can easily get this through Google Search Console.
Go to Performance > Pages > Choose a Page > Queries
Sort the list of search queries by Impressions, and see which keywords you haven’t discussed on your existing content.
- Include new content sections where you can answer these additional queries.
- Test and adjust the page’s meta data (title & description) to target keywords that get a lot of impressions but low # of clicks.
Adding more depth to your content, and allowing visitors to easily get to see them should help improve your content’s engagement metrics:
You can also improve your content’s relevance scores by adding more topic-related terms within your copy.
Technical SEO has become more important than ever.
Google’s search algorithm is ever-evolving, and with all the recent changes (ie: Mobile-First Index), it’s crucial to have a strong grasp in the technical aspect of SEO to have a clearer path to dominating the SERPs.
I won’t cover the various areas of technical on-site optimization, but here are some resources that can help you get started:
Crawling & Indexing
Since I’m optimizing relatively new websites, this part didn’t take a lot of time and resources to get done.
The focus of this part of the optimization were mostly spent on basic tasks:
- Creating an XML sitemap and Robots.txt (submitting & testing both via Google Search Console).
- Migrating to HTTPs and implementing the rel=”canonical” tag
- Blocking crawlers from accessing URLs/parameters that create thin-content pages, or may cause content duplication (tags, media files, etc…) – by using the Noindex directive, or blocking access through Robots.txt
- Minimizing crawl errors (if there’s any).
I used Ahrefs’ site audit tool to get all the crawling issues (and other technical on-site & page-level issues) sorted out.
There are a number of ways to speed up your website. Here’s a great primer from Venture Harbour on how you can get started.
After getting most of the common fixes done (browser caching, minifying HTML/JS/CSS files, Gzip compression, etc…), I’ve implemented further site improvements based on Lighthouse’s (Chrome DevTools) audit recommendations.
Below are the changes that made the most significant increase in site speed:
1. Serve WebP image formats
WebP is a modern image format that’s smaller in size compared to JPEGs and PNGs.
You don’t necessarily need to convert and compress all your site’s images to WebP, as it only works for Chrome and Opera browser users.
If you’re using WordPress, installing plugins like ShortPixel can help you automate how your site can serve WebP image formats.
Other useful resources on creating and serving WebP image formats:
2. Lazy Load visual assets (images & videos)
It’s basically a method in which offscreen web elements (like images, iframes, & videos placed within the content) are only loaded at the moment they are needed.
It can easily be done on WordPress. I used LazyLoad by WP Rocket for the sites I’m testing:
Other useful resources on Lazy Loading:
3. Preload resources using <link rel=”preload”>
You can also speed up your website by prioritizing important resources (scripts and stylesheets) by using the <link rel=”preload”> directive.
This directive basically tells browsers to load certain resources in the background immediately.
Besides asynchronously loading or deferring scripts, preloading resources is also one of the ways to fixing the “eliminate render-blocking resources (JS & CSS)” issues that most sites get when testing for loading speed.
To implement preload on WordPress, just insert the code(s) within the <head></head> section of your site’s pages for sitewide resources:
Or you could also do it on individual pages in preloading resources that are only specific to them:
Other useful resources on Link Rel=”Preload”:
All these changes made some of my image-heavy content load a bit faster on both mobile and desktop.
That’s all for now.
If you have questions, feel free to comment below. And you can also follow me on Twitter @jasonacidre.