SEO is a very rich subject filled with many tricks and practices that you need to implement. In this guide, you will discover everything you need to know to be successful at SEO starting with the basics of SEO — what is it, why is it important, and factors that affect it. If you want to be a pro at SEO, the first step is to master on-page SEO factors like optimizing meta title and description, increasing page CTR, linking to authority sites, etc. Then, focus on off-page SEO factors that include social signals, building press and backlinks, and building a brand. This guide also talks about the five essential SEO tools that I have been using, which will help you implement a step-by-step SEO strategy applicable to any site.
Did you find this SEO guide via a Google search?
Yes, my SEO strategies really work (and they are quite simple).
Today I’ll show you the exact website optimization techniques I use to drive more than 250,000+ visitors each month to this site, all organically.
I’ve been doing SEO for the last 7+ years, and throughout those years, I’ve tried to consume all the information about SEO that I could get my hands on.
This tutorial condenses all that information (plus new ranking techniques that work especially well in 2021).
I guarantee that even if you’re experienced with SEO, you will find a trick or two in this post that will help your blog or WordPress site rank higher on Google. (You might even learn what Rankbrain is all about)
Goodies: This is a No-BS SEO tips guide where I will not only teach you the techniques but will also link you to plugins, tools and tutorials to implement them. This guide is meant for both beginners and advanced SEOs.
Most of the strategies I list here use WordPress plugins but this guide is not limited to WordPress. The principles work for Shopify stores, Woocommerce, Medium, Blogger and self-hosted sites. It even works for YouTube SEO.
You should work along each step without skipping anything if you truly want to achieve the results and improve your SEO. Therefore, bookmark this page and keep coming back to it until you’re finished with the tutorial.
Don’t have time? Hire me to do your SEO. We can start with a consultation or an audit.
Ready? Let’s start from the top.
1) The basics of SEO
Definition of SEO
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is a way to reverse-engineer how a Search Engine (i.e. Google) works in order to rank higher in the Search Engine Results Page (SERPs).
Why is SEO important?
SEO is probably the most important competitive digital marketing advantage that you can have over your competition.
A strong SEO will get you free organic traffic that otherwise you would have need to pay for (e.g. via Google PPC Adwords or Facebook Ads). Easier said than done, ranking on the first page of Google is both a science and an art.
In this day and age, if you rank anything past the first page on Google you will barely get any traffic so you need to work on your Search Engine Optimization game if you’re serious about your online presence.
Ranking high for your target keywords not only puts you in the spotlight but also can help you steal business from your competition. It creates brand awareness and helps you close more sales.
Now that you have a clear understanding of what SEO is, keep reading to find out how to do SEO like a PRO.
Which factors affect SEO?
SEO is affected by a multitude of factors such as the authority of your root domain (flux.la), your subdomain (sub.flux.la) and the authority of the url itself https://flux.la/hidden-seo-tricks.
Also Google takes thousands of other cues when it comes to ranking your site, such as time on site, bounce rate, social shares and more.
Remember, the goal of Google is to show visitors the best information within the first few results, so their algorithms must analyze a lot of factors to achieve that.
We can subdivide these SEO ranking factors into two sections: On-Page and Off-Page SEO.
Ready to get your hands dirty?
Master These 8 On-page SEO Factors and Crush Google Rankings
On-page SEO refers to any optimization that you can do to the structure of your site itself. Here are the most important aspects:
(Note: Every time I used a list I have ranked the steps to take in terms of easiness over ROI, i.e. the first items in each actionable list will bring you the most results. )
- Optimize your meta title and meta description. Install Yoast SEO and make sure all your blog posts have a green light. Make sure to fill in a keyword rich title and description. You can find very valuable and highly-converting keywords by looking at the Google Adwords being displayed when you search for your keyword.
- Increase your page CTR by adding any of these proven keywords to the title and description of your post: Today, Right Now, Fast, Step-by-Step, Simple, Guide. Also add numbers, i.e. “22 Marketing Techniques You Must Try Today”. Having a high CTR will bump your page towards the top of the results.
- Use descriptive and straightforward URLS. example: https://alejandrorioja.com/seo-tips/
- Link to authority sites. Various studies show that linking to high domain authority sites like Wikipedia or Harvard can increase your Google rankings. Make sure you include at least 3-4 outbound links on each post.
- Make your site load fast. Google has indicated in their webmaster’s blog that page load time is one of the signals they look at when evaluating your site: “Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there.”
Here is what you can do to improve your site speed
- Install WP Super Cache (easy to use, less control) or W3 Total Cache (more control, harder to use)
- If you’re using WordPress, Install Ewww Image Optimizer or Shortpixels to reduce your image sizes.
- Otherwise, you will need to do the following
- Compress your HTML, JS, and CSS files via Gzip (Don’t do images)
- Use a content distribution network (CDN) like Amazon Cloudfront. (A CDN is a network of servers located all over the world all of which contain copies of your site. Using a CDN, you can distribute the load of serving your pages so that your sites can load faster.)
- Use Photoshop and optimize your images for web.
- (Must have) Get an SSL certificate (i.e. https). This will make your site more “legit” but also will also give you a boost in the search results. Read the official announcement about SSL by Google.
- Learn how to write the perfect SEO article of 2500+ words. By perfect I not only mean SEO-wise but also content-wise such as this article, so you keep people on your site and also generate business from it.
- Add multimedia to your posts (i.e. images and videos). That will make your site more useful to the user and will also make them spend more time on it.
- (Bonus) Read my in-depth article that covers all the on-page SEO factors.
In short, make sure your User Experience (UX) is top-notch.
After you’ve cleared out your on-page SEO…
Don’t Forget These 3 Equally Important Off-Page SEO Factors
Here are some key factors that most people miss when it comes to off-page SEO:
- You need tons of Social Signals. Yes, Google DOES care about how much social traffic and shares your article gets. Here are some ideas to boost that.
- Join a lot (and I mean a lot) of Facebook Groups in your niche. Post to all those groups every time you create a new post, and repost every 2-3 months. This will increase your traffic like crazy, not to mention that each share, like, and comment adds to your social score.
- As you can imagine, you would need to spend a lot of time posting to 100s of Facebook groups every time you wanted to promote an article. If you have been reading my articles, you know how much I hate doing repetitive tasks, so I suggest to hire a Virtual Assistant on Fiverr to help you increase your productivity.
- It’s never too early (or too late) to build Press and Powerful backlinks from high authority sites. Here quality trumps quantity, although quantity shouldn’t be overlooked. A shout out from Forbes is worth a lot more than 100 lower-tier sites, but the lower-tier sites can help you achieve good backlink volume. Here’s how to get all those backlinks.
- Build relationships with writers in your space so that they cover you not just once but multiple times. Provide value first before asking for anything. A good way to build a relationship is to feature them first on your blog by accepting a guest post from them. Reach out to other bloggers and writers to see if they want to cover your story. My most effective way to reach out is via Facebook Messenger or Twitter (in that order), email requests usually hit the spam folder but a carefully crafted A/B testing campaign will yield you good results. You can also use AuthoritySpy to find the movers and shakers in your industry.
- If you’re an entrepreneur, I will feature you on my projects Future Sharks and So Influential. I can help you with more quality backlinks.
- For starters, if you want to guest post on my sites, by all means message me with a couple sample writings and ideas (send the article on your first email directly). Find out more here.
- Build a Brand. Building a brand will help you get even more traffic over time. When you see a results that shows NYTimes and OnlineNewsNet, which one are you more likely to click? Exactly. (More on this at the bottom)
Read the full article on off-site SEO.
2) Forget Search Engine Optimization, it’s now time for Search Engine DOMINATION
Now that we’ve covered the basics of Search Engine Optimization, it is time to talk about Search Engine Domination.
With the introduction of Rankbrain, coming up first on Google really requires 2 major activities.
To dominate the results you need two things: Superb Content + High Quality Backlinks.
Let’s first dive into content.
Related: Curious about what other SEO experts see as a trend this year?
How long should your article be to rank on the first page?
Generally, long content will out-seo any other short form.
In a study done of over a million of blog posts, researchers found that the ideal length of a blog post is 1900+ words as shown in this graphic:
300 word blog posts won’t cut it in the long term for the following reason: people will only click on your site, read the article in 30 seconds and leave, without giving you the opportunity to convert that click into a client.
Also, long posts will naturally contain a healthy sprinkle of keywords throughout the text instead of a jam-packed 300-word article in which 50 of the words are just your target keywords.
- Notice the structure of this blog post. See how I naturally included multiple variations of the keywords (called LSI keywords) that I am looking to target “how to do seo”, “seo tips and techniques”, “search engine optimization wordpress”, etc. Make a special note of all the subheadings <h2>, <h3> that I’ve used.
More importantly, long content will increase the time on site (also known as dwell time) that someone spends on your site, which is a key metric when it comes to rankings.
The general strategy to write a blog post is to create one that adds value (just like this one, I hope). This naturally leads you to write extensive content. This blog post for instance is a monster ~3800 words.
You must aim to write the best article ever written on the topic that you chose. The easiest way is to search for a keyword and condense the top 10 search results. For more info, check out this Skyscraper Technique by Brian Dean.
If you want me to write an article for you with all the perfect SEO, Clearscope reports, keyword research and links, get this:
- Perfect SEO Article Writing (+1 revision)Product on sale
Now that we got content out of the way. We need to focus on backlinks.
Let me say that again. Backlinks are the holy grail of SEO.
How do you get backlinks?
- Check the backlink profile of your competitors page by copying and pasting the link into Ahrefs or SEMrush.
- From there, look at each of the sites that are linking to them and try to get a backlink to your site.
- You can also buy expiring domains and 301 redirect them to your site. You will get all the SEO juice that those domains had built. <— This is a very undervalued resource, provided that you find good domains. As an added plus, if you buy domains in your niche, you can redirect all their traffic to your site.
- You can write guest posts and go on podcasts.
If you follow these 11 white hat SEO strategies (great content and solid backlinks) you can be sure your site will be safe of any Hummingbird, Penguin, Panda or Fred updates.
Best SEO tools to rank in 2020
As evidenced throughout this SEO blog post, I am a big fan of tools and scripts to make my life easier.
I have probably tested more than 30 tools over the years.
Here are my personal favorites to outrank my competitors. You can also read my full list of SEO tools.
5 Essential SEO tools:
- (paid) Ahrefs. This tool will allow you to spy on your competitors backlinks and do advanced Keyword Research. I have the Lite plan for $100/mo.
- (paid) SEMRush. Similar to Ahrefs but now recently launched a beta version of a content optimizer that I really like. I am on the free trial.
- (free) Google Keyword Planner. You can use the Keyword Planner to see the search volume and difficulty of a particular set of keywords.
- (free) Keywords Everywhere. I love that I can see information about volume, CPC and competition on every Google search I make.
- (free) SEOQuake. Shows great insights underneath each search result.
Nice to have:
- (free) Alexa Toolbar. Although the Alexa Rank of a site has nothing to do with its SEO, I still find it valuable to understand what kind of traffic my sites and competitors sites are getting and where it is coming from. Here is how to lower your Alexa Rank.
- (free) The Moz Toolbar, which helps me look at various metrics of a page (such as its domain authority) at a quick glance
- (free) the brand new Chrome Extension SEO Minion, which will help you analyze the on-page SEO health of any site.
My Exact Step-by-Step SEO Strategy to Optimize Any Site
While each site has its own tone and audience, the SEO principles are the exact same.
This is the blueprint I follow for each website I optimize:
1. Define your content strategy
There is no point in ranking high if that blog post is not allowing you to forge a relationship with your readers, earn more Adsense Revenue or generate sales and sign ups.
Thus, the first step in writing is determining what you want to achieve with your post. Are you writing to generate leads? Collecting emails? Do you want to be perceived as an industry leader?
The goal of your content strategy will largely determine how you will structure your blog post.
For instance, if you want to be a thought leader then you need a long post, to collect sign ups you need an easier to follow funnel with reviews (and ideally a video at the top of the page).
2. Define your area of expertise (aka your niche)
After you have defined your content strategy, think about what information your readers will find valuable.
If you’re writing about diet and weight loss with the hopes of selling your program to your subscribers, you want to create a relationship with your readers throughout a series of posts that inform the reader and that set you apart as a thought leader or expert in that field.
You might even want to build an email list and then sell your products by means of email marketing.
Once you know what information will resonate you will be able to find keyword inspiration much quicker.
3. Do amazing keyword research
Ranking for “seo” is hard. Ranking for “seo tips” is a bit easier (medium tail keyword).
How do you do proper keyword research?
You can use multiple tools to find the keywords with the perfect balance of difficulty and search volume.
In Ahrefs, you can go to Keyword Research and type in a few of the keywords that relate to the blog post that you are looking to write.
After their algorithm runs, you will be presented with the stats for your keywords plus other keywords that you should consider.
Here, I like to pick keywords with difficulty <60 and volume > 500. Hint: You can sort this on Ahrefs. (Btw, I’m not affiliated with Ahrefs, I just love their tools)
Once you have 3 or 4 keywords identified, I get to writing.
(in my case “best seo tips”, “seo optimization tips”, “wordpress seo tips”)
Another method to find keywords is using the Search Console
Did you know that the answer to ranking #1 has been given to you by Google?
Yes, it is just hidden under your Search Console.
If you jump to Search Analytics, you can see valuable data like keywords that you already rank for. I suggest you install the Keywords Everywhere Chrome plugin to see information like Monthly Volume, CPC and Competition.
Sometimes it is easier to optimize and update your old blog posts than writing a new one. (For instance, I constantly update this particular post to include information that I might have missed).
When I want to update my posts, I grab all the keywords that each post ranks for, put them into a Google doc and then sort them by either Volume or Competition and then see if there are any content holes I could fix. (For instance, this article was lacking a section about “keyword research” so I added it in).
You can also find keywords using Keywords Everywhere and running through a couple Google searches.
After you find the right keywords, you should know how to do keyword clustering. (I plan to do a post about it later)
4. Write the perfect content that SEOs almost naturally
I already mentioned that you should think about 2500 word posts or longer.
Here’s how I write one of those monster posts with the least amount of effort and time spent.
First, I search the keywords found in step 3 and see what the top rankers are writing about and see if they are mentioning something I don’t already know. From there, I structure my post simply by headers.
After the keywords are strategically placed in the H2 headers, the paragraphs pretty much write themselves. (from this step, you could outsource it to a writer if you want. I’ve had great experience with Freeeup)
Once the blog post is drafted up, it’s time for an SEO check via Yoast (WordPress Plugin). On the focus keyword, I pick the keyword with the highest volume from the 3-4 target keywords.
After that I include images and videos.
I hit Publish and then I pray and hope it ranks.
No, of course not. That’s just the beginning the secret of ranking is what comes after.
5. The half-automatic, half-manual way of ranking the content
You wouldn’t want all the hard work of writing the perfect blog post to just go to waste, right?
A blog post is only valuable if it ranks on the first page, otherwise it really doesn’t matter. Period.
Here are few things I do to rank such content:
- The obvious and easy one: share on all my social media accounts. Here’s the trick to automate all that: Use IFTTT and connect WordPress with all your accounts. That way you spend 10 min setting all up, and never have to worry about it again. (This also builds your those golden social signals that I talked about earlier).
- Syndicate my content to Thrive Global automatically using the Medium plugin on WordPress (with the “canonical” tag, of course.)
- I already have a network of bloggers that I curated that will reference my content and share it, creating the necessary backlinks to help me rank higher. But Alejandro, how did you get this in the first place? Well, I followed this strategy to build relationships with bloggers.
- Create an account at Future Sharks and submit a guest post with a link to your new post using your top keyword as anchor text. (Free high quality backlink)
- Here are other sites I own in which you can guest post.
Another big bonus: build a reputation
When you become the authority in your niche, you will notice that ranking your content is much easier.
If you can position yourself as the expert, you will crush the Google SERPs.
Here’s how you can boost your personal brand:
- Have an about page that explains why you are an expert in the topic that you are writing about.
- Go on Podcasts, do Youtube videos, win awards that give you more credibility.
- Get quoted on many sites as the subject matter expert
How to Win The Featured Snippet
In case you aren’t familiar, the featured snippet looks like this:
There are several types of Featured Snippets, such as:
- Paragraph answers
Since it takes up so much real estate on the search page, you can be sure it drives a ton of clicks.
The way to get to a featured snippet is to first rank top 10 for the given query.
However, not all queries will have a featured snippet. To check if a given query has a featured snippet you can use Ahrefs.
Find the Featured Snippet option under SERP features.
Now for a given query, try to answer it in a the most succinct way possible (<40 words)
Another tool you can use is AnswerThePublic.
October update on Featured Snippets:
Now Google is allowing publishers to set up their own snippet markup using the robots tag. Here are those variables:
This is an existing option to specify that you don’t want any textual snippet shown for this page.
New! Specify a maximum text-length, in characters, of a snippet for your page.
New! Specify a maximum duration in seconds of an animated video preview.
New! Specify a maximum size of image preview to be shown for images on this page, using either “none”, “standard”, or “large”.
An example usage might be
<meta name="robots" content="max-snippet:60, max-image-preview:large">
That’s all. I just described the step-by-step white-hat SEO strategy that I use for my own sites and for my clients. Hopefully, you found it valuable and you act on this today.
Whatever you do, make sure you don’t fall in the trap and start doing some black-hat SEO techniques like cloaking or spammy backlink building, it can get you seriously penalized by Google. Plus, your high rankings will only be short-lived.
Have a friend that is struggling with SEO? Send them this guide to help them out.
Did you learn something new? Let me know in the comments. If you know any other techniques that are not mentioned in this SEO post, please share them so that we can all benefit.
Make sure to also check out these other great content and opportunities by me Don SEO: