SEO Demystified (Part 2): Search Engine Signals

Important SEO signals that factor into your search engine position or ranking

There are dozens (hundreds) of factors within individual search engines’ search algorithms. For obvious reasons search engines don’t disclose them all. Google and Bing each have their own proprietary algorithms but there are some very general things you can start paying attention to in your own website to help increase your search ranking. All it takes is information and someone who knows how to edit your website and/or work with the SEO plugins and tools your web host offers.

  • Site Content: Content volume, quality and keyword distribution on your pages as it pertains to keywords you’ve selected (copy should be somewhat keyword dense but not so dense it looks like “keyword stuffing”, Google doesn’t like that. Rule of thumb - write it for human beings, then add in a few more well-placed target keywords/phrases, people will tolerate a little redundancy and it helps Google figure out what you offer.
  • Other websites linking to yours: Consider the authority of “inbound links” pointing to your site. Is a link to your site coming from a CNN.com quote on footwear fashion trends or is is coming from random-website-listing-boots-you-might-like-with-tons-of-ads.biz? Google likes the first kind better.
  • Historical post-search behavior by real users: This factors in actual user queries and what visitors have done to get to your site on other occasions as well as what they do once they land on your site. Do they stick around or pop in then leave; do they have a look at only one page or a few different pages, how many minutes on average do they spend on your website? Existing organic click through rate (CTR) for your keywords (and please — don’t start clicking on your own website, that won’t work and could penalize you. I’ve worked with Google on the tedious process of un-blacklisting sites whose owners previously worked with Black Hat SEO specialists and then they themselves overzealously clicked on their own website a gagillion times.)
  • Technical stuff: Quality of code, human readability of URLs, social media markup, responsiveness for mobile devices, image optimization, etc.
  • Social activity: Tweets, shares, Google+ mentions, likes, your own social content, others’ content about you, overall authority of your social media accounts
  • Domain name: How long ago you did you register your domain name and for how long did you register it (have you reserved it for 1 year or 15 years? Goes to show intent — “we’re in it for the long haul” or “we’re fly by night”.) Is your domain name a .com? a .TV? something else? Does the keyword you’re looking to rank for exist in your domain name?
  • Reviews: User reviews across all legitimate review sites (Google, Yelp, etc.) How many are there, and do they seem real?
  • Metatags: Make sure your keyword is in the Title Tag and Description tag, and in page headers (H1, H2, H3) (This is stuff that exists in your website code. Right-click a page on your website and choose “view page source” to see if there’s something like this in there: <META NAME=”description” CONTENT=”<something very relevant to your company including keywords here>)
  • Contact Page & Legal Stuff: Existence of a contact page with address, contact details, phone, email, social media methods if any; also a Terms of Service and a Privacy Page are key
  • Quality and frequency of content updates: Recency, frequency and quantity of compelling original content containing sufficient references to your keywords
  • Local listings: Is your business listed in your local area like Bing Places for Business, Google My Business, Yelp? Other local listing sites?

This short list is a good starting point for your SEO efforts. No need to cram your site with all kinds of keywords you want to get listed for, making them invisible by coding them the same color as the background or hiding them below the fold. Google already knows these tricks. Just focus on a creating a phrase describing your business like “<MyCompanyName> sells <what you sell> in <your area here>”. Then get to work communicating this phrase consistently to Google, Bing, Yahoo! and to the rest of the online world. Keep at it and it will work, I promise you.

Do you have other signals you think should be included in this initial short list for people new to SEO? Please share in comments!

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