Once upon a time, SEO (search engine optimization) was mainly about selecting the right keyword and ensuring that a web page or blog post repeated that keyword often enough. In fact, SEOs (search engine optimizers) would game the system using a practice called keyword stuffing.
The page or post with a high number of keywords would be more likely to rank high in the search engine results. This would, in turn, result in more visitors to a page or post on a website.
But that was when the algorithms of Google and other search engines were not very sophisticated by today’s standards.
The processes for generating more business from your website — because more people have found your site through search — have gotten complicated.
This is partly because search engine algorithms have evolved. For example, rather than just scanning for a keyword and the keyword’s variations, search engines use natural language understanding (NLU) to interpret the meaning of many different words in a piece of content — much as a person would.
Learning how an NLU engine “thinks” is essential for improving SEO in 2023.
Effective SEO is the sum of many little things done right
Better SEO is the sum of many minor improvements — and sometimes a few major ones. It also requires a strategy. The great news about your own SEO and web properties is that it’s always possible to go back and make changes.
If you’re involved with online marketing, one of your biggest challenges may be getting more leads in your salespeople’s hands. Another content marketing goal may be greater awareness of your company brand.
Let’s look at how you can improve your website SEO this year and beyond. Use the ideas below as a guide for changing your website’s existing content. You can check Google Analytics to see whether your efforts have resulted in more users visiting pages and posts you have updated and re-optimized.
1. Do keyword research
Keyword research should still be the starting point for any blog posts or pages you want to discover through searches. Keywords are also referred to as key phrases — as a keyword is rarely a single word. Premium keyword tools include SEMRush, Ahrefs, and KWFinder.
One approach is identifying moderate to high-volume, low-competition keywords related to your topic. For example, if your organization specializes in digital engagement using the Salesforce platform, “salesforce digital engagement”, on paper, would be a good keyword to target.
Keep in mind that informative, well-optimized pages and posts can rank for dozens or even hundreds of keywords.
Google will not rank the post you are reading, no matter how objectively helpful it is, because its keyword is “super hard” to rank for. So, this post will only get direct, referral, and social traffic.
2. Determine search intent
Before settling on a keyword, try to determine search intent.
In 2013, we published a blog post that continues to rank for the keyword “CRM administrator.” The post was intended to inform business managers and executives about the value of having a CRM admin.
However, based on the search results, that particular keyword attracts more job seekers than managers or executives. Here are the top 10 organic results for the keyword at the time this article was published:
Failing to take search intent into consideration can mean attracting the wrong overall audience for your product or service.
3. Research semantically related keywords
Google’s Natural Language AI looks at more than a page or a post’s keyword. It’s also looking at all the words that are related to that keyword. It wants those related words to be in the proper context relative to the keyword.
Semantically related keywords are words that Google’s NL AI has determined to be relevant to the main topic. Google refers to these as Entities.
In fact, Google provides an API to developers. Developers can create apps that feed a piece of content to the natural language understanding engine. The engine will reply with how it interprets the words.
In our example above, Indeed.com may be able to rank higher for “CRM administrator” if it were to add more of the words in red from the following to its job listing:
Words like these need to appear within the content so that they read naturally.
SEO Tip: Google Search Console shows you pages with a low clicks-to-impressions ratio. Some of these pages may be candidates for adding more related keywords, which can positively impact SEO.
4. Get into the correct Google content category
Google’s NLU also takes category matches into effect for ranking purposes. Google categorizes every page and post that it crawls.
Currently, there are over 600 content categories.
Your content is more likely to outrank other top-ranking content if your page or post is in the same category as the content you are trying to outrank.
To determine the top category, Google’s NLU analyzes words on an individual page and across an entire site.
5. Don’t spend too much time optimizing for advertisers’ keywords
There are specific topics for which ads are plastered at the top of the search engine result pages (SERPs). For example, if you search for “CRM software” or “accounting software”, you often won’t see the first organic search result until you scroll below the fold.
The juice might not be worth the squeeze for keywords related to heavily advertised products and services.
On the other hand, if you decide to optimize for a common Google Ads keyword, you may still get clicks to your website from people who automatically scroll past ads.
6. Use a clean heading/subheading structure
Proper heading structure is an area that many website designers and bloggers overlook. Sometimes, the headings in a website template or theme are used for design purposes rather than structural purposes.
For better SEO, it’s essential to structure (or restructure) your pages and posts to have only one H1 heading and then hierarchal subheadings (H2s and H3s) in the body text.
But it’s not uncommon for website pages to have multiple H1 headings. We have seen pages for which the designer used over 20 H1s.
Mechanically, changing to a proper heading structure is an easy SEO fix.
7. Optimize images
A common practice by website designers is to retain the original filename of a stock photo. But keyword-rich filenames are an SEO opportunity. For example, we renamed the header photo in this post from Depositphotos_33099063_L.jpg to seo-direction.jpg. The image has the alt text “SEO Elements.”
For page speed reasons (more below), we changed the file size from 2000 pixels wide to 1280 wide. The file was then compressed by 76% using TinyPNG.
SEO Tip: Whenever possible, use original photos rather than stock images. Google is okay with AI-generated images created with apps like DALL·E or Stable Diffusion.
8. Optimize off-page elements
You can still find homepage SEO titles that contain nothing more than the company name. The title on a homepage and every other website page and post is a golden opportunity to inform people about what your company does when they read a snippet from your website in search results.
Keep in mind that the on-page title people see when reading the page can differ from the off-page title, which appears in the search results.
Another important off-page element is the Meta description. Even though Google rewrites the Meta description well over half the time, it’s worth adding your own descriptions to all your pages and posts.
Note the difference in the level of information between these two Google search engine result snippets:
Structured data markup, notably FAQPage Schema, can make your pages rank higher. FAQPage Schema involves having an FAQ section on a page and matching the questions and answers word for word, off-page in a JSON-LD format. Alternatively, you can use the Yoast FAQ block, as we did below.
You may end up with a rich snippet in the SERPs that makes your result stand out visually.
9. Acquire suitable backlinks
The conventional wisdom is that the best backlinks are from websites with the most authority. One measure of authority is Ahref’s Domain Rating.
However, when it comes to Google, the content category of the linking content can be at least as necessary as the domain or URL authority.
So, if you plan to acquire backlinks using techniques such as targeted email outreach to improve SEO, be sure to target content that falls into the same Google category as the page for which you are trying to get a backlink.
The best way to get backlinks is by creating and distributing content people want to link to.
10. Disavow toxic (and purchased) links
When a page or post starts to get organic search traffic, it will unfortunately also attract spammy backlinks — sometimes called toxic links.
While there’s some debate about whether these links will hurt SEO, some webmasters choose to disavow those links.
Google announced a link spam update in December 2022 that targets sites with purchased links. It would be prudent to disavow any links you’ve purchased in the past.
11. Add the correct internal links
If your website has a high-ranking page or post and you publish a new post on a related topic, make sure to link the former to the latter.
Those links can pass on authority from older pages to newer pages. This, in turn, can result in getting more traffic — faster — to your new pages.
This SEO case study suggests that having more internal links is better than fewer, but only to a point. Also, mixing up your internal anchor text is a good idea.
12. Distribute your content
Distributing your content across social media, Google News, and your Google Business Profile (GBP) can prime the SEO pump.
Content distribution can drive awareness that may, in turn, result in additional quality backlinks. Ross Simmonds gives excellent advice on how to distribute content.
ULTIMATE DISTRIBUTION THREAD— Ross Simmonds (@TheCoolestCool) September 21, 2022
20 of my favorite distribution channels & tactics for spreading B2B content after hitting publish.
These are great techniques for brands who realize the job isn’t over when you hit publish.
Dive in, drink coffee, ask questions, & add your own.
You can track referral traffic from various social platforms using Google Analytics.
13. Increase website speed & improve core web vitals
Your website’s performance factors into how a search engine regards your content.
You can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to get a user experience report on both mobile and desktop.
If designing a new website in WordPress, consider using the WordPress block editor plus a blocks plug-in instead of a third-party page builder. When it comes to website speed, to some degree, there is a beauty/bloat tradeoff.
14. Maintain your website’s health
A tool such as Ahrefs’ Site Audit, part of the company’s free Webmaster Tools offering, will give you an extensive report of website issues. The three categories are errors, warnings, and notices.
Error types include internal links from HTTPS to HTTP, broken internal links, broken images, images that are too large, and 404 pages.
You will improve your website’s overall SEO by systematically fixing pages with errors and warnings.
15. Pay attention to spelling and grammar
Typos and grammatical errors can adversely affect SEO.
The free version of Grammarly plus one of its browser extensions can improve SEO by alerting you to basic mistakes as you type within a browser tab.
Grammarly’s extension works with almost any text block within a browser tab, including website platform editors and Google Docs.
16. Consider readability
There are a variety of factors that make your writing more readable. Better readability can boost SEO.
These factors include using short sentences and paragraphs, using enough transition words, and using enough active voice.
17. Add canonical links
Canonical links are used to avoid issues that result from duplicate content.
A canonical link tells search engines which is the preferred or most authoritative page.
For example, if you have two nearly identical versions of a product page — one with U.S. spellings and one with U.K. spellings — you can add a canonical link that points from the U.K. version to the U.S. version.
18. Include unique content
Your content will be more attractive to readers and, therefore, more interesting to Google if it includes something unique.
This type of content can be data or research results people can’t find anywhere else. It could even be a unique perspective on a topic.
Improved rankings in search engine results are often the sum of many things done right — particularly when trying to rank content for competitive keywords.
If you spend time on enough of the little things and a few of the big things, you may be able to propel some of your content higher in the search engine results — in some cases, much higher. With the right conversion words and actions, you can, in turn, convert more visitors into prospects and customers.
With SEO, there are no guarantees. But, if you consistently incorporate a lot or all of the above tips, you will better position your pages and posts in the eyes of the search engines.
While you’re attracting more visitors to your website, you can also start to work on conversions — calls to action that turn more visitors into leads for your sales team.
Frequently Asked Questions
SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. SEO is a set of practices that, when applied, improve a website’s content relevance, link relevance, and technical setup. Applying these practices makes a site’s pages and posts easier to find through user search queries.
The goal of SEO is to achieve a higher ranking in the search engine results for a query made by someone who is a prospective reader of your content or a buyer of your products and services.
Popular tools that come at a cost include SEMRush Keyword Magic Tool, Ahrefs Keywords Explorer, Keyword Keg, and Wordtracker. These are all excellent sources of keywords, but the features vary among vendors.
If you have full editing rights to your website, you can make a range of changes to existing on-page and off-page content that can boost your website’s SEO.