This page has been updated on Sep 4, 2015.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Introduction.

Every business with a website, or other Internet property, has the potential/objective to be discovered by more customers. One way to achieve this is through Search Engine Optimization (SEO); opposed to Search Engine Marketing (SEM) which refers to paid advertising for search engines such as Google Search and Bing.

SEO is a long-term tactic because the results of your work will not show up right away; opposed to SEM (Search Engine Marketing) which is a short-term tactic.

I have written, and applied, numerous Checklists, Standard Operating Procedures and custom Tools around the topic of SEO which turned out to be very succesful for the desktop & mobile projects in my portfolio.

What is SEO?

The term Search Engine Optimization describes a diverse set of activities that you can perform to boost the number of relevant visitors of your Internet Properties via the major search engines.

The following explanation applies to websites, but also native apps for mobile.

This process is typically divided in two parts:

  1. On-site or On-Page Optimization: changing the website itself.
  2. Off-site Optimization: changing things outside of the property such as backlinks, citations, local directories and social network presences.

The search engine Bots will parse and interpret the content of your websites. The website owner must ensure that the website emits the right signals. These signals consist of visible data and hidden data.

The visible data consists of the actual content of a page and the structure of your website.

The hidden data consists of standard HTML5 markup data and custom Structured Data Markup (mostly JSON) so machines can better understand your content and its context.
The hidden data will eventually result in an enhanced visual presentation in the Search Results and potentially in the Google Knowledge Graph.

All the signals of your website are combined by the search engine with other external data (e.g. social network signals, citation signals, the result of manual validations) to generate relevant Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs).

Fact: The manual validations are performed according to the Google Search Quality Rating process. I have a PDF copy of that process document which was used internally by Google in 2011. It is important to know that the document pays a lot of attention to a) the user intent of the search query; b) checking the webspam guidelines.

Fact: sometimes you as a publisher really want the opposite, e.g. to avoid that all or some of your website content is crawled by the search engine bots and included in the search engine results pages or in other Google apps such as Google Play Kiosk. This is also possible and some of it is explained in another section below but first we will handle the traditional SEO (inclusion).

Fact: The bulk of the organic traffic originates from the Google Search Engine. I have noticed that traffic from the Bing Search Engine (.be domain) has increased significantly. It is therefore important to optimize your websites as well for Bing Search. The Bing Webmaster Tools is a great way to start.

The relevance of the Google Knowledge Graph.

The Google Knowledge Graph is a crucial project related to SERPs. It maps real-world entities and their connections (similar to the Facebook Open Graph project).

If you are an authority for certain content then your information might be integrated in the Knowledge Graph. It is used to produce more “relevant” Search Results.

Facts:

  • Up to 70% of Google’s search results include video snippets.
  • Over 30 % of search listings contain Images results.
  • According to Google, 20% of all searches are local, with that number being 40% for mobile.
  • Shopping listings are found in 18% of search results.
  • News snippets are present in up to 10% of all Google’s search results, etc.

It appears that Google Search wants to become the “Wikipedia of the future” by integrating the Knowledge Graph Results. Note that the traffic to Wikipedia has dropped signifcantly since Google started showing Knowledge Graph data in the search results.
Warning:The Knowledge Graph engine will try to grab as much valuable information as possible from your Internet properties. That information is eventually shown, or merged with information from other data sources, into the Google Search Results. You must take action so that you do not loose control of that data and that your potential visitors still have a reason to visit your Internet property!

Related Projects.

Areas of Expertise.

Overview.

  • App Store Optimization.
  • Citation building & monitoring.
  • Competitor intelligence and monitoring.
  • International SEO.
  • Keyword research.
  • Link building & monitoring.
  • Local SEO.
  • Mobile Search (smartphone/tablet) optimization.
  • Multimedia optimization.
  • Off-page optimization.
  • On-page optimization.
  • Ranking and traffic monitoring.
  • Security audits.
  • SEO project planning.
  • Site Performance optimization.
  • SPA Single-Page-Application optimization.
  • Social media optimization.
  • Structured Data snippets for the Google Knowledge Graph (developing or generating them).
  • SEO audits.
  • Website redesigns and domain migrations.
  • Writing tools, which are custom developed, to support SEO tasks.

I will explain a few of these in the sections below.

App Store Optimization.

This process ensures that your apps/websites appear correctly in the search results of the store itself, and in some cases also in the (Google) search engine results pages.

The main app & web stores are:

  • Amazon App Store.
  • Apple App Store.
  • Facebook App Store.
  • Google Chrome Web Store.
  • Google Play Store.

The process consists of proper input of the textual and multimedia elements according to the guidelines of the store.

The search results of the app stores are primarily based on traditional keyword search of your store entry and the availability of enough multimedia elements.

Citation building & monitoring.

A citation is a reference to your business on the Internet.

Citations are important signals to the search engines and they are especially relevant for Local SEO.

A citation consists of one or more of the following information elements: your business name, your phone number, your address, a link to your website(s) or app(s).

A good citation consists at least of name + phone + address. Note that the inclusion of a backlink in the citation is optional, hence the difference between a backlink and a citation.

Citations come primarily in two forms: structured (e.g. directory listings) and unstructured (e.g. mentions on a blog).

Competitor intelligence and monitoring.

A good ranking of your property in the SERPs not only depends on your own SEO projects but also on those of the competition.

It is therefore important to monitor the properties of the competition in your sector. The typical items to monitor are:

  • The content & design of their websites;
  • The audience statistics (QuantCast, SimilarWeb, etc);
  • The SEO on-page signals (keywords, structured data);
  • The SEO off-page signals (backlinks, citations);
Some of these tasks can be automated, e.g.
  • Use the Ahrefs.com service to monitor the website backlinks;
  • Scrape the content of the websites with your own crawler;
  • Take screenshots of the key pages of the websites using your own screenshot cron job for various screen dimensions (phone,tablet,desktop). I am using the PhantomJS library to write my own tool for this purpose;
  • Perform a keyword analysis of the key pages of the websites using your own analysis cron job;

International SEO.

International SEO is a methodology to optimize your website so that it emits the right signals to the search engines for the countries and languages that you want to target.

The primary signal is the URL structure of your website. There are 3 implementations:

  • Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD). A ccTLD is the best signal because it is country-specific by definition. Note that you do not inherit the domain authority of your Generic Top-level Domain (gTLD)!
  • Subdomains. This can be used in combination with a gTLD. Note that you do not inherit the domain authority of your gTLD in a subdomain!
  • Subdirectories. This can be used in combination with a gTLD. Note that you do benefit from the domain authority of your gTLD.

A major concern in an SEO context is duplicate content. It is not that you will be penalized for that, but the ranking value would be distributed amongst all duplicated pages resulting in a net loss for the ranking of each page.

The solution in the context of International SEO is to implement the html tags hreflang and rel=”alternate”. If you have multiple language versions of a URL then each language page must identify all language versions, including itself. You also have to specify the default page by using the tag hreflang=’x-default’.

Keyword Research.

Choosing the right relevant keywords is often the difference between getting found in the SERPS or not. As a result, keyword research is a key part of an effective online marketing strategy to increase relevant traffic to your properties.

Note that this task is actually foussed on keyword phrases, and not just keywords.

It is crucial to clearly identify which keyword phrases your target audience uses in their user query in the search engine. This task can also take input for the persona’s that you have defined for your business.

If your website is not yet published then you have to find alternatives to do your keyword discovery/research. For example:

  • Caphyon Advanced Web Ranking tool for (local) keyword discovery;
  • Competitor Analysis;
  • Google AdWords Keyword Planner tool;
  • Ask your marketing department for details about the persona’s that are/will be targeting in their campaigns;

If your website is up and running for a while then you should already have some good metrics available that you can relate to keyword research. For example:

  • Caphyon Advanced Web Ranking tool for (local) keyword ranking;
  • Data mining of search query words using the Google Analytics Query Reports;
  • Data mining of keyword phrases of your Google AdWords campaigns;
  • Data mining of site services that you should be using such as TyNT.com and AddThis.com;

Link Building.

Google was the first search engine to use links as a significant page ranking factor. They viewed a link from one site to another as a ‘vote’ for the target site. The more votes you have, the more authoritative your site is considered.

It is important to have a good backlink profile and as a result you should also clean your backlink profile else you might get a manual penalty and loose the ranking for some of your website pages.

Link building strategies:

  • Write good content.
  • Content syndication (Guest Blogging).
  • Leverage user-generated content.
  • Viral bait/content (unpredictable).
  • Fight link Leaks (canonicalisation etc.).
  • Incentive-based link marketing and gamification strategies.

Referral link evaluation criteria:

  • Relevance.
  • Page Rank.
  • Number of Links.
  • mozRank.
  • Anchor text variations.
  • Domain Authority.
  • Page Authority.

Link building types:

  • Bookmarking sites.
  • Directories.
  • Direct link requests.
  • Manual social media profile link building.
  • Market content for link acquisition.
  • Media sharing sites.
  • GrayHat SEO: link buying, link farms, automatic massive link dropping (forum comments, site profiles, etc.). I do not endorse this tactic.

Social networking for links:

  • Blogging for links.
  • Forum participation.
  • Offline relationship building.
  • Social news and tagging sites.

Local SEO, also on mobile.

The objective of these tasks is to optimize your ranking in the (Google) Local Search results pages. Local SEO applies to your website as a whole; opposed to products on your website that are about specific geographies for example job listings for a specific city.

Make sure that you claim and optimize your entry on the major social media networks (Facebook, Twitter) and directory listings related to your sector. Please pay special attention to the Google My Business directory entry because it is so important for the local SERPs in the Google Search Engine.

Note that the ranking factors, and their weight, for Google Local Search are different from those of the generic Google Search:

  • 35% Website (explicit data + structured data).
  • 35% Backlinks.
  • 15% Citation and location info.
  • 15% Reviews.

This will also guarantee that you will have a good rating for Google Authority (as a Publisher) which is becoming very important in the future for the presence of your brand on the Internet.

Mobile Search (smartphone/tablet) optimization.

The primary task is to make sure that your website adheres to the (Google) guidelines for mobile-friendly websites.

The optimization depends on your specific mobile configuration:

  • Responsive webdesign: you serve the same URL and the same HTML to desktop and mobile.
  • Dynamic serving: you serve the same URL but different HTML to desktop and mobile.
  • Separate URL’s: you serve a different URL and a different HTML to desktop and mobile.
  • A mix of the configurations Responsive Webdesign and Separate URL’s (this is my preferred configuration): you serve mostly the same URL and the same HTML to desktop and mobile, except for a few typical use cases you serve a different URL and a different HTML to desktop and mobile.
Responsive webdesign (recommended by Google)

This is my favorite scenario if the use cases for desktop and mobile are similar.

You need to add specific CSS rules, and often some extra JavaScript code, to make sure that the visuals of the website adapt themselves to (or respond to) the actual size of the device browser.

Dynamic serving

You need to detect the type of device by its user agent header and serve the appropriate content for that device.

Separate URL’s

This is my favorite scenario if the use cases for desktop and mobile are significantly different.

You need to add specific metadata and HTTP headers to the desktop HTML and the mobile HTML so that the search engine knows they are related. The search engine will list the appropriate URL in the standard Google Search and the Google Mobile Search.

You need to add specific code on the client side in the desktop HTML so that it redirects to the desktop site or the mobile site, depending on the client device specifics.

Mobile Search and Apps

Another less known signal for Mobile Search is deep linking your website to related native apps. Please discover the mini-project App Deep Linking implementation using Google App Indexing and Facebook App Links (Feestdagen mobile property) for more information.

Multimedia Optimization

Optimize your images and videos so that the Search Engines finds, categorizes them correctly.

  • Image optimization: filesize, filename (with keywords), color corrections, IPTC/EXIF extended properties, deploying the right DPI + dimensions + aspect ratio for each platform.
  • Video optimization: filename (with keywords), extended properties (for example MP4 properties).

Off-page optimization.

This covers all optimizations that you foresee that are external to your website, e.g. backlinking.

On-Page Optimization.

Pick the best keywords for each page. And make it as clear as possible to search engines that your page is relevant to those keywords.

  • Top-level domains vs. subdomains vs. sub URL’s.
  • Website Information Architecture
    • Website Structure.
    • Usability.
  • Proper use of semantic HTML5 markup data that declare the structure of a page, e.g. sidebar, section, article, … opposed to putting everything in meaningless div tags.
  • Keyword Targeting. Rather than repeating the same word over and over again, you should use a diverse set of related keywords to help you rank for a variety of long tail keywords.
  • Meta tags: title, description, keywords (obsolete).
  • URL Site Architecture.
  • Content Optimization.
  • Sitemaps.
  • Robots.txt
  • Redirects: 301.
  • 404 page-not-found handling.
  • Avoiding Duplicate Content.
  • Multi Language / Country Targeting.
  • W3C HTML and CSS Validation.
  • RSS Feeds.

Site Performance optimization.

The loading and rendering speed of your website pages, for desktop and mobile devices, are crucial ranking factors.

The Google PageSpeed online analyzer service tool is an excellent way to verify the performance of your page(s). It identifes the main issues and suggests a solution for each.

These are some of the validations that are checked by the service:

  • Landing page redirects.
  • Browser plugins (e.g. Flash).
  • Viewport configuration.
  • Gzip compression.
  • Server response time.
  • CSS inline styles.
  • Cache definitions.
  • Minification of all resources (CSS, JS).
  • Image optimization (size).
  • Prioritize visible content.
  • Render-blocking JavaScript.
  • Size of tap targets (mobile).
  • Scripts async or sync.
  • Legible font sizes.

The solutions suggested by the PageSpeed service will have repercussions on the development, building and deployment of your website or web app. Those areas are typically managed by different departments so it is up to you as SEO manager to coordinate those changes.

The website should also respond in a timely manner under heavy load. The PageSpeed service cannot help you with that. You can use an online service such as Blitz.io to execute load performance tests.

SPA Single-Page-Application optimization.

SPA’s are websites that are developed using client-side frameworks such as Angular, Ember, jQuery Mobile, etc.

Some frameworks use a hash-based (#) URL scheme (Angular does, jQuery Mobile does not). These cannot always be crawled by the Google Bot. Use the Fetch As Google service of the Google Search Console to verify if your SPA can be crawled correctly.

If you are using a hash-based (#) URL scheme then you must implement the Google AJAX crawling specification to make sure that your web pages are indexed correctly. This spec requires that you use Pretty Ajax URL’s (#! has fragment) and that you serve a (cached) version of each page on an alternative crawl-able URL (?_escaped_fragment_) using the query variable instead of the hash-based (#) URL scheme.

You can use the Prerender.io caching service to implement the Google AJAX crawling specification for your website(s).

Important: the Googlebot is behaving more and more like a Javascript-enabled browser. This means that right now or very soon the Googlebot will be able to index your SPA without implementing the Google AJAX crawling specification. For example, the Festival Checklist service in my portfolio is an SPA and it is indexed correctly by the Googlebot since late 2014.

Social Media Optimization.

Structured Data markup for the Google Knowledge Graph (developing or generating them).

Implement Structured Data Markup (mostly JSON) so machines can better understand your content and its context.

Some Structured Data Markup applies to the whole website and should only be implemented on the root page of the website. This data will be integrated in the Knowledge Graph. Examples: logo’s, business contact information and social profile links.

Some Structured Data Markup applies to one page only or a section of one page. Examples: actions (for games and music), apps discovery, articles, products, events, recipes, reviews, organisations, videos.

The SMD can be implemented using JSON-LD or Schema.org syntax

Audience Building

Audience Building 2.0 is the succesor of Link Building 1.0. If you publish good content and market it properly then defacto you will attract an audience. This will grant you authority in that domain and this will result in audience growth and better Search Engine Rankings.

Other optimizations.

  • Authority Building: define the author and publisher identification for Google+ Business Pages and Facebook Pages.
  • Document Search (PDF metadata).
  • Image Search (EXIF metadata).
  • Video Search (metadata, choose smart thumbnails, extend with annotations, add to playlists, sharing on various social networks).
  • Book Search: join the Google Books Partner Program and register your books.
  • Shopping Search: upload your products to the Google Merchants Center.

Tools and Services

Custom Developed Tools To Support SEO Tasks.
  • A tool to monitor that your marketing emails can be delivered safely to various email providers (GMail, Outlook, Telenet, …).
  • A tool to monitor the changes to the webpages of your website, and the websites of the competition.
  • A tool to to hit certain URL’s to simulate visits.
  • A tool to monitor the uptime / availability of your websites and the websites of the competition.
  • A tool to visually compare the changes to your websites and the websites of the competition (and showing the visual differences in an overlay image of the previous and the current state).
  • A tool to validate the W3C HTML5 Validity of your websites and the websites of the competition.

Tools On The Internet

  • Blitz.io load testing service.
  • Caphyon Advanced Link Manager and Advanced Web Ranking tool suite.
  • Alexa website and audience Statistics.
  • Bing Webmaster Tools.
  • Blekko SEO Tools.
  • Chrome SEO Site Tools.
  • FireFox AddOn: HTTP Live Headers.
  • FireFox AddOn: FireBug.
  • Follow.net (competitor analysis and brand analysis service).
  • Hubspot Lead Generation Management.
  • Google AdWords Keyword Planner.
  • Google Analytics.
  • Google Insights for Search.
  • Google Instant Search.
  • Google Page Insights tool.
  • Google Search Console.
  • Google Search special operators: ~ (synonyms), allintitle: , allinanchor: , info: , related: , inurl: , -site: , site: , link: , filetype: , allinanchor:
  • Google Trends.
  • Google YouTube Trends Dashboard.
  • InternetMarketingNinjas Broken Links Tool and Website Images Analyzer.
  • irFanView Image tag Editor (also supports JPG EXIF data).
  • Lynx HTML Text browser.
  • Majestic SEO Tool Suite.
  • Moz Open Site Explorer.
  • MP3tags.exe Video Tag Editor (also supports editing MP4 Video files).
  • NameBoy Domain Name Generator.
  • NameCheck (verify profile names on various websites).
  • Netcraft website statistics.
  • PageRank Checker.
  • Proxify Proxy Service.
  • QuantCast audience analysis.
  • Raven SEO Tool Suite.
  • Screaming Frog SEO Site Analysis.
  • SEOBook Keyword Research Tool.
  • SEOBook Ranking Checking Tool.
  • SEOBook SEO Toolbar for FireFox
  • SEOWorkers website analyzer.
  • seosemtools.infozine.be (custom made; no public access).
  • SimilarWeb.com (get insights for any website or app).
  • Thesaurus (Synomyms).
  • W3C Markup & CSS Validation Tool.
  • Webserver Log Analysis tool: WebLog Expert.
  • WebSeoAnalytics website analyzer.
  • WOOrank website analyzer.
  • Wordstream Keyword Tool.
  • Wordtracker Keyword Tool.
  • Xenu Site Analysis.
  • Youtube Keyword Tool.

Sidenote: Rand Schulman says “SEO Managers are evolving into Online Marketers”.


Search Engine Optimization (SEO) used to be a very technical role focused primarily around building links, viewing source code and monitoring search engine algorithm shifts.
While these elements are still very important, and SEO and Content Marketing continue to merge, the SEO Managers must begin to incorporate more and more marketing techniques in their strategy to stay competitive. SEO Managers are no longer just looking to make optimization suggestions for pages after they are published, they need to make sure they are optimizing content as it is being planned and developed.

Related News

Related Skills