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How to Create an SEO-Friendly Website: The Complete Checklist

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How to Create an SEO-Friendly Website: The Complete Checklist

An SEO-friendly (i.e., search engine-friendly) website is one that is technically sound, delightful to use, and search-focused. Here’s a Venn diagram explaining this: An SEO-friendly website is the intersection of these three sets:

Venn diagram showing an SEO-friendly website is the intersection of 3 aspects: technically sound, delightful to use, and search-focused

If you want to design an SEO-friendly website or make sure that yours is like that, follow the checklist below.

SEO-friendly website checklist

Your website’s design and performance can impact your search rankings or even prevent your site from ranking. Use our checklist to make sure your website is both Google’s and the user’s friend.

Complete checklist of the various things that make up an SEO-friendly website

Make your website technically sound

First, you need to help search engines find, crawl, and index important content on your website.

Points from this section of the checklist will typically need to be set up once and revisited only when you need to introduce changes (e.g., updating your sitemap).

1. Plan website structure (for new sites)

Planning your website structure can be a complex process, especially if you plan on having something more than a portfolio on your website.

However, from the SEO perspective, these are the things that really matter:

  • Depth of the site structure – Try not to have important pages too far away from the homepage (keeping at two or three clicks away is best and nothing further than six clicks). This is something big websites should especially watch out for, as overly nested pages can get crawled less often.
  • Keyword optimization for top-level pages – Category pages can also rank on search engines. You can increase the chances of that if you optimize your top-level pages for keywords with search demand.
  • Internal links – Among other things, internal links are a ranking factor and can send a signal to search engines to crawl certain pages more often. Since links in site navigation count as internal links, your important pages can get an additional SEO boost just because they are properly placed in the structure and linked in the site navigation.
Flowchart showing an example of a site structure

Tip: use colors to differentiate navigation elements (here in white) from pages (blue).

Recommended reading: Website Structure: How to Build Your SEO Foundation 

2. Set up Google Search Console

Google Search Console (GSC) is one of the three free tools that you can’t do SEO confidently without. It’s a free tool made for tracking your site’s organic search performance on Google’s search engine (92.07% market share worldwide).

Setting up GSC is essential for creating an SEO-friendly website because it allows you to:

  • Find website errors.
  • Find opportunities for UX improvements (e.g., page speed).
  • Submit sitemaps (one of the next steps in our checklist).

On top of that, GSC will also let you see the keywords you rank for (up to 1,000 in the tool itself) and check ranking positions.

GSC's Performance report

You can get GSC here.

Recommended reading: How to Use Google Search Console to Improve SEO (Beginner’s Guide)

3. Set up Bing Webmaster Tools

Microsoft’s Bing Webmaster Tools is an equivalent of GSC that you should use to get data from Bing’s search engine (the second-biggest search engine).

Bing Webmaster Tools' Search Performance report

You can get Bing Webmaster Tools here.

4. Set up Ahrefs Webmaster Tools

Ahrefs Webmaster Tools (AWT) is our free tool that helps to improve a website’s SEO performance and get more organic search traffic.

Another way to think about it is that the tool takes off where GSC leaves you:

  • It automatically monitors your website for 100+ SEO issues—and emails you the report if you wish.
  • It shows all known backlinks with useful SEO metrics.
  • It shows all known keywords with useful SEO metrics.

Get it for free here: Webmaster tools – Audit & Improve Your Website.

SEO health report results

Sample email SEO health report from AWT.

Recommended viewing: Ahrefs Webmaster Tools (AWT) – Our Free SEO Tool

5. Create and submit a sitemap

A sitemap is a file stored on your server that tells search engines where to find important content on your website. Moreover, it can also provide information about that content, such as the video running time or publication date of an article. All this data helps search engines crawl your site more efficiently.

Excerpt of a sitemap by YoastSEO

Most CMSs can create sitemaps for you. This is an excerpt of a sitemap created by the YoastSEO plugin.

Generally speaking, search engines (at least Google) are designed to work without the need for sitemaps—internal links and backlinks are all they need. However, if your website is really big (over 500 pages), has isolated pages, or has few or no backlinks, you should create a sitemap and submit it.

Recommended reading: How to Create an XML Sitemap (And Submit It to Google) 

6. Create a robots.txt file

Plainly speaking, a robots.txt file is a text file that tells search engines where they can and can’t go on your site.

It’s in search engines’ “nature” to crawl pretty much everything they stumble across. On the one hand, that’s a good thing because you want people to find stuff that you publish. But there are some situations where you won’t want that to happen. For example, the cart page or pages generated through faceted navigation.

Example of robot's disallow directive

So basically, you will need to create a robots.txt file only when you want to keep some parts of your website inaccessible to search engines.

But you may also want to check if there’s an existing robots file (created automatically by your CMS or by your website developer) to make sure that important pages are crawlable. Just go to yourdomain.com/robots.txt and see if there’s anything there.

Additionally, you may want to see the Coverage report in GSC to check for any unwanted robot rules that may block certain pages.

Coverage report results in GSC

Recommended reading: Robots.txt and SEO: Everything You Need to Know 

7. Make sure your website is indexable

Indexability refers to a search engine’s ability to analyze and store a webpage in its database.

Despite a page being accessible to search engine web crawlers, that page can still not show up on the SERPs. This happens in the following situations:

  • Noindex” value in the robots meta tag in robots.txt file
  • Noindex” or “none” value in x-robots-tag in HTTP response header

Make sure that a page doesn’t have those tags if you want it to rank. You can check that in the Coverage report inside GSC or the Indexability report in Ahrefs’ Site Audit (part of AWT).

Indexability report results in Site Audit

Keep in mind, though, that those tags are still useful. For example, you may want to noindex certain pages like thank-you pages or internal search results.

8. Make sure your website is accessible at only one domain

In other words, you need to choose the canonical domain name. This will make your site appear consistent to users and web crawlers and prevent issues like diluted link equity (this can happen when some websites link to the HTTP version and others link to the HTTPS version).

With AWT installed, go to the Site Audit tool and open the Page explorer report. Inside the report, insert these four versions of your domain using the “Advanced” filter:

  • http://yourdomain.com
  • http://www.yourdomain.com
  • https://yourdomain.com
  • https://www.yourdomain.com

Like this:

Advanced filters in Page explorer report

What you want to see is a) your desired URL to report a “200” (preferably the HTTPS version) and b) others reporting a “301” redirect to that “200” page. If that’s not the case, you will need to apply redirects to non-canonical domain names.

Table showing http status codes for a few URLs

Recommended reading: 301 Redirects for SEO: Everything You Need to Know 

Make your website delightful to use

How users perceive your website is not something that Google ignores completely.

Points from this section of the checklist will typically need to be set up once.

1. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly

Google is using mobile-first indexing. This means that it indexes and ranks content based on mobile versions of webpages. Consequently, having a website optimized for mobile devices is “strongly recommended,” as Google puts it in its documentation.

You can check if your website is mobile-friendly in the eyes of Google using its test tool or use the Mobile Usability report in GSC.

Google's Mobile-Friendly Test tool

2. Make sure your site loads fast

Loading speed is a ranking factor and the fundament of Core Web Vitals, which are performance metrics used for measuring user experience.

Rest assured—Google still promotes the most relevant content in its database. But when everything else is similar or equal, Google may rank the faster page higher. 

Performance report results in Site Audit

You can monitor your website for speed issues with Ahrefs’ Site Audit. For this, use the Performance report.

Recommended reading: How to Improve Page Speed From Start to Finish (Advanced Guide) 

3. Make sure you’re using HTTPS

Just as Google wants to provide useful pages, it wants to provide secure pages too. HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, i.e., the secure version of HTTP.

Secure connection at ahrefs.com

Users can tell right away if your website is using HTTPS or not.

This step is quite straightforward. You just need to get an SSL certificate and add it to your site (the easiest way is to get one from your hosting provider). You can even get one for free here (yes, Google recognizes it too).

Recommended reading: What Is HTTPS? Everything You Need to Know 

4. Avoid intrusive interstitials

The last on the list of page experience signals. To Google, a page without intrusive pop-up windows is a usable site—and it’s hard to disagree with that.

There are some exceptions to this rule, though. Google “accepts”:

  • Messages displayed out of legal obligation (e.g., cookies consent).
  • Login dialogs for pages without public access (e.g., content behind paywall).
  • Banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space.

Infographic showing pop-ups of cookies consent or ads taking up a reasonable space are Google-approved

Recommended reading: Interstitials and Dialogs | Google Search Central | Documentation

Make your website search-focused

Craft your content with searchers and linkers in mind.

Points from this section of the checklist should be set up for each new content that you want to rank.

1. Choose the right keyword

If you want to get traffic from search engines, you need to create content about something people search for. And the best way to do this is to optimize your content for a good keyword.

Here’s what makes a good keyword for SEO:

  • Search traffic potential – Generally speaking, the more often people look for something online, the more traffic those keywords can generate. But this isn’t a rule, and it may vary from keyword to keyword. It’s best to check the traffic potential for your keywords as well.
  • Search intent – People use search engines to either learn something, buy something, or find a specific site—this is their search intent. When choosing a keyword, you need to make sure your content matches what people want to see in the search results. 
  • Business potential – A keyword may bring you traffic. But will it also bring you new business? Prioritize topics highly relevant to what you offer so that you can naturally feature your products or services. 
  • Not too difficult to rank – The quickest way to estimate this is to use a metric like our Keyword Difficulty (KD). But you may also need to take other factors into consideration (see recommended reading below).
Matching terms report results for "tea"

What is a tea pet? It’s one of 1,500+ keywords that are not competitive and have considerable search volumes related to tea. Something I’d definitely want to cover on my blog about tea (may even include an affiliate link there—get it?).

2. Make your content interesting and useful

Google admits that the single strongest ranking factor is the content itself. Namely, the content’s usefulness and its ability to capture readers’ interest. In Google’s own words:

Except of Google's article talking about the importance of creating compelling and useful content

So here are some tips that can help you make your content interesting and useful. Ensure it is:

  • Easy to read.
  • Clearly organized.
  • Fresh.
  • Unique.
  • Aligned with E-A-T guidelines.
  • Focused on providing essential information to solve a searcher’s problem (this brings us back to the search intent).

All of the above refers to designing content for searchers. But there are also “linkers,” i.e., people who will not only read your content but also include a link to it on their websites.

Why design for linkers? Because links from external websites (backlinks) are one of the most important ranking factors for Google. More backlinks from unique domains = higher rankings = more traffic. Generally speaking.

You can increase your chances of earning or building links if you make your content link-worthy. That means including something so valuable and interesting that bloggers and journalists will want to link to it (aka link bait).

Except of Ahrefs' blog article showing a graphic about long-tail keywords

If you wanted to link to a good resource on, say, long-tail keywords, it’d definitely be something that includes a graphic explaining what they are, right?

You can also create content just for the linkers. It’s OK if it has minimal search volume, as long as it’s attractive to your target audience.

Site Explorer overview of an article about how 90.63% of content gets no traffic from Google and how to be in the minority that does

Very low traffic. But it’s all right—this is link bait content.

3. Optimize title and description tags

There are two reasons why you need to optimize title tags: They are a ranking factor (a small one), and people see them on the SERPs. So you should:

  • Make the title eye-catching and accurate.
  • Insert the target keyword in your title. It works. Keyword stuffing doesn’t.
  • Fit them within 60 characters.
Example of title tag

Points #1, #2, and #3 checked.

There is one reason why you need to optimize description tags: People see them on the SERPs. Here are some good practices for enticing searchers to click. You should:

  • Make your description compelling. Reassure readers that this is the content they’ve been after all along.
  • Ensure the description is not longer than 920 px (try SERPSim).
  • Keep the description relevant to the title of the page (and vice versa).
  • Use a unique description for every page.
Example of meta description that may be a bit too plain; it satisfies the other points, though

Points #2, #3, and #4 checked. Point #1? Hmmm.

4. Add schema markup

Schema markup is a code that helps search engines to understand your content and better represent it in the search results.

For example, to display an image next to your Fender Stratocaster review, you’ll need to deploy a code like this:

"image": {

"@context": "https://schema.org",

"@type": "ImageObject",

"url": "yourimage.url",

"height": "689",

"width": "1225”

}

Example of ratings found under various results on a Google SERP

Stands out on the SERPS quite nicely, right? Those star ratings and thumbnails are served to the searcher via a few tags in the schema markup.

There are different types of schema for different occasions: reviews, FAQs, person, place, organization, and many more. All of them will help Google show rich results on the SERPs (like the ones in the picture above) for your pages and potentially bring you more clicks. Here’s the full schema documentation.

You can create and test your schema markup with tools like schema.dev.  

Recommended reading: What Is Schema Markup? How to Use It for SEO

5. Use short and descriptive URLs

An SEO-friendly URL is basically a user-friendly URL. So when optimizing your URLs, you should do it with the user in mind. That’s how you’ll make two friends with one gift.

Here’s an example:

https://ahrefs.com/blog/seo-friendly-website

This URL uses HTTPS, doesn’t have an overly nested structure, and indicates clearly what the page is about. So when users see this URL on the SERPs, they will know the page is actually about something they’re looking for. And when they click on it, the URL will indicate where in the site structure they are.

Recommended reading: How to Create SEO-Friendly URLs (Step-by-Step)

6. Link to relevant resources

You most probably won’t jump in rankings just by adding outbound links to your content (they are probably not a ranking factor). But you may still want to add outbound links to cite your sources and link to helpful materials on the topic.

According to this video from Google:

 

Linking to other websites is a great way to provide value to your users. Oftentimes, links help users to find out more, to check out your sources and to better understand how your content is relevant to the questions that they have.

John Mueller

So including relevant outbound links is a best practice when creating good content. But on top of that, citing your sources will help you to align your content with E-A-T search quality guidelines, which are especially important for Your Money or Your Life topics (health, finance, safety, etc.).

Recommended reading: What Is EAT? Why It’s Important for SEO 

7. Optimize images

In short, optimizing images for SEO means you need to do three things:

  • Compress images – You can use a plugin like ShortPixel or a bulk image optimizer like Kraken
  • Use descriptive image file names – Yes, Google can (and probably will) read the names of your image files to understand what they’re about.
  • Use descriptive alt texts – Alt texts serve a couple of purposes. Yet they are often overlooked. Not only do they help visually impaired users, but they also can help Google understand the context of your page and help you rank on Google Images.
Laptop on a table next to a cup of coffee and glass coffee pot

Alt text for this nice photo should be something like “a laptop on a table next to coffee.” “A coffee pot and a mug admiring a Surface laptop while no one’s looking” is my next guess.

8. Add internal links

Last but not least, don’t forget about internal links, i.e., links from another page on the same website.

Make no mistake—internal links are a ranking factor. They are really important. Google uses internal links to:

  • Discover new pages – Internal links provide a crawl path to target pages.
  • Pass link equity between your pages – Internal linking can boost other pages on your website.
  • Understand what a page is about – Understanding the content of your pages helps Google rank them. The anchor text of the internal link matters too.

So make sure to interlink relevant content on your website and keep in mind that you can use links to boost other pages (aka the Middleman Method).

Advanced filters in Internal link opportunities report

The more content you have, the harder it is to keep up with internal linking. This is where AWT can do the heavy lifting for you. You can use the automatically generated report or use the “Advanced” filter to see link opportunities to a specific page.

Final thoughts

All in all, this is quite a lot of work. And unfortunately, there’s no way around it. But you can make your job easier if you’ve got the right tools.

First of all, you may want to take a closer look at the “SEO-friendliness” of the CMS that your website is built with.

Some CMSs will try to simplify things as much as possible, which can result in less room for customization. Others will require more attention from you but give you more possibilities in return. These three articles should help you make a more informed choice:

Secondly, as mentioned in our checklist, make sure to set up SEO audit tools for automatic SEO health monitoring (among others). As you add more content to your site, you may run into SEO issues like broken links, broken images, or canonicalization issues. An audit tool will catch them for you.

One last piece of advice: If you have a JavaScript-heavy website, make sure to check out some additional steps covered in this guide.

Got questions? Ping me on Twitter.



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SEO

How To Build A Diverse & Healthy Link Profile

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How To Build A Diverse & Healthy Link Profile

Search is evolving at an incredible pace and new features, formats, and even new search engines are popping up within the space.

Google’s algorithm still prioritizes backlinks when ranking websites. If you want your website to be visible in search results, you must account for backlinks and your backlink profile.

A healthy backlink profile requires a diverse backlink profile.

In this guide, we’ll examine how to build and maintain a diverse backlink profile that powers your website’s search performance.

What Does A Healthy Backlink Profile Look Like?

As Google states in its guidelines, it primarily crawls pages through links from other pages linked to your pages, acquired through promotion and naturally over time.

In practice, a healthy backlink profile can be divided into three main areas: the distribution of link types, the mix of anchor text, and the ratio of followed to nofollowed links.

Let’s look at these areas and how they should look within a healthy backlink profile.

Distribution Of Link Types

One aspect of your backlink profile that needs to be diversified is link types.

It looks unnatural to Google to have predominantly one kind of link in your profile, and it also indicates that you’re not diversifying your content strategy enough.

Some of the various link types you should see in your backlink profile include:

  • Anchor text links.
  • Image links.
  • Redirect links.
  • Canonical links.

Here is an example of the breakdown of link types at my company, Whatfix (via Semrush):

Screenshot from Semrush, May 2024

Most links should be anchor text links and image links, as these are the most common ways to link on the web, but you should see some of the other types of links as they are picked up naturally over time.

Mix Of Anchor Text

Next, ensure your backlink profile has an appropriate anchor text variance.

Again, if you overoptimize for a specific type of anchor text, it will appear suspicious to search engines like Google and could have negative repercussions.

Here are the various types of anchor text you might find in your backlink profile:

  • Branded anchor text – Anchor text that is your brand name or includes your brand name.
  • Empty – Links that have no anchor text.
  • Naked URLs – Anchor text that is a URL (e.g., www.website.com).
  • Exact match keyword-rich anchor text – Anchor text that exactly matches the keyword the linked page targets (e.g., blue shoes).
  • Partial match keyword-rich anchor text – Anchor text that partially or closely matches the keyword the linked page targets (e.g., “comfortable blue footwear options”).
  • Generic anchor text – Anchor text such as “this website” or “here.”

To maintain a healthy backlink profile, aim for a mix of anchor text within a similar range to this:

  • Branded anchor text – 35-40%.
  • Partial match keyword-rich anchor text – 15-20%.
  • Generic anchor text -10-15%.
  • Exact match keyword-rich anchor text – 5-10%.
  • Naked URLs – 5-10%.
  • Empty – 3-5%.

This distribution of anchor text represents a natural mix of differing anchor texts. It is common for the majority of anchors to be branded or partially branded because most sites that link to your site will default to your brand name when linking. It also makes sense that the following most common anchors would be partial-match keywords or generic anchor text because these are natural choices within the context of a web page.

Exact-match anchor text is rare because it only happens when you are the best resource for a specific term, and the site owner knows your page exists.

Ratio Of Followed Vs. Nofollowed Backlinks

Lastly, you should monitor the ratio of followed vs. nofollowed links pointing to your website.

If you need a refresher on what nofollowed backlinks are or why someone might apply the nofollow tag to a link pointing to your site, check out Google’s guide on how to qualify outbound links to Google.

Nofollow attributes should only be applied to paid links or links pointing to a site the linking site doesn’t trust.

While it is not uncommon or suspicious to have some nofollow links (people misunderstand the purpose of the nofollow attribute all the time), a healthy backlink profile will have far more followed links.

You should aim for a ratio of 80%:20% or 70%:30% in favor of followed links. For example, here is what the followed vs. nofollowed ratio looks like for my company’s backlink profile (according to Ahrefs):

Referring domainsScreenshot from Ahrefs, May 2024

You may see links with other rel attributes, such as UGC or Sponsored.

The “UGC” attribute tags links from user-generated content, while the “Sponsored” attribute tags links from sponsored or paid sources. These attributes are slightly different than the nofollow tag, but they essentially work the same way, letting Google know these links aren’t trusted or endorsed by the linking site. You can simply group these links in with nofollowed links when calculating your ratio.

Importance Of Diversifying Your Backlink Profile

So why is it important to diversify your backlink profile anyway? Well, there are three main reasons you should consider:

  • Avoiding overoptimization.
  • Diversifying traffic sources.
  • And finding new audiences.

Let’s dive into each of these.

Avoiding Overoptimization

First and foremost, diversifying your backlink profile is the best way to protect yourself from overoptimization and the damaging penalties that can come with it.

As SEO pros, our job is to optimize websites to improve performance, but overoptimizing in any facet of our strategy – backlinks, keywords, structure, etc. – can result in penalties that limit visibility within search results.

In the previous section, we covered the elements of a healthy backlink profile. If you stray too far from that model, your site might look suspicious to search engines like Google and you could be handed a manual or algorithmic penalty, suppressing your rankings in search.

Considering how regularly Google updates its search algorithm these days (and how little information surrounds those updates), you could see your performance tank and have no idea why.

This is why it’s so important to keep a watchful eye on your backlink profile and how it’s shaping up.

Diversifying Traffic Sources

Another reason to cultivate a diverse backlink profile is to ensure you’re diversifying your traffic sources.

Google penalties come swiftly and can often be a surprise. If you have all your eggs in that basket when it comes to traffic, your site will suffer badly and might need help to recover.

However, diversifying your traffic sources (search, social, email, etc.) will mitigate risk – similar to a stock portfolio – as you’ll have other traffic sources to provide a steady flow of visitors if another source suddenly dips.

Part of building a diverse backlink profile is acquiring a diverse set of backlinks and backlink types, and this strategy will also help you find differing and varied sources of traffic.

Finding New Audiences

Finally, building a diverse backlink profile is essential, as doing so will also help you discover new audiences.

If you acquire links from the same handful of websites and platforms, you will need help expanding your audience and building awareness for your website.

While it’s important to acquire links from sites that cater to your existing audience, you should also explore ways to build links that can tap into new audiences. The best way to do this is by casting a wide net with various link acquisition tactics and strategies.

A diverse backlink profile indicates a varied approach to SEO and marketing that will help bring new visitors and awareness to your site.

Building A Diverse Backlink Profile

So that you know what a healthy backlink profile looks like and why it’s important to diversify, how do you build diversity into your site’s backlink profile?

This comes down to your link acquisition strategy and the types of backlinks you actively pursue. To guide your strategy, let’s break link building into three main categories:

  • Foundational links.
  • Content promotion.
  • Community involvement.

Here’s how to approach each area.

Foundational Links

Foundational links represent those links that your website simply should have. These are opportunities where a backlink would exist if all sites were known to all site owners.

Some examples of foundational links include:

  • Mentions – Websites that mention your brand in some way (brand name, product, employees, proprietary data, etc.) on their website but don’t link.
  • Partners – Websites that belong to real-world partners or companies you connect with offline and should also connect (link) with online.
  • Associations or groups – Websites for offline associations or groups you belong to where your site should be listed with a link.
  • Sponsorships – Any events or organizations your company sponsors might have websites that could (and should) link to your site.
  • Sites that link to competitors – If a website is linking to a competitor, there is a strong chance it would make sense for them to link to your site as well.

These link opportunities should set the foundation for your link acquisition efforts.

As the baseline for your link building strategy, you should start by exhausting these opportunities first to ensure you’re not missing highly relevant links to bolster your backlink profile.

Content Promotion

Next, consider content promotion as a strategy for building a healthy, diverse backlink profile.

Content promotion is much more proactive than the foundational link acquisition mentioned above. You must manifest the opportunity by creating link-worthy content rather than simply capitalizing on an existing opportunity.

Some examples of content promotion for links are:

  • Digital PR – Digital PR campaigns have numerous benefits and goals beyond link acquisition, but backlinks should be a primary KPI.
  • Original research – Similar to digital PR, original research should focus on providing valuable data to your audience. Still, you should also make sure any citations or references to your research are correctly linked.
  • Guest content – Whether regular columns or one-off contributions, providing guest content to websites is still a viable link acquisition strategy – when done right. The best way to gauge your guest content strategy is to ask yourself if you would still write the content for a site without guaranteeing a backlink, knowing you’ll still build authority and get your message in front of a new audience.
  • Original imagery – Along with research and data, if your company creates original imagery that offers unique value, you should promote those images and ask for citation links.

Content promotion is a viable avenue for building a healthy backlink profile as long as the content you’re promoting is worthy of links.

Community Involvement

Community involvement is the final piece of your link acquisition puzzle when building a diverse backlink profile.

After pursuing all foundational opportunities and manually promoting your content, you should ensure your brand is active and represented in all the spaces and communities where your audience engages.

In terms of backlinks, this could mean:

  • Wikipedia links – Wikipedia gets over 4 billion monthly visits, so backlinks here can bring significant referral traffic to your site. However, acquiring these links is difficult as these pages are moderated closely, and your site will only be linked if it is legitimately a top resource on the web.
  • Forums (Reddit, Quora, etc.) – Another great place to get backlinks that drive referral traffic is forums like Reddit and Quora. Again, these forums are strictly moderated, and earning link placements on these sites requires a page that delivers significant and unique value to a specific audience.
  • Social platforms – Social media platforms and groups represent communities where your brand should be active and engaged. While these strategies are likely handled by other teams outside SEO and focus on different metrics, you should still be intentional about converting these interactions into links when or where possible.
  • Offline events – While it may seem counterintuitive to think of offline events as a potential source for link acquisition, legitimate link opportunities exist here. After all, most businesses, brands, and people you interact with at these events also have websites, and networking can easily translate to online connections in the form of links.

While most of the link opportunities listed above will have the nofollow link attribute due to the nature of the sites associated with them, they are still valuable additions to your backlink profile as these are powerful, trusted domains.

These links help diversify your traffic sources by bringing substantial referral traffic, and that traffic is highly qualified as these communities share your audience.

How To Avoid Developing A Toxic Backlink Profile

Now that you’re familiar with the link building strategies that can help you cultivate a healthy, diverse backlink profile, let’s discuss what you should avoid.

As mentioned before, if you overoptimize one strategy or link, it can seem suspicious to search engines and cause your site to receive a penalty. So, how do you avoid filling your backlink profile with toxic links?

Remember The “Golden Rule” Of Link Building

One simple way to guide your link acquisition strategy and avoid running afoul of search engines like Google is to follow one “golden rule.”

That rule is to ask yourself: If search engines like Google didn’t exist, and the only way people could navigate the web was through backlinks, would you want your site to have a link on the prospective website?

Thinking this way strips away all the tactical, SEO-focused portions of the equation and only leaves the human elements of linking where two sites are linked because it makes sense and makes the web easier to navigate.

Avoid Private Blog Networks (PBNs)

Another good rule is to avoid looping your site into private blog networks (PBNs). Of course, it’s not always obvious or easy to spot a PBN.

However, there are some common traits or red flags you can look for, such as:

  • The person offering you a link placement mentions they have a list of domains they can share.
  • The prospective linking site has little to no traffic and doesn’t appear to have human engagement (blog comments, social media followers, blog views, etc.).
  • The website features thin content and little investment into user experience (UX) and design.
  • The website covers generic topics and categories, catering to any and all audiences.
  • Pages on the site feature numerous external links but only some internal links.
  • The prospective domain’s backlink profile features overoptimization in any of the previously discussed forms (high-density of exact match anchor text, abnormal ratio of nofollowed links, only one or two link types, etc.).

Again, diversification – in both tactics and strategies – is crucial to building a healthy backlink profile, but steering clear of obvious PBNs and remembering the ‘golden rule’ of link building will go a long way toward keeping your profile free from toxicity.

Evaluating Your Backlink Profile

As you work diligently to build and maintain a diverse, healthy backlink profile, you should also carve out time to evaluate it regularly from a more analytical perspective.

There are two main ways to evaluate the merit of your backlinks: leverage tools to analyze backlinks and compare your backlink profile to the greater competitive landscape.

Leverage Tools To Analyze Backlink Profile

There are a variety of third-party tools you can use to analyze your backlink profile.

These tools can provide helpful insights, such as the total number of backlinks and referring domains. You can use these tools to analyze your full profile, broken down by:

  • Followed vs. nofollowed.
  • Authority metrics (Domain Rating, Domain Authority, Authority Score, etc.).
  • Backlink types.
  • Location or country.
  • Anchor text.
  • Top-level domain types.
  • And more.

You can also use these tools to track new incoming backlinks, as well as lost backlinks, to help you better understand how your backlink profile is growing.

Some of the best tools for analyzing your backlink profile are:

Many of these tools also have features that estimate how toxic or suspicious your profile might look to search engines, which can help you detect potential issues early.

Compare Your Backlink Profile To The Competitive Landscape

Lastly, you should compare your overall backlink profile to those of your competitors and those competing with your site in the search results.

Again, the previously mentioned tools can help with this analysis – as far as providing you with the raw numbers – but the key areas you should compare are:

  • Total number of backlinks.
  • Total number of referring domains.
  • Breakdown of authority metrics of links (Domain Rating, Domain Authority, Authority Score, etc.).
  • Authority metrics of competing domains.
  • Link growth over the last two years.

Comparing your backlink profile to others within your competitive landscape will help you assess where your domain currently stands and provide insight into how far you must go if you’re lagging behind competitors.

It’s worth noting that it’s not as simple as whoever has the most backlinks will perform the best in search.

These numbers are typically solid indicators of how search engines gauge the authority of your competitors’ domains, and you’ll likely find a correlation between strong backlink profiles and strong search performance.

Approach Link Building With A User-First Mindset

The search landscape continues to evolve at a breakneck pace and we could see dramatic shifts in how people search within the next five years (or sooner).

However, at this time, search engines like Google still rely on backlinks as part of their ranking algorithms, and you need to cultivate a strong backlink profile to be visible in search.

Furthermore, if you follow the advice in this article as you build out your profile, you’ll acquire backlinks that benefit your site regardless of search algorithms, futureproofing your traffic sources.

Approach link acquisition like you would any other marketing endeavor – with a customer-first mindset – and over time, you’ll naturally build a healthy, diverse backlink profile.

More resources: 


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Google On Traffic Diversity As A Ranking Factor

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Google answers the question of whether traffic diversity is a ranking factor for SEO

Google’s SearchLiaison tweeted encouragement to diversify traffic sources, being clear about the reason he was recommending it. Days later, someone followed up to ask if traffic diversity is a ranking factor, prompting SearchLiaison to reiterate that it is not.

What Was Said

The question of whether diversity of traffic was a ranking factor was elicited from a previous tweet in a discussion about whether a site owner should be focusing on off-site promotion.

Here’s the question from the original discussion that was tweeted:

“Can you please tell me if I’m doing right by focusing on my site and content – writing new articles to be found through search – or if I should be focusing on some off-site effort related to building a readership? It’s frustrating to see traffic go down the more effort I put in.”

SearchLiaison split the question into component parts and answered each one. When it came to the part about off-site promotion, SearchLiaison (who is Danny Sullivan), shared from his decades of experience as a journalist and publisher covering technology and search marketing.

I’m going to break down his answer so that it’s clearer what he meant

This is the part from the tweet that talks about off-site activities:

“As to the off-site effort question, I think from what I know from before I worked at Google Search, as well as my time being part of the search ranking team, is that one of the ways to be successful with Google Search is to think beyond it.”

What he is saying here is simple, don’t limit your thinking about what to do with your site to thinking about how to make it appeal to Google.

He next explains that sites that rank tend to be sites that are created to appeal to people.

SearchLiaison continued:

“Great sites with content that people like receive traffic in many ways. People go to them directly. They come via email referrals. They arrive via links from other sites. They get social media mentions.”

What he’s saying there is that you’ll know that you’re appealing to people if people are discussing your site in social media, if people are referring the site in social media and if other sites are citing it with links.

Other ways to know that a site is doing well is when when people engage in the comments section, send emails asking follow up questions, and send emails of thanks and share anecdotes of their success or satisfaction with a product or advice.

Consider this, fast fashion site Shein at one point didn’t rank for their chosen keyword phrases, I know because I checked out of curiosity. But they were at the time virally popular and making huge amounts of sales by gamifying site interaction and engagement, propelling them to become a global brand. A similar strategy propelled Zappos when they pioneered no-questions asked returns and cheerful customer service.

SearchLiaison continued:

“It just means you’re likely building a normal site in the sense that it’s not just intended for Google but instead for people. And that’s what our ranking systems are trying to reward, good content made for people.”

SearchLiaison explicitly said that building sites with diversified content is not a ranking factor.

He added this caveat to his tweet:

“This doesn’t mean you should get a bunch of social mentions, or a bunch of email mentions because these will somehow magically rank you better in Google (they don’t, from how I know things).”

Despite The Caveat…

A journalist tweeted this:

“Earlier this week, @searchliaison told people to diversify their traffic. Naturally, people started questioning whether that meant diversity of traffic was a ranking factor.

So, I asked @iPullRank what he thought.”

SearchLiaison of course answered that he explicitly said it’s not a ranking factor and linked to his original tweet that I quoted above.

He tweeted:

“I mean that’s not exactly what I myself said, but rather repeat all that I’ll just add the link to what I did say:”

The journalist responded:

“I would say this is calling for publishers to diversify their traffic since you’re saying the great sites do it. It’s the right advice to give.”

And SearchLiaison answered:

“It’s the part of “does it matter for rankings” that I was making clear wasn’t what I myself said. Yes, I think that’s a generally good thing, but it’s not the only thing or the magic thing.”

Not Everything Is About Ranking Factors

There is a longstanding practice by some SEOs to parse everything that Google publishes for clues to how Google’s algorithm works. This happened with the Search Quality Raters guidelines. Google is unintentionally complicit because it’s their policy to (in general) not confirm whether or not something is a ranking factor.

This habit of searching for “ranking factors” leads to misinformation. It takes more acuity to read research papers and patents to gain a general understanding of how information retrieval works but it’s more work to try to understand something than skimming a PDF for ranking papers.

The worst approach to understanding search is to invent hypotheses about how Google works and then pore through a document to confirm those guesses (and falling into the confirmation bias trap).

In the end, it may be more helpful to back off of exclusively optimizing for Google and focus at least equally as much in optimizing for people (which includes optimizing for traffic). I know it works because I’ve been doing it for years.

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The Complete Guide to Google My Business for Local SEO

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The Complete Guide to Google My Business

What is Google My Business?

Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool that business owners can use to manage their online presence across Google Search and Google Maps.

This profile also puts out important business details, such as address, phone number, and operating hours, making it easily accessible to potential customers. 

Google My Business profile shown on Google MapsGoogle My Business profile shown on Google Maps

When you click on a business listing in the search results it will open a detailed sidebar on the right side of the screen, providing comprehensive information about the business. 

This includes popular times, which show when the business is busiest, a Q&A section where potential users can ask questions and receive responses from the business or other customers, and a photos and videos section that showcases products and services. Customer reviews and ratings are also displayed, which are crucial for building trust and credibility.

Business details on Google My Business profileBusiness details on Google My Business profile

Using Google My Business for Local SEO

Having an optimized Google Business Profile ensures that your business is visible, searchable, and can attract potential customers who are looking for your products and services.

  • Increased reliance on online discovery: More consumers are going online to search and find local businesses, making it crucial to have a GMB listing.
  • Be where your customers are searching: GMB ensures your business information is accurate and visible on Google Search and Maps, helping you stay competitive.
  • Connect with customers digitally: GMB allows customers to connect with your business through various channels, including messaging and reviews.
  • Build your online reputation: GMB makes it easy for customers to leave reviews, which can improve your credibility and trustworthiness.
  • Location targeting: GMB enables location-based targeting, showing your ads to people searching for businesses in your exact location.
  • Measurable results: GMB provides actionable analytics, allowing you to track your performance and optimize your listing.

How to Set Up Google My Business

If you already have a profile and need help claiming, verifying, and/or optimizing it, skip to the next sections.

If you’re creating a new Google My Business profile, here’s a step-by-step guide:

Access or Create your Google AccountAccess or Create your Google Account

Step 1: Access or Create your Google Account:

If you don’t already have a Google account, follow these steps to create one:

  • Visit the Google Account Sign-up Page: Go to the Google Account sign-up page and click on “Create an account.”
  • Enter Your Information: Fill in the required fields, including your name, email address, and password.
  • Verify Your Account: Google will send a verification email to your email address. Click on the link in the email to confirm your account.

Step 2:  Access Google My Business

Business name on Google My BusinessBusiness name on Google My Business

Step 3: Enter Your Business Name and Category

  • Type in your exact business name. Google will suggest existing businesses as you type
  • If your business is not listed, fully type out the name as it appears
  • Search for and select your primary business category

Adding business address to Google My Business profileAdding business address to Google My Business profile

Step 4: Provide Your Business Address

  • If you have a physical location where customers can visit, select “Yes” and enter your address.
  • If you are a service area business without a physical location, select “No” and enter your service area.

Adding contact information to Google My Business profileAdding contact information to Google My Business profile

Step 5: Add Your Contact Information

  • Enter your business phone number and website URL
  • You can also create a free website based on your GMB information

Complete Your ProfileComplete Your Profile

Step 6: Complete Your Profile

To complete your profile, add the following details:

  • Hours of Operation: Enter your business’s operating hours to help customers plan their visits.
  • Services: List the services your business offers to help customers understand what you do.
  • Description: Write a detailed description of your business to help customers understand your offerings.

Now that you know how to set up your Google My Business account, all that’s left is to verify it. 

Verification is essential for you to manage and update business information whenever you need to, and for Google to show your business profile to the right users and for the right search queries. 

If you are someone who wants to claim their business or is currently on the last step of setting up their GMB, this guide will walk you through the verification process to solidify your business’ online credibility and visibility.

How to Verify Google My Business

There are several ways you can verify your business, including:

  • Postcard Verification: Google will send a postcard to your business address with a verification code. Enter the code on your GMB dashboard to verify.
  • Phone Verification: Google will call your business phone number and provide a verification code. Enter the code on your GMB dashboard to verify.
  • Email Verification: If you have a business email address, you can use it to verify your listing.
  • Instant Verification: If you have a Google Analytics account linked to your business, you can use instant verification.

How to Claim & Verify an Existing Google My Business Profile

If your business has an existing Google My Business profile, and you want to claim it, then follow these steps:

Sign in to Google AccountSign in to Google Account

Step 1: Sign in to Google My Business

Access Google My Business: Go to the Google My Business website and sign in with your Google account. If you don’t have a Google account, create one by following the sign-up process.

Search for Your BusinessSearch for Your Business

Step 2: Search for Your Business

Enter your business name in the search bar to find your listing. If your business is already listed, you will see it in the search results.

Request access to existing Google My Business accountRequest access to existing Google My Business account

Step 3: Claim Your Listing

If your business is not already claimed, you will see a “Claim this business” button. Click on this button to start the claiming process.

Editing business information on Google My BusinessEditing business information on Google My Business

Step 4: Complete Your Profile

Once your listing is verified, you can complete your profile by adding essential business information such as:

  • Business Name: Ensure it matches your business name.
  • Address: Enter your business address accurately.
  • Phone Number: Enter your business phone number.
  • Hours of Operation: Specify your business hours.
  • Categories: Choose relevant categories that describe your business.
  • Description: Write a brief description of your business.

Step 5: Manage Your Listing

Regularly check and update your listing to ensure it remains accurate and up-to-date. Respond to customer reviews and use the insights provided by Google Analytics to improve your business.

Unverified Google My Business profileUnverified Google My Business profile

Step 6: Verification 

Verify your business through postcard, email, or phone numbers as stated above. 

Now that you have successfully set up and verified your Google My Business listing, it’s time to optimize it for maximum visibility and effectiveness. By doing this, you can improve your local search rankings, increase customer engagement, and drive more conversions.

How to Optimize Google My Business

Here are the tips that I usually do when I’m optimizing my GMB account: 

    1. Complete Your Profile: Start by ensuring every section applicable to your business is filled out with accurate and up-to-date information. Use your real business name without keyword stuffing to avoid suspension. Ensure your address and phone number are consistent with those on your website and other online directories, and add a link to your website and social media accounts.
    2. Optimize for Keywords: Integrate relevant keywords into your business description, services, and posts. However, avoid stuffing your GMB profile with keywords, as this can appear spammy and reduce readability.
    3. Add Backlinks: Encourage local websites, blogs, and business directories to link to your GMB profile. 
  1. Select Appropriate Categories: Choose the most relevant primary category for your business to help Google understand what your business is about. Additionally, add secondary categories that accurately describe your business’s offerings to capture more relevant search traffic.
  2. Encourage and Manage Reviews: Ask satisfied customers to leave positive reviews on your profile, as reviews significantly influence potential customers. Respond to all reviews, both positive and negative, in a professional and timely manner. Addressing negative feedback shows that you value customer opinions and are willing to improve.
  3. Add High-Quality Photos and Videos: Use high-quality images for your profile and cover photos that represent your business well. Upload additional photos of your products, services, team, and premises. Adding short, engaging videos can give potential customers a virtual tour or highlight key services, enhancing their interest.

By following this comprehensive guide, you have successfully set up, verified, and optimized your GMB profile. Remember to continuously maintain and update your profile to ensure maximum impact and success.

Key Takeaway: 

With more and more people turning to Google for all their needs, creating, verifying, and optimizing your Google My Business profile is a must if you want your business to be found. 

Follow this guide to Google My Business, and you’re going to see increased online presence across Google Search and Google Maps in no time.

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