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The Complete Guide for Beginners

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The Complete Guide for Beginners

SEO is an essential skill for marketers and an essential practice for anyone trying to break into the online landscape. With SEO, you can increase the targeted traffic to your website from search engines.

Here in the first part of our learn SEO series, Learn SEO: The Complete Guide for Beginners, you will be introduced to the different kinds of SEO, the most important ranking factors, notable algorithm updates, and so on. You will also learn about the different SEO tools that you can use for research and monitoring.

  1. What is SEO?
  2. Understanding search engines
  3. Google algorithm updates
  4. Kinds of SEO strategies
  5. SEO ranking factors
  6. SEO tools you can use
  7. Key takeaway

What is SEO?

SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. It is part of digital marketing, and it is the process of making your website a better-ranking site in the search engines than other websites with the same niche or market as yours.

Why is SEO important?

There are two main reasons why SEO is important.

Search engines matter

Search engines are a big way to get traffic to your site—that is if you have the right content. People who surf the internet almost always look for information they need. If your site provides that information but it doesn’t show up on the search engine results page, then your site is next to useless.

Visibility is key

SEO makes your site more visible to internet users. Marketing is all about getting more people to see what you’re selling or promoting. SEO is like marketing in the search engine. It is a great way to tell people who use search engines: “Hey, look, I’ve got what you need.” And mind you, Google receives about 8.5 billion queries per day.

For example, when you Google “SEO Philippines,” you will see that we are the #1 search result. This tells you that we are the most relevant result for your query.

SEO Philippines SERPs

And Google is far from being the only search engine out there.

So, what now?

Basically, that’s what SEO is. SEO is making it easier for your target audience to find you. It’s marketing by keyword competition in the search engines.

How does SEO work?

Let us say that you needed some information on retargeting marketing, so you type in the query “What is retargeting marketing?” on Google. There are a couple of websites that show up to answer your query, and you notice that Website A gives you the answers you need and a pleasant user experience. Website B however, even if your user experience there is also pretty smooth, it also doesn’t really answer the question you posed (in fact, it’s just trying to sell you something).

For Google, it would make more sense to rank Website A as it is the one that gives the user most what they need. This is the simplest way to explain it of course, as there are over 200 ranking factors that Google uses in their algorithm.

How long does it take for SEO to work?

Truthfully, SEO can take a while to work. It all depends on a lot of factors including how much content and optimization you work into your website right out of the gate. Ranking at the top of Google is no easy feat under any circumstances, but with SEO it can take around 4-6 months to feel the effects.

We at SEO Hacker stand by the idea that SEO is a long-term investment, especially because SEO isn’t just about reaching the top spot at the SERPs, it’s also about staying there.

Going back to our “SEO Philippines” keyword, we can proudly say that we have been ranking #1 for more than a decade. That is what you want to achieve when you do your own SEO.

Understanding search engines

Google

A search engine is a web service that searches for information online and pulls up the relevant web pages into a collection of Search Engine Results Pages or SERPs. They help to minimize efforts to find information and help to find the best ones more easily.

For example, imagine if you have to learn about email marketing for your work. Without a search engine, you would have so much difficulty finding information on the internet as there is no one service that would bring the necessary information to you immediately. Most likely there won’t even be any information online about email marketing because people won’t give the time and effort to create web pages that would remain stagnant due to the lack of visitors.

A search engine has three main functions: index, retrieve, and rank.

Index

When you own a website, you know it’s all code. The web browser’s function is to display those codes in a format that is friendly to human eyes. For example, here’s the code version of my last blog post:

10 Types of Digital Marketing Channels code

Read: 10 Types of Digital Marketing Channels to Try [In 2022]

That’s why meta tags are actually read by search engines even if they don’t appear on an HTML browser. Because it’s part of the code. And the search spiders crawl the code, not the browser display.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the search engine’s main functions is to index a website. Search engine spiders do most of this work.

All the code in your website has to be read in order for it to be indexed successfully. If it’s not read well, it will show up distorted in Google’s database which we can see through its cache on the search results.

Retrieve

Retrieval is basically when the search engine gets a query, looks over its index database and regurgitates whatever is relevant to the search terms (or keywords). It is a critical function of the search engine for us end-users because this is what we use search engines for.

When you make a search query, the search engine goes through all its data in its index database and looks for the keywords matching your search query. When it has found all the relevant ones, it will retrieve it out of its database and proceed to rank it before releasing it to you.

Retrieval is critical because some search engines still read meta tags such as your meta description during its retrieval process—though it is not used for ranking nor does it affect ranking in any way. Still, it has some bearing on the SERPs when it gives you the result.

All search engines retrieve data the same way. It’s the ranking where they differ.

Rank

Why Google is the foremost search engine in our generation today is because of their superb ability to remove spam and unrelated results in their SERPs. They filter it out in their index and make sure that spam and other least-related websites and information are filtered out to rank last—or worse, sandboxed.

Note: Google never confirmed the existence of the Sandbox, but experience says otherwise.

Google’s ranking system is composed of algorithms that look at 200+ factors that we can put in three major categories (that we will break down later):

  • On-page factors
  • Off-page factors
  • Technical factors

These three categories are then computed by Google to gauge how high a webpage’s page rank or authority score is. Page ranking is how Google gauges your website’s authority and reputation. A webpage with a high page rank value is deemed more important and therefore it is more likely to rank higher than those with lower page rank.

Google had a patented version of PageRank that was treated by SEO practitioners before as the single most important factor in ranking. Now, it’s different. Although PageRank still exists and it definitely still matters, we can think of it now more as an authority metric that can let us know how important a link would be if it came from a domain with a high authority score. Semrush has a really good article on this topic.

Sometimes when a lower page rank has more relevance to a query than that of a higher one, the lower one will take priority. Rankings now depend on Google’s data in relevance to the user’s query. In the end, the searcher still has control on the search results depending on how good and specific he/she is in defining his/her query.

This is why we believe in optimizing for users, not just search engines.

Google algorithm updates

According to Google:

“With the amount of information available on the web, finding what you need would be nearly impossible without some help sorting through it. Google ranking systems are designed to do just that: sort through hundreds of billions of webpages in our Search index to find the most relevant, useful results in a fraction of a second, and present them in a way that helps you find what you’re looking for.”

As mentioned earlier, algorithms are what comprises the ranking systems, and they look at hundreds of different factors. Algorithm updates ensure that Google will deliver only the highest quality results to its users, and so we prioritize optimizing the factors that these algorithm updates tell us are the most relevant.

Caffeine

There were algorithm updates before Caffeine, but I want to start with this. The Caffeine update finished rolling out in 2010 and was created to speed up the indexing process and provide 50% fresher results for searches.

Since the web was growing at an enormous rate, Google decided to switch up their indexing process from checking the entire web at one go to checking portions of it and updating their search index continuously. This is one of the main reasons why we focus on content freshness—to stay relevant to the users and the search engines.

Panda

Google wants their search engine to give only relevant web pages to their users, and avoid content that is irrelevant or spammy. Unfortunately, there were sites that functioned as content farms—meaning they employed plenty of freelance writers that would churn out content to satisfy Google’s freshness requirements brought about by the previous update.

So, Google released their Panda update to combat websites that had bad backlink profiles and spammy content, effectively ensuring that the surviving websites would be ones that actually created quality content.

Penguin

Google Penguin is an algorithm update that was released in 2012. The update helped lessen the search presence of websites that use unethical link building techniques and keyword stuffing, while rewarding websites with high quality content.

Hummingbird

The Hummingbird update is a search algorithm that was released in 2013. This update improved how Google reads search inquiries by using the algorithm to understand each word of the search term. This helped Google understand user intent better as well, making long-form searches much more effective, and ensuring that the whole search term is taken into account.

RankBrain

RankBrain is a machine learning algorithm rolled out in 2015 that made ranking a lot more competitive than before. See, RankBrain is AI—and it was built off Hummingbird’s ability to recognize “things” instead of “strings” (which is also why pages can rank for multiple keywords instead of just one). Context now plays a role in Search as well, which means that SEO practitioners need to optimize as close to user intent as they can.

All in all, RankBrain ensured that only the most meaningful and relevant results would be served to the users, so the goal now is to become an industry leader and not just someone who writes blogs to bring in traffic.

Because of RankBrain, we’re more focused on comprehensive, relevant, evergreen content that will answer our target audience’s questions.

Medic

The Medic update penalized Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) websites, especially those with little to no Expertise, Authority, or Trust (E-A-T) signals. These sites were referred to as YMYL as they contained potentially life-altering content, such as health and medical websites.

The websites that were hit the worst were websites giving unsubstantiated medical claims or advice, and retail sites that had no medical studies to back their claims.

BERT

With the BERT model, Google became able to understand words in the search query in relation to each other, instead of interpreting them independently of one another like before.

The primary target of the BERT update were long-tail keywords, so that Google can assist its users in finding useful information.

This update stressed the importance of creating content and optimizing for users and not just search engines. If the search engine can understand complex words and sentences but the user cannot, then it would be useless for the search engine to present your content to its users.

Page experience update

The page experience update started rolling out in June 2021 and was completed at the beginning of September. The update is pretty straightforward: user experience has become a ranking factor, which is why we don’t just optimize content—we also optimize for mobile-friendliness, core web vitals, security, and ad experience.

According to Google, the rollout of the desktop version of this update finished last March 4, and the factors will be the same except for mobile-friendliness.

Page experience desktop factors

MUM

With Google MUM, the SERPs are expected to be a lot more visual, and the SEO industry is expected to place more importance on semantic search in general. According to Google, “Across all these MUM experiences, we look forward to helping people discover more web pages, videos, images and ideas that they may not have come across or otherwise searched for.”

Google’s search results are about to get even more context-dependent with a fine-tuned understanding of the most relevant information pertaining to their users’ needs. Although MUM’s rollout is quite gradual, knowing what this model can do can help inform your SEO strategy.

This is far from being an exhaustive list, but these are the algorithm updates that we take into consideration the most. We’ve found that optimizing for these has been the most effective in terms of SEO strategy and has streamlined our optimization tasks greatly.

Kinds of SEO strategies

There are three kinds of SEO strategies that I will be discussing here: black hat, gray hat, and white hat SEO.

To properly learn SEO, it’s important that you know what kinds of techniques fall under each of these so that you can prevent yourself from accidentally engaging in shady SEO tactics and end up getting penalized by Google.

Black hat

SEO is a practice that has existed for more than a decade. This length of time has allowed webmasters and SEOs to create innovative, unique, and effective strategies to take their websites to the top of the search results. Even though it is a relatively straightforward practice, it allows limitless possibilities and immense flexibility in terms of creating and innovating new processes and strategies. This is one of the main reasons why SEO will always be one of the best digital marketing facets anywhere in the world.

However, with these possibilities and flexibility come people that aim to achieve results in a shorter time frame. This is all because SEO is a long-term game—monumental results will only be gained through multiple months or years of effort. This is why people aimed to take advantage of the system, doing unethical practices to gain results faster—in other words, a shortcut. These unethical practices in the industry came to be called black hat SEO, which led to the ethical and upright practices to be conversely called white hat SEO.

To make it simple, white hat method is the good, clean way which makes quality, competitive, informative content it’s main weapon and tool, while black hat method is the ‘how-to-go around the rules’ method which uses doorway pages, invisible texts, keyword stuffing and comment spamming. It abuses artificial and technical loopholes as it’s main route to attain higher page rank which search engines are not happy about.

Some examples of black hat SEO are:

Keyword stuffing

Keyword stuffing is the practice of packing keywords into your site even when it makes no sense. It greatly lowers user-friendliness, information relevance, and quality of your site in exchange for a temporary increase in rankings. While this is something that Google can sniff out much faster nowadays, it is still very likely that users can encounter this issue.

While it is important for keywords to get ranked, it is also equally important to ensure that the content you would be writing comes off as natural and informative instead of something that would only generate a temporary spike in traffic.

Invisible texts and links

Using invisible texts is simply putting some keywords with the same color as your background so that it would be invisible to site visitors. At a glance, these web pages may look similar to regular pages, but a simple hover of your mouse (or by pressing CTRL+A) would reveal the hidden text. This is an attempt to add more characters and keywords to a web page to increase rankings, and it is also a tactic that tries to take advantage of Google’s algorithm.

Likewise, hidden links are another issue as well. There might be times when you will encounter a page that suddenly takes you to a different page despite not being able to see the link on which you clicked on. This negative link-building technique not only aims to mislead but also create low-quality web pages that would not get traffic.

These are practices that Google can instantly track down and penalize, but many web pages that apply this technique remain.

Doorway pages

Doorway pages are web pages that are merely put up as dummies. This is done for search engine spiders to crawl links and keywords for the main site (which the doorway page would most probably point to). Usually, the users would never see or find these pages.

Cloaking

One of the oldest black hat SEO techniques, cloaking is the act of misleading users into content they did not search for. Imagine searching for a keyword like “school” and clicking on a link to a related website, only to lead to an entirely different set of content. This is a practice commonly done to generate traffic to a website. However, this technique is misleading, which seriously dampens the user experience, and can lead to Google penalizing your website.

Website quality and authority are measured through trustworthiness and informative content, which means any form of deliberate misinformation will always be negative on a website. It is best to make sure that your links get to the right pages, as this would not only allow GoogleBot to crawl, but also bring in more traffic and much-needed link juice.

Link farms

Links are essential in generating traffic to any website and allow users to discover and connect new content. This makes a link building team a very crucial element to any SEO effort, as tactics like guest blogging and outbound linking are some of the best traffic-generating methods. However, some people have created methods to abuse this system, leading to web pages whose purpose was to only place an abundant amount of links, with barely any relevant and informative content.

These web pages are called link farms. While most of these websites have been made harder and harder to find thanks to Google’s strict standards, these remain a common issue. Other than having low-quality content, some of these links can lead to malware and other similar kinds of software that can harm your computer.

Sneaky and shady redirects

Along with hidden text and links, there are also instances where web pages would contain sneaky and shady links in places you might not be able to notice upon first glance. Some of these links are modified expired links aiming to capitalize on the link juice of the previous link to gain traffic. While 301 redirects are a standard SEO practice, abusing the system would lead to penalties you wouldn’t want to happen.

This type of practice is commonly found on websites that are ad-heavy, meaning users would most likely inadvertently click on them. A notable example are websites that offer illegal downloads, as almost all kinds of shady and malicious links would be present whether you clicked them or not. There’s a good reason that these websites do not show up in SERPs that often, and Google would make sure that these would be penalized accordingly.

Comment spamming

Comments are some of the best ways to create meaningful discussions that encourage interaction and expand your connections. It is also a sign that your content has constant readers and viewers. This makes comment moderation an important task to ensure that harmful comments will be screened and removed, and only productive and informative ones remain.

Disqus moderation comment spamming

Unfortunately, the comments section can also be used to post spammy content that only aims to try and get links to their websites. While adding links in comments isn’t exactly a negative practice, creating comments with the intention of solely trying to get traffic is something that should be avoided. There are times when these comments can come en masse, crowding the comments section with nonsense that people would only avoid. This negatively affects traffic, causing it to get penalties, which means that you would not be appearing on search that often anymore.

The best solution to overcoming this issue is to use comment moderation tools, as they would help you filter out comments more efficiently, making sure that spam would not be present. This also means avoiding having a dozen or so comments that would instantly get posted on your content.

Automatically generated content

Auto-generated content is a type of content that has been generated through the use of programming. Its main goal is to automatically generate content to manipulate a website’s search rankings while putting in less effort, as these aren’t made to provide helpful and relevant information to users. Google does not condone these types of strategies and will immediately penalize a site that has been found to use auto-generated content. Some examples are:

  • Content that are nonsensical but still contains keywords that the website ranks for
  • Published auto-translated content (using tools) that was not curated by humans
  • Content that has been created through the use of synonymous words
  • The use of obfuscation techniques to publish content that has no value but are still full of keywords

Participating in link schemes

The very first algorithm that Google used to rank websites in the search results pages is PageRank and link schemes are strategies that specifically try to manipulate PageRank. Some examples of link schemes are:

  • The buying and selling of links. From the exchange of money to the offering of goods and services for links, these are all violations of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines
  • Excessive link exchange from the same website
  • Excessive guest posting using anchor texts that are filled with keywords used by your website
  • Automated link creation

There are other examples of link schemes but these are the most common ones that are done by most black hat practitioners.

Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value

Google has always strongly recommended that webmasters should publish fresh, original, and informative content. They give extra importance regarding this recommendation for websites actively participating in affiliate programs. This is because most websites participating in affiliate programs use the product’s description used by other websites involved with the same affiliate program. This piece of content that is visible in different websites across the internet makes Google deem them as using copied content.

Creating pages with malicious behavior

In relation to shady and sneaky links, the pages in which they are present mostly contain malicious behavior. Other than illegal download sites, there’s a host of other harmful content (e.g., phishing and Trojan software) which attempts to get important and private information from you or damage your computer.

Some of these pages are disguised as blog posts that try to promote or sell something, but would only have links within it that would lead to low-quality websites. The only way to manage all of this is to observe proper content management and create quality content that would not lead to any harmful software that might affect your users, or illegally distribute anything that can cause any legal implications.

Gray hat

Gray hat SEO is a set of techniques and strategies that generally don’t adhere to Google’s guidelines but can still be considered acceptable. It is the middle ground between white hat and black hat SEO. It is technically legal, but risky.

Does it work?

Yes, it could work for you if done the right way. It is generally not recommended to use some of these techniques because they have a manipulative nature like black hat SEO, but in essence does not violate Google’s guidelines. Because of that, there are still risks of getting penalized by Google. But when done the right way, you could reap benefits similar to white hat SEO strategies.

Gray hat SEO is more common than you think. For example, Google recommends getting links organically (i.e., publish great content and get people to link to your content). In a perfect world, that would work just fine. But in reality, you would still need to pull out some stuff from your bag of tricks to get some links to your new content.

Is gray hat SEO still worth doing?

My answer would be yes, but as mentioned—with moderation and proper execution. Here are some gray hat SEO techniques that people are still doing:

Domain grabbing

Domain grabbing is the process of buying expired domains and linking it to your website. This practice is popular for those who want to improve their backlink profiles fast and easy and accelerate the process of ranking.

Usually, domain grabbing involves buying old domains that already have good backlink profiles and established authority. This strategy works best if the old content of the old domains is relevant to your website’s niche. But if you plan on buying random domains without checking if their link profiles are good, it could do more harm to your website.

The process is pretty simple; check if the expired domain has good backlinks using Ahrefs, buy the domain, then do a 301 redirect of the whole domain to your website.

Link building in Web 2.0 sites

Today, most of the websites on the internet are what we call Web 2.0 sites. These are websites where users have the ability to collaborate with the webmasters. These are websites that are driven by its community.

Why is this considered a gray hat tactic? For Google, links where users have the control of its approval, anchor text, placement, etc. is unethical. However, the purpose of Web 2.0 sites is collaboration and reward people who contribute by allowing them to link out to their own websites or resources.

Wikihow article Web 2.0

Examples of Web 2.0 are Wikipedia, Quora, Medium, WikiHow, and Reddit. When done right, it could help establish expertise in your niche and could contribute to your website’s overall E-A-T.

The best way to go about these types of websites is to genuinely contribute. Take answering questions seriously, contribute valuable and factual content, and never ever spam and leave keyword-rich anchor texts around.

Social bookmarking

Social bookmarking websites are places that allow users to submit and share their content for promotion and bookmark other content that fits their interest for later reading. Websites like Folkd and Mix (formerly StumbleUpon) are popular because not only can you dump your links around but could also get some referral traffic.

Social bookmarking Mix

Social bookmarking sites won’t hurt your website generally since they typically give out nofollow links. Social bookmarking is actually a good way of promoting new content. A good measure would be to sign up for 2 or 3 sites. The thing that makes this practice acceptable is that you still need content for it to work.

But just like any SEO strategy, there are some who abuse it. There are social bookmarking websites that are built solely for dumping links and these are the ones you should watch out for.

Link exchange

Link exchanges have been around ever since Google announced PageRank in 1998. Webmasters started to realize that they could easily grow their link profiles faster if they exchanged links with each other.

Generally, link exchanges are fine. If both webmasters have content related to each other, why not link to each other as resources right? It is when people abuse this strategy that it goes bad. To Google, the most ideal way of getting a link is organic: people read your content, people like your content, people link to your content.

Having friends or partner webmasters is good and sharing some link juice is nice. But if you and your friends are linking to each other with each and every post you publish, then you have a problem.

Guest blogging

Guest blogging or guest posting has been around for a long time and it is probably one of the most common SEO techniques that are still being used. The main purpose of guest blogging is actually great. Create partnerships with other webmasters and contribute content to their audience. It is a great way of building good links and to promote yourself.

However, there are some instances where guest blogging can be a gray hat SEO technique rather than a white hat SEO technique.

There are tons of websites that were only made to be guest blogging websites and are just used to pass on domain authority. Guest posts with excessive linking and spammy anchor texts are discouraged too.

When doing guest blogging, focus on contributing to a website that has value. Don’t do guest blogging for the sole purpose of getting a backlink. Do your best to provide valuable information to the website’s audience.

White hat

White hat SEO is the use of tactics and strategies that follows all search engine guidelines and policies. A defining trait of white hat SEO is making the users priority and not the search engines. Your main goal should be to learn SEO that is white hat in nature.

White hat SEO is the complete opposite of black hat SEO. Any practice that aims to improve a website’s search rankings while still keeping its integrity and is in line with search engine guidelines is considered to be an example of white hat SEO. Some specific white hat strategies are:

  • Content written for the users
  • Fast site speed
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Easy site navigation
  • Proper and natural use of keywords inside the content and meta tags

Importance of white hat SEO

It is important for webmasters and SEO professionals to only do white hat SEO since practicing any other methods can get their websites penalized or banned. This will result in a massive traffic drop for your website and that means losing valuable audience and customers.

White hat SEO is also a webmaster’s primary means to consistently stay in the search rankings since a website’s authority and rank can only go up once you practice white hat SEO. Being visible for the right keywords for a long time can only give you benefits—increased lead generation and conversions. That’s why white hat SEO is the way to go.

Why content isn’t enough for white hat SEO

A phrase that’s heard in the SEO industry quite often is “Content is king.” To an extent it’s true, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only factor that we should take into account. Content may be king, but what’s a king without its queen and their subjects? All the other factors that a Google spider verifies such as meta tags, image alt text, keyword density, backlinks, etc. are just as important.

White hat SEO focuses mainly on content—basically on how user-friendly, informative, and useful your content is. When your content is good, people will talk about it in different social media channels and that will lead to a massive increase in traffic. It will also help your rankings since content that satisfies those three factors is ranked higher in the search engines.

White hat SEO is the way to play it safe.

  • It obliges in all of the terms of agreement of social media; and
  • It implements good, clean, Google-approved strategies in order to gain higher page rank and get better search engine visibility

Compared to black hat SEO, the white hat method will ensure your brand’s good reputation on the web and will enable you to be visible for a long time.

If you treat your online reputation with importance, then it’s important for you to choose the white hat method. The only drawback of white hat SEO is that it takes longer for clients to see your results. Businesses pay for fast, easy-come results. They don’t pay for slow, time-consuming processes which will have them wait for the results. It is important for you to communicate to your clients that white hat SEO takes up time but the results will pay dividends.

Here’s a table taken from marketing agency SilverDisc that explains the difference between a white hat and black hat approach to SEO:

  Black Hat White Hat
Content and Links Search Engines Humans
Visibility to Humans Hidden Visible
Quality of Work Hidden Visible
Search Engines Enemies Nothing / Friends
Domains/Brands Disposable Cherished, Primary Domain
Site & Relevance Apparently Improved Actually Improved
Results Yes, “Short” Term Yes, “Long” Term
Ethical Techniques No Yes
Legal No? Yes?

If you are trying to build your brand or company online, then white hat SEO is what you need.

SEO ranking factors

In this section I will be discussing the various SEO ranking factors that you should learn about.

On-page SEO

On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing a webpage for search engines and users. An on-page SEO audit is when you crawl your webpages to check for areas of optimization. For example, you can check your title tags, headers, keywords, and other things that could help the search engines and users understand your webpage better.

SEO auditing is an important foundational tactic that all who want to learn SEO should know about. Search success can’t be achieved if you don’t know what to look for and what to apply in a website. Instead of enumerating the key on-page SEO factors, I’ll teach you here how to look for them.

Since this is a beginner’s guide, I’m using the homepage of the Leadership Stack website as an example. If you didn’t know, Leadership Stack is a digital marketing podcast I created as a space for discussion with other entrepreneurs to help Filipino entrepreneurs improve their leadership, teamwork, and profits.

Since I did not build the website for it—my team did—I thought it would be great to share with you my process as I perform my own site audit.

Note: You can keep this part open and follow the instructions as you conduct your own on-page SEO audit.

You can use tools for this job, but I advise doing it manually so you can really get to know the website you’re auditing. Tools can help, but they can only get you so far.

An on-page SEO audit does not need to be done every day. However, it is advisable to perform this task regularly to ensure that the websites you’re handling are at their most optimized. It is also highly recommended to perform this task whenever a new client comes in so you know exactly what you’re working with.

Before you begin

You will need two things: a findings document and a checklist. It’s good practice to prepare your materials before starting an audit so that you can proceed in a systematic manner, which makes the audit quicker.

Create your findings document first

You can pick whichever format is easiest for you, but here is a template:

findings document on-page SEO audit

Download: On-page SEO Audit Template

I like preparing my document first so my output is clean and easy to understand instead of having to rearrange my findings after auditing a website. It also helps me be more methodical in my work.

Your audit checklist

Before we get into it, you need to know what to watch out for first.

  • Check the keywords
  • Check if the title tags are appropriate for the page
  • Check if the headers are correct
  • Check for keyword placement
  • Check the pictures for alt text
  • Check if the links are updated and visible
  • Check for meta descriptions

You don’t need to follow these in order, just make sure to refer to them so you don’t accidentally neglect any of these points.

Onto the site audit

Now that you have your table and checklist ready, it’s time to get down to business and learn SEO.

Keywords

If you’re checking a website that is up and running, this might be a little difficult to do. However, search intent plays such a huge role in SEO that it’s integral to check these things. If you search for specific keywords, would you expect to find the website you’re auditing? For example, if I Google “leadership podcast Philippines,” should I expect to find the Leadership Stack website in the SERPs? If the answer is yes, then that’s good and you can check the rest. If the answer is no, then it’s time to do a little keyword research.

Title tags

Title tags are one of the most important ranking factors, so it’s integral that you include your keyword in the title tag. If your keyword shows up in a user’s search query, then the search engine will show your page because it sees your page as relevant to the user. Plus, Google says that “It’s often the primary piece of information used [by the end user] to decide which result to click on,” so it’s crucial that you have a well-written title tag.

Another reason why it is crucial to have an optimized title tag is due to the Google update that caused the “titlepocalypse.” Although the title tags have been reverted to their original state for now, it is still highly advisable that they accurately describe your page and answer the users’ queries so that if Google again decides to generate titles, they would be based on what you have already written.

leadership stack title tag

The title tag is the title of your webpage. It lets the users and the search engines know what the webpage is about. Before you even write the contents you think about the topic first. In the same way that it guides the rest of your article, the title tag also guides the content of your webpage.

Headers

Next, check your headers. In this example, it’s the homepage banner. It is the first thing that the people who land on your homepage sees, so it’s important that you make a good impression.

Lead your way to success Leadership Stack header

It’s also a good idea to check headers (among other things) to ensure that they are spelled correctly and don’t have any grammar mistakes.

Fixing the grammar won’t directly affect rankings, but it will improve user experience and give you some credibility in the user’s eyes. No one likes going to websites that look like they haven’t been proofread.

Next, check if the main header of your page is in H1. The headers of your page help organize the content both for the search engine and the users. Think of your academic papers back in school. Instead of having blocks of text, you use headers to help your reader identify the sections of your paper. That is what your headers do.

If your page does not have a banner (like a blog post, for example), then the main text in your page should be in H1.

So, the main header should be in H1, then the sub-headers will be in H2, H3, and so on and so forth. You can check the headers of this article to see what I’m talking about.

Lastly, check your headers for keywords. Your main goal is to still make the page as understandable and contextual as possible for the search engine and the user, so it’s good to incorporate your relevant keywords to the headers.

Keyword placement and LSI

Since I’m checking the homepage of a podcast website, I don’t have huge bodies of text to sift through. But if we think of a homepage as your introduction to your users, then you need to make sure it ranks in search engines.

In this case, I check for keyword placement as I check the other elements of the webpage, such as the H1, title tag, meta description, image alt text, and body text. Keyword placement pertains to important areas where keywords should be found.

As important as placement is, you also have to check for the coherence of the content of your page. This is where Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) comes in. Think of it this way—when writing about a certain topic, you ensure that the words and phrases you use are connected to the topic you chose, right? In my case, I don’t have to keep repeating “Leadership Stack” all over my homepage, because there are other words such as “podcast episodes” as well that will signal to the search engine (and the user) that this page is about podcast episodes on leadership.

Image alt text

Having your company or brand logo on the webpage is highly recommended as your website is usually the lead’s first engagement with your brand. It’s important to check it for alt text.

on-page seo audit alt text

To check, simply right-click the image, click “Inspect,” and search for the alt text in the code. It will look like: img alt= “ “

The alt text is what shows up when your website doesn’t load an image properly. It’s also what informs the search engine of what the picture is about so that it shows up during an image search, so it’s important that you give it the relevant keyword to help it rank in image search.

Don’t just check the logo, but the other relevant pictures in your webpage as well.

As I inspected the Leadership Stack logo, I saw that it doesn’t have a proper alt text, so that goes into the table.

on-page seo audit findings document alt-text

Buttons and links

It is important to check your buttons and links to make sure they are redirecting to the right webpage. Broken links cut off the link juice that could have been flowing to the different pages in your website. It can also give users a bad experience and negatively impact your website’s authority.

on-page seo audit buttons and links

There are tools available that can help you find broken links faster, but if you’re manually doing the on-page SEO audit, you can simply click on each button and link to check.

When I made this audit, I found that the “Courses” link at the page footer simply redirects back to the homepage. So, I noted down in my table that there is currently no existing “Courses” page to be used as a destination for this link.

on-page seo audit buttons and links missing page

I added it to the list with my proposed solution.

on-page seo audit findings document buttons and links

Now, the “Courses” link heads to masterclasses you can take.

Meta description

The webpage’s meta description is the short snippet that explains the content of the webpage on the result’s page. It is not a ranking factor but it is important in attracting users to click on your website. It’s your first chance to give users a good impression aside from your title tag.

A good meta description must be less than 155 characters. It should include your webpage’s main keyword and give the user a window as to what your webpage contains.

on-page seo audit meta description

As you can see above, the meta description is too long and lacks the keyword we are trying to rank for. And because it’s too long, a user will most likely not click on our link when they see the meta description because they didn’t have that window to our webpage. So, that goes into the table.

on-page seo audit findings document meta description

Done! Now that you know how to perform an on-page SEO audit, you can go ahead and check the other pages of your website.

Off-page SEO

According to Moz, “Optimizing for off-site ranking factors involves improving search engine and user perception of a site’s popularity, relevance, trustworthiness, and authority.” There is one major way to accomplish this: link building.

What are links?

According to Computer Hope, a link or a hyperlink is a “is an icon, graphic, or text that links to another file or object.” Links connect web pages to one another, making navigation easier.

There are three types of links that you need to know:

  1. Inbound links
  2. Internal links
  3. Outbound links
Inbound links

Inbound links are links from other websites that link back to your website.

Here’s a simplified version to help you visualize it easier:

How to build backlinks to your website: Inbound links

You can have multiple inbound links from one external website or referring domain, or one inbound link per external website or referring domain.

That’s why when you do a backlink analysis of your website, you will see that your website has so much more backlinks than it does referring domains.

For example, here’s the Semrush backlink analysis for SEO Hacker:

SEO Hacker Backlink Analysis

As you can see, in the past couple of months we’ve had around 5,000 referring domains, and we got around 256,000 backlinks from those domains.

There are two types of inbound links: dofollow and nofollow links. Dofollow links pass on link juice to your website, while nofollow links just point other users to your website but don’t pass on link juice.

Internal links

Next, we have internal links. Internal links are links you create between the pages of your own website. The link I placed in the anchor text “internal links” is an example of an internal link.

To visualize:

How to build backlinks to your website Internal links

Internal links have a couple of uses:

  1. They make navigation between pages easier.
  2. They help search engine crawlers identify the most important pages of your website.
  3. They help establish your site structure.

So even if internal links aren’t as important for ranking as inbound links are, they are definitely important as they have their own functions that the other types of links can’t fulfill. By linking between your pages, you get to show your users and the search engine that your content in each webpage is relevant to one another.

Outbound links

Lastly, we have outbound links. These are links you place in your web pages that point to external websites.

How to build backlinks to your website Outbound links

Basically, you would want other websites to have outbound links that are directed to your website, making them inbound links.

Webmasters can also reach out to you and request for you to link to their website. Depending on the agreement, you can opt to give them dofollow or nofollow outbound links. When you have a nofollow link, make sure you add the code rel=”nofollow” to avoid passing on your website’s link juice.

Going back to our backlink profile:

SEO Hacker Backlink Analysis

You can see that we’ve referred to 868 external domains in the past couple of months.

What is link building?

Link building is the process of getting links back to your website from either the same website (internal backlinks) or other websites.

First off, you have to realize link building is one of the slowest processes that you have to go through to grow your site’s visibility as an SEO practitioner. Links don’t just pop out of nowhere. You have to earn them.

In link building, the most difficult yet most rewarding link to get would be inbound links.

Why do you need to learn how to build backlinks to your website?

Links are one of the fundamental ranking factors that we have. Think of it as word-of-mouth referrals. When you have many people referring your company to their friends and family, that means you’re building your credibility as a trustworthy company with good products and services.

But it’s not everything too. Links give your site more authority and reputation—giving it the power to strengthen the weight of its keywords.

Your keywords are your foundation, but your links make up the building. And what search engines usually look for is the building—then it makes its way down to the foundation. If your building looks good and is tall enough for it to be easily found, then your foundation is given deeper consideration and trust because it can hold up a tall and well-made structure.

The idea behind this is easy: the more links to your site only means your site is referred to by that many other websites. It means that your site must contain something interesting to all those site owners/webmasters, thus people would most probably also find your content useful—therefore, search engines like Google refer you in their search engine results page (SERPs).

Factors to consider in building backlinks

Not all links are good for your site’s ranking. Some links can bring your site down. It’s not altogether devastating—but that only means you have to choose your links carefully. Picking links isn’t an easy SEO task. It’s like one whole module altogether.

In choosing where to get links, there are five major factors to consider:

Domain authority

First, you have to look at the domain authority of the website. Why? Because the higher it is, the more Google juice you can get from it.

Imagine getting a link from Ahrefs vs getting a link from an unknown website. The search engines will determine that your Ahrefs link is of higher quality than if you got some random link. That’s plus points for your website.

Niche

Second, look at the website’s niche. Is your site related to this website? If you’re not related, the links you’re gonna get from that site are next to useless.

How come? Because relevance matters.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get links from forums or directories, but make sure these aren’t low-quality, spammy websites.

Outbound links

Thirdly, look at all the outbound links the site is giving away. Too many outbound links can mean that you’ll be sharing with all the other websites that this site is linking out to—giving you less Google juice compared to sites with low outbound links.

Link sources

Fourth, look at all the sites it gets its links from. Are they reputable sites? Are they related to your niche? Maybe you can get links from those sites too!

Types of links

Fifth, look at the site’s links if they are nofollow links. If you’re trying to rank (especially in Google), nofollow links will not help. So you better look for sites that don’t put nofollow in their links.

Of course, nofollow links can still be useful in directing users to your page (meaning, helping you generate traffic), but dofollow links are still ideal because they pass on link juice to your page.

How to build backlinks to your website

There are many ways to get links. Some are effective in boosting your rank, some are effective in giving you traffic, and some are effective in wasting your time. Here are some of the ways you can build your backlinks:

Directory listing

One way of getting backlinks is to add your website to a reputable online directory. Matthew Woodward has a fantastic tutorial on how to do this one.

Basically, you choose a directory that has high authority and you submit your website to it. The trick here is to look for high-quality directories that are moderated, so you can be sure that the site is trustworthy and isn’t spammy.

Forum posting

Another way to build backlinks to your website is through forum posting. Again, make sure you look for high-quality, moderated forums.

For example, Reddit has a community called Big SEO:

Big SEO

Posting links here is surprisingly difficult, so you have to have built a relationship with this community before you can even link back to your website. That practice helps avoid spammy links.

If you don’t have a Reddit account, you can choose to use Quora. Same practice applies—make sure you don’t spam links. Answer questions and give suggestions honestly, and don’t link back to yourself unless necessary.

Guest blogging

This is probably one of my favorite ways to get backlinks, but it is arguably one of the most laborious. Guest blogging (or guest posting) entails researching reputable sites that allow guest posting, coming up with a topic, writing an article, and undergoing an editing process.

You also have to make sure that you follow the instructions of the website you’re trying to publish your article in. For example, if a website allows only two dofollow links to your website, you wouldn’t want to be dishonest and put three.

Link bait

Link baiting is the practice of creating content that is so relevant, informative, and awesome that other websites will just have to link to it. The goal of course is to have all your content be linkable to, but the reality is not all our content is this way.

To create link bait content, you can consider the following formats according to Semrush:

  • Interactive assets
  • Data-driven studies and other assets
  • Long-form guides
  • Visuals
  • Controversial or talking-point content

For example, we created a report on the State of SEO in the Philippines for 2022 where we discussed the search landscape in the country, our improvements and predictions for the coming year, how we fared against our top competitors, and so on and so forth.

Those who find this incredibly valuable can link to it. You can also create infographics, videos, and other content that other users will see as worth linking to.

Link exchange

This is another one of my favorite ways to get links. It’s straightforward—you negotiate with a reputable contact to exchange links. For example, you can email them and say that you have a website with a high domain authority and you’re willing to give a dofollow link this month in exchange for a dofollow link to an article you just wrote.

This is also incredibly effective if you guest post a lot. In that way, you won’t be giving dofollow links from your website only (or ever), because you can link to them through the blog you wrote on another website.

Paid links

Paid links are one way to earn backlinks to your website, but they can result in harsh penalties simply because paying for links is manipulation of Google’s algorithm. This is definitely the easiest way to get a backlink, but it’s also the riskiest.

Crowdsourcing

If you don’t have plenty of time to guest post, you can opt to be contacted when companies or writers crowdsource answers for a report or an article they’re writing.

For example, SEO Hacker was featured in a recent report by Databox titled, “Campaign Reporting: How to Gauge for Long Term Effectiveness?

Campaign Reporting How to Gauge Long Term Effectiveness Databox Blog

This was the result of Databox crowdsourcing answers—and seeing that ours was worth including in their report.

Contacting webmasters

One of the most important things you should learn on how to build backlinks to your website is by contacting webmasters. For example, if you have an article that recently linked to their work, or if you noticed that they have a broken link in one of their articles, you can reach out and pitch your article as a replacement.

This is one of the most difficult ways to get links, but like guest blogging, it is one of the most rewarding. See, this isn’t as simple as emailing webmasters and expecting links in return, it’s getting noticed and building a relationship with them first.

We already know how important dofollow links are. If you were in their position, would you answer every single person emailing you for a link? No, right? You would answer only those whom you’ve seen have been interacting with your work consistently.

Internal linking

Lastly, we have to go back to internal linking. This doesn’t help your website in the same way as inbound links do as we’ve mentioned earlier, but it does help your site be more coherent and it generates traffic to the other pages in your website.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is one of the most exciting parts of learning SEO in my opinion and certainly one of the most crucial ones. There is a unique satisfaction you could get when you see Google indexing more and more pages of your website. At the same time, it feels like you’re walking on a field of landmines and one mistake can make your website virtually gone on search engines.

Sounds scary right? But don’t worry, just because it has “technical” in its name doesn’t mean you need to have developer skills to do it (although you will need assistance from a web developer from time to time.)

What is technical SEO?

Technical SEO is the process of optimizing a website to make it easier for search engines to crawl and index. Generally, it also includes any technical aspects of SEO. Not only does technical SEO guarantee your website appears on search engine results but it also highly affects your rankings.

Check for noindex tags

The noindex tag is used to tell search engines to not show a specific page on the search results. Meaning if you have a great piece of content that is ranking really well and you accidentally add a noindex tag on it, it might disappear from the search results in a few days. Make sure that all of your important pages are indexable and only use the noindex tag when necessary. To check if a page has a noindex tag on it, you could simply go to its source code and find a noindex tag or install browser tools/extensions to make things faster.

Check your robots.txt file

SEO Hacker robots

The robots.txt file is used to block search engine bots from crawling URLs that are specified in the file. You could use the robots.txt file to prevent search engine bots from entering certain parts of your website for security purposes or if you want a certain section of your site to not appear in the search results.

By default, your site’s robots.txt file can be seen by adding robots.txt on your domain: “https://yourwebsitehere.com/robots.txt”

Take note that once Google already indexes a page and you want to remove it from the search results, you should put a noindex tag on it first then block it through the robots.txt file to prevent it from being crawled again.

Secure your website

Installing an SSL (secure sockets layer) certificate on your website is one of the basic technical SEO optimizations that you can do. In fact, making your website on HTTPS is one of the most known minor ranking factors. Not only does this affect rankings but it may also affect user experience. Browsers may show a warning message to a user before entering a non-secured website. This can scare away users and it’s definitely a loss of traffic.

Submit your Website on Google Search Console

Google Search Console

Submitting your website to Google Search Console (GSC) should be the first thing that you need to do once your website is up and running. Verifying your website on Google Search Consoles guarantees that your website appears on the search results. There are a lot of other benefits as well. Having your website on GSC allows you to monitor your organic clicks and impressions. Google will also notify you of errors when crawling and indexing your website through GSC.

Have a proper XML sitemap

Learn SEO XML Sitemap

An XML sitemap file is the list of all URLs on your website. You then submit the sitemap to Google Search Console. Google treats all URLs in the sitemap as priorities for crawling. You could easily install an XML sitemap by downloading a plugin and from there, you can control what pages are excluded or included in the sitemap.

Optimize URL slugs

Optimizing the URL slugs of your pages is one of the easiest tasks to do for technical SEO and it is also an important one. It can affect your rankings since it is a place where you could add your target keyword and it makes your website look good for users. Optimize URL slugs by making it clean and easy to understand and refrain from using random letters and numbers.

Optimize site speed

Optimizing your website’s speed is always the way to go. Not only does it affect rankings, but also it affects user experience. You could use tools such as GTmetrix or Google’s PageSpeed Insights to check your website’s site speed and get recommendations on how you could further improve it.

For this one, you might need the assistance of a web developer on your team. But as an SEO, you could also do optimizations yourself such as compressing images, installing site speed optimization plugins, or moving to a faster hosting provider.

Make your website mobile-friendly

You might also need the assistance of a web developer on this one. Having a mobile-friendly website should be a top priority. Google gives high importance on mobile usability and it is known to be one of the top ranking factors. And since a large number of users come from mobile phones, it is best to make your website easier to use for them. Alternatively, you could use AMP or accelerated mobile pages to easily make mobile versions of your pages.

Remove links to dead pages

Linking to dead pages or 404 pages is a waste of link juice. Always be on the lookout for outbound links to 404 pages and make sure to update them and link them to live pages. If there is an internal link on your website to a page that you deleted or does not exist, search engines might be confused and you might see coverage errors on your GSC report. Use SEO crawlers to find links to dead pages and update them immediately.

Look for orphaned pages

Orphaned pages are pages that are not linked from other pages of your website or are not part of your website’s link ecosystem. This makes it hard for search engine bots to crawl and index these pages. You could use SEO crawl tools like Screaming Frog and Netpeak Spider to look for orphaned pages and check if these pages have any value.

Implement structured data markup

structured data testing tool

While structured data doesn’t affect rankings directly, it certainly helps search engines have a better understanding of your website and its contents. Having the right structured data markup enables your website to have rich snippets in search results and boost your click-through rate. You could use Google’s schema markup validator to make sure that the markup you implemented has no errors and is accepted by Google.

Check your canonical tags

learn seo canonical

Canonical tags are known to be an advanced SEO strategy as it requires careful implementation. Like the noindex tag and robots.txt, improper canonicalization of pages in your website can massively affect how Google crawls and indexes your website.

A canonical tag is used to denote that a page has the same contents as the page it is canonical to. By default, all pages should be self-canonical. For example, this post: https://seo-hacker.com/google-may-2020-core-update/ should have the code <link rel=”canonical” href=”https://seo-hacker.com/google-may-2020-core-update/”> in it.

Should you want to set a different canonical to a page, you could use tools like YoastSEO or you could ask your developer to implement the code on different pages. In my experience, canonical tags are mostly used on e-commerce websites as they tend to have multiple product listings with minimal differences with each other.

Take note that if you want to check if Google is reading your canonical tags correctly, you can use the URL inspection tool on Google Search Console, click on Coverage and it will indicate the user-declared canonical and Google-selected canonical. Google always follows the user-declared canonical but in some cases, Google’s bot would select its own canonical because it may find similar pages on your website.

SEO tools you can use

Once you learn SEO, you will find that a lot of the work involves gut feeling and creativity. Those two things are irreplaceable by tools. However, there are some that are essential in helping you do SEO effectively. This section introduces you to a couple of those tools.

Screaming Frog SEO Spider

Honestly, Screaming Frog is straight-up one of the most important tools you can use as you learn SEO (and even when you’re a professional)  It displays data that will matter to you as an SEO professional.

It crawls and studies all your links: internal and external response codes, and URI. It also shows data about your on-site optimization such as title tags, meta description, meta keywords, H1 tags, H2 tags, images, meta & canonical. Not only that, you can filter the data display to see only the data that you’re concerned with.

SEO Hacker Screaming Frog

 

It’s very simple and easy to use. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to navigate this tool and be familiar with its functionalities.

These are the different kinds of data that Screaming Frog can provide you with the links that it crawls in the URL that you enter.

Screaming Frog

You can choose to filter the data that will be displayed to you in each and every category available.

Screaming Frog External

You can also do any of the following:

  • View all the page titles inside your website. You can filter if you just want to see those that have missing title tags, long title tags (more than 70 characters), same as H1 tags, duplicate and/or multiple.
  • View your images and the size of your image files. You can also see which ones are missing alt texts and which have over 100 characters in the alt text.
  • Meta and canonical data are displayed. You can filter them as you like too.
  • See all the inbound links inside a single link on your website.
  • And a lot more!

Why do you need this tool?

There are lots of links inside a website and not all links are good. Sometimes there are broken links and you need to fix them or else it’s a turn-off to search engine spiders. This tool helps you look out for the obvious broken links that you have.

Sometimes you just need to check how a search engine spider crawls through your site. This tool helps you see which pages get indexed, which doesn’t.

You can also check out if your pages are missing canonicals or which of your images are missing  alt texts. As you learn SEO, you get to see which areas in your website needs checking, and this tool can help make that job easier for you.

SE Ranking

One of the essential SEO tools that helps keep your performance in check is a keyword tracking tool that helps you monitor your rankings. These tools are SEO fundamentals that make sure that your strategies are working well and adjust accordingly to the latest trends and search engine updates.

Looking for a quality keyword rank tracking tool should be one of your top priorities as an SEO professional. With all the tools that we have in our SEO Hacker toolbox, we make sure that we only use the best tools available. One of these quality keyword rank tracking tools is SE Ranking, which is a tool that aims to provide updated and accurate rankings that you can regularly monitor. Before we begin this review, we would like to invite you and try the tool out for yourself by signing up for a free trial by going to this link.

Starting up

SERanking Dashboard

Upon signing in, you would immediately go to the Dashboard, where you would be able to access all of the features available. This is also the area where you would be able to view and monitor your rankings real-time. For those who want to begin tracking their website’s keywords immediately, the option to add your website is readily available.

Other key features that you can access are the Reports, where you can generate detailed reports for your team and clients. And Tools, where you can access even more features that help you perform various SEO tasks. You can also pause and continue keyword rank tracking to let you focus on specific keywords or click All Rankings and access all of it. You can also group these keywords together so that you would be able to track them much more efficiently, especially if you have a big number of clients.

Adding and tracking a website

Before you are able to track keywords for the websites you handle, you would need to add them to the database. The whole process has three steps and will only take you a few minutes to accomplish.

Step 1

SERanking Add Website

The first step is to enter the website title and URL, along with adjusting the search range. You can also change the project status by choosing between active and paused. Lastly, you have the option to send in weekly reports. Once you have all of the details sent in, you can proceed to the next step.

Step 2

SERanking Add Keywords

The next step is to add and group together keywords that you want to be tracked for your website. You also have the option to link your website to Google Analytics, which would provide you with even more search and website data.

Step 3

SERanking Add Search Engine

The third and final step is choosing which search engines would you want to track rankings on. You can also narrow down the location by picking a specific country and city in which to track your keyword performance. You can also change the interface language to conform with the local language, which comes in handy for both local and international SEO.

Website Tracking

SERanking Website List

After registering your websites into the database, you can now track all of the keywords that you have entered. All you have to do is to view them into the Dashboard and click on the rankings button, which is the blue one on the right. You can also change your options by clicking on the gear icon or remove the website from the database altogether by clicking on the delete button.

SERanking Buttons

Upon clicking on the website, you would go to the website overview, where you will be able to see all your keywords and their rankings. You can select different options to be able to see more detailed data, such as the rankings during a certain period in time, historical data, or which search engine would you like to monitor.

SERanking Website Overview

You can also take a deeper look into your analytics after linking your website to Google Analytics. This would allow you to see your traffic sources and average keyword position.

SERanking Analytics

You can also perform competitor analysis and see how your competitor’s keywords rank compared to yours. This is an invaluable feature that keeps you in tabs with your competitors much more efficiently.

SERanking Competitors

The last important feature of note is the Website Audit feature. This allows you to review and analyze your website, and evaluate its overall performance. This allows you to see what kinds of strategies and techniques are working, and the best steps you can take to improve your website.

SERanking Website Audit

Reports

After looking into the data of your website, you have the option of sending a report to your clients for their reference. As previously mentioned, you can schedule these reports accordingly, ensuring that you would be able to deliver reports in .pdf, .html, or .xls format.

SERanking Reports

Tools

Along with the rank tracking features that the tool has, you also have a bevy of other tools to use as well. Here are some of the notable tools that stand out:

Backlinks Explorer

SERanking Backlinks

The Backlinks Explorer allows you to check the different backlinks on your website and list them down. This will allow you to check valid and invalid links.

Keyword Suggestion Tool

SERanking Keyword Suggestion

Keyword research is essential to finding the best keywords that would rank for your website. The Keyword Suggestion Tool allows you to find the best performing keyword for your website.

Competitor SEO/PPC Research

SERanking PPC Research

This handy tool allows you to monitor the amount of organic and paid traffic that your competitors receive. This tool is currently in beta, which means that we will be seeing a more refined tool in the near future.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is completely free and absolutely useful for you as you learn SEO. It helps you track user activity and informs the content portion of your SEO strategy. This includes how many users entered your website in a specific timespan, where those users came from, which pages they visited, what your top pages are, etc.

Google Analytics

In short, Google Analytics is all about real data in your website. Data that you can translate into useful business intelligence and SEO strategy for your online campaigns.

Understanding the data

Google Analytics can get tricky, technical and confusing if you let it. Let’s keep things simple. Basically if you’re a person who just wants to know what your users are doing in your website, installing the tracking code is all you need. Only when you’ve installed the tracking code correctly will it be able to gather your user’s data. Once it has gathered data, it can show you the data when you visit your Google Analytics account again.

Sessions and Pageviews

  • Sessions are the number of times a user went in your website to look around
  • Pageviews are the number of pages a visitor has looked at for the duration of his stay (for that day) in your website
  • Pages / Session is simply Pageviews divided by Sessions
  • Number of Sessions per User is the total number of Sessions divided by the Users
  • Avg. Session Duration is the average time spent by your users in your website
  • Bounce Rate is the percentage of your users going into your website and ‘bouncing out.’ Bouncing out can be defined as any action the user does that takes him out of your website in a specific time frame

These are just the basics. It gets deeper and deeper than this. There’s data manipulation, filtering, goal setting, and a lot more.

Key takeaway

There you have it: the basic things that you need to know to learn SEO as an absolute beginner. Learning SEO may not be a complete walk in the park, but once you get the basics down, the advanced portions will be easier to learn.

As I said earlier, the rule of thumb is to optimize for users and not just search engines. So long as you keep it in mind that you’re doing what you’re doing to make websites as awesome as they can be for people, then ranking in the SERPs should not be an issue.

Good luck!


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8 Ahrefs API Use Cases For Agencies and Enterprises

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8 Ahrefs API Use Cases For Agencies and Enterprises

It’s no secret that APIs are a major time saver. They help automate many marketing tasks from creating reports to forecasting SEO opportunities.

They can also improve operational efficiency and provide insights for executives to make better decisions, faster.

Here are the top 8 use cases of our API and how you can leverage actionable SEO and website data in a jiffy.

Reporting is by far the biggest use case of our API. It is ideal for:

  • Building executive dashboards
  • Creating visuals for internal reports
  • Creating scorecards
  • Monitoring your search visibility for key segments
  • Monitoring website health over time

You can warehouse the data yourself and mix it with other sources, or you can visualize it with business intelligence tools like Tableau, Power BI, or even just Google Sheets.

For example, we use the API to pull referring domain data for our blog and aggregate by author. We have some nice little sparklines to visualize growth (or decline), too.

We also combine referring domain data with data from other sources like GSC.

For example, this view shows us actual traffic data from GSC alongside the number of followed DR40+ referring domains for each post:

Pulling referring domain data from Ahrefs API and merging with data from GSCPulling referring domain data from Ahrefs API and merging with data from GSC

No matter what reporting tools you use internally, we’ve made it easy to integrate many Ahrefs graphs and visuals directly into your dashboard so you can build similar reports.

Just use this nifty API button in any report with data that you’d like to pull into your internal dashboards:

Use the API button in Ahrefs to easily pull data with the APIUse the API button in Ahrefs to easily pull data with the API

The true power of using our API for reporting is how it helps you keep your finger on the pulse of every area of your business so you can make better decisions faster.

We recommend building reports to monitor the performance of the following:

  • Each of your business units
  • Different product lines and services
  • Custom segmentation
  • Individual authors and contributors

It’s the best way to identify underperforming or underresourced products and teams. These dashboards can also help you get SEO buy-in from executives so they approve new projects or budget increases.

If you ever need to pull big SEO data and mix it however you like, our API is the tool for the job. It can help with:

  • Large-scale SEO analysis
  • Enterprise audits
  • Data studies
  • SEO testing
  • Content inventory creation
  • Building outreach lists
  • And more

As with most APIs, the best part is that you can pull the data into almost any tool you’re already working with.

For example, say you have a massive list of websites for which you want to pull metrics like Domain Rating (DR). You can do this for up to 200 websites with Batch Analysis—but you can pull the metric for as many URLs as you like with the API.

Here’s a simple example in Google Sheets:

Pulling DR with the APIPulling DR with the API

Alternatively, say you want to enrich your content inventory by pulling the keyword data. Specifically, the keyword sending the most organic traffic to each URL, its ranking position, and the estimated traffic it sends. The API makes it possible to do this at the touch of a button.

Pulling keyword data with the APIPulling keyword data with the API

These are overly simple examples. You can pull as much or as little data as you want to suit pretty much any requirements. You can even mix and match data from Site Explorer, Site Audit, Keywords Explorer, and Rank Tracker.

The true power of an API kicks in when you automate strategic tasks that cannot easily be scaled manually and can be done better when you automate them.

It’s the secret to taking your strategies to the next level, especially for enterprise SEO projects.

For instance, you can automate many link building workflows like triggering alerts and actions based on discovering new or lost links.

Example link building workflow you could build with the Ahrefs APIExample link building workflow you could build with the Ahrefs API

You can also automate technical workflows like finding pages to redirect. On large websites, this can be an overwhelming task to do manually. A simple workflow you can consider instead might look like:

Example technical workflow you could build with the Ahrefs APIExample technical workflow you could build with the Ahrefs API

Sidenote.

If this use case sounds interesting, feel free to check out this free redirect-matching script created by our technical SEO genius, Patrick Stox. Once configured, it automatically runs through the above process for you.

The opportunities for automated workflows that harness our SEO API really are endless. We’ve seen folks use our API to:

  • Pull keywords into internal systems and tag them based on products, services, locations, or business units they relate to.
  • Pull domain metrics for domain buying.
  • Combine SEO data with Google Ads data to lower ad costs.
  • And so much more.

Many agency sales teams, digital investors, and B2B business development managers use our API data to assist with things like:

  • Lead scoring and enrichment
  • Qualifying prospects
  • Finding advertising partners
  • Doing due diligence on companies

For example, let’s say you’re evaluating the following companies as prospects for a new marketing product or service you’re launching.

Example of lead scoring with Ahrefs APIExample of lead scoring with Ahrefs API

In this example, we’ve pulled the following website metrics to help score these prospects:

  • Domain Rating (DR) can help determine the size and authority of a prospect’s company.
  • Organic Cost can indicate a website’s size and visibility potential.
  • Paid Cost can help indicate the current budget a company is investing in Google Ads.

Depending on what your ideal customer looks like, you can score these prospects in a few different ways using these three metrics alone.

For instance, you can favor indicators of underperformance if you sell a service that can help close a performance gap:

Qualifying prospects by growth potential with Ahrefs APIQualifying prospects by growth potential with Ahrefs API

Or if you offer a high-ticket product or service, you can qualify prospects based on indicators of business size or the size of their budgets:

Qualifying prospects by business size with Ahrefs APIQualifying prospects by business size with Ahrefs API

No matter the case, you can use the data available in our API to draw conclusions like the following about any prospects you’re evaluating:

  • Showit is the ideal candidate for us to work with. There’s a lot of room for growth and we can make a decent impact with our competitively priced marketing services.
  • WordPress is a great candidate for us to pitch our PPC services since it has the smallest spend among website-building platforms of similar size.
  • Webflow may be a great candidate for our non-search marketing services. They clearly have a marketing budget for PPC and SEO, and they may also be open to investing in other channels.

Bottom line? If website performance can be used as an indicator to segment your prospects or leads, our API can help enrich your sales processes big time.

While using SEO metrics to qualify leads is one potential use case for sales teams, another is to use these metrics to help close more deals by:

  • Creating data-driven case studies
  • Populating data into customized sales decks
  • Sharing the performance of your entire client portfolio

For example, some forward-thinking agency sales teams use our API to pull organic data across their client portfolios. They build performance dashboards that they then send to prospective clients.

And sure, at a small scale you can simply use our Portfolios feature that allows you to track multiple websites as a cohort:

Portfolios in Ahrefs' Site ExplorerPortfolios in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

But with the API, you can aggregate more metrics and track more projects so you can display real-time results to prospective clients.

Ever wanted to say (and prove) to potential clients things like the following?

  • “We’ve delivered over 10,000 position 1 rankings for our clients in the last 6 months.”
  • “Six of our clients have achieved over 1 million organic visits after partnering with us.”
  • “We’ve saved our clients an average of $100,000/month in ad spend.”

With our API, you can. It’s all about aggregating SEO performance metrics to help your proposals stand out from the crowd.

The global ecommerce market is forecast to hit $6.3 trillion in 2024, and with more people buying online now than ever before, digital performance data is vital for investors to be able to access in real time.

If you’re a venture capitalist, hedge fund manager, or private equity investor, you can use our API as an alternative data source to:

  • Monitor online market movements
  • Check your portfolio’s digital performance
  • Track online performance of any company
  • Be instantly notified of website traffic losses
  • Inform your investment decisions

For instance, in this video, Sam looks at how the websites with the most visibility in search engines perform as a custom stock portfolio against some of the most popular assets in the world like the S&P 500, Nasdaq 100, real estate, gold, bonds, and Bitcoin.

For seasoned investors, the power of data available in our API can help take your investment decisions to the next level. You can integrate graphs from the Ahrefs dashboard directly into your tools (thanks to our nifty API button) or mix website traffic data with other data sets however you like.

For instance, let’s say you’re considering investing in a particular company. Everything looks good on paper, and you’ve been monitoring its growth over the last few months, including its website performance.

Had you not added a graph tracking their website performance in your dashboard (like the following), you may not have noticed this 25% loss of organic traffic early enough to take appropriate action:

Organic traffic graphOrganic traffic graph

In some industries, this may not matter regarding the stock value since website visits don’t necessarily translate into purchases or company valuation. In others, it could be a deal breaker.

If multiple companies in the same vertical are experiencing similar losses in visibility, this could indicate a widespread market movement you need to know about. Traffic losses across multiple websites can also often indicate revenue losses across the industry.

For instance, this is an example of two market-leading companies in a specific vertical experiencing traffic losses at a similar time.

Organic traffic graph for multiple websitesOrganic traffic graph for multiple websites

And here you can see their keyword ranking movements echo one another with similar rises and dips after January 2024:

Organic keywords graphOrganic keywords graph

Such patterns can indicate a bigger issue affecting the entire market, not just specific companies.

The data available in our API can help you monitor widespread market movements and changes in search behaviors across any vertical you’re interested in and in real-time.

While website performance data on its own is not enough to base investment decisions on, it is a vital alternative data source to help you beat the market and mitigate potential losses.

Competitive intelligence is what Ahrefs was built for. With analytics tools and Google Search Console, you can easily find performance data about your own website. But what about competitors?

Our tool allows you to compare apples to apples when looking at competitor data. In particular, our API can help you automate things like:

  • Creating competitor scorecards
  • Estimating resources needed to catch up to competitors
  • Monitoring competitor movements
  • Gathering historical insights
  • Finding and predicting untapped opportunities

For example, Patrick recently created a handful of beginner-friendly competitor scorecards that you can also take for a spin.

To use these you will need to first make a copy and add your Ahrefs API key. If you’re using the general scorecard, you’ll need to select a date (it must be the first date of a month to work). Then, add your domain and your competitors.

You won’t need to add a date with the MOM and YOY versions. Just add the API and competitor URLs.

Here’s an example of what the output will look like:

Example output for competitor scorecardExample output for competitor scorecard

If you find yourself running competitor gap analysis reports at scale, you may also benefit from using our API to automate competitor backlink analysis and closing content gaps against top competitors.

Making projections is a core staple of enterprise SEO. It’s how executive teams are able to approve projects and allocate funding appropriately.

It’s also how agency owners set their agencies apart from competitors by adding forecasts to their sales pitches.

With our API and these free templates that Patrick has pre-built, you can:

Check out Patrick’s detailed post on all things to do with SEO forecasting for more ideas and tips on how to use these free templates in your business today.

Final thoughts

With the power of seriously big data on your side, the possibilities for how you can automate SEO tasks, site audits, and reports are endless.

The Ahrefs API offers many data points no other tool offers. We’ve designed it that way on purpose.

Feel free to book a demo with our enterprise team to see what our API can do for your business.

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15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic

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15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic

You only need three tools to get sixteen highly actionable data points on your competitors’ traffic.

Before we dive in, let’s set the right expectations: no tool will give you your competitor’s exact traffic data. However, it’s still well enough to see what works for them, copy their best ideas, or set realistic benchmarks.

We’ll cover:

  • Types of data you can access, such as traffic volume, trends, organic and paid keywords, and audience insights.
  • Practical use cases, including benchmarking, tracking progress, identifying content gaps, boosting your SEO and SEM, and negotiating budgets.
  • Last but not least, how this data is gathered and its reliability.

With these tools and insights, you’ll be well-equipped to understand and outperform your competitors’ website traffic.

We’ll start with organic search traffic — the source on which you’ll get the most data.

How to analyze competitor organic search traffic

Organic search traffic refers to the clicks a site gets from search engines, excluding search ads.

There’s a lot you can tell about your competitors’ organic traffic and a lot you can tell from it. Here are my favorite twelve use cases with detailed instructions.

You can check that in seconds for free, right now:

The tool will also show you where in the world the traffic is coming from, some of the top pages and keywords, and traffic value (i.e., the value of the organic search traffic, if it were to be acquired via PPC in Google Ads).

Organic competitors are the sites that compete with you for the same organic keywords in search engines.

Typically, you’ll have more organic competitors than your regular direct business competitors. For example, a 3D printer manufacturer may be competing for a fair share of keywords with a 3D printing magazine — completely different businesses, same keywords.

So by rounding up your top organic competitors, you gain a bigger pool of keyword ideas you can potentially target. Much bigger than if you’d just take into account your direct competitors.

Here’s how to identify all organic competitors.

  1. Open Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and enter your domain.
  2. Go to the Organic competitors report.
Organic competitors report. Organic competitors report.

From there, you can look at the common keywords to see where they outrank you or click on Competitor’s keywords to see keywords you don’t rank for but they do (a.k.a. your content gap).

Top competing domains report showing keyword intersect. Top competing domains report showing keyword intersect.

If your competitor is doing SEO, typically their blog will attract most of their organic traffic. But this is not always the case. They may have found other ways of getting clicks from Google, like free tools or free resources, and you could do the same.

  1. Open Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Go to the Site structure report.
Site structure report. Site structure report.

For example, someone analyzing our site could see that our free writing tools get more organic traffic than years of writing on the blog.

Free writing tools get more organic traffic than years of writing on the blog. Free writing tools get more organic traffic than years of writing on the blog.

To see your competitor’s top performing pages:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Go to the Top pages report.
Top pages report.Top pages report.

The first use case here is targeting the same keywords as their top pages to channel some of that traffic your way.

Top keyword column in Top pages report. Top keyword column in Top pages report.

There’s more. You can use the report to see which pages contributed to an uptrend or downtrend in your competitor’s traffic.

Analyzing changes in traffic with the Top pages report. Analyzing changes in traffic with the Top pages report.

Or, focus on top-performing pages and use the Compare pages view to see when those pages started to pick up traffic.

Comparing pages in Top pages report.Comparing pages in Top pages report.

Now to see what the competitors did to improve the pages, click on the caret next to the page and click Inspect.

Accessing the Inspect tool contextually.  Accessing the Inspect tool contextually.

Then choose the date on the calendar and view changes made to the text in that time.

Calendar tool in Ahrefs. Calendar tool in Ahrefs.

If you’re already doing SEO or considering it, seeing a list of your competitors’ keywords is almost like they’ve shared their keyword research with you.

You can use keyword data to find:

  • Top-performing keywords and “steal” some of their traffic with your own content.
  • Top-performing keywords in specific countries.
  • Keywords with specific terms to find content ideas around certain topics or phrases.
  • Low-difficulty keywords (typically, faster to rank).

To see your competitors’ keywords:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Go to the Organic keywords report.
  3. Use the filters to find what you need. For instance, use the KD filter to find low-competition keywords.
Organic keywords report in Ahrefs. Organic keywords report in Ahrefs.

For example, you can track the ranking history of your competitor’s top traffic-generating keywords. If you see sudden spikes, it likely means they’ve updated the content to increase ranking. By using the calendar feature mentioned above, you can learn how they did it.

SERP history. SERP history.

One of the best ways to find organic traffic you’re potentially missing out on is to do a content gap analysis. In SEO, it means identifying the keywords that your competitors rank for but you don’t. Some of those keywords can make perfect topics for you to cover.

In Ahefs, you can do a content gap analysis automatically:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Competitive Analysis tool.
  2. Enter your domain in the Target section.
  3. Enter your competitors’ domains in the Competitors section.
  4. Hit “Compare”.
  5. Click the Content Gap report.
Ahrefs' Competitive Analysis tool.
Ahrefs' Competitive Analysis tool.

Toggle Main positions to exclude your competitors’ rankings in SERP features like “Top stories” and “Image packs.”

Toggling the "Main positions only" feature.
Toggling the "Main positions only" feature.

Now look through the report and identify keywords that are relevant for your site. The volume column will show you which keywords are likely to send the most traffic.

More than 60,000 potential keyword opportunities via Ahrefs' Content Gap report.
More than 60,000 potential keyword opportunities via Ahrefs' Content Gap report.

Short-term organic traffic performance can inform you of the latest developments in your competitors’ rankings (say, within the last 24 hours to a couple of weeks).

For example, you can observe the impact of the latest Google Update on their site, see how much traffic they gained or lost last month, or check if any of their newly launched pages are already picking up traffic.

To see short-term organic traffic performance:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. In the Overview report, choose a timeframe in the Changes mode.
Choosing a short-term data timeframe in Overview report. Choosing a short-term data timeframe in Overview report.

This will adjust the top-level metrics and traffic by location panel and show you the changes over the specified period.

1717077370 466 15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic1717077370 466 15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic

You can go as deep as day-to-day traffic changes — a very helpful thing if you want to see Google’s update impact on your competitors’ traffic.

Traffic performance graph showing exact day of a Google update. Traffic performance graph showing exact day of a Google update.

Date comparison is available in multiple tools and reports across Ahrefs.

As for long-term traffic performance, this allows to set a traffic goal to match or overtake your competitor’s traffic, and plan your budget based on competitor’s performance. You can also use it to forecast your competitors’ traffic.

To see long-term traffic performance:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Turn on the Years mode in the traffic graph.
  3. Adjust the time frame and export the data if needed.
Choosing a long-term data timeframe in Overview report. Choosing a long-term data timeframe in Overview report.

Seeing multiple sites on one graph is useful if you want to identify the leader in your niche, compare your site to a few competitors simultaneously, and determine if you are catching up to the leader or if someone is catching up to you.

Here’s how:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your domain.
  2. Add competitors using the Competitors tab.
Zoho Desk's traffic (green) is catching up to Intercom (blue).
Zoho Desk's traffic (green) is catching up to Intercom (blue).

Organic share of voice (SOV) is an SEO metric that shows how much traffic goes to your pages compared to competitors’.

In other words, if you want to see your overall organic search traffic share in the market, and eventually increase it, this is the metric you’d want to use.

SOV is based on tracked keywords, so you first need to add them to the tool. These can be keywords you target on your blog, your product pages, or even all of your important keywords together.

  • Go to Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker.
  • Start a New project.
  • Select keywords to track. You can use the filters to refine the list suggested by the tool and add some keywords later on. Make sure to choose only important locations for your site.
Adding keywords to track in Ahrefs Rank Tracker. Adding keywords to track in Ahrefs Rank Tracker.
  • Add competitors. You can add specific sites or choose from the ones suggested by the tool. Notice the keyword intersect — the higher the number, the “closer” the competitor.
Adding competitors to analyze in Rank Tracker. Adding competitors to analyze in Rank Tracker.

Once you finish the set-up, you will be able to see and regularly track SOV in the Competitors Overview section in Rank Tracker.

Share of voice metric in Rank Tracker. Share of voice metric in Rank Tracker.

One of the ways your competitors could be getting traffic is from links from other sites (a.k.a. referral traffic).

Knowing who links to your competitors allows you to pursue the same or similar links which can help you not only get more referral traffic but also boost your SEO and increase your brand awareness.

To find pages with a high probability of sending traffic to your competitors, look for backlinks from pages with significant organic traffic. Here’s how:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Open Backlinks report. Pages with the most traffic will be displayed on top by default.
Backlinks report in Ahrefs. Backlinks report in Ahrefs.

From there you can use the Referring page title filter to see only reviews or rankings where you could be listed, too. Simply add in words like “vs, review, tool, tools, top” as a way to identify these pages.

Using the referring page title filter to see only reviews or rankings where you could be listed, too.Using the referring page title filter to see only reviews or rankings where you could be listed, too.

Here’s an example of such a page:

1717077372 49 15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic1717077372 49 15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic

Another way to analyze your competitors’ traffic is to treat them as one entity. This allows you to:

  • Benchmark your site traffic trend to your competitors as a market segment.
  • Identify broader industry trends and seasonal patterns in traffic.
  • Assess the collective impact of major events, such as changes in search engine algorithms or economic shifts.
  • Monitor the overall health and growth rate of your industry.

For this, use the Portfolios feature in Ahrefs. The image below shows aggregated data for four sites, including organic traffic and paid traffic (from Google Search Ads).

Example portfolio of sites. Example portfolio of sites.

Here’s how to set it up:

  • Dashboard and click Create > Portfolio.
How to create a new portfolio.  How to create a new portfolio.
  • Fill in the URLs you want to track. Note the URL mode selector. Use “Domain” to track the entire domain with subdomains, “Path” for folders, and “Exact URL” for single pages.
Filling details of a site portfolio. Filling details of a site portfolio.

How to analyze competitor paid search traffic

Paid search traffic refers to the clicks a site gets from search ads on search engine result pages. Here’s how to check your competitors’s paid search traffic and how to use that knowledge to your advantage.

If you’re running search ads, checking out your competitors’ paid keywords can give you ready-made keyword research. This lets you see which keywords are working for them and helps you fine-tune your own ad strategy to target those high-performing keywords.

What’s more, you can reveal paid search data Google Keyword Planner hides by default: search volume for a particular keyword instead of a search volume range for a group of keywords.

And even if you’re not investing in ads, this info can still be super useful. It usually means these keywords are important to your competitors because they know these keywords bring in customers. Chances are, these keywords could be important for your business, too.

To find your competitors’ paid keywords:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Open Paid keywords report.
Paid keywords report in Intercom. Paid keywords report in Intercom.

From here, you can use filters to find keywords that meet your CPC, traffic, or relevance criteria, and sort the data to see the keywords which bring the most traffic.

Filters in paid keywords report. Filters in paid keywords report.

Notice the Paid/organic traffic share bar. If you see both blue and yellow color, that means your competitor has invested in the keyword twice (through content and ads) and is trying to get as much SERP real estate as possible — consider pursuing these keywords as well.

Paid traffic/organic traffic share. Paid traffic/organic traffic share.

Another way to gauge a keyword’s importance is to look at its ad position history. A long and consistent history suggests it’s likely a valuable ‘money’ keyword, while a short history might indicate your competitor is just experimenting with it.

Ad history report. Ad history report.

Want to check out their ad copy and landing pages? Head to the Ads report. You can set the location where your competitor runs their ads and see the landing pages and keywords associated with each ad.

Ads report in Ahrefs. Ads report in Ahrefs.

Interested to see how much your competitors spend to get all of that paid traffic?

  1. Go to Site Explorer.
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain.
  3. Open Paid pages report.
  4. Set the preferred location to see the budget per country (leave it set to all locations to see the total ad spend).
  5. Set the Performance report to Paid traffic cost set and adjust the timeframe.
Paid pages report in Ahrefs. Paid pages report in Ahrefs.

Use this data to set a benchmark for traffic performance relative to ad spend and to negotiate the budget for your campaigns.

How to analyze other traffic sources

If you’re interested in the overall competitor traffic performance, here’s where to look.

To get a quick answer to how much traffic your competitors get overall (from all traffic sources), you can get that information for free with Similarweb.

Once you set up a free account, simply go to Website analysis > Website performance report.

Website performance report in Similarweb. Website performance report in Similarweb.

Arguably, the best way to use Similarweb is in comparison mode. This approach ensures that the data is directionally accurate: whether the data is overestimated or underestimated, it is consistently so across all sites. By comparing your traffic with your competitors, you can identify the relative differences that set you apart.

Comparing websites in Similarweb. Comparing websites in Similarweb.

Similarweb is not the only tool with general traffic insights. Another one is Sparktoro, an audience research tool.

What’s great about Sparktoro is that its data and functionality revolve around the users behind the clicks. So you can use Similarweb to understand how popular the site is and then Sparktoro to get to know the people who visit it. Take that data and use it for persona development, fine-tuning your messaging, and looking up influencers to partner with or sites to advertise on.

Simply set up an account at Sparktoro and type your competitor’s domain in the search bar. Make sure the “Visit the website” mode is on.

Overview report in Sparktoro. Overview report in Sparktoro.

From there go to:

  • Social networks: scroll down a bit and see which social network the brand uses the most. This not only tells which social networks likely send the most traffic but also which proved to be the most engaging.
  • Demographics tab: see data like gender, age, geography and interests. What’s unique about this data is that it comes from social media profiles.
  • Social accounts tab: to see what social media accounts site visitors are likely to follow and engage with. This is a great source of potential influencers to work with.
  • YouTube channels, Reddit, and Podcast tabs: see where it’s highly likely to meet your competitors’ (and possibly yours) audience.

Where does the data come from? Is it accurate?

Depending on the tool, the data on your competitors will mostly come from:

This means that, in most cases, the data is estimated instead of actual data taken from your competitors and handed over to you.

So, when it comes to the data’s accuracy, you should expect a blend of estimated accuracy and directional accuracy. Despite best efforts, the data will be approximated and designed to give you an idea of relative performance because there’s no other way.

This also means that if you’re interested in a particular type of traffic, say traffic from search engines, it’s probably best to get a dedicated tool for that. You’ll get access to bigger data sets and more capable functionality, allowing you to do more.

Final thoughts

Want to go deeper into competitor analysis? Check out our other guides to go beyond traffic data:

Got questions or comments? Let me know on X or LinkedIn.



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The Top 10 Content Marketing Skills You Need

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10 Content Marketing Skills You Need to Master

Want to reach more of your target audience, connect with them, and have meaningful interactions?

Quality content marketing may be the ideal solution for you.

But gone are the days of simply writing and releasing content.

Effective content marketing requires various skills and strategies if you want to get it right.

If you’re looking to breathe new life into your brand and generate more interest in your target audience, here are the top 10 skills and strategies you’ll need.

1. Know Your Audience And Target Them Effectively

Ask anyone about content and content marketing, and chances are that audience targeting is one of the first suggestions.

But what does audience targeting actually mean? And why is it an essential content marketing skill?

First, understand who your audience is, what their day is like, their priorities, and what they’re doing or intending to do while they consume content.

Then, use that information to craft content that counts on a platform and in a format that suits your audience.

Take the Shoe Snob Blog as an example.

The content is photo-centric. The page has few distractions, and the storytelling and text are dense and chunked.

The topics range from stories of shoemakers, care tips, and all the insider info a lover of bespoke and top-of-the-line men’s shoes, shoe designer, or shoemaker could want to know about the objects of their obsessions.

These features tell us a lot about the blog’s readers.

Shoe Snob Blog readers are likely visual, busy, and view reading the blog’s content as almost a secret pleasure they indulge in while waiting in line for an expensive coffee.

The blog doesn’t have content on saving money, getting things for less, building shoes more cheaply, or reviews of shoes you’d find in your local department store.

Why? That’s not what the blog’s target audience is interested in. In fact, those topics would likely chase readers away.

For Justin FitzPatrick, the blog’s author, it’s about the luxury, the emotional connection and passion for the brands, and the smaller details most of us wouldn’t likely notice about a man’s dress shoe – in language that matches the audience’s expertise.

You might be tempted to skip audience exploration and targeting to this degree, particularly if you’re a B2B brand or sell something non-visual like insurance.

But this could be a fatal mistake for your content marketing.

Even if you’re selling to another company, that company is driven and shaped by humans you’ll need to get attention from.

2. Understand How Brand Strategy Influences Content

Content and content marketing could do more harm than good if they fail to blend seamlessly with a brand strategy.

So, if you’re looking to build content marketing skills, ensure you understand how brand strategy influences effective content.

Solid brand-driven content strategies consist of six core elements when it comes to content:

  • Brand foundations – What matters to the company, such as the image it wishes to project, etc.
  • Audience discovery and brand position – How the brand fits within the market.
  • Keywords and language – How the company wants people to find its brand, and what language it will use.
  • Authority building – Looking like an expert and a leader on a chosen topic.
  • Content creation – Any content strategy must be manageable, affordable, sustainable, scalable, and effective.
  • Organization – Utilizing an editorial and publishing calendar and post-publishing tracking and measurement to maintain and guide your content strategy.

3. Consider SEO, Search, And Search Engines

SEO and search are essential for getting found, gaining traffic, building authority, and overall growth.

If you want your content marketing to work, you can’t afford to avoid this content marketing skill because you’re not an expert.

  • Users make 1.2 trillion searches on Google per year.
  • 93% of all web traffic comes from a search engine.
  • 46% of searches are made to look for something local.

In January 2023, searches for phrases that included “gifts” increased 45%, while searches that included “presents” increased 15% over 2022. This equated to $47 billion in the two weeks following Christmas.

So, search is growing and becoming more important – not declining.

If you want to take advantage of search traffic, you need to ensure you’re considering several aspects of SEO when developing your content marketing skills, including:

  • Keyword research.
  • AI and how to humanize your content.
  • Link building.
  • Building authority.
  • Topic relevance and expertise.
  • Site structure, website performance, and analytics.

4. Humanize Your Content

Once you get started with content marketing, you’ll realize pretty quickly that AI-generated content is highly problematic.

You need to follow basic SEO formulas to have your content rank, another formula to make it interesting and catchy for readers, and how to maximize the usability of your content.

However, you also need to ensure you stand out from the crowd and surpass your competitors.

To make your content more human-friendly, learn how to:

  • Create content that supports a user journey rather than search engines or sections of a funnel.
  • Utilize customer communications and social channels to understand and connect with your audience. Then, use it to market your content.
  • Make use of internal experts. Not only is looking in-house a way to make excellent content more affordable, but audiences also love to see your brand’s passion for what it does.
  • Take a smart angle, get personal, and have an attitude. Personality and branding are vital, but so is the information you provide. Ensure it is something of value to your readers, and don’t be afraid to tell stories to build emotional connections.
  • Add personal videos to top-performing articles.

One of the best examples of all these tips for humanized content in action is the annual Christmas content campaign from WestJet.

5. Engage By Storytelling And Creative Writing

If you want to capture attention and use content to connect with your audience, you need to be able to tell a good story.

Stories make content emotionally engaging but also make it possible for readers to experience what it would be like if they purchased your product or service.

Want to strengthen your content marketing with storytelling?

  • Create relatable, believable content. To do this, know your audience, understand their experiences, and create content that aligns with this knowledge.
  • Have a clear message. Like an ad, every story or piece of content needs a goal and a clear message you want to convey to your audience.
  • Choose the right type of story. Do you need to make an emotional connection? Compel a reader to act? Convey values, a feature, or a concept? Build community?
  • Select the right platform and medium. If you want to share several statistics, video might not be the best option. Selling vacations? YouTube or TikTok might perform better than Reddit or a blog.
  • Know where to start and stop. Your content needs to appear at the right point in the customer journey and push readers to the next step. What should readers do next?
  • Organize and structure. Plan your content ahead of time. Make sure your stories have an arc, make sense, and take readers or views through an experience.

6. Do Your Research

The best content provides an audience with information or a look at something they normally don’t have access to.

To find this information, you must be prepared for deep research – and that means a lot more than just finding a statistic.

Find the original source or study. Ensure the number you’ve found is still relevant and accurate. Consider the source of the statistic and how they arrived at that number. What did the study not consider when finding their statistic?

To build additional authority, you may consider interviewing the source of a statistic or a subject area expert.

7. Improve Your Interviewing Skills

While it helps if you deeply understand the subject matter, it isn’t all lost if you’re new to the topic.

In fact, being a newbie to a topic can have advantages because you can see the topic with a fresh perspective.

One thing you must be knowledgeable about, however, is interviews. Interviewing is an essential content marketing skill.

Here are some tips:

Prepare

Arrive at the interview with an understanding of the topic. Know the pains and challenges individuals interested in the topic face.

Understand your priorities for your readers, the industry, and the individual you’re interviewing.

Have a list of questions that are thoughtful and organized, and work toward answering a single question or reaching a specific goal.

Set Interview Goal

Are you trying to get tips from an expert? A day in the life of? Solve or bring light to a certain issue? Make a human connection?

Choose a goal for your interview, organize it into an outline, and remove any question or information that doesn’t help you move toward that goal.

Be Personable And Make The Interviewee Comfortable

Awkward silences, a lack of rapport, nervousness, and other social aspects can interfere with an otherwise excellent interview and affect the information you collect.

You may want to consider using cognitive interview techniques, which have been adapted from criminal investigation for journalism.

Record Your Conversation

As humans, our brains prioritize stimuli to determine what is important and what we should pay attention to and remember.

This attentional filtering becomes more severe when you’re making notes, thinking about the technical aspects of an interview, and nervous. As a result, it’s easy to miss important details or implications.

So, save some time and improve your accuracy and insights into the information provided during the interview by making a recording that you can refer to as often as necessary.

Be Precise And Ask For Clarification

Some people love raisins in cinnamon buns. Others do not. And just like the raisins debate, how you define a word or concept may vary greatly from someone else.

So, if the information you collect during an interview seems vague, or you’re unsure of something the interviewee says, ask.

The worst thing you can do is assume that it isn’t true or deliberately influence the meaning of someone’s words.

8. Measure And Track Everything

Measuring something is generally easy. The difficult part of measurement and tracking is measuring and tracking the right things.

SEJ’s annual State of SEO Report reveals that SEO professionals often have a mismatch between their goals, the methods and strategies they use to reach them, and the variables they measure.

Content marketers and marketing are no exception.

Let’s say you want to use content marketing to increase conversions. So, you create a video for your hot tub company.

In this instance, tracking and analyzing traffic data to the video would be a mistake. Those numbers are only part of the story.

Instead, track clicks and use traffic data to better understand who clicks through to your content and where viewers go after they consume it.

And this is vital: Don’t stop your analysis at the click.

Every visit from a viewer is only one step in a larger journey – and this journey matters.

Returning to the previous example, your video might have generated fewer clicks and conversions overall.

Dig a little deeper, however, and you might discover that those few conversions were of much higher value than average, and the viewers return to your site more often than your average site viewer.

In this instance, while traffic numbers might make it look like your video failed, analysis of the customer journey reveals that your video was actually a big success, attracting a more qualified, valuable, and engaged audience.

9. Repackage Content With Purpose

You invest a lot of resources in creating amazing content. Don’t simply publish it in one format and waste the rest of its potential.

Before creating content, consider all the different formats and ways you can share it to get attention.

By planning, you can collect images, video footage, sound bites, expert quotes, and everything you’ll need to share and market your content in various ways to maximize your return on investment (ROI).

But refrain from repackaging content with the sole purpose of spreading it everywhere. Carefully plan your content to appear when and where you need to.

As explained in the video above, Search Engine Journal uses the data gathered for its State of SEO Report to create:

  • White paper reports.
  • Podcast.
  • Articles on data not included in the main reports.
  • Infographics.
  • Carousels for social media.
  • Video clips.

Some of these are released before the main report is published to help spread the word and generate interest while sharing interesting insights about the SEO industry.

Then, when the report is released, it is followed by additional content to help generate interest, links, and findings.

Therefore, instead of a week of interest, the reports generate traffic and attention while informing readers for months without significantly increasing the original investment.

10. Stand Out While Blending In

One of the more common pieces of advice is to copy successful content and do what others are doing.

Makes sense, right?

After all, SEO, good writing, and other skills all have best practices you need to follow. Your audience also has preferences, expectations, and requirements.

Your content needs to look like everyone else’s to some degree.

But here’s the problem with this advice: No one stands out if everyone does things the same way.

Therefore, learning how to blend in while standing out is an essential skill for content marketing.

So, instead of mimicking or copying successful content, collect several examples that have worked on a specific platform or for a specific audience and investigate to find out why they’re effective.

Then, you can use these insights to create and test your own content that allows you to stand out, be unique, and fulfill the needs of your target audience.

Conclusion

Effective marketing is more than choosing the right topic or quality writing.

By strengthening and utilizing these 10 content marketing skills, your content will help you generate the right traffic and connect with your audience in a way that will have you dominating the competition.

More resources:


Featured Image: Viktoria Kurpas/Shutterstock

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