SEO Best Practices for Marketers in 2017

July 12, 2017

SEO Tips

Editor's Note: This post was contributed by Kevin Cotch, SEO Analyst at TopRank Marketing.

SEO has changed quickly over the last few years, and will continue to change with new algorithms and technology appearing constantly. In fact, Google acknowledged that it changes its algorithms between 500 to 600 times a year. With so many changes, it is important to stay up-to-date on current SEO best practices to make sure your digital marketing efforts are staying strong.

In this post, we will cover some of the current SEO best practices and what these mean for your business. There is no silver bullet to get an increase in organic visibility, so make sure that you optimize each element on a page or a website to get the most organic visibility as possible.

How to Conduct Keyword Research

A couple of years ago, the general best practice was to target one or two keywords on a page. This keyword(s) would be used throughout the whole page multiple times to get the most search visibility. The repetition generally worked, but the content quality suffered. Luckily, Bing, Google,and other search engines have become more sophisticated. Today, you should be creating pages that can target multiple keywords, if not hundreds. These types of pages typically perform better because search engines can associate long-tail and other semantic keywords to the page. With search engines getting more sophisticated, this doesn’t mean that you get off the hook by not conducting keyword research. Instead, you should be thinking of a different way to do keyword research.

To conduct keyword research for organic search today, focus on keyword topics. A keyword topic is a group of keywords that are semantically related. The semantically related keywords that are grouped together normally outnumber the amount of searches for the one main head term. Also, the semantically related keywords are often less competitive. An example of a keyword topic is illustrated below:

  • Primary keyword: Marketing Books

    • Semantically related keywords:

      • Marketing Books

      • Best marketing books

      • Books on marketing

Within the keyword topic, you should also include long-tail keywords to increase visibility. Long-tail keywords are phrases that consist of a couple words in association with the keyword. Below are some examples of long-tail keywords for the “Marketing Books” keyword topic:

  • Long-tail keywords:

    • Marketing books for beginners

    • Best marketing books 2017

    • Top marketing books 2017

    • Best books on digital marketing

The long-tail keywords still contain search volume and demand. An easy way to find long-tail keywords is to use tools like Answer the Public, Ubersuggest, or Google itself by looking at the bottom of a search engine results page (SERP) under the “Related searches” area.

The next step after completing your keyword research for your topic is to map it to a specific page for targeting. Each page on your website should serve a specific intent for your audience. By mapping keyword topics to each page, you can avoid keyword cannibalization and structure your website for SEO success. Once the keyword topic has been mapped, it is time to optimize the page.

Metadata Optimization

Most marketers understand that optimizing the metadata (i.e. title tags and meta descriptions) are still important to maximize your SEO visibility. However, the importance of these elements being optimized are less than what it used to be. Even though the importance has lessened, it is still essential to optimize both of these elements as they can help with increasing organic visibility.

How to Optimize Title Tags

Title tags are important, because they areone of your first touch-points on the SERP. It is important to keep your title tags short so that they doen’t get cut off by search engines. Generally, keeping your title tags under 70 characters is good practice, but Google typically only shows 50 to 60 characters on the SERP. With fewer characters being used in a title tag, it is important to use a keyword near the beginning. That way the keyword will be less likely to be cut off, and still tells users what the page is about. Try to use the primary keyword target in your title tag, but using the exact keyword phrase is not as commonly needed.

How to Optimize Meta Descriptions

Google has stated that its does not use meta descriptions as a direct ranking factor. However, meta descriptions are still an important element to optimize, because they can help increase click through rates (CTRs) from the SERP. The meta description is an area that you should use as your pitch to get your targeted audience to click on your SERP listing over competitors. For best practices, keep meta descriptions between 150 to 160 characters, so that they don’t get cut off on the SERP. Also, always include an unique meta description for each page with a keyword from your keyword topics. If you cannot write a unique meta description for each page, then a missing meta description is better than a duplicate description. If you have a missing meta description, Google will do its best job to create one for the page.

On-Page Optimization

With keyword research completed and metadata optimized, it is time to optimize the content. If the content was created with the keyword topic research in mind, you will have already sprinkled your keywords throughout the page naturally. With that in mind, let’s focus on some other on-page optimization elements.

Content Length for SEO

There are multiple studies in the industry that show longer content typically performs better organically and socially. However, when it comes to content length, there is no correct length for SEO. Instead, write content that fits the user intent. For a highly competitive keyword topic, you will most likely need more content to organically rank, but there are over 200 other ranking factors that impact results. At the end of the day, write content that answers your audience’s problem.

Optimizing Heading Tags

Heading tags are often underutilized when creating content. Heading tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) are a great way to break content apart to provide structure. The structure helps your audience skim and scan your content quickly, which follows along with the F-pattern that you typically see during usability studies. It is best practice to only have one H1 heading tag on a page in which it should vary slightly from the title tag. In other heading tags, you should try to utilize semantically-related keywords.

Optimizing Alt Text

Another area to optimize for on-page SEO is the alt text for images. Alt text is used by search engines to better understand what the image is. Alt text is an important ranking factor for image search, which can help the overall organic visibility of the page. Optimize the alt text by using relevant text and keywords for each image. If you are using an image that is related to your content,you can use keywords from your research. Do not stuff the alt text field with keywords that are not relevant to the image.

Linking/URLs Optimization

One of the final areas you should focus on when optimizing your content is the URL structure and linking strategy (both internally and externally). These areas can help increase organic visibility and create a strong foundation for your content.

URL Structure

Most content marketing systems and websites are setup to use the page title as the URL. While this generally is a good practice, there are often opportunities to improve the optimization of the URL. It is best practice to keep the URL as short as possible to accurately describe the page. Besides keeping the URL short, use hyphens as opposed to underscores to separate words. Underscores are not seen as separators by search engines, while hyphens are. Lastly, use lowercase letters instead of uppercase letters. One reason to use lowercase letters is because it will be easier for a user that types the URL directly into the browser (which might not ever happen, but it would help). An example of an optimized URL for a “best marketing books to read” post would be: www.example.com/blog/marketing-books.

Internal Linking Strategy

Internal linking is essential for SEO success. Internal linking is linking strategically to other related pages to pass authority and help search engines crawl your website. By linking to other related pages on your site, you help search engines crawl and index your website, as well as help your audience stay engaged with other pieces of content. When linking to other pages on your website, use anchor text that describes the page that is being linked to. If you can, use relevant keywords in anchor text to help users and search engines understand what page they would navigate to.

External Linking Strategy

Much like internal linking, it is important to link out to credible sources. By linking to other websites, you are telling search engines that you are giving a “vote” of confidence or passing “link juice” to that site. By linking out to external websites, you can show your audience that you are using credible sources. Some people believe linking to external websites can hurt a page because you are losing authority, when in fact it can actually help receive more traffic.

Pulling it All Together

The best practices for the SEO elements explained in this post is just the skimming the surface to optimizing your website. There are more SEO items that you should take into account such as page speed, a user-friendly experience, mobile SEO, local SEO, technical SEO, and backlinks. However, optimizing the each element will put your best foot forward to making sure you get the most search traffic as possible.

As algorithms and technology continues to change, it is your job as a marketer to test what works and doesn’t. Every website is different, which leads to differences in rankings and performance. The best way to grow organic performance is to test different strategies and to continue to learn.

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