Search Engine Optimization Best Practices for 2016

SEO is an acronym which stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEO is abroad term used to define any kind of optimization efforts toward yourwebsite that result in increased visibility in search engines likeGoogle, Bing or Yahoo.

Search Engine Optimization employs two kinds of strategies: on-pageand off-page optimization. Examples of on-page SEO are content building(i.e. writing articles, blogging), including desired keywords inside the web page, optimizing title tags and optimizing META tags. Some examples of off-page SEO are link-building, social bookmarking, blog commentingand 3rd party article submissions.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to “guarantee” search enginerankings because search engines are always changing. But if you takeinto consideration all of the criteria involved in SEO – and perform the tasks ethically – your rankings should be just around the corner.

White and Black Hat SEO
Search engine optimization is not an overnight job. It requires awell-orchestrated content and link building strategy, as well as thepatience to monitor your progress over several months. Before jumpinginto the SEO arena, it is extremely important to distinguish betweenWhite Hat SEO and Black Hat SEO techniques.

White Hat SEO refers to an SEO strategy where no links areartificially created and that the website creator abides by all searchengine rules. The biggest rule is that you target your website contenttowards humans first and search engines second. For example, don’t justwrite filler, thin or otherwise weak content stuffed with awkwardlypositioned keywords. Think about what the human user will want toexperience when they visit your website. As long as you obey thepolicies of the major search engines, you are a White Hat SEO’er. If you focus on human visitors, you’ll receive links from other websites which will fuel your strategy.
Black Hat SEO is just the opposite and is not at all recommended.This strategy focuses primarily on and around “poking holes” in searchengine algorithms, or finding loopholes. The intent of Black Hat SEO isto manipulate the search engine ranks in order for your site to receivetraffic. Buying links, keyword stuffing, invisible text and spammingblogs are just some of the popular Black Hat strategies. Thesetechniques will not provide long-lasting results – and will most likelyget your website blacklisted by search engines sooner than later.

Having an ethical approach when starting your Search EngineOptimization is paramount to success. While results are not typicallyseen in at least a month, the time and patience you invest in yourwebsite will most likely pay off. As long as you follow the White HatSEO technique, your website will be favored by the search engines.

Where Do I Start?
If you have a website published on the web, then you’ve alreadystarted! The very first step to achieving strong search engine rankingsis to have your website indexed, or cached, by search engines likeGoogle, Yahoo and Bing.

All major search engines like Google use robots, commonly referred to as “spiders”. These spiders continually crawl the web for new andupdated web content to put in their index. When you first publish yourwebsite on the internet, you typically need to ask the search engines to visit and index your site. All search engines have a special page forwebsite owners to manually submit their new website to their database.Alternatively, if you have another existing website, you can simply link to your new site. This will prompt search engine spiders to ‘follow’the link and ultimately index your new site.
Doing Your Keyword Research

The next step to achieving ranks in Google involves researchingpotential keywords to focus on in your content. Knowing which keywordsyou want to rank for will give your content strategy plan a cleardirection for the future. There are several tools online to help you dothis research. The most popular tool is Google’s Adwords KeywordResearch Tool ( With this tool you can enter in as many potential keywords you’d liketo target, and view what kind of traffic volume they each receive. Italso shows how competitive each keyword is in the marketplace. Usingthis tool, it is very easy to find keywords your website can rank for in the near future.

It is important to find plausible keywords to target. If you startyour SEO campaign by targeting single or two-word keywords like “idtheft” or “identity protection”, then your initial SEO effort will bedifficult. A good initial keyword research strategy is to think of 3 or4-word keywords that you can target and focus on in your site content. A more plausible keyword to target would be “Child Identity TheftAssistance” or “Child Identity Theft Protection”. These 4-word keywordphrases will have significantly less competition and thus easier to rank for. Most importantly, they will still generate relevant traffic toyour website. As an example, a new website devoted to Identity TheftProtection will take longer to be ranked for “identity theft” than Child Identity Theft Protection. Once ranked for this and other long-tailwords, the new site will be able to show up in the index for morecomplex shorter words, like Identity Theft.

Knowing Your Competition
As a general rule in business, knowing your competitor is animportant part of success. With SEO, it is no different. Choose one ofyour new keywords you chose in your research. Go to and search for this keyword. The first 10 websitesthat are displayed are your new competitors. Get to know them.
By looking at the top 10 results for “Child Identity TheftProtection”, you can get an idea of how the competition stacks up toyour new website. If the number 1 search result has a blog with verylittle content, and the last blog post was months or years – then youhave found a window of opportunity to conquer your competition and gainsite traffic. It would be wise to take advantage of this by targeting“Child Identity Theft Protection” in your content in the future.

Writing Website Content – How and Why?
Writing content for your website can sometimes be an intimidatingtask. Going back to the whole premise of White Hat SEO, you don’t wantto write your content for search engines. But then again, your wholegoal to creating a website is to rank well with search engines andacquire quality traffic – isn’t it?
The key to writing content on a website is to find a middle groundbetween human visitors and search engine visitors. A quality websitearticle would be written in a way where any human can easily read andunderstand it, while at the same time including keywords into your copyin order to rank for it. Getting used to this process may take time; but by analyzing your competitors you can pick up on certain writing styles that do target both kinds of visitors.

Optimizing Your Content for Search Engines
To reiterate, it is a bad SEO strategy to write content for yourwebsite for the sole purpose of ranking in the search engines. At facevalue, this may seem like the most logical thing to do. Of course,Google and all the search engines are able to pick up on this tactic –and they do penalize for it.
There are better ways to go about optimizing your content for searchengines. When you first sit down to write your content, consider thereare two very effective ways to begin. For some creative people, it iseasy to start with a keyword or two in mind to target. The very firstthing they to do is write a title for the article with the keyword init. If you target the keyword “Child Identity Theft Protection”, then agood article title would be “Top 10 Tips for Child Identity TheftProtection”. By diluting the keyword within the title, you avoid beingflagged by Google as a website simply trying to manipulate rankings.

It is not always that easy to start with the keyword in mind andwrite an effective title and article. I find it much easier to startsimply with the ‘concept’ of what the article is going to be about.Outline it as you would normally, without thinking about keywords orSEO. Then simply write an effective article. Once you are done, andhappy with the content of the post, re-read it and add your keywordswhere they make sense and seem natural. Once they are appropriatelyplaced in the copy, you can write the title for the post. Remember toinclude the keyword in the title.

One key concept to note about adding or using keywords in the copy is to be careful to use your keywords effectively and naturally for thereader. Do not blatantly integrate your keywords inside your article.Also, do not over emphasize the keyword in the article. Here is anexample of how not to write:
“Child identity theft protection is very important. Without a solid Child identity theft protection service, you are in danger.”
This kind of writing style is not recommended. It does not appeal tohuman readers because its choppy and repetitive. And it is not appealing to search engines either because you are “stuffing” keywords whereveryou can, as many times as you can. Search engines are highlyintelligent, and can very easily pick up on this poor writing style. You will soon face penalties if you pursue this kind of content.

A more ideal way of writing this would be something like:
“Securing your identity online is becoming a difficult task astechnology advances. Nobody is safe, not even your children. Thankfully, new child identity theft protection services have begun to show in themarketplace.”
Notice how the keyword is not so bold and overemphasize, and seems to naturally appear in the content. This is how content should be written.

On-Page Optimization – Meta Keywords
Once you have established your first article with keywords in it, you want to further optimize your article through various methods. One ofthese methods is the use of Meta tags. Meta tags are embedded in theactual HTML code of your web page used to provide structure metadataabout a web page. This code is placed in the <head> section ofyour web page. Meta tags server many purposes. In regards to SEO, Metatags are used to communicate with search engines what the page is about. There are two widely used Meta tags – keywords and description. Theseare relatively self-explanatory. In the Meta keyword tag, you want toinclude the keywords you are targeting for that specific page. And forthe Meta description tag, you want to provide the description of thepage.

Meta tags are a great way of communicating directly with searchengines. Of course there are rules that come with this. Generally, youdo not want to exceed 100 characters or 45 words in the keyword tag –whichever is first. For the description tag, you do not want to exceed150 characters. A common SEO mistake is too “stuff” keywords in thisMeta tag, hoping to rank for several different keywords. It simply doesnot work like that. If you do this you run a high risk of being markedas a spam website. Keep it short and sweet, and try to use the singlekeyword also used in the title.
Meta Keywords Example: Child identity theft protection, protectagainst child identity theft, child id theft (84 characters, 12 words)

Meta Description Example: Invest in Child Identity Theft ProtectionServices and Save Your Children’s Future (86 characters, 12 words)
Also, keep in mind that every page on your website is unique and,therefore, should have a unique title, title tag and meta data. Do notuse the same title for multiple pages, and vary the other meta data.

Off-Page Optimization – Building Links and Link Juice
The three major search engines are Google, Yahoo and Bing. Thesethree search engines are around for a reason: they stay true to theirphilosophy of a democratic-controlled search engine platform. Searchengines rank websites according to how many votes they receive. Simplyput, a vote is an inbound link to your website. For example, links to your site, you have one vote. In other words,search engines rank websites according to how many votes they received.But it doesn’t stop there just yet.
The American democratic voting system can be used as a simplemetaphor to explain how search engines rank websites. In America, onevote from a wealthy businessman is just as potent as a vote from aStarbucks employee. All votes are equal. The way Google and other majorsearch engines work is similar, but with one major difference. One votefrom does not equal a vote from Why? has more authority, also known as “link juice”.

Link juice is an informal term used by many Search Engine Optimizerswhich refers to the amount of “link currency” a website possesses. AsGoogle roams around the World Wide Web, it looks at how websites link to each other in order to figure out which ones are best. Let’s say thatSite A and Site B are both about “Child Identity Theft Protection” andwould both like to rank for this keyword. Google takes a look at thelinks to determine which of these two sites is best. At a very basiclevel, assume that Site A receives an inbound link that Site B doesn’t.Naturally, Site A will look better to Google and will ultimately outrank Site B. But let’s say that Site A and B both receive an inbound linkfrom Site C. In this scenario, both sites look the same to Google – soin order to determine which site will rank better, Google looks forother ranking criteria.

When a website links to or “votes” for your website, they are leaking link juice to your website for the anchor text keyword. Anchor text isthe title of the link to your website. This creates a click-ablehyperlink to your website from theirs, hopefully with keywords inside of it. The words contained in the anchor text can determine the rankingthe page will receive by the search engines. When a high-quality website links to yours with anchor text of “Identity Theft Protection”, youimmediately gain favor of the search engine ranking results for thatspecific keyword. (eg. a link from a blog post on MSN money to anarticle, page or post on the website, where the link was the actualkeywords “Child identity theft protection” is a great source of linkjuice for the keyword anchor text to the website.

Since not all links are created equal, a link from a website with low link juice will not be as effective as a link from a site with a medium amount of link juice. If Site A receives links from multiple sites, itshould theoretically rank higher than Site B. But if Site B has a single website link to them with a high amount of link juice, it will outrankSite A.

Your overall goal when considering a link-building campaign is to make it appear as natural as possible. Do not go and have multiple high-authority websites link to youovernight. That is not a natural linking pattern, and Google will beable to notice it. Take a month or two and spread out your link-building campaign so your search rankings stick. In general, if you build linksslowly, you will see results that last. If you go too fast buildinglinks to your website, you may not rank for those words for very long.Take your time building your inbound links.

Further Content Optimization and Keyword Density
When multiple competing websites begin ranking for the same keyword,Google first looks at the inbound links each website has. Google sortstheir indexed rankings with this in mind. But when websites come closeto matching each other’s link juice, Google needs to consider othercriteria. One criterion search engines use is keyword density.
Keyword density is defined as the percentage of times a keyword orphrase appears on a web page compared to the total number of words onthe page. If a 200-word paragraph about credit scores uses the keyword“credit score” two times, its keyword density is 1%. Search engines usekeyword density formulas to determine whether a web page is relevant to a specified keyword or keyword phrase.
In the 1990’s, search engines used keyword density as one of itsmajor determining factors when ranking websites. As search enginesevolved over the next twenty years, the keyword density factor becameless important – but still very relevant.

Google became aware that webmasters were abusing this knowledge andultimately devalued the importance of keyword density. Website contentwriters were “stuffing” keywords in any place they could find space.They would cloak keywords inside their website by changing the color ofthe text to that of their background. These kind of mischievous actionsare considered unethical in the SEO world because you are making itclear to the rest of the world that you only care about achieving highsearch rankings. More importantly, you are essentially communicating toyour potential customers that you don’t care about them. Simply put, itis bad practice.

So now that you know what not to do, what is the right amount ofkeyword density? Many SEO experts on the web today have collaboratedtogether and have come to the conclusion that an optimal keyword density is between 1 to 3 percent. This rule of thumb should help ground youand your content writing style. Of course you want to include yourkeyword in your page copy – but do it organically through the process of your writing. Find a solid middle ground that sounds good to you andpeople in your industry, and you should be OK. And again, it is alwaysprudent to investigate your competitors and potentially emulate theirsuccessful writing style.

Optimizing Your Images for Search Engines
A good best practice when writing content for your site is to include images to help attract your visitor’s interest. Visual aids in generalare a good way to grab and keep people’s attention span, and withwebsite content it is no different.
Google Images is a variation of Google Search, only they return image URLs instead of web page URLs. In terms of Search Engine Optimization,Google Images can provide a huge amount of relevant traffic to yourwebsite if you follow five basic rules:

  1. Find the right images. Finding relevant images that relate to yourweb copy is of utmost importance – both for humans and search engines.While research shows that text is the first thing view on the page, itis the image that ultimately sells the page.
  2. Use the keyword in the image’s file name when possible. This is very similar to placing keywords in the URL of your pages. The same is truefor your images. By naming the file name after your keyword, you arehelping the search engines determine the relevancy of your image. If you had a post targeting the keyword “Identity Theft Protection”, then itwould be wise to title the image “identity-theft-protection.jpg” orsomething very similar.
  3. Create descriptive ALT text. ATL stands for “alternate”, as inalternative text. It is the text typically seen when you mouse-over animage. Originally, it was created and is currently used forvision-impaired web visitors. The ALT text can be ‘read’ so that theimage can be shared with the blind, just like the content of the pageis. Think about the search engines needing this same kind of additionalhelp, as they can ‘read’ but they cannot ‘see’ your selected image.
  4. Be sure that your image matches your content. The contentsurrounding your image should be closely related to what your post isabout. The image should be related to your anchor tags, image URL andALT tags. When these criteria are successfully employed, you help search engines confirm that you are not spamming about that your image is ofhigh-quality and relevant to your keyword.
  5. Don’t stuff keywords! This goes for all kinds of SEO, but it needsto be reiterated over and over again because even intelligent peoplemake mistakes. But making this kind of mistake is very serious, and canland you in a heap of trouble from the search engines.

It is always a good idea to take a step back from your computer andask yourself: “Does this appear natural to me as a visitor?” Remember to tailor your SEO practices around human visitors. If you focus too muchon what the search engines like to see, you will probably end up making a mistake. Avoid these mistakes by staying true to your White Hat SEOstrategy. If you build it right, they will come.

SEO-Friendly URLs
URLs on the World Wide Web come in all shapes and sizes. One of themost common SEO mistakes made today is the lack of an SEO-friendly URLstructure. Just like renaming your image URLs to include your keyword is important, so is the keywords in the URL of your web page.
There is a rule of thumb in the SEO industry to keep all URLs “shortand sweet”. What this means is that your URL structure should be able to be memorized by a human visitor. Having URLs with excessive orirrelevant characters and words can be a serious detriment to thesuccess of your website in the search engines.
For example, naming a page URL“” is a poor choice for a URL – not just for search engines, but also forvisitors. Instead, keep the keyword concise in the URL and avoid anyunnecessary words or characters.“” is a much clearer,concise URL that can be understood by humans and search engines.Moreover, it also includes keywords in the URL which further describesyour page to visitors.

If your website is beginning to grow in content, it may be a goodidea to begin categorizing your URLs. If you have an overwhelming amount of content, Google needs to sort it out first. You can help searchengines do this by creating a URL structure that categorizes yourcontent. “” is anexample of an SEO-friendly URL structure. You may also notice the use of dashes in the URL. Search engines favor dashes over underscores. Thereason for this is because underscores are considered ‘alpha characters’ and do not separate words. Dashes are word separators, but should still not be used excessively at the risk of looking spammy.
The more effort you put into helping visitors understand what yourcontent is about, the more likely you will be able to succeed in theranking results.

Monitoring and Tracking Your Success with Google Analytics
Let’s assume you have had your website up for about 3 months. Youhave been posting regularly about twice a week, with keyword density ofaround 3% and unique titles and meta data. You are off to great start,and soon you will start reaping the rewards. Once you begin receivingtraffic from search engines, it is good practice to get used toanalyzing your traffic data using Google Analytics and Site Catalystfrom Omniture.
Once your website begins ranking well in search engines, hopefullyyou will begin to see an influx in traffic. Google Analytics and SiteCatalyst allow you to track your traffic by keyword. If you run thesereports on a regular basis, you can get an excellent snapshot of howyour website is doing in the search engines. By monitoring your keywordtraffic, you can determine which keywords need more reinforcement inyour future content. Knowing your traffic is important when consideringyour next step.

Further Optimization via Sitemaps
One of the final tasks you should consider when creating or addingcontent to your website is the use of a sitemap. A sitemap is a list ofpages of a web site that are accessible to search engine spiders orvisitors. Typically, sitemaps are organized in a hierarchy. There aretwo popular ways to create a sitemap. XML sitemaps are structured forsearch engines, and indicate to search engines the relative importanceof your pages to each other. HTML sitemaps are tailored more for humanvisitors looking to easily navigate through your website. It is usually a good idea to have both XML and HTML sitemaps for your site. Googleprefers XML sitemaps, and prefers the sitemap to be added to GoogleWebmaster Tools, were Google shares information about the health of theoptimization of your website.

Search Engine Optimization and the Future
Search engines are always changing, learning and evolving. Employeesat Google, Yahoo and Bing are constantly trying to better their searchengine results by analyzing what makes a website relevant to aparticular keyword. Although search engines modify their algorithms just about every day, they have not – and will not deviate too far fromtheir original criteria for ranking websites. Quality content and linkbuilding will always reign as King of the Internet. And while SearchEngine Optimization can seem unnecessarily complex at times, it trulywill be the simple things you follow that will get your rankings.
Be patient with your site and be honest with your visitors. If youfollow these White Hat SEO principles and do not experiment with the“dark side”, you have nothing to worry about. Stay true to your linkbuilding and content strategy and watch your site climb the ranks.

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