SEO In 2016: The Ultimate Guide

SEO can be a confusing topic, with many conflicting opinions and anumber of areas which are (to say the least) more than a little grey.
Well, grey is no use to anyone, so in this guide to SEO in 2016 Ihave explored over 80 common SEO questions and (in most cases) provideddefinitive answers. I have also included links to related articles (andvideos) from other leading SEO experts and authorities where required.
The guide should serve both as a useful resource for anyone startingout in SEO and a good reference point for more advanced SEOs who arelooking for clarification on specific areas of search engineoptimisation.
Included are topics such as: –

  • Current ranking factors
  • Link building
  • Google penalties
  • Guest blogging
  • Trust building

I will also keep the guide up to date as things change in the world of SEO, which they often do.

Is Content Really King?

Content is king is a mantra that is probably repeated more often than any other in the world of SEO, so is a good place to start.
Google are continually telling us that to rank our sites we shouldfocus on creating quality content. So will writing an amazing article be enough to bring the mountain to Mohammed?
Well, this may be a surprise, considering how much I bang on about the importance of quality content… but not exactly.
Your content is like your product and even the best products in theworld need to be marketed. Everyone and his wife knows coca-cola, butthey still spend billions of dollars a year on advertising don’t they?
Check out the chart below from Asymco which shows the advertising budgets of some of the world’s biggest brands.

Marketing budgets of the biggest brands

So, while it is completely true that your content should beexceptional, to generate traffic to it you have to get that content infront of the right eyeballs. It won’t magically rank on its own (unlessyou are looking at ranking for very noncompetitive phrases).
With that in mind, I’m actually going to say that content is notking. It may be the meat of the SEO pie, but without some focusedmarketing behind it, you’re just going to have boring old stew on yourplate and not a crusty, tender, traffic (and sales) pie.

Are Links Still The Primary Ranking Factor?

When I started writing this guide back in January there was somedebate about whether social signals were becoming more important thanlinks for rankings. Well, that debate was put to bed at the end ofJanuary when Matt Cutts released a video (below) stating clearly thatgoogle does not currently use social signals (i.e. tweets, facebooklikes etc) as a ranking factor.

How Much Influence Does Google+ Have On Rankings?

Google+ shares and plus 1s do not currently influence rankings.
You might want to read Eric Enge’s detailed study of of google plus impact on on search rankings. Eric’s conclusion was that: –

In our study, and in my opinion, Google Plus Shares didnot drive any material rankings changes (of non-personalized results)that we could detect

Do Social Signals Influence Rankings?

As discussed above (under links being the primary ranking factor),google have clearly stated that social signals do not currentlyinfluence search rankings directly. What social does do however is: –
1) Drive referral traffic
2) Increase visibility – an article going viral on social media will get in front of more eyeballs, which can lead to more links

So, social signals do have a huge indirect affect through the linksthey can subsequently generate, but in terms of direct influence thestatement is false.
[Tweet “Social signals do not influence #google rankings (well not directly…)”]

Is Page Loading Time A Ranking Factor?

Does google use page loading time as a ranking factor?
Well, this is another one that I can answer definitively as google came out directly and told us that it does – way back in 2010.
The post from google does say that it affects less than 1% ofqueries, but there can be no doubt that optimising your site’s load time will definitely be good for your site’s SEO and also of course yourvisitors.
For a more in depth study of page loading time as a ranking factor, see this article by Mark from Zoompf on the moz blog.

Does Bounce Rate Affect Search Rankings?

There is a belief among some SEOs that lowering the bounce rate ofyour site (that is the amount of people that click back without engaging with your page/visiting another page) will improve your searchrankings.
Firstly, the bounce rate here generally refers to the one shown inyour analytics account, which is not generally an accurate reflection of how useful a page has been to a user.
For example, an article on your site might cover a topic in itsentirety and answer all the users questions about it. Now, if they leave your site without signing up/buying/completing whatever goal you havein mind, then this might not be great for you, but it’s not a goodindication of whether or not your page was a good match for the query –more a sign that you need to look into your design/calls to action!
To clarify, unless you tweak things, even if a user stays on your page reading your content for 10 minutes,assuming they then click back or close their browser, this will stillregister as a bounce in analytics.
I bet wikipedia has a pretty high bounce rate, yet it doesn’t seem to affect their rankings!
The good news is this is another one where google (or at least Matt Cutts) has come out directly and said that they don’t use analytics bounce rate as a ranking factor and it is generally accepted that this is the case.
This of course doesn’t stop the speculation, but I’m inclined to believe them on this, so would say that bounce rate is not a direct ranking factor.

Is It Important To Vary Anchor Text When Building Links?

Remember the good old (or bad old?) days of SEO, when all you had todo to rank for a keyword/phrase was get the most number of exact matchanchor text links for that phrase?
Well, it’s safe to say those days are gone!
It was far too easy to game and although google bombing could be pretty funny things had to change.
So, since the launch of google Penguin in 2012, which penalised overoptimisation, it is generally accepted best practice to vary your anchor text when link building and not go keyword crazy.
A mix of the following is good for a diverse distribution of anchor text (for a target phrase of ‘cheap watches’): –

  • branded links (name of company/site), i.e. ‘Watch Store’
  • partial/broad matches, i.e. ‘you can buy cheap watches’, ‘an inexpensive watch’
  • exact keyword/phrase, i.e. ‘cheap watches’
  • generic links, i.e. ‘click here’, ‘this site’ etc
  • naked url links, i.e.

The perfect distribution of these types of anchor text is up for debate, but this article on search engine journal does a good job of looking into the backlink profiles of some high ranking sites and breaking them down.
Of course, if your site attracts editorial links (through creatinggreat content) then you will naturally have a diverse mix of penguinsafe anchor text!
Anyway, it is safe to say that is definitely important to vary your anchor text when building links.

Is A Diverse Link Profile Important To Rankings?

Similar to the above, but going beyond just anchor text, there is abelief that you should vary the types of link in your site’s linkprofile.
Examples of some of the types of link you might have in your profile include: –

  • Contextual links (from within content paragraphs)
  • Bio links from guest posts
  • Forum links
  • Sidebar links
  • Footer links
  • Links from link pages
  • Additional reading links at the bottom of articles
  • Wiki links
  • Social media/web 2.0 links
  • Links from question/answer sites (i.e. yahoo answers)
  • Press releases
  • Comment links
  • Mix of follow/nofollow links
  • Mix of text and image links

The theory is that if all your links are, for example, coming fromblogs then this doesn’t look natural and is likely to trigger a Penguinpenalty.
It is generally accepted that this is true, however, beware of automated tools that will get you x amount of each type from low quality sites. While linkdiversity is definitely a ranking factor, quality is still the mostimportant!
This article by Julie Joyce does a good job of explaining why link diversity is so important in the post penguin SEO world.

Is Pagerank Still A Ranking Factor?

Pagerank was what initially set google apart from the other searchengines. Hopefully you will have an understanding of what pagerank isand how it accumulates, but if not have a read at this article by Danny Sullivan, which is pretty definitive.
In fact, here’s a neat infographic from zippycart.
Anyway, it certainly used to be the case that the higher your site’spagerank, the higher you were likely to rank in the search engines forgiven queries.
To improve your site’s pagerank, you could get lots of links fromsites with pagerank 1,2,3 etc… or get just 1 link from a high pageranksite (7,8,9 etc).
This led to a huge market in link sales, with links from highpagerank sites selling for silly sums of money – google obviously didnot like this!
There was/is also a fundemental problem in that, while real pagerankis updated continuously, google would historically only roll out anupdate to it’s toolbar pagerank (the infamous green bar) every quarteror so. In the last year, these updates have become even less frequent –in fact, there were only 2 in 2013. 

So, enough of the history lesson. Is pagerank still a ranking factor? Well, the short answer is yes. The long answer is a little morecomplicated…
Pagerank is still taken into account when calculating the rankings of a web page, but it is not the be all and end all any more. It is justone of around 200 or so ranking factors.
You will often find sites with (what appears to be) low pagerank, outranking sites with high pagerank, based on things like: –

  • Relevance
  • Topical Authority
  • Social Media Shares

With regards to link acquisition, my advice is to go after linksclosely related to your niche whenever possible (and preferably thosethat will drive actual referal traffic), in preference to going afterunrelated links with higher pagerank.

Are Links From Contextually Related Sites More Powerful?

Ok, I have already touched on this above.
There are those who will argue that a link is a link, but there arealso many (and I am one of them) who believe that google categorisessites based on topic/theme. This article by Bill Slawski covers this in detail and is an excellent read.
It is logical to assume that google can also determine thetopic/theme of a query and give a rankings boost to sites which arewithin that same theme.
With this in mind, it is important to develop your authority within a niche and one of the best ways to do this is to be cited (linked to)from other sites (ideally authorities) within the same niche.
So, while any editorially given link is a good one, all things beingequal I would prefer to receive a link from a site which was based onthe same topic as the one I was trying to rank.
For more on this, read my article on how to develop your topical authority.

Do Longer Articles Rank Better?

My thoughts are pretty clear on this one – for several reasons.

1. Google Is Still (Fundimentally) A Text Based Search Engine

Since google indexes text content, it is logical that the more textyou have on your website, the more chances you have of being found for a broad number of phrases.
Read my article on why the real traffic is in the long tail for more on this.

2. Long Documents Are More Likely To Be Authoritative (And Attract Links)

If you cover a topic in its entirety, then it is more likely to be an authority document. And authority documents attract links and shares!

3. Google Has Launched An ‘in Depth Articles’ Feature

During the summer google added an ‘in depth articles’ feature to itssearch results. This is specifically for detailed documents, which areauthorities on a topic.
It is reasonable to assume that this will become more and moreimportant over the next year as google tweaks/enhances the feature.

4. I Know From Experience!

I have seen great results in my affiliate sites from writing high quality articles, running to between 2,000 and 3,000 words.
I covered this in detail in my post last year on growing a new niche affiliate site. So, the statement that longer articles rank better is (generally) true, however…
This does not mean you should create words for the sake of it! If 100 words exhausts the topic, then your content should be 100 words.
Remember, always write for your readers, not the search engines!

Do Nofollow Links Influence Rankings?

Ok, this is a contentious one…
The rel=nofollow attribute was introduced by google to combat spam, and in particular comment spam.
Technically the definition of nofollow is that google (and othersearch engines that support the attribute) should not follow the linkand not count it when calculating pagerank/rankings. However…
While I think it is probably true that it does not affect pagerankdirectly there is a widespread belief that nofollowed links do have some influence on rankings. At the very least, a mixture of nofollow/follow(I know the second one doesn’t exist!) links will help to give your link profile a natural look, which is certainly a ranking factor.

In a real world example, I have seen increases in rankings aftergetting a link from an article on wikipedia. To clarify, all links fromwikipedia have the nofollow attribute, but it would certainly appearthat they are passing authority, if not pagerank. And we already knowthat pagerank is not the rankings factor it once was.
With the above in mind, for the last couple of years at least, I have not concerned myself too much about whether incoming links are‘followed’ or not.
So, while Matt Cutts might say otherwise, I am inclined to believe that nofollow links do influence rankings. This experiment adds some weight to the argument.

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