Your Ultimate SEO Playbook

“Master Guide for SEO Strategy”

Total Read Time: 12 Minutes

Photo Credit

September 2, 2018

How does massive organic traffic sound? Great, right?

Search engine optimization (SEO), is the art and science of ranking on the first page of Google, and I have your playbook for success right here.

There’s a lot that goes into a comprehensive SEO strategy, and to be honest, it’s enough to make your head spin when you’re first starting out.

As you read through this guide, keep in mind that SEO can be simplified into two key principles:

  1. Create killer content: On-page SEO is everything that happens on your site. It might seem complicated at first, but it really comes down to creating user-friendly content that provides value to your readers.
  2. Make a website worth linking to: Off-page SEO relates to the trust and reputation you build. If you create quality content, you should naturally earn links from high-authority sites, and Google will reward you for it.

You see, SEO isn’t that confusing after all…

Ranking on the first page of Google is as simple as giving your audience the best experience possible, and this SEO playbook shows you how.

Without further adieu, here’s everything you need to know about owning the top of the SERPs (search engine results pages):

Outline of The Process here:

Part One: On-Page SEO

1) Readability = Scannability: The Science of Page Flow
2) Long Content Rules!
3) Killing It with Keywords
4) Headings and Subheading Tags
5) Outbound Links
6) Internal Links
7) Image Optimization
8) Social Share Buttons
9) Site Speed
10) Responsive Designs
11) SEO-Friendly URLs
12) Anchor Text (Internal Links)
13) On-Page Time
14) Meta Descriptions
15) Site Indexing

Part Two: Off-Page SEO

1) SSL Security
2) Understanding Link Juice
3) Link Relevancy
4) High-Authority vs. Low-Authority Sites
5) Links from Trustworthy Sites
6) What’s More Important, Site Relevancy or Site Authority?
7) Number of Links on the Linking Page
8) Anchor Text Distribution (Backlinks)
9) Guest Posting the Right Way
10) Social Shares
11) Good Ol’Fashioned Customer Service
12) Forums, Discussion Boards, and Facebook Groups

On-Page SEO: How to Be the King of Quality Content

The SEO throne is yours if you choose to take it, and quality content is your best weapon. When it comes down to it, the goal of SEO is to replicate what would naturally occur by creating the the most helpful website on the web.

Obviously, the simplest way to do this is by building an amazing site in the first place.

Google’s algorithms reward sites that provide an incredible user experience (UX), so as long as you do that, you should be golden.

Here’s how to create outstanding on-page SEO:

1) Readability = Scannability: The Science of Page Flow

Do you even flow bro?

There’s no denying it ̶ page flow is a big deal.

Most people scan articles rather than reading them word-for-word, and poor page flow sends visitors fleeing faster than you can say “lost revenue.”

What’s nuts is that most people decide whether or not to stay on your page within the first second of arriving.

Talk about snap judgements!

First impressions matter, and the formatting of your written content, a.k.a. page flow, is a major factor.

Here are the 7 commandments of page flow:

  1. Lots of bullet points
  2. Bold and italics
  3. Each “paragraph” should be no more than 3-4 lines long
  4. Break the text up with images, charts, and graphs
  5. Follow the “inverted mountain” rule of sentence length:

    “Blah blah blah.
    Blah blah blah blah blah blah.
    Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.
    Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.
    Blah blah blah blah blah blah.
    Blah blah.”

  6. Use a heading or subheading at least every few hundred words
  7. Use bucket brigades to excite the reader about what’s coming later on in the article: “…but more on this later…”

With these page flow commandments, readers will be able to easily navigate your content and quickly find what they’re looking for.

2) Long Content Rules!

Short content is so 2008.

It’s the future people, and the days of 500-word articles that rank are far behind us, a distant memory, a whisper in the wind.

Nowadays, if you want your content to have a shot at breaking the first page of Google, it needs to be at least 1,000 – 1,500 words long, and that’s the bare minimum.

The only sites that get away with shorter content are super-sites with established authority and mega link juice.

More words means more space for keywords and longer on-page time, but more on this later…

(Hey! I did a bucket brigade!)

3) Killing It with Keywords

Back in the goldrush days of SEO, you could stuff as many keywords into your content as you wanted.

Today, the best keyword strategy is to use keywords naturally.

That’s it.

If you have a WordPress website, you can use the Yoast SEO plugin to make sure you aren’t overusing or underusing certain words.

Keep It Natural with LSI Keywords

LSI stands for “Latent Semantic Indexing,” which is just a fancy way of saying “use plenty of synonyms for your target keywords.”

Google’s algorithms want you to write for humans, not for crawlers, and great writers always mix it up with different synonyms.

Rank Faster with Long Tail Keywords

Long tail keywords are what we call “low-hanging fruit” in the SEO game.

They refer to keyword phrases that have less competition and lower search volume.

Targeting long tail keywords will help you rank faster because high-authority sites tend to target more profitable keywords, leaving the long tail keywords ripe for the picking.

Long tail keywords tend to be three-word phrases or longer, but they can include shorter phrases too.

The name “long tail” actually comes from where the keyword falls on the Search Demand Curve, not from the lengths of the keywords themselves.

4) Headings and Subheading Tags

Tagging your headings and subheadings is a must.

Google scans your headings first, and tagged headings help them determine what your content is about.

Make sure that the title of your article is set as the H1, although most themes set this automatically.

You’ll have to tag the actual body text headings yourself, though.

Set the main headings as H2s and the subheadings as H3, H4, H5, and H6, respectively.

When it comes to page flow, there’s really no reason to go beyond H4.

I mean seriously, do you need a subheading of a subheading of a subheading?

Nah. Keep it simple. Keep it scannable.

5) Outbound Links

Outbound links go from your site to another site.

Studies show that pages with relevant outbound links rank better than pages without relevant outbound links.

The keyword here is “relevant.”

Only link to pages that provide real value to the reader within the context of your article.

Remember, all good SEO decisions should improve UX ̶ it’s the golden rule of crushing it online.

One final note on outbound links: never link to low-quality sites. Outbound DOFOLLOW links to sketchy sites can end up hurting your rankings, but more on this later…

(Dang, I’m getting good at this bucket brigade thing).

6) Internal Links

Google likes it when you weave your posts together with relevant internal links, so each post should have at least 2-3 of them.

There are several different theories regarding the ideal internal link structure, but if you keep your links useful and relevant, you should be fine.

Internal DOFOLLOW links spread link juice throughout your website.

We’ll discuss DOFOLLOW and NOFOLLOW links more when we cover off-page SEO.

For now, just know that linking to other useful posts is good for SEO.

7) Image Optimization

Optimize your images with keywords!

Google likes it when you accurately describe your images with words.

It helps them catalogue the images and to describe them to visually impaired users.

When you upload an image, make sure the file name includes the target keyword and that the keyword is part of the image’s Alt Text.

Oh yeah, and you’ll get bonus points for geo-targeting the Local Data for local niche sites!

8) Social Share Buttons

Using social share buttons for Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn can have an indirect effect on rankings.

Social signals aren’t a direct ranking factor for Google, but the extra exposure can be great for traffic.

The more people that engage with your content, the higher you’ll rise in the SERPs.

9) Site Speed

Most people have the attention span of an ant, and it’s only getting worse.

If your pages don’t load lightning fast, you’re going to flounder in the rankings.

Your site should take no longer than 3 seconds to load, but you should shoot for less than a second if you want your bounce rate to stay low.

What’s a bounce rate? How often people immediately leave your site.

Here are 3 ways to increase site speed and reduce bounce rate:

  1. Use a CDN (content delivery network) like Cloudflare to increase page load times by as much as 50%. CDNs use geographically closer servers to provide faster delivery.
  2. Compress your image files with a plugin like WP Smush Pro.
  3. Upgrade to faster hosting. Discount hosting services like Bluehost and HostGator are fine when you’re just getting started, but if you want to compete with the big dogs, you should consider a faster host like WP Engine.

10) Responsive Designs

A few years ago, the internet reached a pivotal tipping point: over 50% of searches now happens on mobile devices. In response to this trend, Google favors mobile-friendly (responsive) websites.

Nearly all WordPress themes claim to have responsive designs, but some are better than others.

Always read objective reviews and find out for yourself.

Go with a design that has great reviews and excellent customer support.

That way you’ll have help with any problems that arise.

If you already have a site up and running, ask an expert to make sure that it’s as mobile-friendly as possible.

11) SEO-Friendly URLs

Short URLs rank better than long, messy ones.

On the same note, your URLs should always look clean and contain the main keyword you’re targeting.

In WordPress, you can format your permalinks (URLs) to contain the publishing date of the post, random numbers and letters, a few other terrible options, or the title your article.

I suggest using the title of your article for your permalink structure.

If you don’t like the URL that WordPress automatically generates, you can always customize it before hitting “PUBLISH.”

12) Anchor Text (Internal Links)

Anchor text is the text you use to link to other pages.

Here are the golden rules of internal anchor text optimization:

  • Avoid linking with too many keyword-rich anchors.
  • Keep anchors intuitive and useful to the reader.
  • Don’t overuse branded anchor text.

Google doesn’t like it when sites try to boost their rankings by over-branding anchor text and stuffing keywords, and they’re quick to penalize any sites that do.

In the off-page SEO section, I’ll go deeper into ideal anchor text distribution.

13) On-Page Time

When people linger on your page, Google takes it as a sign that they found what they were looking for and that they’re stoked about your content.

Here are some tips for increasing on-page time:

  • Quickly address the reader’s main pain points.
  • Create scannable, easy-to-navigate content.
  • Embed videos. People like spacing out to a good vid.
  • Use quizzes. People love ‘em.

14) Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions are short, 160-word descriptions that explain what your article is about in the search results.

Google will automatically use the first 160 words of your article as the meta description if you don’t create your own.

PRO TIP: Always write your own meta description with target keywords to boost rankings and increase click-through rates.

15) Site Indexing

Regularly submit a sitemap to Google so that they know what your site looks like in real time.

WordPress plugins like Yoast SEO and Jetpack can automatically submit sitemaps for you at regular intervals.

The more current, the better.

Off-Page SEO: How to Gain Trust and Earn Quality Backlinks

Off-page SEO is the other half of the ranking riddle, and it’s important to have it dialed in.

In order to strengthen your off-page SEO, you’ll need to improve the perception of your site’s popularity with users and other sites.

The main metric that Google uses to determine authority and trustworthiness is the authority and relevancy of your backlinks (the links pointing at your site).

Let’s take a closer look at how you can beef up your off-page SEO and boost your organic search traffic.

1) SSL Security

You know that little padlock symbol that’s almost always to the left of the URL in your browser?

That padlock is proof of an SSL certificate.

It assures visitors that the personal information they submit will be encrypted and protected from hackers.

Having an SSL security certificate is a minor but mandatory part of off-page SEO. Many hosting services offer free SSL certificates if you don’t want to pay for a higher-grade one.

2) Understanding Link Juice

Link juice, a.k.a. ranking power, gets passed to your site when other sites link to yours, and links from high-authority, relevant sites are the most powerful.

There are two types of links: DOFOLLOW and NOFOLLOW.

DOFOLLOW links pass on link juice and act as a positive vote for your site.

NOFOLLOW links do not pass on link juice and do not act as a positive vote for your site.

3) Link Relevancy

DOFOLLOW links from relevant sites share more link juice than links from unrelated sites.

This is because Google assumes that a website in a related niche is the best judge of how good your content is.

At the same time, users navigating from related content are more likely to find yours useful.

4) High-Authority vs. Low-Authority Sites

Well-established, high-authority sites tend to pass on more link juice than weak sites.

SEO tools like…

  • Moz
  • Ahrefs
  • SpyFu
  • SEMRush

…have their own ranking systems for domain authority (DA) and page authority (PA).

On Moz’s scale of domain authority, a DA of at least 30 is considered very strong. Moz has a free browser plugin called Moz Bar that allows you to quickly know the domain authority any site.

Keep in mind that these ranking systems are fairly arbitrary and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Always use multiple SEO tools to get an accurate idea of the strength and quality of a site.

As a general rule, sites that are at least several years old and see a lot of traffic are more link-worthy than new sites with little traffic.

5) Links from Trustworthy Sites

Anytime link juice is passed from one site to another, the fate of both sites becomes intertwined.

If one of you gets penalized by Google, you can both drop in the rankings.

That’s why it’s so important to be careful who you give DOFOLLOW links to and to monitor who gives DOFOLLOW links to you.

When you find untrustworthy sites linking to yours, disavow them by reporting them to Google.

6) What’s More Important, Site Relevancy or Site Authority?

It used to be that site authority was more important than site relevancy, but that’s no longer the case.

Links from relevant sites with medium authority pass on more link juice than links from irrelevant sites with higher authority.

With that said, there are always exceptions to every rule.

Sites with incredibly high domain and page authority can still pass on a ton of link juice, even if they aren’t directly related to your industry.

7) Number of Links on the Linking Page

The total number of links on the linking page affects how much link juice gets passed on to your site because each page as a limited amount of link juice to pass on.

The more DOFOLLOW links on a page, the smaller your piece of link juice becomes.

An easy way to picture this is imagine link juice as a pie and each link on the page is a slice of that pie. The more slices you have, the smaller each slice becomes, and the less link juice you get.

8) Anchor Text Distribution (Backlinks)

Too many sites have abused anchor text optimization, and now Google doesn’t hesitate to penalize sites that have an unnatural anchor text distribution.

An unnatural ratio of anchor text can destroy your rankings if you get caught.

Here’s what a natural link profile looks like according to SEMRush:

  1. Branded Anchor text: 40%
  2. Unique/Other anchor text: 25%
  3. Naked link anchor: 15%
  4. Brand + keyword anchor: 5%
  5. Partial match anchor text: 5%
  6. Generic anchor text: 1-5%
  7. Long tail anchor text: 2-4%
  8. Exact Match Anchors: Less Than 1%

It’s best to consult with an SEO expert before optimizing your anchor text to avoid getting penalized by Google, but if you want to try it yourself, here’s a few tips for playing it safe:

  • Use natural anchor text with branded and naked URLs
  • Always keep anchor text relevant and helpful.
  • For the most part, avoid keyword-rich anchors.

Anchor text distribution will always be somewhat of a guessing game, but by following these general rules you can improve your rankings while minimizing your chance of a Google penalty.

Use SEO tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs to analyze your link profile and make sure it stays natural.

9) Guest Posting the Right Way

Writing content for other sites is one of the more popular ways to earn DOFOLLOW backlinks to your site, but just like with anchor text distribution, you’re going to need to be careful.

Too many sites have flagrantly abused paid guest posting and now Google monitors it closely.

The best way to protect yourself is to write only for high-authority, relevant websites, and to make sure that your content always provides real value to readers.

10) Social Shares

Although social shares aren’t a direct ranking factor for Google, they’re still an excellent sign of quality content.

There’s a strong correlation between high social shares and high organic search traffic. This has less to do with the share count itself and more to do with the extra traffic that gets sent your way.

The more traffic your article sees, the more likely Google will be to push it to the top of the front page.

Plus, widely-shared content inevitably earns more backlinks.

The more site owners that see your article, the greater the chances are that someone will link to it.

PRO TIP: Build connections with social media influencers to gain more exposure and increase shares.

11) Good Ol’Fashioned Customer Service

Never forget the power of exceptional customer service.

When you go above and beyond for your customers, the news of your awesomeness will spread.

The primary goal of off-page SEO should always be to build brand loyalty by leaving a positive impression.

Bad customer service can be a nightmare for your reputation and your organic traffic.

On the flipside, killer customer service can help you crush it with off-page SEO.

12) Forums, Discussion Boards, and Facebook Groups

Find out where your audience hangs out online and establish a presence there.

Leave helpful comments and suggestions to people’s problems without asking for anything in return. You’ll inevitably catch the eyes of your target audience and expand your network.

The goal of this strategy isn’t necessarily to gain more links.

Instead, it’s to get noticed as a knowledgeable source of advice in your niche.

Final Thoughts

I know that’s a lot of information to take in, but just remember that SEO always comes down to building trust with quality content.

If you hit this out of the park, then the rest should happen with a lot less effort.

As always, we’re here to help. Our team at One Click would be stoked to tailor an SEO game plan just for you.