The caveat in all of this is that, in one way or another, most of the data and the rules governing what ranks and what doesn't (often on a week-to-week basis) comes from Google. If you know where to find and how to use the free and freemium tools Google provides under the surface—AdWords, Google Analytics, and Google Search Console being the big three—you can do all of this manually. Much of the data that the ongoing position monitoring, keyword research, and crawler tools provide is extracted in one form or another from Google itself. Doing it yourself is a disjointed, meticulous process, but you can piece together all the SEO data you need to come up with an optimization strategy should you be so inclined.
If you link out to irrelevant sites, Google may ignore the page, too – but again, it depends on the site in question. Who you link to, or HOW you link to, REALLY DOES MATTER – I expect Google to use your linking practices as a potential means by which to classify your site. Affiliate sites, for example, don’t do well in Google these days without some good quality backlinks and higher quality pages.
Ranking refers to the process search engines use to determine where a particular piece of content should appear on a SERP. Search visibility refers to how prominently a piece of content is displayed in search engine results. Highly visible content (usually the content that ranks highest) may appear right at the top of organic search results or even in a featured snippet, while less-visible content may not appear until searchers click to page two and beyond
You don’t want to “keyword stuff” and cram your core keyword and every possible variation of it into your alt attribute. In fact, if it doesn’t fit naturally into the description, don’t include your target keyword here at all. Just be sure not to skip the alt attribute, and try to give a thorough, accurate description of the image (imagine you’re describing it to someone who can’t see it – that’s what it’s there for!).
When you write a page title, you have a chance right at the beginning of the page to tell Google (and other search engines) if this is a spam site or a quality site – such as – have you repeated the keyword four times or only once? I think title tags, like everything else, should probably be as simple as possible, with the keyword once and perhaps a related term if possible.
Once you have your keyword list, the next step is actually implementing your targeted keywords into your site’s content. Each page on your site should be targeting a core term, as well as a “basket” of related terms. In his overview of the perfectly optimized page, Rand Fishkin offers a nice visual of what a well (or perfectly) optimized page looks like:
Comparing your Google Analytics data side by side with the dates of official algorithm updates is useful in diagnosing a site health issue or traffic drop. In the above example, a new client thought it was a switch to HTTPS and server downtime that caused the drop when it was actually the May 6, 2015, Google Quality Algorithm (originally called Phantom 2 in some circles) that caused the sudden drop in organic traffic – and the problem was probably compounded by unnatural linking practices. (This client did eventually receive a penalty for unnatural links when they ignored our advice to clean up).
To avoid undesirable content in the search indexes, webmasters can instruct spiders not to crawl certain files or directories through the standard robots.txt file in the root directory of the domain. Additionally, a page can be explicitly excluded from a search engine's database by using a meta tag specific to robots (usually ). When a search engine visits a site, the robots.txt located in the root directory is the first file crawled. The robots.txt file is then parsed and will instruct the robot as to which pages are not to be crawled. As a search engine crawler may keep a cached copy of this file, it may on occasion crawl pages a webmaster does not wish crawled. Pages typically prevented from being crawled include login specific pages such as shopping carts and user-specific content such as search results from internal searches. In March 2007, Google warned webmasters that they should prevent indexing of internal search results because those pages are considered search spam.
Hey Sharon, great post! Re. dwell time – I’ve read conflicting opinions, some saying that Google DOES consider it an ‘important’ ranking signal, and others saying that it doesn’t, because dwell time can sometimes be a misleading indicator of content quality. For example when a user searches for something specific and finds the answer immediately in the recommended page (meaning that the content on the page is actually spot on) so he returns to the SERPs very quickly. I have been unable to locate any definitive statements (written/spoken) from anyone at Google that suggest that dwell time IS still a factor in ranking considerations, but it makes sense (to me, anyway) that it should be. Do you have any ‘proof’ one way or the other re. whether Google definitely considers dwell time or not?