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.

Think about the words that a user might search for to find a piece of your content. Users who know a lot about the topic might use different keywords in their search queries than someone who is new to the topic. For example, a long-time football fan might search for [fifa], an acronym for the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, while a new fan might use a more general query like [football playoffs]. Anticipating these differences in search behavior and accounting for them while writing your content (using a good mix of keyword phrases) could produce positive results. Google Ads provides a handy Keyword Planner34 that helps you discover new keyword variations and see the approximate search volume for each keyword. Also, Google Search Console provides you with the top search queries your site appears for and the ones that led the most users to your site in the Performance Report35.
All sites have a home or "root" page, which is usually the most frequented page on the site and the starting place of navigation for many visitors. Unless your site has only a handful of pages, you should think about how visitors will go from a general page (your root page) to a page containing more specific content. Do you have enough pages around a specific topic area that it would make sense to create a page describing these related pages (for example, root page -> related topic listing -> specific topic)? Do you have hundreds of different products that need to be classified under multiple category and subcategory pages?

There are other parts of SEO which you should pay attention to after your audit to make sure you stay competitive. After all, the technical foundation isn't the end of the road for SEO success. It's important to pay attention to your competition's SEO activity, keep an eye on the newest search engine best practices, and maintain local SEO best practices if your business depends on customers visiting a physical address. All of these are elements of a successful SEO strategy and should be corollary to your audit and ongoing SEO maintenance.
The depth of your articles impresses and amazes me. I love all the specific examples and tool recommendations. You discuss the importance of backlinks. How important is it to use a tool to list you on directories (Yext, Moz Local, Synup or JJUMP)? Will Google penalize you for listing on unimportant directories? Is it better to avoid these tools and get backlinks one at a time and avoid all but a few key directories?
QUOTE: “Keyword Stuffed” Main Content Pages may be created to lure search engines and users by repeating keywords over and over again, sometimes in unnatural and unhelpful ways. Such pages are created using words likely to be contained in queries issued by users. Keyword stuffing can range from mildly annoying to users, to complete gibberish. Pages created with the intent of luring search engines and users, rather than providing meaningful MC to help users, should be rated Lowest.” Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines 2017
The transparency you provide on your website in text and links about who you are, what you do, and how you’re rated on the web or as a business is one way that Google could use (algorithmically and manually) to ‘rate’ your website. Note that Google has a HUGE army of quality raters and at some point they will be on your site if you get a lot of traffic from Google.
Consider the length of your typical customer buying cycle. If your products and services have a short customer buying cycle, meaning your customers know what they want, search for it, and buy it, you may benefit from SEM ads that put your product right where customers will see it. Longer buying cycles, where customers research and compare for weeks or months, may not perform as well with SEM, as there isn’t an immediate buy after seeing one ad.

Consider your competition. Look at what your competitors are doing and how they are performing in their search marketing before you decide how you can best compete with them. Research what search terms they rank organically for. Consider if you can execute a plan to top their SERP placements. Also, look at what paid terms they are using to drive traffic to their own sites. As you perform this research, look for gaps that you can fill and areas where you will be unable to compete in both paid and organic search.
However, we do expect websites of large companies and organizations to put a great deal of effort into creating a good user experience on their website, including having helpful SC. For large websites, SC may be one of the primary ways that users explore the website and find MC, and a lack of helpful SC on large websites with a lot of content may be a reason for a Low rating.
Consider how well you know your industry. If you have been in business for a while and already know what your customers want and how to best reach them, you may want to start to build a long-term SEO strategy that will provide value over time. If you aren’t sure how customers and competitors will respond to your offerings or content, you may want to consider an SEM campaign that allows you to test your ideas, products, and services. Use these sites for market research to better understand your target audience and your position in the industry.
Mike Murray has shaped online marketing strategies for hundreds of businesses since 1997, including Fortune 500 companies. A former journalist, he has led SEO studies and spoken at regional and national Internet conferences. Founder of Online Marketing Coach, Mike is passionate about helping clients identify their best opportunities for online marketing success based on their strengths, his advice and industry trends. You can find him at his blog, Online Marketing Matters or on Twitter @mikeonlinecoach.
At Yoast, we practice what we call ‘holistic SEO‘. This means that your primary goal should be to build and maintain the best possible website. Don’t try to fool Google, but use a sustainable long-term strategy. Ranking will come automatically if your website is of extremely high quality. Google wants to get its users to the right place, as its mission is to index all the world’s online information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Consider your competition. Look at what your competitors are doing and how they are performing in their search marketing before you decide how you can best compete with them. Research what search terms they rank organically for. Consider if you can execute a plan to top their SERP placements. Also, look at what paid terms they are using to drive traffic to their own sites. As you perform this research, look for gaps that you can fill and areas where you will be unable to compete in both paid and organic search.

Both use keyword research to uncover popular search terms. The first step for both SEM and SEO is performing keyword research to identify the best keywords to target. The research includes looking at keyword popularity to determine the top keywords or buying keywords that your ideal audience searches for. It also includes looking at keyword competition to see what other brands are targeting the same keywords and determining what you will need to do to compete with those other companies.
Many websites rely on other traffic generation methods such as traffic from social media, email, referrals, and direct traffic sources over search engines. For sites like these, SEO errors aren’t as important because search engines aren’t their #1 traffic source. For a smaller website, a couple of errors can have a much bigger negative effect than those same errors on a larger website.
The self-service keyword research tools we tested all handle pricing relatively similarly, pricing by month with discounts for annual billing with most SMB-focused plans ranging in the $50-$200 per month range. Depending on how your business plans to use the tools, the way particular products delineate pricing might make more sense. KWFinder.com is the cheapest of the bunch, but it's focused squarely on ad hoc keyword and Google SERP queries, which is why the product sets quotas for keyword lookups per 24 hours at different tiers. Moz and Ahrefs price by campaigns or projects, meaning the number of websites you're tracking in the dashboard. Most of the tools also cap the number of keyword reports you can run per day. SpyFu prices a bit differently, providing unlimited data access and results but capping the number of sales leads and domain contacts.
Sometimes I think if your titles are spammy, your keywords are spammy, and your meta description is spammy, Google might stop right there – even they probably will want to save bandwidth at some time. Putting a keyword in the description won’t take a crap site to number 1 or raise you 50 spots in a competitive niche – so why optimise for a search engine when you can optimise for a human? – I think that is much more valuable, especially if you are in the mix already – that is – on page one for your keyword.
Link text is the visible text inside a link. This text tells users and Google something about the page you're linking to. Links on your page may be internal—pointing to other pages on your site—or external—leading to content on other sites. In either of these cases, the better your anchor text is, the easier it is for users to navigate and for Google to understand what the page you're linking to is about.
SEM is better for testing than SEO. Because you can immediately turn SEM paid ads off and on, it’s a great strategy for testing. You can quickly revise your ad copy, target new audiences, and change landing page content to test your new tactics. This flexibility allows you to see differences in your strategies immediately. You cannot accomplish this through SEO, as it would take too much time to make changes and monitor differences in results.
Redirecting is the act of sending a user to a different URL than the one initially requested. There are many good reasons to redirect from one URL to another, for example, when a website moves to a new address. However, some redirects are designed to deceive search engines and users. These are a very poor user experience, and users may feel tricked or confused. We will call these “sneaky redirects.” Sneaky redirects are deceptive and should be rated Lowest.
SEM is better for testing than SEO. Because you can immediately turn SEM paid ads off and on, it’s a great strategy for testing. You can quickly revise your ad copy, target new audiences, and change landing page content to test your new tactics. This flexibility allows you to see differences in your strategies immediately. You cannot accomplish this through SEO, as it would take too much time to make changes and monitor differences in results.
Are you just launching your first website and creating your initial online footprint to promote your product or service? Then you’ll likely need immediate visibility in search until you build up your organic credibility. With a strategic PPC campaign, you'll be able to achieve this. What you shouldn't do, though, is rely strictly on PPC over the long-term while ignoring organic SEO. You still need to create great content that visitors will want to engage with once they get to your website.

The reality in 2019 is that if Google classifies your duplicate content as THIN content, or MANIPULATIVE BOILER-PLATE or NEAR DUPLICATE ‘SPUN’ content, then you probably DO have a severe problem that violates Google’s website performance recommendations and this ‘violation’ will need ‘cleaned’ up – if – of course – you intend to rank high in Google.
For the purposes of our testing, we standardized keyword queries across the five tools. To test the primary ad hoc keyword search capability with each tool, we ran queries on an identical set of keywords. From there we tested not only the kinds of data and metrics the tool gave, but how it handled keyword management and organization, and what kind of optimization recommendations and suggestions the tool provided.
QUOTE: “To summarize, a lack of helpful SC may be a reason for a Low quality rating, depending on the purpose of the page and the type of website. We have different standards for small websites which exist to serve their communities versus large websites with a large volume of webpages and content. For some types of “webpages,” such as PDFs and JPEG files, we expect no SC at all.” Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines 2017
QUOTE: “So sites that don’t have much content “above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience.” Google 2012
Difficulty scores are the SEO market's answer to the patchwork state of all the data out there. All five tools we tested stood out because they do offer some version of a difficulty metric, or one holistic 1-100 score of how difficult it would be for your page to rank organically (without paying Google) on a particular keyword. Difficulty scores are inherently subjective, and each tool calculates it uniquely. In general, it incorporates PA, DA, and other factors, including search volume on the keyword, how heavily paid search ads are influencing the results, and how the strong the competition is in each spot on the current search results page.
I think it makes sense to have unique content as much as possible on these pages but it’s not not going to like sync the whole website if you don’t do that we don’t penalize a website for having this kind of deep duplicate content and kind of going back to the first thing though with regards to doorway pages that is something I definitely look into to make sure that you’re not running into that so in particular if this is like all going to the same clinic and you’re creating all of these different landing pages that are essentially just funneling everyone to the same clinic then that could be seen as a doorway page or a set of doorway pages on our side and it could happen that the web spam team looks at that and says this is this is not okay you’re just trying to rank for all of these different variations of the keywords and the pages themselves are essentially all the same and they might go there and say we need to take a manual action and remove all these pages from search so that’s kind of one thing to watch out for in the sense that if they are all going to the same clinic then probably it makes sense to create some kind of a summary page instead whereas if these are going to two different businesses then of course that’s kind of a different situation it’s not it’s not a doorway page situation.”
LinkResearchTools makes backlink tracking its core mission and provides a wide swath of backlink analysis tools. LinkResearchTools and Majestic provide the best backlink crawling of this bunch. Aside from these two backlink powerhouses, many of the other tools we tested, such as Ahrefs, Moz Pro, Searchmetrics, SEMrush, and SpyFu, also include solid backlink tracking capabilities.
Our online SEO training courses teach you vital SEO skills you can apply immediately. Find out how to outrank your competition and become the best result through our training courses! Whether you’re a blogger, developer, online marketer, or own a business, big or small: we believe in SEO for everyone. We’ve got a great variety of courses, from Keyword Research, Site structure and SEO Copywriting to the more technical aspects of SEO: Structured data, multilingual SEO and Technical SEO training. There’s something for everyone, so be sure to check them out!

QUOTE: “high quality content is something I’d focus on. I see lots and lots of SEO blogs talking about user experience, which I think is a great thing to focus on as well. Because that essentially kind of focuses on what we are trying to look at as well. We want to rank content that is useful for (Google users) and if your content is really useful for them, then we want to rank it.” John Mueller, Google 2016
QUOTE: “Medium pages achieve their purpose and have neither high nor low expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. However, Medium pages lack the characteristics that would support a higher quality rating. Occasionally, you will find a page with a mix of high and low quality characteristics. In those cases, the best page quality rating may be Medium.” Google Quality Evaluator Guidelines, 2017
When Google trusts you it’s because you’ve earned its trust to help it satisfy its users in the quickest and most profitable way possible. You’ve helped Google achieve its goals. It trusts you and it will reward you with higher rankings. Google will list “friends” it trusts the most (who it knows to be reputable in a particular topic) at the top of SERPs.
John Lincoln (MBA) is CEO of Ignite Visibility (a 2017, 2018 & 2019 Inc. 5000 company) a highly sought-after digital marketing strategist, industry speaker and winner of the coveted Search Engine Land "Search Marketer of the Year" award. With 16+ years of demanding experience, Lincoln has worked with over 1,000 online businesses including amazing clients such as Office Depot, Tony Robbins, Morgan Stanley, Fox, USA Today, COX and The Knot World Wide.
I had the same issue. I invested time to go to the website of each of these tools, had to read through the specs of what they offer in their free account etc etc. Some of them did not even allow you to use one single feature until you gave them details for a credit card (even thouhg they wouldn’t charge it for 10-15 days or so). I did not enjoy this approch at all. Free is free. “Free version” should only talk about what you can do in the free version. Same goes for trial version.
QUOTE: “Supplementary Content contributes to a good user experience on the page, but does not directly help the page achieve its purpose. SC is created by Webmasters and is an important part of the user experience. One common type of SC is navigation links which allow users to visit other parts of the website. Note that in some cases, content behind tabs may be considered part of the SC of the page.” Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines 2017

If you take money online, in any way, you NEED to have an accessible and satisfying ‘customer service’ type page. Google says, “Contact information and customer service information are extremely important for websites that handle money, such as stores, banks, credit card companies, etc. Users need a way to ask questions or get help when a problem occurs. For shopping websites, we’ll ask you to do some special checks. Look for contact information—including the store’s policies on payment, exchanges, and returns. “ Google urges quality raters to be a ‘detective’ in finding this information about you – so it must be important to them.
Where the free Google tools can provide complementary value is in fact-checking. If you're checking out more than one of these SEO tools, you'll quickly realize this isn't an exact science. If you were to look at the PA, DA, and keyword difficulty scores across KWFinder.com, Moz, SpyFu, SEMrush, Ahrefs, AWR Cloud, and Searchmetrics for the same set of keywords, you might get different numbers across each metric separated by anywhere from a few points to dozens. If your business is unsure about an optimization campaign on a particular keyword, you can cross-check with data straight from a free AdWords account and Search Console. Another trick: Enable Incognito mode in your browser along with an extension like the free Moz Toolbar and you can run case-by-case searches on specific keywords to get an organic look at your target search results page.
The world is mobile today. Most people are searching on Google using a mobile device. The desktop version of a site might be difficult to view and use on a mobile device. As a result, having a mobile ready site is critical to your online presence. In fact, starting in late 2016, Google has begun experiments to primarily use the mobile version of a site's content42 for ranking, parsing structured data, and generating snippets.
QUOTE: “Medium pages achieve their purpose and have neither high nor low expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. However, Medium pages lack the characteristics that would support a higher quality rating. Occasionally, you will find a page with a mix of high and low quality characteristics. In those cases, the best page quality rating may be Medium.” Google Quality Evaluator Guidelines, 2017

QUOTE: “To summarize, a lack of helpful SC may be a reason for a Low quality rating, depending on the purpose of the page and the type of website. We have different standards for small websites which exist to serve their communities versus large websites with a large volume of webpages and content. For some types of “webpages,” such as PDFs and JPEG files, we expect no SC at all.” Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines 2017

It is important you spread all that real ‘PageRank’ – or link equity – to your sales keyword / phrase rich sales pages, and as much remains to the rest of the site pages, so Google does not ‘demote’ pages into oblivion –  or ‘supplemental results’ as we old timers knew them back in the day. Again – this is slightly old school – but it gets me by, even today.
Google has a LONG list of technical requirements it advises you meet, on top of all the things it tells you NOT to do to optimise your website. Meeting Google’s technical guidelines is no magic bullet to success – but failing to meet them can impact your rankings in the long run – and the odd technical issue can actually severely impact your entire site if rolled out across multiple pages.
NOTE, in 2019, the HTML title element you choose for your page, may not be what Google chooses to include in your SERP snippet. The search snippet title and description is very much QUERY & DEVICE dependant these days. Google often chooses what it thinks is the most relevant title for your search snippet, and it can use information from your page, or in links to that page, to create a very different SERP snippet title.
QUOTE: “Medium pages achieve their purpose and have neither high nor low expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. However, Medium pages lack the characteristics that would support a higher quality rating. Occasionally, you will find a page with a mix of high and low quality characteristics. In those cases, the best page quality rating may be Medium.” Google Quality Evaluator Guidelines, 2017
Don’t be a website Google won’t rank – What Google classifies your site as – is perhaps the NUMBER 1 Google ranking factor not often talked about – whether it Google determines this algorithmically or eventually, manually. That is – whether it is a MERCHANT, an AFFILIATE, a RESOURCE or DOORWAY PAGE, SPAM, or VITAL to a particular search – what do you think Google thinks about your website? Is your website better than the ones in the top ten of Google now? Or just the same? Ask, why should Google bother ranking your website if it is just the same, rather than why it would not because it is just the same…. how can you make yours different. Better.

Tablet - We consider tablets as devices in their own class, so when we speak of mobile devices, we generally do not include tablets in the definition. Tablets tend to have larger screens, which means that, unless you offer tablet-optimized content, you can assume that users expect to see your site as it would look on a desktop browser rather than on a smartphone browser.
Evaluating which self-service SEO tools are best suited to your business incorporates a number of factors, features, and SEO metrics. Ultimately, though, when we talk about "optimizing," it all comes down to how easy the tool makes it to get, understand, and take action on the SEO data you need. Particularly when it comes to ad hoc keyword investigation, it's about the ease with which you can zero in on the ground where you can make the most progress. In business terms, that means making sure you're targeting the most opportune and effective keywords available in your industry or space—the words for which your customers are searching.
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