Google and Bing use a crawler (Googlebot and Bingbot) that spiders the web looking for new links to find. These bots might find a link to your homepage somewhere on the web and then crawl and index the pages of your site if all your pages are linked together. If your website has an XML sitemap, for instance, Google will use that to include that content in its index. An XML sitemap is INCLUSIVE, not EXCLUSIVE.  Google will crawl and index every single page on your site – even pages out with an XML sitemap.
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?
I’ve always thought if you are serious about ranking – do so with ORIGINAL COPY. It’s clear – search engines reward good content it hasn’t found before. It indexes it blisteringly fast, for a start (within a second, if your website isn’t penalised!). So – make sure each of your pages has enough text content you have written specifically for that page – and you won’t need to jump through hoops to get it ranking.
Today, however, SEM is used to refer exclusively to paid search. According to Search Engine Land, Search Engine Marketing is “the process of gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines.” Search Engine Optimization, on the other hand, is defined as “the process of getting traffic from free, organic, editorial or natural search results.”
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.
So you have a new site. You fill your home page meta tags with the 20 keywords you want to rank for – hey, that’s what optimisation is all about, isn’t it? You’ve just told Google by the third line of text what to filter you for. The meta name=”Keywords” was actually originally for words that weren’t actually on the page that would help classify the document.
If you want to *ENSURE* your FULL title tag shows in the desktop UK version of Google SERPs, stick to a shorter title of between 55-65 characters but that does not mean your title tag MUST end at 55 characters and remember your mobile visitors see a longer title (in the UK, in January 2018). What you see displayed in SERPs depends on the characters you use. In 2019 – I just expect what Google displays to change – so I don’t obsess about what Google is doing in terms of display. See the tests later on in this article.

Crawlers are largely a separate product category. There is some overlap with the self-service keyword tools (Ahrefs, for instance, does both), but crawling is another important piece of the puzzle. We tested several tools with these capabilities either as their express purpose or as features within a larger platform. Ahrefs, DeepCrawl, Majestic, and LinkResearchTools are all primarily focused on crawling and backlink tracking, the inbound links coming to your site from another website. Moz Pro, SpyFu, SEMrush, and AWR Cloud all include domain crawling or backlink tracking features as part of their SEO arsenals.

For example, within the HubSpot Blogging App, users will find as-you-type SEO suggestions. This helpful inclusion serves as a checklist for content creators of all skill levels. HubSpot customers also have access to the Page Performance App, Sources Report, and the Keyword App. The HubSpot Marketing Platform will provide you with the tools you need to research keywords, monitor their performance, track organic search growth, and diagnose pages that may not be fully optimized.
Mike Levin is the Senior SEO Director at Ziff Davis, PCMag's parent company. His career goes back 25 years to the halls of Commodore Computers, as an original Amiga fanboy to be beamed up by the mothership just as it imploded. Over his past 10 years in NYC, Mike's highlights have included leading the Apple Store, Kraft and JCPenney SEO accounts whi... See Full Bio

SEM is a broader term than SEO, and is used to encompass different options available to use a search engine’s technology, including paid ads. SEM is often used to describe acts associated with researching, submitting and positioning a website within search engines.  It includes things such as search engine optimization, paid listings and other search-engine related services and functions that will increase exposure and traffic to your Web site. 
Length of site domain registration; (I don’t see much benefit ON IT”S OWN even knowing “Valuable (legitimate) domains are often paid for several years in advance, while doorway (illegitimate) domains rarely are used for more than a year.”) – paying for a domain in advance just tells others you don’t want anyone else using this domain name, it is not much of an indication that you’re going to do something Google cares about).
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.
I do not obsess about site architecture as much as I used to…. but I always ensure my pages I want to be indexed are all available from a crawl from the home page – and I still emphasise important pages by linking to them where relevant. I always aim to get THE most important exact match anchor text pointing to the page from internal links – but I avoid abusing internals and avoid overtly manipulative internal links that are not grammatically correct, for instance..
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: “Returning a code other than 404 or 410 for a non-existent page (or redirecting users to another page, such as the homepage, instead of returning a 404) can be problematic. Firstly, it tells search engines that there’s a real page at that URL. As a result, that URL may be crawled and its content indexed. Because of the time Googlebot spends on non-existent pages, your unique URLs may not be discovered as quickly or visited as frequently and your site’s crawl coverage may be impacted (also, you probably don’t want your site to rank well for the search query” GOOGLE
A poor 404 page and user interaction with it, can only lead to a ‘poor user experience’ signal at Google’s end, for a number of reasons. I will highlight a poor 404 page in my audits and actually programmatically look for signs of this issue when I scan a site. I don’t know if Google looks at your site that way to rate it e.g. algorithmically determines if you have a good 404 page – or if it is a UX factor, something to be taken into consideration further down the line – or purely to get you thinking about 404 pages (in general) to help prevent Google wasting resources indexing crud pages and presenting poor results to searchers. I think rather that any rating would be a second order scoring including data from user activity on the SERPs – stuff we as SEO can’t see.
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
Inclusion in Google's search results is free and easy; you don't even need to submit your site to Google. Google is a fully automated search engine that uses web crawlers to explore the web constantly, looking for sites to add to our index. In fact, the vast majority of sites listed in our results aren't manually submitted for inclusion, but found and added automatically when we crawl the web. Learn how Google discovers, crawls, and serves web pages.3

Use common sense – Google is a search engine – it is looking for pages to give searchers results, 90% of its users are looking for information. Google itself WANTS the organic results full of information. Almost all websites will link to relevant information content so content-rich websites get a lot of links – especially quality links. Google ranks websites with a lot of links (especially quality links) at the top of its search engines so the obvious thing you need to do is ADD A LOT of INFORMATIVE CONTENT TO YOUR WEBSITE.
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.
QUOTE: “Content which is copied, but changed slightly from the original. This type of copying makes it difficult to find the exact matching original source. Sometimes just a few words are changed, or whole sentences are changed, or a “find and replace” modification is made, where one word is replaced with another throughout the text. These types of changes are deliberately done to make it difficult to find the original source of the content. We call this kind of content “copied with minimal alteration.” Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines March 2017
Google WILL classify your site when it crawls and indexes your site – and this classification can have a DRASTIC effect on your rankings. It’s important for Google to work out WHAT YOUR ULTIMATE INTENT IS – do you want to be classified as a thin affiliate site made ‘just for Google’, a domain holding page or a small business website with a real purpose? Ensure you don’t confuse Google in any way by being explicit with all the signals you can – to show on your website you are a real business, and your INTENT is genuine – and even more important today – FOCUSED ON SATISFYING A VISITOR.
On the voice and natural language side, it's all about FAQs (frequently asked questions). Virtual assistants and smart home devices have made voice recognition and natural language processing (NLP) not only desirable but an expected search vector. To predict how to surface a business's results in a voice search, SEO professionals now need to concentrate on ranking for the common NL queries around target keywords. Google's Quick Answers exist to give its traditional text-based search results an easy NL component to pull from when Google Assistant is answering questions.
Google ranks websites (relevancy aside for a moment) by the number and quality of incoming links to a site from other websites (amongst hundreds of other metrics). Generally speaking, a link from a page to another page is viewed in Google “eyes” as a vote for that page the link points to. The more votes a page gets, the more trusted a page can become, and the higher Google will rank it – in theory. Rankings are HUGELY affected by how much Google ultimately trusts the DOMAIN the page is on. BACKLINKS (links from other websites – trump every other signal.)
******” Quote from Google: One other specific piece of guidance we’ve offered is that low-quality content on some parts of a website can impact the whole site’s rankings, and thus removing low-quality pages, merging or improving the content of individual shallow pages into more useful pages, or moving low-quality pages to a different domain could eventually help the rankings of your higher-quality content. GOOGLE ******
For example, let's say the keyword difficulty of a particular term is in the 80s and 90s in the top five spots on a particular search results page. Then, in positions 6-9, the difficulty scores drop down into the 50s and 60s. Using that difficulty score, a business can begin targeting that range of spots and running competitive analysis on the pages to see who your website could knock out of their spot.
QUOTE: “Over time, we’ve seen sites try to maximize their “search footprint” without adding clear, unique value. These doorway campaigns manifest themselves as pages on a site, as a number of domains, or a combination thereof. To improve the quality of search results for our users, we’ll soon launch a ranking adjustment to better address these types of pages. Sites with large and well-established doorway campaigns might see a broad impact from this change.” Google 2015
The SEO tools in this roundup provide tremendous digital marketing value for businesses, but it's important not to forget that we're living in Google's world under Google's constantly evolving rules. Oh and don't forget to check the tracking data on Bing now and again, either. Google's the king with over 90 percent of worldwide internet search, according to StatCounter, but the latest ComScore numbers have Bing market share sitting at 23 percent. Navigable news and more useful results pages make Bing a viable choice in the search space as well.
Crawlers are largely a separate product category. There is some overlap with the self-service keyword tools (Ahrefs, for instance, does both), but crawling is another important piece of the puzzle. We tested several tools with these capabilities either as their express purpose or as features within a larger platform. Ahrefs, DeepCrawl, Majestic, and LinkResearchTools are all primarily focused on crawling and backlink tracking, the inbound links coming to your site from another website. Moz Pro, SpyFu, SEMrush, and AWR Cloud all include domain crawling or backlink tracking features as part of their SEO arsenals.
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