Just like the tiny touches that go into creating your own perfect cup of coffee, less than a handful of little-known ingredients can have a huge impact on your site’s SEO.
That’s a bold claim, especially given what a massive (and massively confusing) subject search engine optimization has become over the last few years.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, rest assured, you’re not alone. SEO is a complex topic. What’s more, search engine like Google often change their rules behind the scenes and don’t exactly publish guidebooks on the topic.
Even for experts this can be frustrating.
However, all hope is not lost. The truth is SEO can be broken down into just two principles. To quote Mez Homayunfard of Online Marketing Gurus:
When Google looks to rank a site they look at two things:
- Your relevancy: How relevant is your site to a search term, both to your end user and to Google (when Google reads your site, remember it’s an algorithm not a human)
- Your authority: How popular and how much authority your site holds (this is determined by how much your site is being talked about on the web and linked to)"
Naturally, the second factor -- your authority -- is far more difficult than the first. Raising your domain's authority often involves a complex strategy of outreach and link building to get other, more authoritative sites to link back to yours.
That's why -- to keep things simple and actionable -- I'm only going to focus this post on the SEO factors you can control. In that spirit, here are four little-known SEO ingredients that can make a huge difference in your search rankings … today.
1. Eliminate duplicate content
Just like your college writing instructors, Google hates duplicate content.
Sometimes duplicating content is necessary, for example, when you have a mobile or printer version of a site page or when you’re A/B testing. Other times, it simply happens by accident. Whatever the cause, because duplicate content produces a poor user experience, Google tries to index and show only pages those with distinct and original information.
As a result, if Google thinks your site has duplicate content, your ranking suffers. In extreme cases, your site might be removed entirely from the Google index and no longer appear in search results.
Image Credit: Neil Patel
So what do you do to make sure you’re not caught up in the duplicate rapture?
Take full advantage of your robots.txt file. If that sounds too technical, don’t worry, I’ll walk you through it.
The robots.txt file is a plain text file that lives in the “root directory of your domain.” As Neil Patel explains in How to Get Google to Instantly Index Your New Website:
Basically, robots.txt is a file that gives strict instructions to search engine bots about which pages they can crawl and index — and which pages to stay away from.
When search spiders find this file on a new domain, they read the instructions in it before doing anything else. If they don’t find a robots.txt file, the search bots assume that you want every page crawled and indexed.
Start eliminating duplicate content by testing your site. You can do this easily through Google Webmaster tools:
Once you’ve uncovered the content Google deems “duplicate,” you can (1) change the descriptions or tags for pages that are genuinely distinct, (2) use a “rel=canonical” or “301 redirect,” or (3) edit your robots.txt file itself using the following command:
“User-agent: *” block all bots and the “Disallow: /” command identifies the pages you want to keep on your site but removes them from the search engine’s indexing: e.g., “Disallow: /duplicate-page.html”
2. Get local
According to Google: “50% of consumers who conducted a local search on their smartphone visited a store within a day, and 34% who searched on computer/tablet did the same.”
That’s a staggering number.
While non-local keywords are great for businesses that only exist digitally -- like “gluten free bread recipes” or “lettuce storage tips” for the food industry -- getting local is vital if your business has any physical expression whatsoever: e.g., “restaurants in Fort Lauderdale 33312” or “cooking classes in Portland, Oregon.”
InvestorCarrot’s 6 Simple Tips To Master Location-Based SEO And Skyrocket To The Top of Search Engine Results offers a host of easy-to-implement localization tips for real estate investors. However, each of their tips also apply brilliantly to location-based SEO in general, most notably tip one: “Be As Specific In Your SEO As Your Audience Will Be In Their Search.”
As the article explains:
One investor I worked with wanted to improve his local SEO.
I asked him what location he served and he gave me the name of the county he worked in. I asked him if his prospective home sellers would search for the name of that county when looking to sell their home.
It was an “aha!” moment for him when he realized that they would more likely use the name of their city – not the county – to find the information they were after.
In other words, it’s tempting to use an expansive geographical region -- like a county or a state -- beneath the thought that bigger is better. But are your customers really searching in those expansive terms?
This means adding the location your target audience is actually searching for to prominent on-page SEO elements like your URL, headline (H1), subheads (H2-H3), and body copy:
Image Credit: InvestorCarrot
But don’t stop there.
Sites like Google Business, Yelp, Foursquare, and TripAdvisor are all dedicated to helping people find places to go based on their location. Set up free profiles on these sites, then find out what other online directories are available for your city, state or country (for those outside of the US) -- many of which are free -- and try to get listed on these too.
3. Link internally
As mentioned above, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to control external links.
However, it’s a little known fact that internal linking is a powerful way to improve the authority -- and therefore the rank -- of specific pages. The key here comes down to understanding the difference between “domain authority” and “page authority.”
While external links dramatically improve both types of authority, linking between pages on your own site -- namely, linking from high page-authority URLs to low page-authority URLs -- passes the SEO value of the first page onto the second.
Think about internally linking as sharing the SEO love your site already has.
Again, that can sound complicated. But it’s not. In his 3 Internal Linking Strategies for SEO and Conversions, Andy Crestodina explains it like this:
Some of your pages will benefit from authority more than others. These are pages that may be ranking, but not that high. Maybe they’re ranking high on page two, so a little bit more authority might go a long way.
In other words, you should use internal linking to strategically raise the authority of individual pages on your site that are on the cusp of moving from page two to page one of Google.
To determine the individual page authority of your sites URLs, you can use a tool like Moz’s Open Site Explorer:
Image Credit: Orbit Media
From there, simply identify what pages could benefit the most from an authority infusion, make the link and anchor text meaningful, and start spreading the love.
4. Optimize your images
Our last little-known ingredient is about images.
Optimizing the images on your site or blog comes down two main elements, both of which you have complete control over: image names and alt tags.
When uploading an image to your site, you rarely think about the name. So if it’s saved as “FT187h3D9.jpg” that’s exactly what will end up on your site too.
This won’t hurt your SEO … but it certainly won’t help either.
Instead, take a few seconds to optimize your image names each time you put a new one on your site.
The best way to determine what you should name your image is to identify the keywords your potential visitors are likely to use when searching for the image itself or the context. Let’s say you’re writing a phone review and had to name this image on a tech blog:
Image Credit: TechSpot
It’d be easy to throw together something like “Hand-Holding-Phone.jpg” and get on with your day. But, again, that won’t do you any SEO favors. In context, you’re not just showing an image of a hand and a phone, you’re showing the “Samsung-Galaxy-S7-Edge-Side-View.jpg.” And for searchers looking for a detailed review of exactly that product, including an equally detailed name adds up to relevance.
Also note that image names with spaces are often condensed, so be sure to use hyphens between words to help Google to identify each term. Instead of “womandrinkinggrapesoda.jpg”, you’d use “woman-drinking-grape-soda.jpg.”
You’ve probably seen the option to add these when uploading images and wondered what the heck is an alt tag.
“Alt” is the short version of alternative (and yes, that’s what the alt key on your Windows keyboard is for too). An alternative tag is a word or phrase that can be inserted as an attribute of an image to tell web site viewers the nature or content of the image. The alt text appears when you hover over an image or in a blank box that would normally contain the image if the image is unable to load.
By describing an image in plain language, you’re able to boost SEO relevance even further by associating relevant keywords with your images.
So for the image of the phone above on a tech blog, a good alt tag might be, “Side view of Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.” Plain, simple, readable, yet descriptive.
If you’re selling products which have serial numbers or specific descriptive keywords, be sure to add those to your alt tag to help potential customers find it more easily when they’re ready to buy.
Little SEO ingredients for big SEO results
Search engine optimization is often complex, confusing, and frustrating. This is especially true when you’re trying to influence SEO factors you don’t have control over.
While these tips may seem fairly simple, you’d be surprised how many sites aren’t taking advantage of them. That’s why it’s vital to start with the SEO factors you can control:
- Eliminate Duplicate Content
- Get Local
- Link Internally
- Optimize Your Image
And remember … just like the tiny touches that go into making your own favorite cup of coffee, these little-known SEO ingredients can actually lead to huge SEO results.