Search engine optimization — three words you’ve probably heard a lot when running your business. But what is it? How does it work? And, most importantly, how do you achieve SEO success?
Stay tuned as I take you on a journey through SEO fundamentals, including must-know strategies and tools to elevate the organic success of your business.
Part 1: SEO Fundamentals
What is SEO?
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” At its most rudimentary level, it’s the process of structuring and formatting your website to appear in search engine result pages (SERPs). Note, “search engine result pages” refers to organic (i.e., unpaid) results.
The goal is to elevate your website’s position in relevant SERPs and, ideally, reach that coveted number-one spot on the first page. The higher your site appears in search results, the more likely people are to see and visit it.
How does SEO work?
When we talk about SEO, it’s often in the context of Google — mainly because Google has long been the leading search engine. But SEO can refer to any search engine like Bing or DuckDuckGo, as well as less conventional options like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, where we see the line blur between search engine and social media platform.
Using Google as an example, here’s how SEO works from the search engine’s perspective:
Google’s algorithm for measuring SEO remains shrouded in mystery and, frustratingly, changes constantly. Nevertheless, those in the SEO and content marketing industry have a thorough understanding of how it works.
The algorithm crawls websites for content, indexes what it deems relevant, and then ranks its selections based on relevance and value.
The search engine relies on over 200 factors to decide how to rank content. Most of those criteria remain a secret, but we do know Google employs the following ranking factors:
- Query meaning
- Content relevance
- Content quality
- Topic expertise
- Web page usability
- Context (e.g., location)
- Content freshness
It’s assumed Google looks at domain age, history, and owner when determining the quality of your site. In terms of page ranking, keywords are a strong indicator of content relevance and can influence organic performance, so make sure they appear in titles, subheadings, and throughout the content. Latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords, which are semantically related to a topic, can also help search engines better understand what your content covers.
Additionally, longer content may perform better in organic search results: A study from Backlinko found the average first-page result on Google contained 1,447 words. They also discovered the web pages that appeared in the number-one spot in SERPs received 3.8 times more backlinks than those in positions two through 10.
On a technical level, factors such as image optimization, canonical content, mobile-friendliness, content syndication, and user experience signals also impact your content’s ability to rank well in search results.
To understand how to create content that Google loves, I recommend reading Google Search Essentials. Focus on crafting helpful, reliable, people-first content that’s crawlable, optimized, and in line with Google’s best practices. Google’s algorithm for ranking organic content is constantly evolving. By keeping an eye on changes to the algorithm, you can feel confident you’re creating content that performs well organically.
Why does SEO matter?
SEO makes your site more visible in organic search results. In turn, that greater visibility yields more opportunities to reach your target audience and convert them into customers and users.
Develop a strong SEO strategy to:
- Have your target audience discover your products/services
- Drive business growth
- Help your brand stand out from competitors
- Nurture leads throughout the customer journey
- Support other marketing channels and efforts
Search engine optimization is valuable for building brand awareness, nurturing relationships with prospects, and positioning your brand (or yourself) as an authority in your field. Organic search is how people find answers to their questions, so your brand needs to be visible in SERPs — otherwise, your target audience could miss you.
Different types of SEO
There are five types of SEO. The major three are on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical SEO, while the remaining two are local SEO and, more recently, voice SEO.
As the name suggests, on-page SEO focuses on the search engine optimization efforts on your website. You can optimize each page of your site for organic search to increase its ranking potential in SERPs.
Common on-page SEO tactics include optimizing keywords, titles, content, internal links, and formatting. Most content marketing best practices include these and other on-page SEO strategies. This type also covers technical SEO, which I’ll dive into separately.
Off-page SEO refers to any optimization efforts made outside your website. Optimizing for off-page ranking factors improves how people perceive your business’ trustworthiness, authority, and relevance.
This type of SEO can be harder to implement because it often involves channels and platforms that you have no control over, like social media.
Methods of off-page optimization include building reputable links to your website (backlink building), social media marketing, guest posts and guest blogging, and increasing brand mentions online.
Any online brand activity that isn’t on your website has the potential to benefit your off-page SEO. What’s more, on-page and off-page SEO tactics can complement each other to boost your organic performance.
Technical SEO is a subset of on-page SEO that deals with improving the technical aspects of your website. You should direct your efforts toward strengthening site performance and making it easier for search engines to crawl and index your pages.
Any technical SEO activity usually begins with an audit. Then, you can identify which technical elements of your site or page need improvement. Aspects of technical SEO may include:
- Refining the sitemap and site architecture
- Fixing crawl errors
- Optimizing page speed
- Ensuring the site is mobile-friendly
- Adding structured data markup
- Resolving duplicate content issues
The specific tasks that’ll improve organic success will vary between sites and pages, which is why it’s best to start with a technical SEO audit.
Local SEO encompasses strategies that increase your business’s visibility in local search results. Any brand that has a physical presence in or serves a specific geographic area should prioritize local SEO.
Google has several local search features such as the Map Pack and local news featured snippets. When refining the local presence of your website, focus on tactics such as:
- Claiming and honing your Google My Business listing
- Collecting customer reviews
- Ensuring NAP (name, address, and phone number) is consistent across the internet
- Listing your business in local directories
- Adapting your site to localized queries and keywords
Everything you do for local SEO should focus on expanding visibility for your business in a particular geographic area.
Voice search is the latest addition to the SEO family. Voice SEO refers to the optimization of keywords and queries for searches performed using a voice assistant, such as Amazon Alexa.
Some ways you can adapt your site to accommodate voice search include:
- Adding up-to-date FAQs to your site
- Ensuring your site is mobile-friendly
- Using schema markup
- Creating content for conversational keywords and search queries
- Optimizing your site for local SEO
People typically use voice search to find information or products. As such, optimizing your site for voice search can drive sales for local businesses and augment your business’s visibility for informational content.
What are black hat and white hat SEO?
You might also hear people refer to “black hat” or “white hat” SEO. These are neither technical terms nor actual types; rather, they relate to the method of SEO someone applies and whether it adheres to SEO best practices or employs underhanded tactics.
White hat SEO
White hat SEO means you only use ethical tactics and strategies. It encompasses strategies that follow the understood search optimization best practices.
All of the SEO strategies we’ll talk about in this article are examples of white hat SEO tactics.
Black hat SEO
Black hat SEO comprises methods or strategies that are risky. While they might work, they often go against search engine guidelines and can hurt your business.
Manipulating the search engine algorithm to improve your brand’s ranking, for example, is deceptive activity that falls under this category. Other examples of black hat SEO tactics include:
- Link farms – A collection of sites that link to a target page for the sole purpose of improving SEO
- Cloaking – Presenting content to search engines that’s different from the content presented to users
- Doorway pages – Pages that only exist to improve rankings for specific keywords and that send visitors to another page
- Hidden text – Text or links in content that search engines can read, but site visitors can’t see
- Blog comment spam – Including links to your website in blog comments on other sites
- Fake reviews – Adding fake reviews to your site to mislead buyers and inflate your brand’s reputation and search visibility
Black hat SEO isn’t illegal, but it is discouraged. Engaging in these practices could result in penalties against your site that significantly lower your ranking. In the worst-case scenario, search engines could delist your site or place it at a higher cybersecurity risk.
Gray hat SEO
Gray hat SEO sits between white and black hat. It either uses a combination of strategies from the first two categories or SEO tactics that aren’t strictly against search engine guidelines but may fall outside of what’s considered best practice.
For example, if you published high-quality content (white hat SEO), then bought backlinks to that content (black hat SEO), that could be deemed a gray hat SEO strategy.
The following SEO tactics are also considered to be gray hat:
- Paid links
- Mass cold outreach for link building
- Paid reviews
- SEO squatting
To optimize your site for organic search, steer clear of black and gray hat SEO, as these methods will come back to bite you. Stick with white hat SEO strategies to drive results without engaging in deceptive or malicious activity.
There’s no such thing as a “quick win” in SEO. Just focus on the right tactics to succeed organically.
Part 2: How to build SEO into your content strategy
In its simplest form, content marketing is the creation and distribution of useful, relevant, and engaging content for your audience without explicitly promoting your products or services. Think blog articles, podcasts, videos, social media posts, and online events, to name but a few popular content formats. Through content marketing, you can generate brand awareness, nurture stronger customer and stakeholder relationships, and ensure your brand is top of mind when shoppers are ready to buy.
Content marketing is powerful on its own, but when you add SEO into the mix, your results can increase exponentially. With an SEO-led content strategy, you can craft content that both your audience and Google love.
Let’s dive into the steps of building a high-yield SEO content strategy.
The main stages of SEO
You can’t write a blog post and then optimize it for SEO later; you need to incorporate SEO into your content strategy from the beginning. The best way to do that is to lead with keyword research.
Once you’ve conducted this research, you can begin developing content. Then, it’s time to tighten all aspects of on-page, off-page, and technical SEO to ensure your content truly shines.
Start with keywords
Google (and other search engines) crawl your site for keywords. They allow search engines to understand your content — what it’s about and who to serve it to.
Google’s “How Search Works” report highlights the importance of keywords for SEO:
To produce content that Google and your audience love, start with strong keywords.
Keywords are the words and phrases people use when searching for things online. Because they’re derived from search queries, inserting them into your content can improve its chances of appearing in relevant search results.
However, there are a few concepts to cover before you begin to build content around them.
Long-tail versus short-tail keywords
First, you should be able to recognize the difference between long- and short-tail keywords.
Short-tail keywords, also known as seed keywords or head terms, are broad search queries that usually consist of one or two words. “Cake,” “eCommerce,” and “running shoes” are all examples of short-tail keywords.
Alone, these search queries are vague; they tell us nothing about the intent behind the search. They do, however, have a high number of monthly searches and competition, which suggests they’re popular search queries.
Meanwhile, long-tail keywords are more specific, so they also tend to be longer. Some long-tail keywords using the examples above could be:
- “Chocolate fudge cake recipe”
- “Best eCommerce platform”
- “Running shoes for overpronation”
With long-tail keywords, it’s easier to detect the intent behind the keyword, meaning you have a better idea of what the user is searching for. As they’re more specific, long-tail keywords typically have fewer monthly searches than their short-tail counterparts. Additionally, long-tail keywords may be less competitive, making them easier to rank for.
Take “running shoes for overpronation” for example: This keyword has 2,400 monthly searches, much lower than “running shoes” alone, which has a monthly search volume of 246,000.
The “overpronation” qualifier makes it clear that search results for this query are designed to solve a particular problem. As such, search results for “running shoes for overpronation” include detailed guides highlighting the best shoes for people struggling with overpronation. The long-tail keyword is more informational, which lends itself well to blog content.
Focus on identifying valuable long-tail keywords for your niche, as you’ll likely achieve greater success ranking for these keywords.
Zero search volume keywords
Along with short- and long-tail keywords, there are zero search volume keywords.
Search volume indicates the number of monthly searches a query earns. So, it’s understandable to think a keyword with a search volume of zero is worthless. On the contrary, zero search volume keywords present an invaluable opportunity for your brand.
These keywords are hyper-focused long-tail search queries. Because zero search volume keywords are so specific and infrequently searched, SEO tools have a hard time collecting data on their search history. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t searching; on the contrary, the people searching for those keywords know exactly what they’re looking for.
Zero search volume keywords can give your brand a unique advantage by answering your audience’s hyper-focused queries. Embrace these keywords as your brand’s secret weapon for surpassing the competition.
How to find keywords
To guide your keyword research, study your niche to determine which topics are highly valuable and relevant to both your brand and your customers.
Head to your preferred tool and input your topics as the seed keywords.
They’ll return an array of related keywords, which you can sift through to extract any results that seem relevant to your brand and audience.
Note the keyword search volume and difficulty score to help you determine:
- How often the keyword is searched for (and whether it’s short- or long-tail)
- How competitive the keyword is (and how hard it’ll be to rank for)
Repeat the exercise including words such as “how,” “why,” and “guide” with your keyword to discover more ideas for your brand.
Tip: Reverse engineer competitor sites to uncover even more keyword opportunities.
Create SEO content
Once you pinpoint your keywords, you’re ready to move on to content creation.
Go through your refined keyword list and review their search results to determine what type of content ranks well and whether your brand could compete in that topic. When checking SERPs in real time, use an incognito browser to prevent your personal activity from affecting the results.
Look at the search intent of your chosen keywords too. Search intent tells you the purpose of an online search and falls into one of four categories:
- Informational intent – Someone wants to find out more about a particular topic (e.g., “how to run”)
- Navigational intent – Someone is searching for something from a specific site or brand (e.g., “brandname.com”)
- Commercial intent – Someone knows what they want but is still researching (e.g., “best running shoes”)
- Transactional intent – Someone knows what they want and is ready to purchase (e.g., “nike pegasus running shoes”)
The search intent informs you what type of content you should create when targeting that keyword.
Take note of competitor performance as well: Where do your competitors appear in search results? What type of content do they share? Could you do better?
Pick out keywords where you see potential to produce high-quality pieces and work those into your content strategy. Then, write a content brief for the chosen keyword, outlining:
- Suggested title
- Primary keyword
- Any related or secondary keywords
- Internal or external links that should be included
- Target audience
- Estimated word count
- Similar content that ranks well for your targeted keywords
- Outline of the content structure and format
- Any topics or subtopics to be covered
A writer should be able to take your brief and write unique, top-notch content that has strong potential to perform well organically.
Bonus: Check expertise for YMYL content
Depending on the industry you’re in, you should also be aware of YMYL content, which stands for “Your Money or Your Life.” Despite the slightly sinister undertone, this is simply Google’s way of defining pages or topics that could “significantly impact the health, financial stability, or safety of people, or the welfare or well-being of society.”
Content that deals with these topics can have serious implications on a searcher’s life, so it should be expertly crafted. Demonstrate experience, expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) when writing about these subjects. While E-E-A-T may not be a direct SEO ranking factor, Google highlights it as an important element in evaluating the quality of search results, especially for YMYL topics.
Leverage “spoke” content opportunities
Not all content is created equal. Some onsite content pieces act as pillars (“hubs”), while other posts play a supporting role (“spokes”). This approach to SEO-led content forms the “hub-and-spoke” strategy.
The hub content goes after high-volume keywords within your niche. Sticking with our running example, hub content might focus on short-tail keywords like “running” or “womens running shoes.” The chosen keywords will be broad, allowing you to cover a wide range of subtopics within one master piece.
Spoke content, meanwhile, focuses on low-volume and longer-tail keywords, which are typically informational and therefore less competitive (for example, a guide that uncovers the best running shoes for marathon running). This gives you a better chance of increasing your overall keyword rankings.
Make sure your spoke pieces link back to your hub content to further boost your organic rankings around the main “pillar” subject, as that helps propel you to the coveted number-one spot.
Create helpful content
It may sound counterintuitive but, to craft content that ranks well, focus on appealing to people rather than search engines. Google Search’s helpful content system focuses on finding and indexing content that searchers want.
If your content meets their needs, it’s more likely to rank higher in search results. Content that fails to meet visitor expectations, however, will rank poorly.
Google stated that if you answer “yes” to the following questions, you’re on your way to creating content with a helpful, people-first approach:
- Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if they came directly to you?
- Does your content clearly demonstrate firsthand expertise and a depth of knowledge (for example, experience gained from using a product or service or visiting a place)?
- Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
- After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
- Will someone reading your content leave feeling satisfied?
- Are you keeping in mind Google’s guidance on core updates and product reviews?
Improve your SEO by prioritizing people over search engines.
Follow on-page SEO best practices
The content brief should enable the writer to produce a strong, SEO-informed piece — as long as you’ve included the relevant information to guide their writing.
But it involves more than publishing a block of text on a chosen topic; you also need to consider the different types of SEO, and on-page SEO is crucial for easily discoverable content.
Implement keywords appropriately
Incorporate your chosen keywords correctly while staying mindful of keyword density. Use too many, and you could fall into the trap of “keyword stuffing”; use too few, and Google might struggle to see the relevancy of your content.
You need to find the sweet spot. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is to apply keywords as naturally as possible throughout your content. If you write about a hyper-focused topic, you should have no problem having keywords appear organically in your content.
Then, comb over your work and make sure the keyword (or semantically related keywords) appears in the title, heading and subheadings, throughout the content, in the meta description, and any media ALT text (where relevant).
Write compelling meta descriptions
A meta description is the snippet of text, up to 160 characters long, that appears under your result in SERPs.
Compelling meta descriptions have the power to increase the click-through rate of your organic search results by encouraging people to click on your page over competitors’. When writing new content for your site, craft the description carefully. Make it unique and be sure to include your focus keyword.
Use headings and subheadings correctly
Headings help people and search engines read and understand your content. Unclear headings and subheadings could indirectly damage your content’s SEO.
There are six types of headings, H1 through H6. H1 is the main heading, or headline, of the content and is typically your page title. Any subtopics underneath this will fall into subheadings, ranging from H2 to H6. Both Google and real users read subheadings to understand the content that follows, so make sure yours are representative of the ensuing information.
Create SEO-friendly URLs
URLs optimized for SEO tend to be short but rich in keywords. People should be able to glance at the URL and quickly understand what the content is about. Although you’re unable to change the domain of the URL, you can change the URL slug, which is the last part of the string used to represent the website page.
For example, the URL slug for a 5K running guide could simply be “/5k-running-guide.” Anyone who sees that URL could easily guess what they’ll discover if they click on the link.
In their SEO Starter Guide, Google states the importance of URLs to ensure search engines find your content.
Although it’s a small detail, optimizing your URL can be the final push to draw in searchers to your site.
Improving on-page SEO isn’t restricted to text-based content; you should also optimize any images that appear. Images are a great way to break up text and make long-form content more engaging and easier to read.
They also present rich SEO opportunities: Optimize images for organic search by choosing smaller file sizes, such as opting for the JPG format over PNG. Apply the best image size for your intended use as well.
Fine-tune your technical SEO
Besides on-page elements, there’s plenty of work to be done behind the scenes to improve your organic performance.
Before publishing your content, make sure you fine-tune any technical SEO elements. Additionally, you should look for opportunities to:
- Use structured data for rich snippets – This helps Google better understand your content and increases your chances of securing featured snippets.
- Be mindful of canonicalization – Use canonicals appropriately to prevent duplicate content issues and help search engines identify the original content. This is especially important if you plan to reuse existing content for guest posts.
- Improve the page experience – Make sure content loads quickly and is user-friendly by refining the page experience (i.e., responsive, visually stable, adheres to mental models, etc.).
- Make your content mobile-friendly – Adapt your content to mobile devices to improve the page experience and increase its ranking potential.
- Clean up your content – Improve the technical quality of your content by fixing broken links, minimizing redirect chains, removing slow-loading elements, etc.
Technical SEO is no easy feat but it plays a crucial role in your overall organic performance. Prioritize technical SEO to increase the chances of your content ranking well organically.
No matter how incredible your content is, if it’s not accessible or user-friendly, it’s essentially invisible. Improving technical SEO elements such as page speed, mobile-friendliness, and the overall page experience can work wonders for your content’s SEO potential.
Make sure your site is SEO-friendly on a technical level by following these best practices:
- Submit your sitemap to search engines for crawling and indexing
- Use HTTPS for increased site security
- Avoid duplicate content by making sure only one version of your site is available (either with or without the “www” in the URL)
- Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to improve your page speed
- Find and fix any duplicate content to avoid backlink dilution and make sure your best content is ranking for targeted keywords
- Use Hreflang if your site has content in multiple languages
- Regularly monitor and improve technical SEO performance
You should also take care to prioritize the Core Web Vitals of your web pages. Core Web Vitals are a specific set of factors that Google uses to measure user experience, including:
- Largest contentful paint (LCP) – Reports on the render time of the largest visible image of text block when the page first began to load.
- First input delay (FID) – Measures the time from when a user first interacts with your site to the time when the browser responds to that interaction.
- Cumulative layout shift (CLS) – Measures how much a web page unexpectedly shifts after the page initially loads.
These three metrics work together to determine the user experience of your website. Make sure your pages perform well across these metrics to improve your technical SEO performance.
Give attention to off-page SEO
Some SEO opportunities can only be secured outside your site (termed “off-page SEO): Backlinks, guest blogging, social media activity, and influencer marketing all contribute to your off-page SEO success.
Add internal and external links to on-site content
Incorporate both internal and external links into your content creation. Internal links connect related content and build a hub-and-spoke model.
As for external ones, these link your content to other relevant and authoritative sources. If you reference any statistics or research in your pieces, you must find the original source and link to it. Any external links added will help search engines determine your content’s quality, usefulness, and relevance. Linking to reputable sites will also make your site appear more credible than if you cite low-quality content.
Build backlinks to your content
Backlinks (also known as inbound links or incoming links) refer to any external links that point to your site. Building backlinks should be at the core of any off-page SEO strategy.
Search engines see backlinks as votes of confidence for the page they link to. If another site links to your page, that tells Google they deem your site to be trustworthy. Google cares about your off-site reputation, so make sure you build quality links to your site from reputable sources.
Look for opportunities to share your opinion, experience, or thoughts on other websites. Platforms such as HARO (Help a Reporter Out) offer the chance to be featured in other people’s content: In return for your expertise and insight, you’ll be mentioned in an external article and often receive a backlink to your site. Including original research in your content also increases shareability, which encourages people to link back to your research in their articles and posts.
If you write guest posts to be published on other platforms, include links that lead back to your website. Rather than sending people to your home page, try to insert URLs that direct people to related content they may find interesting.
Alternatively, you could analyze your competitor’s backlink profiles to see which publications you might be able to gain backlinks from too.
The best way to build backlinks, however, is simply to write high-quality content worth sharing. Focus on creating the best work for your chosen topic so that people can’t help but share it far and wide.
Distribute content on social media
When building a strong off-page SEO strategy, don’t neglect social media. Distributing your content across these platforms encourages engagement and shares and can significantly boost organic performance.
Much like backlinks, social media shares aid your content’s credibility. With that said, Google explicitly states social signals have no influence over organic rankings. Those shares, however, could indirectly improve off-page SEO by attracting more eyes to your content and increasing branded mentions on external sites.
Note that publishing content can’t happen in silos. Whenever you create new content for your brand, prioritize the on-page, off-page, and technical SEO activity to emphasize its ranking potential.
Part 3: How to measure SEO performance
After you’ve published SEO-led content, measure its performance and identify any opportunities for improvement. Setting measurable goals and KPIs will produce a detailed review of the success of your SEO activity.
Below are some ways you can measure your content’s SEO performance.
Check keyword rankings in SERPs
An obvious indicator of your content’s performance is where it ranks in SERPs for relevant keywords. Use a keyword monitoring tool to keep tabs on your keyword rankings and how these fluctuate over time. Monitor competitor activity as well to learn from their successes and failures and strengthen your efforts.
Monitor impressions in Google Search Console
Every time your content shows up in search results, it counts as an impression in Google Search Console. The higher your page ranks there, the higher your impressions are likely to be. Monitoring impressions is a great way to check the effectiveness of the keywords you’re trying to rank for and determine which ones draw the right eyes to your content.
Analyze organic search traffic
Adopt a website analytics tool like Google Analytics to analyze incoming organic search traffic. Keep a close eye on your organic search traffic to help you spot any issues with your search presence (such as a sudden drop in activity), recognize opportunities to improve underperforming content, and identify the strongest pages in your content strategy.
Track click-through rates
Measure how many people click through to your website after discovering your content in search results. Tracking click-through rates (CTRs) quantifies how relevant your content is to searchers. If people don’t click through, it could be a sign your result in SERPs fails to meet people’s expectations for that search query, or there are other factors preventing people from clicking through to your site (e.g., they can find their answer in featured snippets, or your result ranks too low for that keyword).
Review your bounce rate
Bounce rate measures the percentage of single-engagement visits to your site. A bounce rate of 100%, for example, would mean everyone who visits your site leaves without viewing any more pages. A high rate thus indicates possible issues with your content.
Perhaps people land on your page but fail to find what they wanted, which suggests your content isn’t relevant to the targeted search query. It could also be a sign your content has a poor user experience and causes people to leave without interacting further, or that you’re falling victim to bot spam.
Investigate any instances of high bounce rate to pinpoint why it’s occurring and fix the problem.
Monitor domain authority
Domain authority (DA) is a metric developed by Moz to determine how likely a site is to rank in SERPs. High-quality and reputable sites have a higher DA score. A website’s backlink profile most significantly impacts this metric, so track your DA score over time to gauge your link-building activity and whether it has positively affected your organic performance.
Diagnose site health
Site health refers to your site’s performance across structure, speed, security, and technical SEO elements. You can measure it using Google Lighthouse or an SEO tool like Semrush or Ahrefs. Check site health to understand your site’s technical performance, spot any potential concerns, and uncover technical aspects that need fine-tuning.
You have a variety of metrics to choose from to measure SEO performance, depending on your goals, priorities, and strategy. However, the above metrics are a good starting point to gain a basic understanding of your SEO performance.
Part 4: Popular SEO tools
To obtain the best results from your SEO activity, equip yourself with a stack of reliable SEO tools. Here are some popular options I recommend exploring.
Part of the Google product suite, Google Search Console is a free tool that lets you monitor your site’s search traffic and performance and identify any issues.
Semrush is an SEO platform designed to conduct keyword research, measure performance, and analyze competitor activity, among other capabilities.
Similar to Semrush, Ahrefs is an SEO tool that analyzes websites’ keyword rankings, SEO health, and link profiles.
Moz is a great SEO tool for smaller businesses that want to monitor their SEO performance across their link profile and technical SEO activity.
ContentKing is a real-time SEO auditing tool that lets you track your website performance 24/7 so you can catch any changes or issues as soon as they happen.
AnswerThePublic is a search listening tool with a free tier that helps you identify new content opportunities based on popular search queries related to your chosen keyword.
Sitebulb is an intuitive website crawler with an impressive free version that can provide rich SEO data insights. Use Sitebulb to audit your site’s current SEO performance and identify opportunities for improvement.
This free tool uses Google search insights to showcase the popularity of search queries. Employ Google Trends to understand keyword popularity over time.
A freemium Chrome browser extension, Keywords Everywhere lets you see keyword metrics such as monthly search volume, competition, and 12-month trend data directly in SERPs.
Similar to Sitebulb, Screaming Frog is a desktop website crawler that can help you conduct an SEO audit on small or large websites to identify technical SEO opportunities easily.
PageSpeed Insights is a free Google Developers tool that reports on a page’s user experience across both mobile and desktop devices. Leverage PageSpeed Insights to measure site performance and identify elements that impact the page experience for users.
This all-in-one SEO tool helps you analyze competitors, improve your content, and enhance the visibility of your website. SISTRIX developed its own metric, the SISTRIX Visibility Index, for measuring and improving your organic visibility in Google search results.
SEO Minion is another free Chrome extension designed to simplify the management of daily SEO tasks such as on-page SEO analysis, checking for broken links, and previewing SERPs.
Surfer is a content optimization tool that leverages AI technology to reverse engineer top-ranking content. Using Surfer, you can plan, write, and edit your content to give it the best chance of ranking.
Part 5: Keeping an eye on the algorithm
While some core SEO foundations remain stable, you need to be aware of how search engine algorithms are evolving. Staying at the forefront of these changes allows you to optimize content proactively and make sure it retains the highest ranking potential.
For instance, the Google Search algorithm constantly changes. Google frequently rolls out smaller, ongoing adjustments, with significant changes to the search algorithm (known as core updates) made several times a year.
Recent updates include:
- December 2022 Helpful content update – Better ensures people see original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results
- December 2022 Link spam update – Introduced the power of their AI-based spam-prevention system, SpamBrain, to neutralize the impact of unnatural links on search results
- March 2023 core update – This was Google’s first core update of 2023 and the first one in over six months
- April 2023 Reviews update – Aims to better reward high-quality reviews, that is, content that provides insightful analysis and original research and is written by experts or enthusiasts who know the topic well.
Keep an eye on Google’s list of ranking updates to stay on top of alterations. Then, assess how your content performs against the core update and adjust it accordingly.
Focus on offering the best possible content for your audience. Google values content that’s helpful, reliable, and people-first — which is the basis of all their updates.
However, if you notice a drop in organic rankings following a Google update, you may need to revisit your content to determine why it happened. Audit your pages to see how they can better meet the needs of your audiences and align with the Google ranking algorithm changes.
Search Generative Experience
Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) aims to revolutionize how people experience search engines. It brings generative AI technologies into Google Search to improve the SERPs people see when using Google.
It’s not yet fully known how SGE will impact SEO, but it’s definitely a search element to keep in mind. By understanding how to improve informational content for SGE, you can refine your content so it continues to rank highly in generative search results.
Wrapping up — Put your SEO knowledge into action
SEO is a continuous learning experience. From Google algorithm changes to shifting markets and competitor landscapes, it requires constant attention to maintain top-notch performance.
Keep a curious mind and question every metric. Any SEO activity you undertake should have data backing it or, at the very least, be tested so you can feel confident about the impact it’ll have.
Whether you’re just beginning your SEO journey or have been on it for a while, make sure you stay up to date with the latest developments while heeding the fundamentals of SEO best practices. This balance will give your content the greatest chances of ranking well.
Published May 4, 2015
Updated December 8, 2022
Updated June 19, 2023