SEO Basics: How to Increase Your Search Rankings

Keyword Research

The idea of keyword research is to know where you stand. Your site will have content and you will have a certain amount of time and effort to put into the search marketing of your site. With good keyword research you will be able weigh out your options. Often times, keyword analysis can expose a few words that have a good amount of traffic and a relatively low amount of competition.

That is a perfect area to shoot for because with little effort a lot of traffic can be gained. The best place to get keyword research is from the source itself, Google. Google keeps good track of search trends. They provide search trend data via Google Keyword Planner, accessible only after creating a free Google Adwords account.

After that you would want to gather keyword data and export it via CSV (to use with Excel or Google Spreadsheets) to get a KEI (Keyword Efficiency Index) on all the keywords (in comparison to each other). Once you had KEI on all the keywords you could sort your list and identify words that were efficient, but we also like to keep the search volume and competition columns in our final spreadsheet so we can use a little intuition. After all, a little tough competition never hurt anyone and we are working with a full site of content and some amount of time and effort to put into getting rankings:

*** This is a semi-advanced topic that requires practice and experience, BUT ANY EFFORT IS BETTER THAN NONE ***

Meta Data

“Meta data” typically refers to a pages HTML title tag, meta description tag, and meta keywords tag, however, meta keywords are no longer in use by major search engines like Google and Bing. Meta data helps search engine know what your web pages are about and are critical for ranking well.


Title tags are at the very top of your browser when view a page but are also the text in the links listed in Google and Bing search results. The difference between a good title tag and a bad one and its affect on search rankings is day and night. You can dramatically improve ranking by reviewing page title tags.

Words at the beginning have more weigh on ranking. Each page should have a unique title. Titles should be real sentences or at least clauses (incomplete sentences that still make sense). Titles should be concise and between 466-469 pixels in length:

You may go longer than 469 pixels but you will want to let Google crawl your page and see if it adds and ellipses (“…”) at the end or includes the entire title. It is better that it does not get cut off and all words are present. We believe no only to the cut off words lose credit but that there is some sort of bonus for no words cut off on account of Google wanting “pretty” search results.

Meta Description

Meta descriptions are similar to title tags, but secondary in effectiveness. Titles are more powerful, but meta descriptions are also an important factor in search rankings.

Like titles, words at the beginning carry more importance because Google considers them slightly more relevant to the page then words at the end of the description. Descriptions should be unique per page. Descriptions should have natural language and make sense to the reader. Neither titles nor descriptions should be stuffed with keywords in an abnormal fashion, but there should be several so long as the description still describes the page in question and flows as a normal sentence should. Descriptions should be 160 characters or less:

Again, like the title, you can check for ellipses in Google search results to be sure you haven’t included to many characters, IF you want to go over 160. Unlike the title, it goes by characters and not pixels so likely the 160 mark will be consistent and correct, but Google could change this amount at any given time, so double checking never hurts.

Why Meta Keyword Tags Are Useful At Select Times ONLY

Meta keyword tags aren’t checked by Google and Bing, and in fact, it might be bad to have them, however, they are useful in one way. If you use older tools that check content versus keywords for keyword density (how frequency a word appears on a page compared to other words) you would NEED to have the meta keyword tag:

So you could turn them on (add them to the code on a page) and perform analysis, and then turn them back off, but ultimately they should not be there when Google and Bing come to crawl the site.


Site Tags and Elements

Other HTML elements and element attributes are important for SEO. Namely heading tags (like <h1>[WORDS HERE]</h1>, <h2>[WORDS HERE]</h2>, or <h3>[WORDS HERE]</h3>, etc) and alt attributes on images (like <img alt=”[WORDS HERE]”>).

It is important to only have 1 H1 tag per page. This tells search engines what the page is about. You should have less than 5-6 H2 tags, and you may have many H3 and H4 tags. It is rumored that each should contain text that is visible and not hidden and vary at least in font size by 2 font sizes, if not more or also other attributes like color etc. An image may be used inside a heading tag but needs to have the alt attribute filled. If so, the alt text will be used as the text to be counted inside the heading or sub heading tag.

Alt attributes on images are extremely important. Google and Bing want to see that all images have alternative text. Alternative text is used by the blind, who set their browsers to present text instead of images, so programs that read text aloud (screen readers) can read a description of each image. Search engines do not like inaccurately described images, keyword stuffing the alt tag, or images with unfilled alt tags, however, it is a good idea to use alt tags to include key search terms, because these words can weigh heavier then normal text on a page such as the text you are reading now.


Useful Content

Google and Bing have to present search results based on user entered search terms based on something relevant. That means they have to decide which pages are more relevant than others. This means they have to decide which web pages have more authority on a subject than others. But how do they do this?

They read your content and see what it is talking about, usually by what phrases appear the most. They also check to see how many people have shared that page with others, which is a good sign it was useful information. Last, there is an element to which Google and Bing check your web page for branding elements, like a logo or company name, and attribute it to given subjects. That is to say search engines give authority on subjects to brands.

The more times you can associate your brand with a topic related to search terms you want to rank well for the better. Just don’t forget, the interaction your page gets with users, like how long they stay and whether or not they share your page, is also important. But what does this all mean?

It means it is important to write useful content. Yes, it is better to use search terms on your page, but it is just as important that your article actually be useful and not the same as 1,000’s of others the user has already come across. You want to give your readers that “Eureka!”, inspiring them to share your article above all others and as soon as possible.

NOTE: Another strategy is to manually check how many times words appear and try to increase those amounts, but this is admittedly dangerously close to “black hat” or spammy activity – not the natural or “white hat” method. Alas, never hurts to check. If you have a great article, rewriting a single sentence to include a keyword is nothing to lose sleep over.

This is ALSO where meta keywords come in to play. You don’t want to leave them in your code as Google, Bing, and Yahoo think they are old news, but you can temporary set them to use meta data analyzers to compare your meta description and title to your content. Search engines really prefer that the pages title and description (which they use for their search results) match the content of the page. So you can check this yourself by listing keywords you used in your meta description and title tags as meta keywords and then running the site through an online analyzer. When you are done you would take them back down.

Analyze any site:

Analyze WordPress site:

With SEO Yoast plugin for WordPress you are allotted a field per page that called “Focus Keywords” which are NOT meta keywords but they are used by the plugin to check the content of the site versus said words, similarly to the online analyzer method.


Page Load Time

It is a great idea to check your websites page load time. Search engines prefer websites that load fast, as do site visitors. Page load time is weighted search ranking factor, meaning, you can talk about a topic until your blue in the face but if the user has to wait just as long for the page to load as it took you to write the article it won’t appear in search results for that reason.

So always check your page load time. Hopefully it is 5 seconds or less. Multiple places to check:

Best place to check is with Google Insights Page Speed Tester:

These places give you ideas on how to increase page loading time but mostly it is related to leveraging the browser cache, caching the pages and data before the site is even present, compiling CSS and JavaScript, and the biggest one we see is gzip compressing minified CSS and JavaScript. The later is an advanced topic, but most plugins and themes have minified CSS and JavaScript files that could be compressed and sent MUCH faster if the browser caching settings are set with gzip compression on. More on page load time improvements in later articles.


Error Validators, Site Graders, and Checklists

Website errors are never good for search rankings, mostly because even if they are not visible search engines find them and mark you down anyway, or they are 100% sure if it affects the users and they mark your site down, etc. So it is always a good idea to check the console log for errors:

Setting up debugging on PHP servers:

Debugging for WordPress:

Use W3C Markup Validation Service to check your sites HTML/CSS in depth:

Website graders can add more insight and are quick and easy. They can also check your site for social elements, mobile compatibility, and more:


Mobile Ready

Search engines want mobile ready websites. That means they want websites with sleeker layouts for mobile users as compared to the desktop version. That means the website should either be responsive or have a mobile redirect. Meaning, the website either changes appearance based on screen size or redirects to a different size based on device (specifically the device user agent string or a code that tells the browser what device it is, be it Andriod or iPhone etc). A site that doesn’t have one of the two set ups will rank worse than a site that does.