Whether you’re an SEO at the top of your game, or a site owner looking to do more with your SEO, this article is for you.
Most SEO advice is pretty straightforward (and worn out): Optimize your title tags! Content is king! Use a sitemap!
I get all that. And that’s fine advice. And you should do it. But sometimes we need a little bit more — those under-the-hood optimizations that can move the needle even further for SEO. I’m about to give you seven of my secret weapons for doing just that.
Just so you don’t get your hopes up too high, I’m not providing any home run hacks that are going to boost you to the top of the SERPs by tomorrow morning. SEO doesn’t work that way. These seven techniques are reputable, slow-but-steady, and hard work.
But they do work.
1. Make Your Site Secure
Google has tipped its hand regarding one of their newest ranking factors: Site security.
In the summer of 2014, Google declared that HTTPS is now a ranking signal. Although its immediate impact on the search landscape is marginal, we can expect this signal to grow stronger as time goes on.
Security, with all its massive disruptions of late, is a big deal for users, and therefore for Google. We as SEOs need to understand this. Although we crave data — especially the data that gets snatched away from us (not provided) — we still need to respect the limits of privacy.
If you have the ability and/or resources, add encryption to your site. In addition to being a ranking signal, it is also a user signal. Sites with encryption are recognized in the SERPs with an “https://” preceding the URL, unlike non-secured sites.
This little change in the SERPs alerts conscientious users to the presence or absence of a security layer on a given site, which may in turn affect click-throughs, bounce rates, and dwell time.
2. Add Above-the-Fold Images or Videos With Full Optimization
We all know images and videos can improve a site’s ability to engage users. What we may not realize, however, is that such images can improve a site’s ranking in Image or Universal Search.
The click-through rates for no-image pages are, on average, lower than pages that contain images. Although the first position results gain higher CTRs (20% vs. 10%) for no-image pages, the tables turn in the third through tenth SERP positions. For these results, users show a preference for pages that contain images.
Here is research from Jim Yu in his discussion from Search Engine Land. The chart indicates CTRs for image vs. no-image SERP entries.
To make your images as SERP-supported as possible, you need to optimize them. Here are the most important features for optimization:
- Make the size of the image appropriate to the necessary resolution. Get the file as small as possible to improve page load times.
- Add alt text.
- Title the image appropriately, using keywords if at all possible.
- Use a good quality image. It’s for the users, remember.
- Add supporting Schema for the image.
You can use videos, too, with similar results in the SERPs. The additional effort of adding above-the-fold images and video is that it improves SERP rankings while also adding value for the user. Value for the user means your site visitors will click through more frequently, bounce less, stay longer, and thereby improve your rankings.
3. Create an Image Sitemap
Every search engine professional understands the importance of an HTML sitemap and an XML sitemap. I’m suggesting that you create an image sitemap.
So, what’s an image sitemap? And how many sites even have one?
Not many sites have an image sitemap. That’s why we’re under the hood right now. This optimization will boost your rankings particularly in Google’s Image Search.
To create an image sitemap, simply add extra information about images on the page to your existing xml sitemap.
Here is Google’s example of a sitemap with image information:
You can add the following image tag definitions:
If you want to gain additional image search traffic and ranking, this is a must-have optimization maneuver. Be sure to check out Google’s support article on the topic.
4. Regularly Review and Request Removals From Your Link Profile
Behind every site lurks a powerful and sometimes ominous force. It’s your link profile.
You have limited control over what sites link or don’t link to your site. You could become the victim of a negative SEO attack, or you could be rewarded by links from a high-authority government (.gov) or education (.edu) site.
But you do have some control. You should exercise this control in three ways:
- Monitor your link profile. Every now and then, scan through the list of sites that are linking to you. This data is available in Google Webmaster Tools. You can also purchase services that will scan your link profile for possible risk.
- Request low authority or spam sites remove their links to yours. A polite removal request is the best solution to spam links. Simply email the webmaster, informing them of the links and ask that they be removed.
- Submit a disavow file. Regardless of the SEO brouhaha over the issue, Google has provided a tool that allows you to disavow any links that you deem undesirable.
5. Create Keyword-Specific URLs
Aren’t ranking for a specific keyword? Check your URLs.
Exact match domains (EMD) are an SEO spam technique of yesteryear, but there is no question that Google still considers the URL to be a significant indication of a page’s relevance, and therefore a ranking factor.
Notice how each of these sites, top-ranked domains for a competitive keyword, have URL pages that use the exact query.
If you are angling for a longtail keyword, I suggest creating a specific targeted page that uses the keyword string in the URL.
6. Use Your Target Keywords Across The Entire Site
One of the lesser-utilized SEO techniques is employing a target keyword throughout the site as a whole. Many SEOs believe (mistakenly) that they can rank for a given keyword by churning out a few blog articles surrounding the keyword. They target a keyword by developing content on one or two pages, but they neglect its presence on the rest of the site.
In reality, Google prefers to see an entire domain that supports the keyword and its semantic variations.
Here’s how you can check this:
- Do a Google search for inurl:domain plus the selected keyword in quotation marks.
- Look at how many results Google provides.
- Compare this to as many domains or competitors as would be helpful.
Let me show you an example. In the screenshot above, I showed you how the website CreditKarma.com is outranking Experian.com for the keyword “what is a good credit score.”
I recently analyzed the SERPs for this keyword, and found that the top organic result has the highest sitewide saturation for the given keyword. I tested several other semantic variations and found it to be consistently true. The site with the highest sitewide occurrence of a given keyword ranked higher.
Look at the comparison. Here’s CreditKarma.com, the top organic result for “what is a good credit score.”
Here is Experian.com, the second organic result for the same keyword.
CreditKarma.com has 3,500% more occurrences of the keyword than Experian. Even though CreditKarma’s domain authority, page authority, and domain wide link quantity are lower, they still rank higher for that keyword.
My informal survey doesn’t prove that top results will always be backed by the highest occurrence of a keyword throughout the site, but it does suggest it is an important factor in Google’s ranking system. Sites that contain semantic variations and/or keywords throughout have a higher chance of ranking in the SERPs for any given keyword in that semantic domain.
7. Optimize Your Brand’s Social Profiles
Google’s Knowledge Graph is a significant aspect of SEO that we can’t ignore. Google recently began displaying the social profiles for brands directly in the Knowledge Graph.
It’s not apparent how this will roll out for small to mid-sized businesses. Most of the results I’ve seen are for large corporate brands.
My sense is that Google will continue to refine KG settings to bring up a full array of information for most brands that have optimized social profiles. It’s worth giving some optimization effort to your social accounts.
8. Add Schema Everywhere
According to a study by Searchmetrics, Schema markup shows up in more than a third of all Google’s search results. With this huge SERP preference for Schema, you’d think that sites would be flocking to implement Schema snippets wherever they could.
Well, apparently not. A mere 0.3% of Internet domains are using Schema integration.
This definitely falls into an under-the-hood optimization technique. Learning schema isn’t that difficult, and it will certainly look familiar if you have any coding background or awareness of structured data.
Google has even given you some help with their Structured Data Markup Helper.
No matter where you are at on your SEO journey, there is always more to do. You can spend months optimizing, optimizing, optimizing, and never actually reaching a pinnacle of perfection. However, these under-the-hood optimization techniques will bring you closer to perfection than most sites.