What is SEO?

What is SEO? How do websites get ranked on Google? Digital marketers, including me, have been “chasing the algorithm” for years.

This sample SEO audit is intended to show you how to figure out “why you’re not winning” in SEO for a topic that’s important to you. It’s not a simple checklist or list of tools, but an SEO tutorial that can help you think about ranking in Google differently.

SEO is a competition and there are a lot of reasons why your website may not be winning. In the end, it all comes down to communication:

  • Your website is slow or doesn’t provide a great user experience.
  • Your website is not communicating important details to search engines in a way they understand.
  • Your web page’s content isn’t answering the searcher’s question.
  • Your web page doesn’t have as many links or “votes” as other websites that are answering the same question.

I approach SEO audits by starting with a specific keyword and URL pair, and ask, “Why isn’t this page winning?” Others may start with a full analysis of a website and drill down. This is perfectly acceptable methodology but my method is a bit more targeted. This can come in handy when developing a story that can encourage a non-SEO stakeholder to take action. My version of the SEO audit isn’t better or worse than others, it’s just mine.

SEO audits can get extremely long and get bogged down with terms not everyone is familiar with. (Even this post about it is long. Guh.)

And SEO audits are traditionally filled with recommendations. These recommendations will likely require changes to the client’s website and those changes cost time and money. Starting an audit with a specific page and a keyword in mind will help you and your client prioritize your SEO recommendations.

If you’re looking for an SEO audit reporting and scheduling template, I highly recommend this version from Aleyda Solis.

My approach to audits can also make them more interesting for the person actually doing the audit. Using the same checklist, in the same order over and over can get tedious. By starting with a specific page, each audit can be fresh and lead to new discoveries.

Normally, I’d put this audit into a PowerPoint presentation that explains the technical and content SEO issues using metaphors and using language the audience is likely familiar with. Also, using a single keyword and URL makes it a little easier to digest versus trying to explain global website issues.

Disclaimer: I just started using SEOClarity and I think it’s an awesome SEO campaign management tool that doesn’t get enough attention. It’s not as flashy as some other tools but it’s definitely a must-try for SEO nerds, like me. They did not ask for this post and I hope they don’t get mad at me.

To do a complete SEO audit without an initial target page or keyword pair, I highly recommend Annie Cushing’s Audit Checklist.

Keyword/URL Paid Selection

For my example audit, I’ve chosen SEOClarity, a slick SEO tool I’ve just started using. Normally, the “client” would help me identify a keyword and URL target that aligns with their business objectives. For fun, I’m going to do a little “SEO inception” and use SEMRush (an SEOClarity competitor) to get an idea of how SEOClarity’s website is performing overall.

According to SEMRush, SEOClarity.net is ranking on Google for about 2,300 keywords. Without any prior knowledge of the brand or the search landscape, this is a bit overwhelming and I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. They are trending up, however, which is definitely a positive sign.

My audit method can be used for any keyword/URL pair but I prefer to start with a keyword that is at least ranking within “striking distance”. Striking distance refers to a URL that is ranking somewhere between page 1 and 3, but not ranked number one on Google for a keyword. If I start with a keyword that has no visibility, I will need to choose a target page I assume should rank.

SEOClarity.net’s URL https://www.seoclarity.net/technology/reporting/ is ranking for the search “seo report”, which seems like a keyword that may drive new business for them.

There are more in-depth and more effective ways of determining keyword targets. If I knew about SEOClarity’s business objectives, we could do persona-driven keyword research, like this.

Now that I have a target, I’m going to try to stop using the word “keyword”. I’m now going to focus on “seo report” as a topic, not just a term.

SEO Audit Example

SEO is all about great communication. I’ve broken it down into 5 major areas, with each one focusing on a different form of communication:

  1. Discovery: Does the site provide Google with specific technical instructions and easy way to find content?
  2. Indexation: Do only unique and important URLs appear in Google’s index (database)? Or are there duplicates or pages that don’t add value?
  3. Intent: Does the content on this specific page match the searcher’s intent at this stage of her journey?
  4. Relevance: Does the page use HTML, code, and words that highlight sections that answer the searcher’s questions?
  5. Authority: Do other websites link to this page? How many? How strong are those links? Is this web page fast and beautiful for everyone, even those on mobile devices?

At its core, this audit is about what the competition is doing right and where we can improve. Using this framework, I imagine that Google is the world’s biggest Excel spreadsheet and each of Google’s 200+ ranking factors is a column in that spreadsheet.

Google doesn’t share all of its ranking factors with webmasters. And to make things even more difficult, the “weight” of ranking factors in the algorithm likely shift based on a searcher’s intent. A search with the intent to buy something may favor pages that sell things. The final goal or action of the user is always on Google’s mind and I’ll cover how intent changes the landscape later in this audit.

I’ll cover this in more detail in this post about technical SEO. And before you read on, I recommend you have a base-level understanding of SEO. I have an evolving SEO jargon guide for quick reference or you can go nuts and explore Moz’s in-depth SEO guide.

Distilled, a well-known agency in my space also gets the importance of great communication. Check out their Technical SEO Audit checklist here to see what I mean.

Discovery

Can Google find your content?

My analysis of https://www.seoclarity.net/technology/reporting/ starts with the basics of SEO. Can Google find and index this URL? What is the path like to this page from other pages on the website? And if this page were to be optimized and updated, how likely is it that Google can get to it quickly and re-index the optimized version?

If you think crawling is simple, I challenge you to read this post on Pagination Funnels by Matthew Henry.

This seems like a no-brainer since the page is already ranking, but is it indexed? Meaning, is the URL in Google’s database?

A “site search” is a quick way to find out. Visit Google in an incognito window and type site:URL, like site:https://www.seoclarity.net/technology/reporting/

This checks Google’s database for that URL specifically. This post has even more ways you can search Google beyond just entering words.

Changing the query a little will also show me if multiple versions of this URL are in Google’s database, potentially causing issues:

site:https://www.seoclarity.net/technology/reporting/ becomes site:*seoclarity.net/technology/reporting/

All good here, as well. Next, let’s check some more basic SEO items to determine how Google can get to this URL.

Robots.txt

First up, robots.txt: https://www.seoclarity.net/robots.txt

This file does exist, but there are some opportunities:

User-agent: *

Disallow: /wp-admin/

Allow: /wp-admin/admin-ajax.php

If Google visits a page on https://www.seoclarity.net/, chances are high that the spider will immediately look for the robots.txt file to instructions about where it should and should not visit. If it’s Googlebot, it will also look for an XML sitemap reference, which is missing here.

XML Sitemap

SEOClarity.net is built on WordPress and is using Yoast’s SEO plugin, which includes an XML sitemap generator.

Recommendation: Add a reference to the XML sitemap (https://www.seoclarity.net/sitemap_index.xml) to the robots.txt file.

User-agent: *

Disallow: /wp-admin/

Allow: /wp-admin/admin-ajax.php

Sitemap: https://www.seoclarity.net/sitemap_index.xml

The SEOClarity.net XML sitemap is actually an index of other XML sitemaps. The sitemaps themselves appear to include every URL of the site, which presents some SEO opportunities.

The Pages XML sitemap contains URLs that it probably shouldn’t. An XML sitemap should only contain URLs or pages that you want visitors to reach from search. “Thank you” pages, shopping carts and check out pages, or other personalized experiences should be excluded.

Other pages, such as privacy policies and terms and conditions pages should stay, but be given a lower priority.

Recommendations: Remove “thank you” type pages from XML sitemaps and assign priority values to included pages, ensuring that the most important URLs are given a top priority. Read more about XML sitemaps here.

The good news is that the page we’re auditing (https://www.seoclarity.net/technology/reporting/) is included in the Pages XML sitemap and is indexed.

XML sitemaps are one way to help Google get around. But what about internal hyperlinks? Hyperlinks serve multiple purposes in SEO:

  • Google treats most links like “votes”, as a way to gauge popularity of a URL
  • Google follows hyperlinks to get around the web

Unlike external hyperlinks, which I’ll cover later, internal links are fully under your control in terms of both quantity and anchor text. The number of links or votes can help Google understand how popular a page might be and the anchor text can tell the big G what it’s popular for.

I used Screaming Frog to crawl SEOClarity.net to identify what internal pages were linking to our target URL and how.

What sounds like it should be a viral YouTube video is actually an amazing piece of free SEO software. Download it and learn how to use Screaming Frog here.

The first thing I noticed is that, somewhere on the site, a link is using the non-secure (HTTP) version of our target URL, which is then permanently redirected to the secure version.

Next, I noted how these internal pages were linking. The anchor text report reveals that none of the internal links are using the term “SEO report” or a similar variation. To SEOClarity’s credit, this term may not currently be a target of their SEO campaign.

Recommendations: Create additional internal links to this page from other relevant pages.

One way to choose which pages should link is by performing another site: search. The image below shows that a site: search for “SEO report” on SEOClarity.net returned over 100 relevant pages.

I don’t have an exact formula for identifying which URLs they should link from but reviewing the top pages individually should make the choice easier. For example, a page with the target keyword in the page title is a great choice. A page that dives deeper into the subject of “seo reporting” is another good option. https://www.seoclarity.net/seo-reporting-4-metrics-matter-9508/ and similar posts are definitely on-target.

In terms of where on each page individually to link is up for debate. I personally consider links within copy to be stronger versus links in the global navigation or in the footer. This makes the task more manual but I think it’s worth the effort. Since SEOClarity is using WordPress, they do have some internal linking automation options but that’s not my recommendation in this case.

Indexation

Will Google show the right content?

In order to show up in search results, a URL needs to exist in Google’s database or index. The previous section talked about how Google may find https://www.seoclarity.net/technology/reporting/ while this section will discuss what happens when it does.

Canonical URLs

As we already discovered earlier, the target page is indexed. Awesome! However, this part of the analysis goes a little deeper. We want to determine if multiple versions of this page exist as different URLs.

The URLs in the example below are all pretty similar. The content on each is exactly the same because each URL is just a variation of the same page. However, Google sees each URL as a unique web address: a unique page of content that should appear in search results.

The canonical URL is the chosen version of this page that should be shown to users in search results. In addition to reducing potentially duplicate content, canonical tags also help consolidate link authority. If all of the versions above could be indexed and potentially shown to users, each page would also have a unique number of links or “votes” for it from other URLs.

The canonical URL consolidates these votes, strengthening just one and improving its chances of outranking competitors.

Aside from variations like the ones shown above, canonicalization and pagination can help websites where URLs change frequently for the same content. One example is an ecommerce website that allows visitors to sort and filter results. A lot of websites are programmed to change the URL of a list of products to show different sizes, colors, in-stock items, etc.

http://somesite/some-product
http://somesite/some-product?size=small

The problem is that the example URL variations are unique to Google and can be indexed individually as “unique” content unless instructed otherwise. Now imagine a website like Amazon, with potentially millions of products and trillions of customization options. The number of unique URLs for the same product pages would be staggering without canonicalization.

Recommendation: None! SEOClarity is already using canonical URLs effectively. But if you want to check your own website, view this guide to canonicalization by Moz.

Default Redirects

Redirects are normally mentioned when an old page needs to point to a new page, preserving user experience for visitors. However, redirects serve another purpose: consolidating link authority. In the example above, http:// and https:// versions of URLs appeared multiple times. As did www and non-www.

Since Google counts each variation of every URL as unique, these details matter if you want your page to win in organic search. Here’s an example from SEOClarity’s site:

Link Redirect Trace shows what happens if I browse to http://www.seoclarity.net/technology/reporting/. The server redirects me to the secure (HTTPS) version with a 301 permanent redirect. Perfect! But there’s something worth reviewing: the HTTP version of this page is the one with links, not the actual page we want to win in search.

External sites may link to your web pages in ways you don’t intend and can’t control. Chances are, they will link to your content in the shortest way possible, without HTTPS and without the www. Use a tool like SEOClarity, Ahrefs, Majestic or SEMRush to see what sites are linking to yours.

If the redirect or the canonical URL were missing, this page probably wouldn’t get the credit from those external links. In most cases, links are a critical Google ranking factor. This means that URLs need to be handled with kid gloves. Only change URLs when absolutely necessary and create a detailed redirect strategy. Keep an updated inventory of URLs and the sites that link to them.

Recommendation: None! SEOClarity is redirecting variants of default URLs. Had there been an issue with indexation, I would have explored further. However, it does not look like indexation issues are impacting this URL’s ability to rank for “seo report”.

Intent

What are people seeing in search results? Forget what they typed: what do they need?

This part of the audit is all about trying to figure out what a searcher’s end goal is because that’s what Google is doing. RankBrain makes Google smarter in determining intent, learning more about behavior and objectives every day.

Trying to figure out “how search engines rank web pages” used to mean “in general”, with a set of global rules that influenced all search results. Now, every query can potentially have its own rules for ranking, dependent mostly on what Google knows about that topic and what its users are looking for.

Here’s a simple example: “pizza”. Do a search for “pizza” and tell me what you see.

Ready? OK, you probably saw search results for places near you where you can order a pizza. Did you search “order a pizza”? No, but that doesn’t matter. Google identified your intent and provided relevant results to help you meet your end goal. Without the influence of intent, Google may have resorted to more traditional ranking signals, such as content and links, leading to a search results page that included the history of pizza and how to make a pizza.

Google uses a variety of technologies and assumptions to assume the intent of its users. Where a consumer is in their journey, for example, can help Google decide which types of results would be the best fit. Google calls these “moments” or “moments that matter”.

Digital marketing rewrote the rules of marketing in a lot of ways. Inbound marketing introduced a new way for brands to get in front of customers who were searching for a solution that they had. And could sell. SEO is one way to get in front of people during these moments. It’s also a way to determine the moments themselves.

SERP Landscape Analysis

Many agencies and SEO experts create personas of their audience and how they search. However, this gets into the content itself, not necessarily the type of content. First and foremost, I want to see how Google is classifying the term “seo report”.

First, I’ll go incognito and look at a Google desktop SERP. I’ll try to categorize the results in the following way:

  1. Do: Google believes there is action in the searcher’s intent
  2. Know: A “what is [noun]” result. Google assumes the user is looking for information
  3. Go: A branded query, such as Nike or Amazon. This could be a mixture of branded and branded with intent to purchase results, with the brand name’s website generally ranking first

Some results may ultimately have a DO intent but begin with some educational material before jumping into an action.

The first 2 results are paid ads for SEO audits and website analysis tools. The next results are organic:

  1. Listing for a generic SEO report generator (DO)
  2. Free SEO analysis tool (DO)
  3. Listing to create SEO reports for clients (DO)
  4. Another free SEO tool (DO)
  5. Another listing to create SEO reports for clients (DO)
  6. Content post about 7 must-have SEO reports from an industry leader (KNOW to DO)
  7. People also ask box:
    1. What is in an SEO report?
    2. How do I do SEO for my website?
    3. What is a SEO analysis report?
    4. What is SEO in testing?
  8. Another Search Engine Watch post on the subject (KNOW)
  9. Moz’s SEO learning center landing page for reports (KNOW)
  10. Moz again with a “what to include in your reports” post (KNOW to DO)
  11. Image results
  12. Related searches:
    1. google seo analyzer
    2. best seo checker
    3. google seo checker
    4. website analysis report sample
    5. best seo report
    6. seo report sample
    7. google website analysis
    8. seo report definition

Now I’ll report the process for mobile search results. (In Chrome, open a new incognito tab, press CTRL+SHIFT+i, click the phone/tablet icon, browse to Google to view it as if on a mobile device.)

Wow! The mobile search result landscape is wildly different for “seo report”.

  1. Image results
  2. Search Engine Watch article in an answer box (KNOW to DO)
  3. People also searched for carousel
  4. People also ask tabs
  5. The first traditional organic result is well below the fold, meaning users won’t even see it until they scroll. The result is a free SEO report generator (DO)
  6. Moz’s What to Include in Your Report post (KNOW to DO)
  7. SEO tool (DO)
  8. Search Engine Watch’s “7 must-have” post (that also got featured in the answer box)
  9. Another free SEO audit tool (DO)
  10. And another… (DO)
  11. Post on 6 things to include in reports (KNOW to DO)
  12. Paid SEO tool (DO)
  13. Another paid SEO tool (DO)
  14. Related searches with identical queries as desktop

The desktop SERP (search engine results page) had a more even split between DO and KNOW type results. The mobile SERP seemed more willing to answer my question within the search results and provided more DO type results. I feel like this is a common theme on mobile. KNOW type results tend to be variations of long-form educational content and who wants to read a ton on a small screen?

Well, I do, but I’m weird.

For this audit, I’m going to make recommendations to begin influence mobile and desktop results for SEOClarity.

Desktop Intent

Many of the results contain an action element: generate an SEO report. SEOClarity’s report page appears to be an effective sales/splash page for itself. Which makes sense because SEOClarity is a reporting tool.

However, the other SEO reporting and audit tools that have visibility on page 1 cut to the chase and allow users to run reports without a lot of effort or information. The reports themselves aren’t amazing, but they are quick, free and have some high-level SEO data. Here is my version of a free SEO audit.

The opportunity for SEOClarity here is to showcase their tool (which I use professionally) to the public. The full SEOClarity toolset is very robust and actionable, and the support team is excellent. However, for this query, users do not seem to be looking for a relationship or a sales pitch just yet.

A quick, free, frictionless demo of what SEOClarity can do may help this page provide a better experience. Other free SEO audit tools, including mine, are limited in value and information because they’re automated. SEOClarity shines in its ability to take a lot of data and help SEOs turn it into insights.

To set itself apart from other “free tools”, SEOClarity should share some of these insights alongside a demo of their tool. These insights can help with the other perceived intent found on page 1 of Google: KNOW. The other competing URLs for “seo report” are educational. They provide guidance as to what a user should be looking for in an SEO audit or report. These details are not only valuable to the user and potential new customers, they help Google understand what the page should rank for.

Mobile Intent

For mobile users, the KNOW piece is even less important. Focus on the reporting tool primarily and ensure that the page is fast and accessible via mobile devices.

Recommendation: Create an “SEOClarity Lite” version that does what other free tools do, but better. Allow users to enter a URL and get basic SEO insights back. Here is a sample report using my tool that SEOClarity can do better. Optimize the page for mobile users, putting the tool front and center, with supporting content after. Keep a catalogue of audited sites for re-marketing – but don’t require that users log in to run a sample report.

Relevance

Does Google understand your content? More importantly, is it clear to Google what each URL is trying to rank for? Relevance is a part of SEO where technology and content strategy really overlap. Think of URLs as documents. In order for Google to understand what a page should rank for, it will look for clues on the page. Tell Google what you want each page to rank for by including important terms in important locations:

  • Page title
  • Meta description
  • URL
  • Headings
  • Body copy
  • Anchor text
  • Image ALT tags
  • Image names

Bonus: SEO supports paid search and vice versa. Optimized pages can improve things Landing Page Experience scores for PPC campaigns, increasing budget efficiencies. SEO can also show paid search teams which keywords they’re not bidding on that Google is considering “relevant” via Google Search Console. Paid search can help inform SEOs about which content is performing the best from an engagement standpoint, helping organic teams prioritize content types and strategies to work on stuff that will likely be more effective.

Page Title

Not to be confused with headings, the page title is what you see in the tab of a browser window and as the link in search results (as shown in red below). The SEO tech team should identify page titles that are too short, are missing critical keywords or are duplicative. The content team should determine what words should be in this element.

The page title should include important keywords for this page and match the audience’s intent or need.

Meta Description

Shown in green in the image above, the SEO importance of the meta description element has evolved over the years. While not considered by many to be a major ranking factor, it’s important to get it right. The meta description should be a call to action and should include a target keyword. Google will bold the matching term, helping it stand out from competitors and the call to action may help encourage more clicks.

The content team, again, should own what text should be in this tag. The SEO tech may be the one to call out if a meta description is too short, too long, missing elements or not existent.

Body Copy

This is the main content of your page and is a critical piece of the SEO puzzle. How much content depends primarily on the perceived intent of the search term and your competitors. Getting too formulaic with your content is not a recommended strategy. Instead, focus on your audience and answer their questions.

And content isn’t always “text on the page”. The best answer (great content) can take many shapes:

  • Long-form content
  • Videos
  • Pictures/photos
  • Reviews
  • Guides
  • Quizzes
  • Curated content
  • Interactive Experiences
  • Products
  • Maps
  • A tool (like an SEO audit tool!)
  • Etc.

From a technical standpoint, text content is wildly popular because Google can clearly read it and put together a story based on it. Non-text content forms, like videos and images, are harder for Google to comprehend (but they’re making a lot of progress). The context clues, especially the page title, URL and body copy should support whatever content equates to “the answer” for your audience.

If your answer is a 4,000-word post about the history of C programming, go for it. If your audience is looking for a video tutorial on the subject, then that’s what you need to provide. And to win in search, you need to provide Google with some clues about what that video is about since, you know, Google isn’t human.

The image below is a very simplified example of how you can write that SEO “love letter” to Google by placing (not spamming) keywords in important locations.

Again, a technical SEO may just highlight the need to optimize some or all of these critical locations. The content strategist should be behind the creation of the actual content. Why? Because you’re working for 2 audiences: humans and Google. Google needs help understanding some aspects of your website but the content needs to be written for humans. Period.

Beyond the usual context clues, additional information can be added to pages that speak Google’s language. Schema.org is a vocabulary that helps search engines understand ambiguous things. Schema can help Google understand that a number is actually a phone number or that some paragraph is actually a definition. Learn more about how Schema can add new dimensions to your content here.

Recommendation: Create the free SEO tool/demo as mentioned above and mark up the page with the relevant schema. Update the page title, meta description, and headings to help Google understand that this “page” is actually an “SEO tool”. Put the tool first and then support it (and the KNOW intent) with additional copy below it – or on another page that links to this one.

Authority

Is your website an expert on the topics that matter to your brand? Does your website provide a great user experience for all users?

Authority has two major parts: User Experience and Links. You have full control over one of these and not so much the other.

User Experience

User experience (UX) can mean a lot of things. For the purpose of this audit, UX means the following:

  • The page answered the user’s question
  • The page was fast. Like, “it loaded almost instantly” fast
  • The site was easy to navigate on all devices, like smartphones
  • The user wasn’t bombarded with ads and didn’t have to scroll for a few years before they saw the “real” content
  • The site was visually compelling and interesting and included images to really bring the content to life

PageSpeed

In January 2018, Google announced via their blog that PageSpeed would be a ranking factor for mobile search results. The “Speed Update” shouldn’t surprise anyone. There are more searches done on mobile devices than on desktops (including laptops). Google’s progress towards a mobile-first index also continues.

PageSpeed is a score that Google uses to assume how fast a web page is likely to be. The whole thing gets real nerdy, real fast, but this is what you should know:

  • Web pages consist of files that need to be downloaded
    • CSS files make up the fonts, size of text and colors you see on a page
    • JavaScript makes the site do cool things that plain ol’ HTML can’t
    • And, of course, plain ol’ HTML
  • Smaller files travel over the internet
  • Fewer files travel faster than a lot of files
  • First impressions matter: the whole web page doesn’t need to load at the same time, just the important stuff

It seems pretty obvious: send fewer, smaller files across the web and the page will load faster. But actually fixing issues can be complicated. Be nice to your designers and developers as they fight to make your site fast and beautiful.

I used Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool to review our target page on SEOClarity. The same theme of differentiating between mobile and desktop is following us even here. The results of this test are here.

This page scored a 69/100 for mobile at the time of my test, which is pretty good. This Google PageSpeed Insights tool was recently updated to include some benchmark data and additional definitions to help webmasters improve speed.

Below the score are details about what SEOClarity can fix to speed up this page. I run a lot of PageSpeed audits so I’ve come to expect some of the same issues, and I see them here.

Render-blocking JavaScript and CSS in above-the-fold content: Again, first impressions matter. While your web page is loading, it will likely experience “stops and starts” as it encounters files that need to be downloaded and processed. The same is true for CSS.

Check out these guides and more from Google on PageSpeed.

Google recommends prioritizing visible content by loading only the files needed to render what users will initially see, and make everything else wait until later. It actually makes sense. It’s like bringing dessert out with dinner. You can, but you’re not going to eat it right away, so bring it out when you’re ready. (I re-read this a little later and I’m really sorry. I must have been hungry.)

Why load all of the CSS, all of the JavaScript and all of the images for a page immediately if you’re only going to use 5% of them right now?

In addition to this tool from Google, WebPageTest.org provides even more information about a page’s performance. The image below shows our target SEOClarity page loading as it might to a user. There’s a clear delay from the initial request, to the first “paint” when stuff starts to appear, to the final view after 6 seconds.

This image and the corresponding data, plus the PageSpeed insights from Google all point to the issue that should be addressed to make this page faster.

Recommendation: Optimize JavaScript and CSS delivery. There are several good WordPress plugins available that can help with the job, as well as this in-depth guide.

Last, but definitely not least are links. Google’s algorithm counts links from web page to another in a complex calculation known as PageRank. In a way, these links represent a sort of digital democracy in the way Google ranks pages.

So how many links do you have? That depends on which tool you use. Ahrefs, SEMRush, SEOClarity, Moz, Majestic and others all crawl the web and count hyperlinks and the size of their “link databases” all vary. As with measuring rankings and potential traffic, having multiple sources of information is a good thing.

For this test, I’ll use Ahrefs data and compare the target SEOClarity page with a page 1 competitor.

https://www.seoclarity.net/technology/reporting/ link profile

  • 0 backlinks (number of links)
  • 0 referring domains (number of websites linking)

https://www.freeseoreport.com/

  • 914 backlinks
  • 143 referring domains

So, FreeSEOReport.com has a slight advantage in the link department. However, it’s important to note that their ranking URL is also their home page, which almost always has the strongest link profile of any website.

If we look at SEOClarity.net as a whole:

  • Almost 4,000 backlinks
  • 700 referring domains

This is why internal linking (mentioned earlier) is going to be critical to the success of this SEO campaign.

Link building is a complex subject. Read this post from Search Engine Land about PageRank to get started. It will make anything else you read more impactful, like this link building guide from Point Blank SEO.

While links are considered a critical part of the algorithm, I chose to mention them last for a few reasons:

  1. Acquiring links is the hardest part of an SEO’s job
  2. SEO’s generally have little to no control over links you receive from external sites
  3. Manually building links is a time-consuming, tedious, often unsuccessful and dangerous practice
  4. Using tools to automate link building and buying links are even more dangerous practices and a waste of money

Building links is a risky proposition. But I’m also not naive. I know that links don’t “magically appear”. Instead of building links, try the following:

  • Create your content with a focus on user intent (Create an SEO tool)
  • Use a tool like BuzzSumo (and this guide) to find influencers about your page’s topic and what matters to them (SEO tools)
  • Using the data from above, promote your content on the social channels where the influencers are most active
  • Link to content that supports your own, and tag it with campaign parameters (check that they have canonicals set up first)
  • Support your content with paid promotions (Google AdWords, Sponsored Tweets, etc.)
  • Continue optimizing campaigns for clicks and use the traffic data to measure page “stickiness”
    • If visitors aren’t engaging with the content or even reading it completely, find out why
      • Run A/B tests
      • Add a survey
      • Update the content
    • If visitors are engaging (bounce rates are low, time on site is high), expand and accelerate your promotional campaign to encourage links and social shares

Each one of these bullets should be its own post and this page is already too long, so that’s as deep as I’ll get around tactics. If you want more ideas, here’s a great post from HubSpot that contains 36 promotional ideas.

Recommendation: There is no quick fix or one-size-fits-all approach to building links to this page. SEOClarity should create the free SEO audit tool, promote it on social and in search, broadcast to influencers and then optimize the page and its supporting campaigns.

A final note on link building: I linked to A LOT of great resources in this post. When Google speaks of “natural” links, this is it. Somehow I found, read and liked every page I link to from this post.


Yes, we made it to the bottom! Thanks for hanging in there.

I went through a lot here. Feel free to reach out via email or on Twitter if you have questions.

 

© 2018 Chris Countey