The 50 most frequently asked questions about SEO and their answers

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The 50 Most Frequently Asked Questions About SEO (And Their Answers)

Most people have some questions about SEO. Too many people think it’s all about the dark arts. So I thought I’d pull together the top 50 most frequently asked questions about SEO and their answers.

What does SEO stand for?

OK. This is an easy one. Pretty much every marketer and business owner out there knows this one. It’s less complicated than it sounds but in marketing do we like to abbreviate have our own special terminology. SEO is short for search engine optimisation. When you do something to try to raise your page’s rankings in a search engine then you are engaging in some kind of SEO. Hopefully, you’re doing that ethically with a view to long-term success.

Does SEO work?

I’ll be the first to say SEO can be very hard work and it doesn’t always go to plan, but with the right strategy, plan and tactics, SEO can be very effective in helping a business grow and achieve its goals.

Is SEO ethical?

I guess you’ve heard about whitehat and blackhat SEO? Blackhat SEO is an attempt to manipulate Google’s ranking by breaking Google’s rules. Whitehat SEO is the process of using Google’s rules to help a website rank. Take it from a reformed spammer. Don’t be a blackhat SEO.

Which is best SEO or PPC?

I’ve written a blog about this at some point so I’m not going to spell it out in this paragraph. They are both forms of search marketing; two sides of the same coin you might say. Basically, they are two different marketing channels and they both have a place in the marketing mix of most businesses. The only thing is you can turn PPC on and off, whereas SEO can take months to years to achieve and can be damaged overnight if you’re not careful.

What is SEM?

SEM is search engine marketing or simply search marketing. This discipline covers both SEO and PPC and generally refers to the act of using data from one search marketing tactic to inform the other tactic.

Do you need to be able to code to do SEO?

SEO is a semi-technical marketing discipline. It helps if you can do some coding, however, most people can deal with the level of coding required for SEO and those that can’t, can implement other, less code based tactics, to ensure they rank well.

Where can I study SEO?

There are loads of great resources out there about search engine optimisation. I’ve been doing this since I was in short pants (yes I was wearing short pants into my twenties) and even now I need to spend a significant proportion of my working life reading up on the ever-changing world of SEO. The great thing about that is you can very quickly bring yourself up to speed by reading content from various well-known resources. Of course, if you are looking for SEO training why not give us a call, we’d be happy to train you and your team.

How do you know how to make a website rank if Google doesn’t publish its algorithm?

I’ve spent a lot of time reading other people’s research, reading Google patents, reading between the lines of things that Google has said and learning by experience. I’ve got a good process that I am sure works and helps websites to rank well in Google and we’ve got a really effective methodology for creating a content marketing strategy that will positively influence SEO.

Should I hire someone to do SEO for me?

Not always. You can do a lot yourself. We’re always trying to get our clients to put more work into their website in order to improve their SEO and we’re only too happy to train them in how we think they should be doing it. But in the same way, I wouldn’t try to do most of our clients jobs, many of them would prefer to leave my job up to me.

How much does SEO cost?

How long is a piece of string? No matter what your budget is, you could use it to do something to benefit your SEO. You’ve got to work out what’s the best SEO tactic to implement in order to give you the best returns. We work with clients to put an SEO plan in place to give your site the best opportunity to rank and then indicate how you can make it rank faster and rank more competitively if you could put more resource behind it. Ultimately SEO is billable in hours spent on the whole – although occasionally you will be able to find a Pay on results SEO service but be warned this will work out significantly more expensive.

How long does SEO take?

Like most marketing activities it’s never really finished. SEO is a bit like painting the Forth Bridge once you’ve finished you start it all over again, but in the case of SEO you never really finish. That’s because search engines are constantly changing their ranking factors and because new competitors find a new way to outrank you.

What’s the best SEO software?

There are a number of different ways of looking at this. It does depend on what you mean by SEO software. There are a number of different types of SEO software and they don’t all do the same thing. For example, some do keyword research, some offer rankings insight, there are some pieces of kit out there that claim to use AI to multivariate test your website from an SEO perspective (although I’ve yet to see any I’m convinced by). But if you’re looking for basic software to help you with SEO you should take a look at some of the following:

  • SE Ranking
  • SEMRush
  • Majestic
  • ahrefs
  • DeepCrawl
  • SpyFu

What is onsite optimisation?

Onsite SEO or onpage SEO is the process of implementing changes to keywords and markup on each page in order to increase a web page’s ranking in a search engine. This is done by changing the page title, h tags, alt tags, file names, body content, anchor text on links, Schema Markup and the HTML code more generally.

Is SEO dead?

This is a question that I’m so sick of hearing. This is one of those questions that gets asked year after year after year. It turns out that SEO never dies, it just gets reborn and more emphasis is put on another area of SEO. When I started out in SEO it was all about getting the right percentage of keywords on a page. Then it became all about getting as many links back from as many articles as possible. Now I think it’s about getting the right balance between onsite, content and offsite. It’s an ever-changing beast, but nevertheless, the beast is not dead.

What will happen in SEO this year?

OK at the time of writing this it’s November 2018. I’ve written predictions about SEO almost every year since 2009 and guess what? I’ve never been very accurate in my predictions. I’ve got somethings right but most of my prophetic writings have yet to come true. But, saying that, pop back sometime in December and I’ll let you know how I did last year, and what my predictions are for the next one.

How is SEO changing?

SEO is in a constant state of flux and it’s right that it always should be. Probably the biggest thing that’s changing search at the moment is not Google’s attempts to stop people like me from helping businesses to rank, but the changing behaviours of their users. Possibly the most obvious to think about here is the impact mobile is having on search and SEO in particular. Mobile phone use – more specifically smartphones – has made search local. And Google has shifted the ranking factors to accommodate this. That means more businesses can rank in Google, it also means many businesses won’t benefit from the national traffic, associated with national keywords like they once would have done. And that changes the cost-benefit ratio of SEO. Another big change that’s on the cusp is voice search. I wrote an article on GrowTraffic about voice search in something like 2011. People laughed at it back then, OK, it was probably ahead of its time, but now, it’s something that we have to be very conscious of for futureproofing the websites we work on.

Where’s the best place to start my SEO strategy?

This really depends on what you’ve already done. Probably the best thing to do is to choose an SEO tool and run a quick crawl of your site to find any SEO issues. Hopefully, there isn’t a great deal, but don’t worry if it picks some up. Most websites have loads of SEO issues according to those tools and in my experience, you can never have a perfectly optimised website, no matter how hard you try. Once you’ve got this you’re going to want to do an SEO audit, this means using the report and carrying out keyword research and reviewing every page on the website. We always start an SEO project with an SEO Audit and it’s something we regularly refer back to throughout the onsite optimisation, content creation and marketing process.

What is keyword research?

Keyword research is the foundation of any good search engine marketing campaign. This helps to steer everything you do. Through keyword research you are going to find out where to concentrate your efforts, you’re going to find out about the language your customers are using when they think about your products and services. Many businesses have an understanding about the keywords they want to target when they approach us, however, hey can often be confused by the role industry terms have for them, or they can miss that customers use a completely different keyword when trying to find the product or service. For example, I used to carry out the marketing for a company that sold debt management solutions to people struggling with their finances. The company wanted to target the word IVA, which was the industry term for the solution most people struggling with their finances would be placed on, however, when we looked into it, we found the keyword we really needed to rank for was bankruptcy and other related terms. That’s because that’s what the searcher was most scared of, and that’s how they approached the subject in Google. Industry language vs general parlance can have a huge impact. So getting the right keywords in place can make the difference between a successful website and a poorly performing site.

How do I do keyword research?

So keyword research is the most important part of the SEO auditing process and is the foundation of ensuring your website is going to rank and ultimately send visitors to your website who will convert. Great! So how do you do it? The answer is to use a variety of tools. Never rely on just one tool. You want to be looking at tools such as SE Ranking, Majestic, MOZ, WordStream. If you’ve got a Google Ads account then great, have a look in there. Do some searches in Google and find out what other people are using in their pages alongside the keywords you are interested in, and take a look at the suggested searches at the bottom of Google’s SERPs. As we’ve moved on a bit from simple stuffing keywords on a page, you’re also going to try to understand the semantic intent and the way you’re potential visitors use language, for this, you can look at tools such as LSI Graph and explore places such as Quora. But remember, whatever you decide to focus your efforts on, make sure the numbers stack up. If you find a keyword with 1,000 searches a month, even if you get to position 1, it’s likely you’ll only get something like 150 clicks a month, from those 150 clicks only a smaller percentage will convert – let’s say 20%. That means you’ll get around 30 conversions a month at best from that keyword. You’ve got to ask yourself if those conversions will cover the cost of achieving that position and maintaining it?

What do I do with my SEO keywords?

You’re going to want to place your keywords in the relevant places when carrying out onsite optimisation. But even when you’ve done that, it’s probably not going to be enough. That’s when you’ve got to start doing some marketing with a view to improving the rankings of those keywords. You can do this by including relevant keywords in your blog posts and in your emails (yes even your email marketing!), and in your PR and in any posts you create for other websites. Remember, you also want to get a link back from that content, to the page you’re trying to rank for. And bear in mind, you don’t want to over-optimise everything for the same keywords. Mix it up a bit. Choose things that are related. It’s all got to be very natural and valuable to your audience.

Why do my images all need alt text?

In the good old days, images loaded much less frequently than in the modern superfast internet era. The alt text was a way of telling the visitor what that image was supposed to be. These days the alt text still serves that purpose but it also tells a search engine what the image is about and should the image be a link, the alt text acts in the same manner as anchor text does.

What is the Google Knowledge Graph?

This is a way in which Google displays information to enhance the results displayed to a user. It provides them with content pulled from one or multiple pages, that it determines provides the best answers to the search query of the user. We aim to help our clients rank within these by optimising the markup on the page and choosing certain HTML elements for various pieces of text.

Does blogging help with SEO?

Blogging is currently one of the most important things you can do to improve your SEO once your website has been optimised in the first place. That’s because blogging can help to increase the relevancy of your website and increase the overall density of related keywords. It can also help to create silos of content around your products and services which indicates to search engines the page that you want to rank. Blogging also helps you reach people you wouldn’t be able to reach with those normal static pages. That’s because you’re able to write content that doesn’t fit so neatly in with the buying cycle. One of the great things about blogging is you can’t do too much of it and whilst not everyone is the greatest writer in the world (yours truly included), we can all contribute something.

What is the best length for a blog for SEO?

I’ve done some significant research and written a massive amount about this and I’d suggest you read one of my articles ‘How long should you blog articles be for SEO.’ As with most things SEO, the answer is not a straightforward one. It’s based on the sector you’re in and how competitive it is, In some sectors, you need to write a 5,000-word blog to stand a change, in others a 500-word blog will still see you ranking highly.

How often should I update my blog?

As long as you’ve got a blogging strategy that intrinsically linked to your SEO strategy then there is no limit to how often you should be updating your blog. But the reality is most businesses don’t have the luxury of being able to put banks of content writers to work on creating content to drive traffic. And those that do will often quickly face the point of diminishing returns and have to decide if they want to out-content their competition for the purposes of SEO despite a lot of the blogs not returning what they cost to create. The amount of blogging you do, or the velocity, will often be determined by your competitors. If you find your main competitors are blogging once a week, if you can blog two or three times a week you should quickly be able to outrank them. If they are blogging several times a day, you may have to either match and beat them or focus on a different element of SEO – or blog in a very different way to them!

Does social media help SEO?

Social media is an essential part of SEO. Every piece of content you create much be promoted on social media. This creates links back to your content and provides search engines with trust signals about your content and your site as a whole.

Does HTTPS affect SEO?

HTTPS is a security layer that sits between your website and the server. Look in the address bar of this website and you’ll see before the URL it says HTTPS. It used to say HTTP, and most websites relied on HTTP, but Google recently made it clear that it wanted every website to be an HTTPS website and they confirmed they would reward those websites that were more secure, with better rankings. All the websites built by GrowTraffic are secured using an SSL certificate and any clients we work with for SEO will be advised that they should adopt this before we start onsite work.

Are meta tags important for SEO?

This is an interesting one. Some meta tags are important for SEO and some aren’t. And some are considered of questionable importance. There are four to choose from. Don’t bother with keywords, I haven’t used them since 2008 and they haven’t been reviewed by Google for a lot longer than that. Your meta description is important, this is used by Google to inform the snippet you see in the Google SERPs and although putting keywords in there doesn’t strictly have a direct impact on ranking, they do affect click-through rates, which does impact rankings, and there is also some evidence that longer meta descriptions also outrank shorter meta descriptions. Robots is an important meta tag as it tells crawlers – such as GoogleBot – whether or not the page can be crawled or not (I’ve seen some howlers when this has been set up wrong!). And finally, the most important meta tag is the page title. The page title tag is probably one of, if not the most important element of on-page SEO, so ensure you’ve got your keywords in here, semantically, and if possible, mention your brand as well.

What is the robots.txt file?

This is one of those things you’re only going to notice if you start digging into the source of your website, but it’s an important element. The robots.txt file, also known as the robots exclusion protocol or standard, lets crawlers know which pages on your website they can and cannot crawl. The important thing here is to recognise that Google has a crawl budget and if you’ve got a large site you might want to funnel Google to those important pages, to ensure they get crawled and therefore indexed, in the most timely manner possible.

Does categorisation help SEO?

I love categorising content. Some of my biggest SEO wins have come through the proper categorisation and structuring of content. This benefits SEO in a number of different ways, but probably the simplest way of thinking about it is it puts all the related content in one place. We refer to this as a ‘silo’. Essentially, it makes related content easier for users and search engines to find, which makes it rank better in the SERPs.

Should I have a breadcrumb on my website?

Almost certainly yes. If you remember the fairy tale about the children in the woods who left a small breadcrumb trail so they could find their way back out of the woods, this is exactly what a breadcrumb – also known as a crumbtrail – is all about. It helps the user and search engine return to related content. Additionally, if the breadcrumb links back to other sections of the website, this can help create silos in a similar way categorising content does.

What SEO techniques are popular?

There are so many different SEO techniques and they change in importance and thereby popularity as search engine’s update their ranking factors. But the most popular are onsite optimisation, keyword research, link building, offsite optimisations, SEO audits, content creation, content marketing – to name but a few!

How does Google know about my website?

Google crawls the web and finds other websites through links. If you’ve got a new website you can add your website to Google Search Console and tell Google to start indexing your website by adding a sitemap. Google recently retired the ‘Submit URL to Google’ function.

What is an XML sitemap?

People used to rely on Google finding links in order for it to crawl and later index the content on their website. But Google now enables website owners to upload their XML sitemap to Google Search Console and effectively tell Google where all your website’s pages are. This is a text file, so it’s much smaller than an HTML file, which Google could stop crawling after a while. These XML files can also provide a hierarchy of content for Google to index.

What are backlinks?

Before Google, the way search engines worked out what your content was all about and where it should be ranked, was by analysing the pages for keywords. Google changed all this. Google started not only looking for keywords but also looking for links. These backlinks provided a vote for the website and enabled Google to weight certain websites over others based on how many links they had vs their competitors.

As part of our SEO activities, we are trying to encourage other websites and content creators to link back to our clients’ websites, thereby helping them to outrank others.

Google’s ranking factor that was based on backlinks was known as PageRank (named after Google co-founder Larry Page).

What’s the difference between a follow and nofollow link?

Nofollows are applied to links when you want to tell Google not to pass on any link value to the page being linked to. Historically this was created because many businesses found themselves creating necessary links between different websites and pages, and unintentionally, this could appear to be an attempt to manipulate the rankings.

Nofollow links also provide an opportunity to carry out link sculpting, which means the website owner attempts to determine which pages on a website should pass on link equity – and often by which percentage.

Of course, Google is wise to this and Google does actually crawl nofollow links and may decide to pass some link equity to the following page – but you’ll get brownie points for letting them know not to.

What is link equity?

Link equity is the amount of power one page passes between itself and another page. It’s known as link juice and this ranking factor was originally known as PageRank. Link equity is recorded on a logarithmic scale and doesn’t just rely on the number of links a page gets but also the quality of the links a page receives.

People are always trying to get links from good quality sources and this is why you’ll often see comment spam on blogs – where the blogs allows for links in the comments – and when you find yourself on a blog that doesn’t quite read right and which all seems to be centred around that one, slightly irrelevant link. It’s also why you get all those emails asking for the opportunity to contribute a article to your blog.

What is domain authority?

Domain Authority (DA) is a measure of the overall link equity of a domain. That’s all the pages on the website and how they link back to the root domain (generally your website’s homepage). The page authority of your homepage can be dramatically different to your overall domain authority. And whilst most people look for links on websites with high domain authority, it’s worth bearing in mind that most new pages on which links are placed have very little page authority to pass on.

What is link building?

Put simply, link building is the act of creating links from another page in order to make your target page rank higher. There are a number of different link building tactics, such as social profiles, guest blogging, forum comments, blog comments, outreach marketing, native advertising links etc. Linking building is important to SEO but always be careful when building links. The most important links are the organic ones, as unnatural linking patterns can easily be spotted by Google and eventually you will be penalised for them.

What’s the difference between internal and external links?

Internal links are the ones on your website which point to other pages on your website. External links are links that point to a different domain. They are both important in the signals they send to Google and shouldn’t be overlooked when developing a website, content or creating an SEO strategy.

How can I build links?

Be careful! Building external links is important, but, building the wrong links is one of the quickest ways to get your site penalised. If you get penalised, it could impact your rankings for years to come. You should only get links from related content and try to limit the number of links that use keyword focused anchor text.

If you’re new to all this, you should start by building links within your own website. Try to link up the content on your website that’s related. And try to show Google through your interlinking, which is the most important page for a particular subject – or keyword – on your website. This can help to reduce the impact of keyword cannibalisation should you create too closely related content.

If you’re trying to work out which pages on your own website you should link up, you should search google using the site search function and a keyword – type in: site: “keyword” by using this query in Google you will find all the pages on your website that are related to your keyword. Go through them and add links back to the main page you want to rank for that keyword.

What is anchor text?

When creating a hyperlink you don’t have to create a link that displays the destination URL. This can be useful for a number of reasons, it helps the sentence the link is in to flow and can be useful when the URL you’re linking to is long and non-user friendly. This also provides you with a way to indicate to the reader and to Google what the page you’re linking to is about and why you are sending them there. For example, all of the following links go to the same place but use different anchor text: GrowTraffic, SEO Agency, The first uses the brand, the second a keyword and the third the domain and provide different information to the reader.

What are broken links?

A broken link is a link that doesn’t go anywhere. Broken links are bad for SEO. But broken links happen naturally over time and it’s important that websites are monitored and broken links are discovered and rectified. Broken links occur because of various reasons such as website or webpage going down, or a new website being built which has a different page structure. Often this can happen on your own website. Generally, these can either be redirected to new pages to ensure they pass on link equity as they should be doing.

What is a redirect?

A redirect is a way of letting search engines know that content has moved or been removed, and that a new page is the most relevant piece of content. These redirects transport visitors seamlessly to that new page of content. There are a number of different kinds of redirects you can use. 301 and 302 redirects are the most common types of redirects. 301 and 302 are both server codes – most people are familiar with the 404 server code, which is visible when a page can’t be found. 301 redirects are permanent redirects and let search engines know the content has been permanently moved to a new location and that the new content should be crawled and indexed as though it’s the same URL. Users rarely even know they’ve been redirected. It also lets a search engine know to pass all the link equity from an old page to a new one. A 302 redirect is a temporary redirect and lets the search engine know the page hasn’t been replaced with a new one, meaning the old content will be kept in the index for a while longer. Google has recently said that it now treats the link juice it passes with 301s and 302 the same.

What is a canonical tag?

A canonical tag provides Google with the canon page for a piece of content. Don’t worry, I had to look it up too. The canon is the original piece of content. If you’ve got two pages which have near identical content, you can let Google know through a canonical tag which one should be ranking. It’s not perfect but they definitely help.

Is duplicated content really that bad?

Duplicate content can appear in two forms. The first is content that’s duplicated across your own website and the second is content that’s sourced from other people’s website. Content on your website that’s sourced from another site is the worse kind of duplicate content and could see your pages struggle to rank. In the past, people would copy content from all over the web and paste it on their own website in order to help them rank. Google got wise to this and that’s why it can still to this day result in a big penalty. Many e-commerce websites struggle with this as they all use the same boilerplate content supplied by a product’s manufacturer and it can take a lot of time and effort to rewrite the many thousands of products most e-commerce stores have. Google is more forgiving about content that’s duplicated between pages on your own website, but it would still prefer that the content on each page is unique.

Do reviews help with SEO?

Since the Pigeon update sites such as YELP are more powerful when passing link equity, but there is no clear indication that rankings are affected by reviews. However, as these are trust signals, if you display them on your website, it’s likely you will positively impact the user signals Google interprets and uses as a ranking factor – so it’s always best to develop genuine reviews and use them on your website.

How do I track SEO?

Tracking SEO is notoriously difficult, but there are a few simple KPIs you might want to look at. These include:

  • Keyword ranking positions
  • Domain Authority
  • Number of Backlinks

Ultimately though, what you’re going to be looking for is an increased number of conversions coming in through from organic search, which you’ll be able to monitor as long as Google Analytics is set up on your website (and it should be!).

Does web design affect SEO?

Web design has a huge role to play in SEO. Before we build any website we always sit down to work out how the website has to perform from an SEO perspective. This is controlled by the links, the anchor text and the content hierarchy which alter the flow of the link equity around the website. In addition, we also have to ensure we are building websites that are mobile friendly, because now Google’s Index has migrated to the mobile-first index all websites should be mobile friendly in order to have the best opportunity to rank.

Does UX affect SEO?

This is a subtle variation on whether web design affects SEO, however, I think it’s important to differentiate between web design and UX. In this sense, UX does impact SEO. For years, Google has been banging on about the impact of UX on SEO – we’re talking about page speed, mobile UX, hidden or click-to-expand content and all the historical talk of ‘above the fold’ placement of content and there have been many examples of the impact of clickthrough rate, as well as high bounce rates back to search.

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