You’re about to learn how to get a higher search engine ranking for your website and eventually boost it to the top?
So hold tight, because you’re going to be consumed by the two terms ‘On-Page’ and ‘Off-Page’ Optimization. They’re going to form the backbone of your SEO journey so you’ll need to learn to love them.
Before we continue, I want to mention that if you’d like to learn SEO right from scratch, please follow the SEO tutorial guide page and move forward from there.
Alternatively, you can use the navigation menu to move to any section of the SEO tutorial you’re interested in.
Anatomy of an SEO Campaign
To loosely outline an SEO campaign, the order of proceedings will always be…
1. Keyword Research
2. On-Page Optimization
3. Off-Page Optimization
4. Progress Monitoring
5. Evidence Based Refinement
All 5 of these will be explored in depth as we continue to learn how to get a higher search engine ranking and get to the top of Google.
But first let’s take a very brief look at them now.
1. Keyword Research
This is the self-explanatory due diligence and preparation you should take very seriously indeed. To do SEO properly, you only get a shot at a handful of choice commercial keywords, so you need to make sure they’re the right balance of monthly search volume, commerciality, and competitiveness.
You should use one of the best keyword research tools out there for your keyword research. Choose the wrong keywords or keyword tools and you will flush weeks of work down the toilet.
2. ‘On-Page’ Optimization
This is where the actual optimization all begins; and it’s wonderfully controllable. The term ‘On-Page’ is only somewhat descriptive because it’s in fact referring to anything and everything we optimize about the site itself – not just a page on the site.
The simple way to think about it is this: if to perform an SEO task you need to log into your content management system (WordPress, Joomla etc.) or enter your host’s control panel – you’re about to do ‘On-Page’ SEO.
On-Page is where we dress up your site directly, both in terms of content and coding, to please Google. Or rather, it’s where we specifically tell the search engine what topics and keywords to consider your site as being about.
The important word here is ‘consider’, because Google only wants a bit of help with this. Get too aggressive with your On-Page optimization and you can risk an over-optimization penalty. It’s a tricky balancing act!
Some example On-Page factors we would think about are…
- ‘Header’ tags
- ‘Meta’ tags
- Keyword density
- Content word count
- Synonym placement
- Internal link architecture
If you’re new to SEO don’t freak out when you see these terms – we’ll be breaking down each one in detail later.
3. ‘Off-Page’ Optimization
While learning how to get a higher search engine ranking, we have discovered that on-page optimization is a controllable process.
A far less controllable process, Off-Page SEO is all to do with how other websites and online entities cite, reference, and interact with your website. As they do this, Google sees whether they corroborate and complement your On-Page optimization, or whether they act to contradict it.
For example, if you had a website selling printers, but for some mad reason you optimized its On-Page factors perfectly for the keyword ‘dog grooming’, then Off-Page factors would eventually prevent your site from ranking well for any keywords surrounding the preening of puppies.
Google will see the rest of the Internet referring to you as a printer merchant through signals like links and reviews, and discard what you’re saying the site is about.
Think of Google as a blind person you meet at a fancy-dress party.
Bear with me here.
If you’re dressed up as a cowboy, but tell the blind person you’ve come as an Indian, eventually they’ll hear enough people say, “hey, nice cowboy outfit”. Eventually their trust and opinion of you will drop.
Examples of Off-Page ranking factors include…
- Number, quality and relevance of backlinks to your site, including anchor text (the wording of the individual links).
- Google reviews.
- Social media interactions with your accounts.
- Consistency of your exact contact details across the Internet.
Whereas On-Page SEO consists mostly of tasks you only need to perform once, Off-Page SEO and the acquisition of good backlinks is an ongoing thing.
Taking a break won’t negatively impact your rankings per se, but rather your competition will usually catch up and beat you.
4. Progress Monitoring
As you’re optimizing, you need to track if what you’re doing is having the desired and predicted impact on your rankings. Therefore, monitoring your position in Google for your target keywords is essential. More on this later.
5. Evidence Based Refinement
As soon as you get enough feedback from monitoring the results, the SEO process comes full circle. You assess if what you did / are doing is having the desired impact on rankings, and then go back to keyword analysis before tweaking your On-Page and Off-Page processes again.
As you can see, the SEO process is a cycle, with the wins becoming more and more incremental the more times you go around the loop.
How to Judge Progress
The most vital thing for tracking the impact of your work – as well as keeping your motivation as high as it needs to be – is judging your progress properly. Don’t just judge the merits of your work by your bank balance. You need to put a data analyst’s hat on here to maximise the return on your time investment.
There are 2 tracking focusses in SEO – your search engine results positions (or ‘SERPS’ for short), and an analysis of the resultant traffic using Google Analytics.
On day one of your SEO campaign, you need to draw a line in the sand and note your site’s positions in Google for your target keywords. Without this, there’s no baseline by which to judge your SEO.
You can track other things, but ultimately your bank account doesn’t care about how many Facebook likes you have, or the number of backlinks going to your site. It cares about your ranking positions and the traffic those positions convert into cash, so let’s measure them.
There are two main ways to monitor your SERPS – manually, or by using tracking software.
Manual SERPS Tracking
You’ll need to create a spreadsheet and check where you are regularly by typing each target keyword into Google and hunting for your site yourself. This is clearly the most labor-intensive option, but it’s free.
If you do choose to do this, try to avoid checking daily because it’s just not necessary and can be a huge emotional rollercoaster if you do.
When practicing optimization, Google does something the SEO industry calls the ‘Google Dance’, which is where your rankings will wildly fluctuate for a period before eventually settling down.
It happens because Google’s default reaction to most optimization changes is to assume guilt until innocence is proven.
The dance is perfectly normal, but even if you don’t have it, it’s still not worth checking your SERPS any more regularly than once every two weeks.
To check the SERPS yourself, make sure you’re logged out of your Google account, and clear your browser cache and cookies (viewing in a private browser window will achieve the same thing).
This is because Google artificially pushes a site your computer visits regularly further to the top of the results. So here’s the kicker – it does it only on your computer.
We’ve had enquiries from businesses who have been horrified to see where they really stand in Google once they’ve cleared their browser’s cache.
SERPS Tracking Software
If you’re serious about your website’s success, this is far and away the better option. There are many online tracker programs (some with free trials) but the best in my experience is SerpFox – www.serpfox.com.
It has some limitations but it’s very easy to use. Just plug in your website, choose the keywords you want to track, and you’re away.
It’ll create graphs from the data so you can monitor changes over time visually, and this is crucial when trying to match up past SEO efforts to an increase (or decrease) in rankings.
You can even set up alerts based on going up or down in Google. At the time of writing, SerpFox costs around $10/month for a starter package.