Fort Collins Search Engine Optimization Workshop

Key takeaways from the SEO workshop.

We’re getting back into the swing of things following a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and a trip to WordCamp US, filled with family, friends, and only a little bit of work: we launched a new website on Black Friday and helped a client market a Holiday Recipes Cookbook all week, among other things.  Mostly, though, the Road Warrior Creative team has just been eating a lot of pie…we consider almost daily pie intake mandatory between Thanksgiving and New Years.

pumpkin pie

Before Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to teach a search engine optimization workshop through the Fort Collins Girl Develop It Chapter.  Girl Develop It is a national nonprofit which offers inexpensive classes and free workshops for women who are learning to code.  Earlier in the summer, I spoke on SEO at a Fort Collins WordPress Meetup to a packed house – over 30 attendees.  One of the leaders of Girl Develop It in Fort Collins attended, and when she asked me if I would like to teach a full workshop, I enthusiastically said yes.  Sharing knowledge is one of our core values at Road Warrior Creative, and search engine optimizations is something that I’m passionate about and love to share.

The workshop was held Thursday, November 17th at Digital Workshop Center near downtown Fort Collins.  There were 14 attendees in total – a few women from Girl Develop It and a handful of others from around the community.  It was largely all small business owners, with just one or two marketing directors, and they had a ton of great questions.  We tackled questions as I went through the materials, which meant the talk went a little longer than I expected, but we didn’t need to have a long Q&A session at the end.

Search engine optimization is easily one of the areas where we get the most questions, and where many website managers/owners struggle.  Knowing this, I decided to share the workshop materials here on our blog.  Below you’ll find detailed information from the search engine optimization workshop as well as slides, and for those who are more audio-visual learners, a full 2 hour (and 11 minute!) video of the workshop.  I hope this is interesting and useful to you.  Please feel free to ask any questions you might have in the comments section.

First, Understand What Search Engine Optimization Is

I always like to start my SEO workshops off with this quote from Adam Audette, Chief Knowledge Officer at RKG,

Today it’s not about ‘get the traffic’ — it’s about ‘get the targeted and relevant traffic.’

I like to start with this quote because it’s important to understand that search engine optimization is not just about bringing people to your website.  You could wildly exceed your expectations and grow your visits from 30 to 3,000 or even 30,000 visitors a day, but if those visitors are not the right visitors – not part of your target demographic and not interested in your product or service – then having 30,000 daily visitors won’t do anything for you or your business, except, maybe, ensure that you have a high hosting bill.

Before you can search engine optimize your website, you need to know your audience. Click To Tweet

I didn’t go into the details of how to know and understand your audience in this workshop, but if you don’t already know answers to questions like:

  • Where does my target market live?
  • What age and gender is my target market?
  • What interests do they have?
  • What other products or services do they research and buy?

Or, if you don’t already have personnas/customer avatars created for 1-3 ideal customers, then you need to stop right now and go create those things.


Search engine optimization strategies can only be successful when you know who and what you’re targeting.  If you don’t have a clear picture of your customers and what interests them, then you won’t be able to write content that finds them or speaks to them, and as you will soon see, search engine optimization is all about content.

SEO Basics

Once you know who your target market is, next you need to understand how they find you.  There are 4 key ways that people get to your website:

  1. Direct: They know your business and they know your exact web address (URL), which they typed into their browser to come straight to your website.
  2. Referral: They were on another website that linked to your website and clicked on the link to get to your website.  This could be more “natural” links that were embedded in text of a blog post or page as a reference (like the link above to Adam Audette’s bio), or it could be a link on a directory website, like the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce’s website, or even a link included with a display ad you paid for on another site.
  3. Social Media: Someone (maybe you, hopefully lots of other people) shared your blog post or web page on social media and other people clicked the link to come to your website because the content preview looked awesome.
  4. Search Engine:
    (a) Paid Ad – like Google Adwords, a.k.a. Search Engine Marketing (SEM), where someone clicks on a link that you paid the search engine to return along with regular, non-paid (organic) results.
    (b) Organic search results – they clicked on a link that naturally came up in search results.

For the purposes of this workshop on search engine optimization, we’re going to talk about 4(b) above – organic search results.  This workshop (and blog post) is all about how to get your website to show up on, ideally, the first page of Google search results without you having to pay Google to put it there.  You want to be on the first page so that the right people will click the link and come to your website.  As we go through it, though, you’ll see that paid ads, referrals, and social media all factor into SEO strategies to varying degrees.

Also, as a side note, if you’re wondering why this post is going to go on and on about Google and not talk to much about Bing or Yahoo or, it’s because 70% of searches done on the web happen in Google.  If you can get that right, then you’re going to reach the largest audience and will likely be doing well in other search engines as well.

What is SEO?

The bottom line – what it all comes down to – is this:

search engine optimization is the art of creating quailty content with key words and phrases easily recognized by search engine so that your website will rank high in organic search results

And what you need to know is that, though you may see an initial large improvement in ranking when going from a small 4 page website to one with 50+ pages over night, search engine optimization work typically consists of small modifications made incrementally over time and SEO is an ongoing activity for the life of your website.

Content is King

Keywords come first.  Well, second after knowing your audience (I won’t let you forget that!).

Before you can start writing content, you need to know what you’re targeting. Click To Tweet

The ongoing activity that is search engine optimization consists of four main steps:

  • Brainstorm
  • Research
  • Plan & Execute
  • Evaluate

I’ll break those down a little bit…

How to Brainstorm for Keywords

Keyword brainstorming is often best done with paper and pencil.  When writing blog posts or individual pages on your website, keep in mind that each piece of content (meaning every unique URL) should have one, singular focus.  Initially it may be hard to come up with large numbers of pages for your website.  Think about:

  • Products or services that you offer
  • Your business’ values
  • Related topics for your target customers
  • Your location
  • Singular & plural versions of words
  • Synonyms

For this process, I like to create a mind map.  Start with a short phrase in the center that describes your business.  Around that in smaller circles, put your main products or services and anything that might make you different.  From there further breakdown each product or service with specific features or aspects of that service, then list out every single question you can think of related to the individual product or service.  If you are struggling to break it down this far, it can be helpful to try to think of at least one “Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How” question for each of the features/aspects.  Also keep in mind the questions you are regularly asked by new or prospective customers.  If lots of people are asking you the same thing over and over, it needs to be a page on your website!

As an example, this is what a blog post idea mind map might look like for a divorce attorney:

blog ideas divorce attorney mind map

Want to try it for your business?

Here’s a free PDF mind map template you can download and print.

Free Website Content Brainstorming Worksheet

Download the Brainstorming Mind Map Template

Getting Blog Ideas Through Research

The process of brainstorming topics for blog posts can come more easily to some people than others.  It you find yourself having a hard time thinking of things to write about, don’t despair!  There are several free online tools that can help to provide ideas for blog post topics.  Our favorites include:

Answer the Public Website

Answer the Public – a website that gives you (for free!) hundreds of questions that are commonly searched in search engines, in your country of choice.

Google Adwords Keyword Planner Tool

Google Adwords Keyword Planner – a (mostly) free tool that will give you the search volume of words and phrases – look for the longer phrases to get new ideas.

HubSpot's Blog Topic Generator

HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator – A free tool that will generate five blog post titles at a time out of nouns you supply.

A Quality SEO Strategy is Backed by Research

Once you have ideas about what you want to write about and have created a list of keywords that are relevant to your products or services, but before you start writing, you need to do some research.  Researching the number of times a keyword is searched and how competitive it is will let you know whether or not you actually want to target the keywords and phrases on your list.  Tools we use for research include:

Google Adwords Keyword Planner

Google Keyword Planner SEO Research

This tool is not just good for getting content ideas, as previously mentioned, but is also great for validating them, as it gives you average monthly search volume for each specific keyword or phrase.  You can paste in a list of your own targeted keywords or have Google generate a list for you, and will receive results as shown above.  If you click the download button (which you should!), it will give you the option to download the data segmented into months as a CSV or Excel file that you can sort and annotate.

It’s free, but…

The Google Key Word Planner is a free tool, but it’s important to note, is that over the summer Google changed the data that is available to people who are not running active Adwords (paid search engine marketing) campaigns.  Now if you’re not running an Adwords campaign, the keyword planner tool will only give you search volume ranges of 0, 1-100, 100-1K, 1K-10K, 10K-100K, 100k-1M, and 1M+, as explained below by a Google employee.

Google Keyword Planner Update to Ranges

This may or may not matter to you, but there is definitely a big difference between a keyword that gets 1,000 searches per month and one that gets 9,999 searches per month.  There are two ways around this if it is important to you to be able to see the more specific results:

  1. Run a Google Adwords Campaign
    There are other reasons why you might want to do this from a marketing perspective, but running a campaign will ensure that Google gives you the full data.  We did an experiment and set up a campaign with a daily budget of $1 – to ensure the maximum spend was $31/month or less – and were able to determine that was enough of a budget to get access to the full data, so even if you have a very small budget and only want to pay to use the tool, this is a viable option.
  2. Work with an SEO Specialist or Agency
    If you don’t want to set up and manage an Adwords campaign, you could consider hiring a digital marketing agency or SEO consultant to help you with the research portion.  Online marketing agencies and SEO consultants will have active paid accounts with a number of SEO tools, many of which could be very expensive for an individual business owner to purchase only to use 1-3 times per year.

Google Trends


Want information about what people are searching right now?  Google Trends is a free tool that shows you what is trending in search right now.  This is a great way to make sure your posts are relevant and hitting on topics that are of interest to people as we speak.  You can narrow it down by country and also some predefined categories such as business, entertainment, health, top stories, etc.

Moz Keyword Explorer

Moz Keyword Explorer

Moz’s Keyword Explorer is a freemium tool that helps you to discover and prioritize keywords.  Like Google’s Keyword Planner, it gives you average search volume, but is also supplies some extra information on competitiveness, the difficulty of ranking, and potential opportunity.  Here’s an example with of what you can view for free:

Moz Key Word Explorer Results

With the “Freemium” model, you can view a limited amount of the data for free. Professional plans range from $79/month to $479/month when you pay yearly.  What we like about this tool is that, unlike Google’s Keyword Planner whose goal is to try and get you to pay for ads, Moz’s goal is to provide the most and best information possible so that you will continue to pay for the tool.


SpyFu for competitor keyword research

Spyfu presents a different opportunity for keyword research with a peek into what your competitors are doing.  You can enter any web address and get an idea of the keywords that they are targeting and even get a feel for their average monthly budget for Google Adwords.  Like Moz’s Keyword Explorer, some data is available for free and some is only accessible to paid subscribers.  Plans range from $44-$199/month when paid annually.

Interpreting SEO Research & Making a Content Plan

A common question we receive from clients is, “How do I interpret all this SEO data?”  Once you have created a list of keywords and researched them, you want to look at two main things to determine if something is worth writing about from a search engine optimization perspective:

  1. average number of searches and
  2. competitiveness.

Make a chart that shows your keyword or phase and the number of monthly searches compared to the number of Google Results.  It should look something like this:

search engine optimization research chart searches vs Google results

You want to choose terms that have a good balance between a high number of monthly searches and a low number of Google results that your web page will have to compete against.  It’s also important to remember not to go too broad.  In addition, you want to:

  • Start with more obtainable terms (keywords that have a lower search volume)
  • Target “long-tail keywords” – 5-7 word phrases
  • Ask yourself how easy is it to craft a title and first sentence with exact phrase without sounding awkward?
  • Go for unique phrases that you have not already targeted in existing content on your website.

Before You Start Writing

Now that you’ve brainstormed, researched, and created a plan you’re ready to start writing, right?

Not so fast.

Before you can optimize your website successfully you need to get your house in order – there’s no point in trying to add on a room if your foundation is already crumbling.  Before you need start writing new content or improving your existing content, you need to:

Have a Mobile-Optimized Website

In April 2015, Google started using mobile responsiveness as a ranking signal.  If your website does not have a mobile responsive design or theme, it was going to be put behind all the website that are mobile responsive in mobile search.  This won’t impact desktop traffic, but let’s not forget that more than 50% of all searches happen on mobile devices.

Additionally, you shouldn’t have separate desktop and mobile websites.  Just last month Google announced that their “algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site.”  This means if you have a separate mobile-only site with less content than your main site, both the mobile and desktop versions will now be indexed based on this  smaller website with lesser content, which could very well mean a fall in ranking.

If you want good search engine ranking, you absolutely have to have a mobile responsive website. Click To Tweet

If you’re on WordPress this is as easy as changing your theme.  At WordCamp US, Joost de Valk said that 28% of WordPress sites are still not mobile responsive.  If this is your site, fix it fast!  You can go into the theme directory and choose a new one for free, or you can work with a WordPress Developer to custom build you a new mobile responsive theme.

If you’re in another content management system and you don’t know how to make your website mobile responsive, ask the support team for that platform today.

If you have a custom coded website that isn’t mobile responsive and you can’t easily make it mobile responsive on your own, send us an email – we’d love to help.

(Not sure if your website is mobile responsive? Test it in Google’s Free Mobile Friendliness Tool)

Have A Quality Web Design & No Security Issues

No security issues speaks for itself: if Google thinks your website may have been hacked, then you can lose search engine ranking fast.  To keep your website secure, make sure you use strong passwords (I.e., not your city+zipcode or business address) and if you’re on WordPress keep it, your theme, and plugins updated.  You may also want to consider upgrading from an inexpensive host to one that has more security features in place.

Quality web design is all about keeping people on your website.  Part of how Google determines the value a particular search result is by watching what people do after they click on it.  If your website does not look professional and clearly funnel people through to additional pages and actions on the site, they are likely to quickly return to Google, which means Google is going to think that your website may not have been the best result to serve up.  Quality web design increases the amount of time people will spend on your website, how many pages they will view, and will even help to increase conversions.  You can’t have good SEO without quality web design.

Secure Your Website With An SSL Certificate

Since 2014, Google has use HTTPS as a ranking signal.  Starting in January, they are putting increasingly greater effort into emphasizing the importance of SSL and trying to direct all websites toward having a security certificate that protects their website visitors.  At WordCamp US, we listened to a talk from a Google employee, Maile Ohye, who stated that starting in January with the relase of Chrome 56, any websites that have passwords or credit card fields and that do not have HTTPS in the web address will be labeled as not secure.


Google’s eventual goal is to flag all HTTP websites as “not secure” to anyone visiting them in the Chrome browser, even if there are no fields to submit information.

eventual chrome changes for non HTTPS websites

You don’t want these messages to scare off your potential customers, and you definitely don’t want not having an SSL certificate to hold your website back in search results.  With the introduction of Let’s Encrypt earlier this year, you can now secure your website will SSL for free…so what’s stopping you?

Make Sure Your Website is Loading Quickly

Google has long told us that website speed is one of the signals used by its algorithm to rank pages.  In addition, slow loading time on your website means that search engines can crawl fewer pages using their allocated crawl budget, which could mean it takes longer for them to index your site.

I’m not going to go into how to speed up your website here, but there are two great free tests that you can use to find out how your website’s load time stacks up: Google Page Speed and Pingdom Website Speed Test.  Some web hosts offer speed tests, but I would take them with a grain of salt, because they are less likely to tell you if your server is holding you back.

If your website isn’t loading quickly enough, then do your best to fix it.  Not sure how?  Contact us and we can help.

Setup Google Analytics and Google Search Console

What good is search engine optimization without any way to measure your success?  Google Analytics and Google Search Console (previously called Webmaster Tools) are free tools that will allow you to track traffic to your website, will tell you how visitors engage with your site, and will give you detailed information about your website’s index status and current search engine ranking.

How to Write Good Content

You’ve done all of your pre-work to get your website ready, you’ve researched and planned…now it’s time to get writing!  Your goal is towrite good, quality content that is useful to your visitors and that will, ideally, be shareable on social media.

wriet good content for social amplification - Rand Fishkin quote

How do you write good content?  Here’s some tips:

Length Matters

Longer content gets more social shares and more links from other websites.  This increased engagement and sharing will translate into increased traffic to your website, placing more authority on that page in the eyes of Google.

How long should it be?

It used to be, 300 words per page was considered the shortest amount that can be picked up by search engines, however there is increasing research finding that long posts/pages with 1500+ words perform much better in search engines and in social media shares.  Our general recommendation to clients is that 750-1000 words per page should be considered the absolute minimum length, assuming it is quality content.  If you can write more, that’s great!  When it comes to quality content, there is no such thing as too long.

For additional information on content length, check out these resources:

  • Moz: 1800-3000 words get the most links
  • Buffer: 2500 words or longer get most social shares
  • QuickSprout: > 1,500 words = 68.1% more tweets & 22.6% more Facebook likes
  • UpWorthy: No correlation between length & traffic – the visual difference?

Make it Readable

Long content is great for search engines, but not for keeping people on your website.  It’s important to break up your content with headers for different sections (like you can see here!).  This makes it more skim-able and allows people to easily find the information they want.

Paragraphs should be not more than 55 characters wide or 4-5 lines long.  I’ll be the first to admit that I write long sentences and even longer paragraphs, but here do as I say not as I do.  Keeping paragraphs short is especially important on pages with lots of text.  The width of your content is set more in the design of your website, so if you don’t know how to adjust that, you can talk to your developer or change WordPress themes.

Aim for an 8th grade reading level.  WordPress SEO by Yoast now includes a readability test in its analysis.  If you’re not on WordPress, is a great resource for testing your content’s readability.

Use images and graphics to break up text and provide additional interest.  Every page should have at least one image, also, for maximum appearance when your content is shared in social media.

On-Page SEO

On page SEO is optimization you do on your website on a page-by-page basis.  Once you have written your content and are ready to publish it on your website a page or a blog post, you need to make sure a few things are happening in the background.  Some of these things happen behind the scenes and are controlled by your content management system, plugins, or theme; other you have to manually do.  This will largely depend upon your website platform.

Optimize Your Page Title

Typically the title on the page becomes the H1 header on the page.  This should be set by your theme, and you only want one H1 heading per page.

wordpress title edit screen

If possible, you want to include your keyword/phase at the beginning, if possible.  According to Kissmetrics, the ideal headline length is 6 words.  Don’t force it!  Go for interesting and relevant, not keyword-stuffed.

Optimize Your URL

wordpress url edit screen

Include your keyword or phrase in your URL, using dashes to separate words.  Again, keep it short.  For WordPress users, this will default to your full title.  Don’t be afraid to edit this!  It doesn’t need to be the same as your title, as seen above.

Optimize Your Meta Tags

Meta tags consist of two main types for search engine optimization purposes: meta title  and  meta description.

meta tags help your website's seo

Meta Title

The meta title is what you see in blue, above.  You want to include your keyword or phrase at the beginning if possible.  This can be identical to your page title if you want or it can have additional information like your website name added to it.  In 2014 we told people to limit meta titles to 55 characters, afterwhich they would be cut off by Google.  Earlier this year Google made their main search result column wider and it now appears to be safe to have meta titles that are up to 60 characters long.

Your title should be readable and compelling.  Think clickable – what is going to make people want to click on this search result or social media share over any other?  Just keep in mind that Google reserves the right to rewrite this, shorten it or append information to it.

Meta Description

The meta description is made up of the short sentences you see after the date in the example above.  This is not used by Google for ranking, but will help to entice people to visit your website, and the more visit your website gets the more Google will want to show it to people. 

Use your keyword/phrase intelligently and limit yourself to 150-160 characters so that it will not be cut off.  You want to avoid duplication so that each page has a unique meta description.  Don’t use the same sentences over and over on every page.

Optimize Your Headers

As previously mentioned, you want only one H1 heading on each individual web page.  Typically this is set by theme using the post/page title, although I have seen instances where poorly coded websites did not have H1 headings at all.  If you aren’t sure if a page on your website has an H1 heading, leave your site in a comment below and I’ll go check it for free.

Use H2 headings to break up content and increase readability.  It can also help SEO to include your keywords or variations of your keywords in an H2 heading, but it is not a major factor.

Adding H3, H4, H5, etc. headings can improve readability, but you need to use them in order as if you were creating an outline for your document.  Heading levels are important for accessibility purposes and are vital to helping people using screen readers to navigate your website.  When going down through headings, don’t skip a level (I.e. go from H2 to H4) just because you like the way it is designed on your website.   Read more about headings and accessibility here.

Optimize Your Keyword Inclusion

It used to be we talked a lot about “keyword density” – this is quickly becoming a thing of the past.  Placement of keywords is becoming more important than frequency.

What SEO comes down to is, just write good content. Click To Tweet

Don’t “keyword stuff” by trying to fit it in unnaturally.  It’s OK and even best to include variations of your keyword and phrase – both for your readers and for search engines.  Create interesting and relevant content that speaks to your target audience, and they will find it, share it, and engage with it.

Make sure your content is unique so you don’t get dinged for “duplicate content,” whether the duplicate content is on another page on your own website or somewhere else on the web.  We run everything we write for ourselves and for clients through Copyscape Premium.  Check your own writing; it’s worth it.

Optimize With Links

As much as possible, you should include links in every thing you write.  These links come in two types:

Internal Links

Internal links are links that go from one page on your website to another.  They help to establish site structure and spread search engine ranking awesomeness, they also can help to funnel your visitors to other pages in your website and let them know what to do next.

External Links

External links are links that link to other websites that are not yours.  Linking to other websites make your content more relevant and can also make it appear more reliable in the eyes of Google.  If you rank to websites that have high domain authority, it’s a small signal that you might also be providing good quality content.

How to Use Links Well

When adding links to pages and posts, keep in mind that search engines have a crawl limit of ~150 links per page.  After that, the links are not going to crawled…but that brings me to: don’t over use links.  You want your text to stay readable, and it’s not readable if every other word is hyperlinked.  

When linking to other webpages, whether on or off your website, you need to use real words in the anchor text of your link.  I.e., don’t write “Learn more about such and such here” and only link the word “here.”  Your anchor text should, if viewed without any of the surrounding text, still be perfectly clear as to where or what it goes to.  This helps to provide context for search engines and also helps make your website more accessible to people using screen readers.

Also keep in mind that Search Engines will not see:

  • Links in submission required forms
  • Links in un-parsable JavaScript
  • Links pointing to pages blocked by robots.txt
  • Links in iframes (if not implemented well)

(I know a lot of that is developer speak, so if you have a question about what this means, feel free to ask in the comments.)

Optimize Your Images

how to optimize images for seo

There are a few key rules to optimizing your images for search engines.

  1. Change the image file name before you upload.  If you took a picture with your digital camera, the file name is probably something like img_1234.jpg.  If you bought a stock photo the file name is likely something like shutterstock_5678-large.jpg.  These don’t say anything about your image and what it might be a picture of to search engines.  If you want your photos to come up in search or to help your page come up higher in search you need to rename the file to something that relates to your keyword or phase and describes the image.
  2. Use Alt tags that include keyword, but describe the image.  Alt tags, shown in the HTML code above, are equally important for telling search engines what your image is about and for making your website more accessible – both to visually impaired people and in the instances when your website won’t load.
  3. Use properly sized-images.  I wrote earlier in the post that website speed matters and having a slow website can negatively impact your search engine optimization.  One of the biggest mistakes that we see people making is uploading massively sized images.  Large images take longer to load and can significantly slow down your website.  You don’t need Photoshop to resize images – you can do it in something as basic as MS Paint or iPhoto.

Things to Watch Out For (Negative Ranking Factors)

Sometimes SEO is about knowing what not to do - if it sounds too easy, it probably is. Click To Tweet

There are a few things that Google looks for that can bring your search engine ranking down.  These are called negative ranking factors and are things that if you do too much of them, will bring you down.  Negative ranking factors are:

  • Total number of unnatural links to page/subdomain – this could include improperly set up ads, footer links, or if you participate in massive link exchanges.
  • Duplicate content
  • Content is thin/low quality – likely judged by a combination of how many words are on the page, how long readers spend on the page, and how much the content is shared on social media. 
  • Amount of over-optimized anchor text to page – if you or someone else is linking to your content in a really spammy way with links that appear to be strings of keywords, this can hurt you.
  • Poor searcher satisfaction – this relates to your bounce rate, which is the percent of people who visit your website and leave after only looking at one page.

Off-Page SEO

This is a long post – and a long workshop if you participated or watched the video – but we’re almost done.  After you’ve brainstormed, researched, written, and published your content, your work is not done.  Unfortunately these days websites are not usually a “if you build it they will come” scenario.  Once you’ve hit publish and made your content public on the web, it’s time to start working on your off-page SEO.

Off-page SEO simply tells Google what others think about your site.  It answers for Google the question, do you write good, high quality content that people want to read?

people share good content neil patel quote

Off-Page Ranking Factors

When Google looks at your website, it looks at more than just the words on the page and all of the behind the scenes things you did to optimize it.  Google also looks at things that you do not directly control on your domain.  These are called off-page ranking factors and include:

  • Number of linking domains – Number of whole websites that link to you.
  • Number of linking pages – Number of individual pages on every website that links to you.
  • PageRank of linking pages – How important each specific page that links to you is in the eyes of Google.
  • Link relevancy – How relevant the link is to both your content and the content that is linking to you.
  • Authority of linking domains – How important the overall domain is that is linking to you.
  • Links from homepage – If the link to you is on a website’s home page (generally this signals that the link is more important than a link on an interior page),
  • Diversity of link types – Where the links are on their website, whether they are text or image links, and where the go on your website, etc.
  • Contextual links – Are the links included in the body of text as a reference, rather than just being stuck in the side somewhere?
  • Link anchor – What text did they link website use in their link to you?

What the above boils down to is that part of how Google determines the importance of your website for search engine results is based upon how many people link to you and how important Google thinks they are.  This is why you often hear and read about “link building” – a.k.a. working to get people to link to you – and how important it can be for search engine optimization, if done properly.

Before You Start Link Building

Adjust your site structure as necessary.  If your navigation is not clear, if you don’t have internal links in or content, or if you don’t have clear calls to action on your web page, then you need to get those things in place before you try to get people to link to you.  Having these things in place will make your website more useful for the visitors who come to the site and will increase the likelihood that you’ll have a lower bounce rate and more conversions.  Also, having a well-designed, well-structured website will increase the likelihood that someone will want to link to you when you ask.

Optimize all pages.  There’s no point in getting links to your site if you haven’t done everything you can to optimize it yourself.  You can’t do on-page SEO without off-page SEO and vice-versa. 

Create an off-site marketing strategy.  Before you reach out to people and ask them to link to you, you need to create a marketing strategy.  Know who you’re going to reach out to for links, when, and why.  Have a plan for regular content marketing on your site, but also on social media.  Set goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) so that you can track your progress and know whether or not you’re seeing the results that you want.

Ideas for Getting Off-Site Links

Not sure where to start?  Aside from emailing people and asking them to link to your website or a specific page on your website, here are some other ideas for getting off-site links:

  • Set up social media profiles & share your own posts
  • Comment on blogs/in forums and include a link back to a relevant page on your website
  • Get listed in local & relevant directory listings
  • Join a professional association that has a public directory with links back to your website
  • Guest blog/submit articles to other websites online
  • Press releases/news articles may cometimes link to you in their online version
  • Get a blogger or review websites to try your product or service, then write about their experience with links back to your website
  • Sponsor something in your community.  Often nonprofits will link to their sponsors as a thank you…also this is just good karma.
  • Speak at a conference or event.  Typically you’ll get a speaker bio and link on their website, plus people may tweet at you or share your website during your talk.
  • Participate in podcasts/give interviews
  • Quote/feature others in your writing and tag them in social shares about your post.  They may reshare it with their audience.

Play It Safe

The bottom line when link building for search engine optimization is to play it safe.  We’ve all heard the phrase “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” – well, that applies 100% here.  We have luckily never experienced this ourselves or with our clients, but I have heard horror stories of someone accidentally doing things wrong and disappearing from Google overnight, then having to work months to regain any sort of ranking.

Playing it safe means: don’t particate in link exchanges.  Focus on links to your website that are associated with quality content.  If someone else is writing bad, spammy stuff, you don’t want them linking to you.  Don’t republish the same content on multiple sites. Anything automated probably falls in that “too good to be true” category.

This should be your SEO mantra by now:

SEO Mantra

How to Create Shareable Content

The holy grail, of course, in link building is writing a piece of content that goes viral.  If you can create a page on your website that people love (or possibly hate) and want to share with their friends, then you may not have to worry about how that page shows up in search engines for a very, very long time.

I could write another long post about how to create content that does well on search engines, but what I’ll say about it here is that you should think outside the paragraph box.  Creating infographics, videos, and presentations/slides are all great alternative pieces of content.  Giving away free downloadable/editable templates or licensing free photos or graphics are other ways to bring lots of people to your website.

Create interesting unique content, with an emotional or useful appeal, add easy social media sharing buttons to your website and that may be all you need to start bringing in the masses.

The Longest Post Ever

This is the longest post that anyone on our team has written for our blog and now it’s done!  I hope it was useful for you — if so, leave me a comment or question below and please share this post on social media to help me with a little link building.  🙂

Next Steps + An SEO Challenge For You

You can also see the slides from my search engine optimization workshop in Fort Collins and watch the full video below.  Now my challenge to you – I want you to look at your website and find the longest page you have written.  Identify one new keyword or phrase that you want to target and write a blog post or add a page to your website targeting that keyword or phrase, and that is twice as long as your current longest post or page.

You can do it!  Come back and share a link in the comments so I can check out what you wrote.

View the Slides

Watch the Video


I know you must have a few, and we’re happy to help.  Have a question or thought?  Leave a comment below.  Need more than a quick answer?  Learn more about our search engine optimization services.  We can help you put together a strategy that you can implement on your own, or can implement a strategy for you.

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