3 Foundation-Strengthening SEO Best Practices for 2018
seo

3 Foundation-Strengthening SEO Best Practices for 2018

By Karen TaylorJan 2 /2018

seo-best-practices.jpgSEO is always evolving—with new tactics constantly being deployed. It’s tempting for businesses to adopt the latest shiny-object SEO tactics in their never-ending quest to rank high in searches. But in the rush for Page 1, too often companies skimp on the less-shiny foundational powerhouses of successful SEO strategies.

While it’s definitely worth the time and energy required to adopt leading-edge SEO techniques, like featured snippets, schema markup and voice search, companies should not neglect SEO’s tried-and-true foundational tactics. In fact, they should continually strengthen these best practices.

But also, marketers must reinforce their SEO strategies in ways that are not spammy—because Google will penalize “black hat” practices. Three of the leading SEO practices that Google penalizes are:

  1. Poor link management
  2. Low-quality content
  3. Keyword stuffing

Instead of spammy tactics, marketers should perform white-hat link management, create quality content and use the right keywords smartly. This post shares insight on how to reinforce these foundational SEO best practices in 2018, while avoiding tactics that will get your site penalized.

One note before we jump in: If your on-page SEO is not pristine, the below best practices won’t be able to help you much. Have a look at this checklist to ensure your strategy is solid.

SEO 2018 Best Practice 1 — Expand Your Link-Building Strategy

“When we analyzed one million Google search results, we found that the number of sites linking to a page correlated with rankings more than anything else.” — Backlinko.com

Link building has been an important part of SEO since the beginning. The more high-quality links to a given page, the higher it ranks—whether it’s a lot of links from semi-popular pages or a few links from top-ranking pages. Guest posting has been one of the most popular tactics for link building. But, as with any popular and successful practice, it’s been abused. As a result, Google changed its link algorithms. Now, if companies don’t do link-building right, their sites can be labeled as spam. A challenge for 2018 will be determining how to include guest blogging and other forms of content sharing as integral parts of a “legal” link-building strategy.

What’s Out — Spammy Guest Posting

In May 2017, Google issued a warning against excessive guest posting on questionable sites: “When Google detects that a website is publishing articles that contain spammy links, this may change Google's perception of the quality of the site and could affect its ranking.”

What’s In — Authority, Reciprocal Links, Outbound Links and Quality over Quantity

Link building is not expected to disappear in 2018, but it will be more important than ever to create a strategy that seeks out quality links. A successful SEO strategy will move toward relationship building and helping a brand develop powerful contacts and links in the long term. This creates the need for a more diversified link-building strategy that includes the following characteristics:

Authority — Authority relates to the quality and volume of links created over time on any website. The more authority a website has, the more link juice it can pass on to other sites. Aim to only link to other website with high authority in your industry. When you do, over time, your own site will build authority.

Quality over Quantity — When building links, don’t go for numbers. Instead, target the highest-quality domains and ensure those links are created naturally and organically. Also, too many links will not only overwhelm your readers, but can also harm your SEO. There is no ideal number. One expert said that one good backlink is better than 100 low-quality links.

Reciprocal Links — These are links that are both from your website to a quality site, and from the quality site to your site. Reciprocal links are often pre-arranged by companies with mutually benefitting audiences.

Relevant Inbound and Outbound Links — Internal links to other pages on your website and outbound links to other websites are important. Create relevant internal links within your own content so that visitors can continue learning about your company. Create relevant outbound links to other sites from which you obtained the research for your content.

What to Do Now — Start a Link-Building Campaign

A link-building campaign is the process of actively trying to increase links to your website. Use these tactics:

  • Publish an Informative and Entertaining Company Blog. Blogs have the unique ability to contribute fresh material on a consistent basis, participate in conversations across the web and earn listings and links from other blogs.
  • Determine the Value of Other Websites. Before linking to other sites, search for some of the keywords and phrases they target. For example, if you were trying to rank for the phrase “medical supplies,” earning links from pages that already rank for this phrase would help significantly. However, avoid linking to competitors.
  • Encourage Your Customers to Link to You. Do your customers wear your t-shirts or drink coffee from your mugs? Why not extend your corporate promotion to the web? Send your trusted partners partnership badges and your customers graphic icons that link back to your site.
  • Impress the Press with Newsworthy Content. Earning the attention of the media, bloggers and news sites is an effective, time-honored way to earn links.
  • Examine Your Competitors’ Backlinks. By examining the inbound links of your competitors, you gain valuable intelligence to build out your links.

SEO 2018 Best Practice 2 — Create Useful, In-depth Content

Google has made it abundantly clear that providing quality content that answers users’ questions is the way to get both rankings and engaged traffic.

When it comes to content, Google saves the first page for companies that provide their visitors with quality experiences. As a result, the content of a site is crucial when it comes to ranking in 2018. In fact, the importance of quality content has increased dramatically over time. Gone are the days of generating tons of low-quality, content-farm-ish copy. Today, content has to be excellent, add value and engage visitors. Even the best new SEO practices won’t work in 2018 if you publish poor-quality content.

What’s Out — Low-Quality Content

Content is the engine of the internet. Yet, too many companies still produce a flood of low-quality content—and they’re paying a high price as a result. Google’s ability to separate good from poor quality content is improving constantly. Steer clear of the temptation to take shortcuts and save money producing low-quality content.

What’s In — Relevant, Newsworthy, Quality Content

Go out of your way to make great content. Each page must have well-written, informative, useful and in-depth content. Invest heavily in your content and it will pay off in brand messaging and traffic. Great content will engage visitors and will invite them to share. Focus on the following content creation tactics in 2018:

Create Relevant, Newsworthy Content — Before you start writing, ask yourself: What is it about this content that my readers will find compelling? What questions does it answer? What solutions does it provide? Google has developed algorithms that rank companies with the best answers higher. Further, content that inspires real engagement (measured in click-throughs, shares, tweets, etc.) gets a significant boost on search engine results, as well.

Make Your Content Credible — Show your site’s credibility by using original research, citations, links, reviews and testimonials.

Compose Useful Content — Useful content is the SEO Holy Grail. People go online to learn things. So give them information they can use. Build content that’s instructional and helps solve problems.

What to Do Now — Use a Content Strategy Tool

HubSpot recently launched a new tool, called Content Strategy. It helps marketers identify and create clusters of web pages and blog content around each of their core topics, with the goal of achieving better search rankings and more and higher quality traffic. The tool helps companies avoid wasting time creating content that doesn’t work so they can focus on creating content that customers want to read—and search engines want to rank. Other tools, such as SEMrush, can also help you build this strategy.

These tools help in these ways:

  • Pivot from Keywords to Topics. Today, search engines reward websites whose content is organized by topics. HubSpot’s content strategy tool crawls your site and suggests topics based on relevance, competition and popularity. It also helps organize topics into clusters of content that define and elevate a company’s authority on the topics and, therefore, their influence in search engines.
  • Create Topic-Based Content. HubSpot’s marketing and sales tools integrate with the new Content Strategy tool, uniting strategy and planning with actual execution. For example, companies can use HubSpot templates to build influential “pillar” pages on sites about the core topics you’ve identified. Then they can use HubSpot’s blogging tool to create clusters of keyword-relevant blog posts around the pillar pages.
  • Track Your Content Strategy ROI. Because the Content Strategy tool is integrated with HubSpot’s reporting tools, companies can measure each topic cluster’s influence on generating traffic, contacts and customers. This helps focus more time on high-impact topics actually that increase ROI.

SEO 2018 Best Practice 3 — Sharpen Your Keyword Game

“Keyword research is always going to be essential.” — Moz.com

Keywords have been around since the beginning of the Internet. But black-hat users abused the search tactic, resulting in Google changing its algorithms. However, keywords are still a vital component of successful SEO. When used properly, they can increase the amount of targeted traffic that comes to a website. Rather than abandon keywords, companies need to double-down in 2018, but in the right, “white-hat” ways.

What’s Out — Keyword Stuffing

Gone are the days when keyword stuffing would get you ranked on page one. Keyword stuffing is the practice of loading a webpage with keywords to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results. In the past, companies could put their main industry keywords and search terms all over their web pages and get high ranking. Google caught on and nipped this in the bud. Now, Google penalizes websites for this outdated tactic, demoting keyword stuffed sites to spam.

What’s In — Keyword Proximity, Density, Frequency, Prominence and Stemming

SEO-optimized content still includes keywords. But instead of stuffing, the new strategies to employ in 2018 are keyword proximity, density, frequency, prominence and stemming.

Keyword Proximity — Use your keywords in prominent areas of web pages and keep them a reasonable distance apart.

Keyword Density — Manage the proportion of keywords to the total number of words on a webpage. There’s no hard-and-fast rule on density, but a basic rule of thumb is anywhere from 2 to 8 percent. Use a few variations of the right keywords sprinkled throughout the text, and place them where they sound natural and make sense

Keyword Frequency — Similar to density, this requires you to monitor the frequency with which specific keywords appear in your text.

Keyword Prominence — Keyword prominence refers to how prominent your keywords are within your web page. In other words, how close to the beginning of the web page, sentence, title, H tag and meta description your keywords are placed.

Keyword Stemming — Along with using your exact keyword matches, also use variations of keywords in semantic groups, such as singular-plural, related suffixes and synonyms.

What to Do Now — Set Up a Keyword Library

With all the new rules and penalties around keywords, choosing the right words every time you create new content can be frustrating. Enter keyword libraries (aka, keyword database), a repository of a company’s essential keywords. Keyword libraries give content creators quick access to the keywords they should use in their content. One approach is to populate a spreadsheet with a list of researched keywords. You can also use HubSpot’s keyword tool. Both approaches will make it easy for anyone involved in creating content to find the right keywords. Here’s how:

  • Gather Up Your Keywords — Create lists of on-brand words that describe your company, products and services. Put yourself in the shoes of someone searching for what you offer. What terms will they use? What problems do you help solve? What keywords do your competitors use?
  • Research New Keywords — Use keyword research tools, such as Google AdWords Keyword Planner or SEMrush, to find the ideal on-brand words to populate your library. Along with generating new keywords, you can also discover which words or phrases people are searching for to find and click on your site. Also find out which words are being used in organic and paid search.
  • Set Up Your Library — The simplest way to create a keyword library is to use a spreadsheet. You can also invest keyword database software.
  • Set Up Tabs for Themes — If you have different keyword themes, create tabs for each one, such as campaigns, products and service categories. You can further break categories down into major topics. Each tab will have its own unique set of keywords.
  • Get Feedback and Alignment — Check in with company stakeholders for buy-in. You could also work with a SEO specialist to fine-tune your library and implement your keyword strategy.
  • Make the Library Available — Share your keyword library with all team members and departments that create content or messaging for your brand, such as sales, media, advertising and public relations.
  • Keep Your Library Updated — Keywords often change over time, either due to increased competition for them or a shift in your customer or product focus. So periodically review and update your keywords library.

Rather than just jumping on the latest SEO shiny-object practices in 2018, first shore up the three foundational SEO best practices—link building, quality content and keywords. While they are under Google’s spam microscope, these practices are still going to be essential for successful SEO strategies in the coming New Year. Your effort will be well worth it when you start experiencing increases in search traffic, higher rankings, more frequent search engine crawling, more visitor engagement and increases in referring link traffic.

Boost Your Traffic in 2018

Karen Taylor
The Author

Karen Taylor

Karen Taylor is a professional content marketing writer with experience writing for over 100 companies and publications. Her experience includes the full range of content marketing projects — from blogs, to white papers, to ebooks. She has a particular knack for creating content that clarifies and strengthens a company’s marketing message, and delivers optimum impact and maximum results. Learn more at KarenTaylorWrites.com.
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