Stephan Spencer is a 3-time author, avid blogger, international speaker, and consultant on all things SEO.
Over the course of his 20+ year career, he founded his own SEO agency, Netconcepts, and created a unique pay-for-performance SEO technology. He also shares his expertise as host of the popular podcasts Marketing Speak and The Optimized Geek.
SEO Best Practices with Stephan Spencer of Marketing Speak
As the SEO saying goes, “The best place to hide a dead body is the second page of Google.”
Stephan Spencer of Marketing Speak shares SEO best practices and valuable SEO techniques that are paramount if you ever hope to get on the first page of Google search results and get more eyeballs on your content.
And we all know what more eyeballs means: more clicks, more links, more shares and more leads.
None of which is possible if no one can find you.
Here Stephan explains the three pillars of SEO: content, architecture and links. Get these SEO techniques in place and you’re well on your way to optimizing your website.
You’ll also learn the dark side of SEO or “negative” SEO that may be hurting your ranking potential and how to fix these issues.
Stephan assures us SEO optimization isn’t as stressful as it seems as long as you have a solid SEO framework to follow.
If you’re not ready to tackles SEO on your own just yet, you’ll also find tips for hiring an SEO agency who can do the work for you -- without getting swindled.
Let’s dive in!
SEO for beginners -- Here’s what you need to know
Rest assured you don't have to understand all the nuances of SEO to benefit from these SEO techniques.
But if you make the right kinds of choices about who you hire, the tools you purchase, and the different approaches you implement (and the ones you don't implement!) then you're going to be in a much better position than not knowing what you don't know.
Start with these SEO optimization tips and you’ll be well on your way to building better SEO and finally getting some love from Google.
SEO Optimization Tips
The 3 pillars of SEO you cannot ignore
We can think of these pillars like sitting on a three legged stool. If any one of these pillars is missing or weak you're going to fall over.
If you look at your link equity, or your inbound links, and you see that you have a bunch of toxic links, or not enough trust in Google’s eyes, that means you're sitting on a two legged stool.
The worrisome thing is even if you work hard on your content, but you never shore up your link profile, you’ll be forever sitting on that wobbly stool. It's not going to work. You're not going to get the rankings that you're hoping for.
The 3 pillars of SEO are:
- Content. What you’ve heard is still true -- content is king. Your content must be buzzworthy, clickable, and link-worthy.
- Architecture. This is the structure of your website and the quality of your urls. WordPress is great architecture for SEO -- IF you configure things right.
- Links. These are inbound links that point to your content. Links are like votes, but there are right ways and wrong ways to go about getting links.
SEO best practices for content optimization
Content optimization includes keyword research. Your keywords determine how Google categorizes your website and how it ranks you (as in are you on page one or page 5,672?).
But you cannot just use any keyword you make up. You must identify what the right keywords are for your unique content.
Stephen shares a 3-point test to figure out if it’s a good keyword or not.
- Is it popular with searchers? Are people searching on Google for that keyword? If so, that's good. If nobody’s searching for it you won’t get any traffic from it.
- Is it relevant to your business and your target audience? Even if you use a popular keyword, if it’s not applicable to the audience you’re trying to attract, you’ll get irrelevant and non-targeted readers.
- Is it attainable? Can you actually rank for this keyword? If the competition for that keyword is too steep, you’re never going to get on page one and you’ll remain invisible.
How to find popular keywords
Your options for finding popular, relevant and attainable keywords is to use an online keyword search tool. There are both free and paid options:
Paid keyword search tools:
Free keyword search tools:
The secret here is to think like your ideal audience. What are they searching for? What questions are they asking?
Create in-depth content around these topics. When you do that you’ll have a leg up on your competition.
Why you should check out what your competitors rank for
Another important angle to look at is to identify the keywords that your competition is ranking for. Then you reverse engineer what they're doing to get such great Google rankings.
There are several online SEO tools that makes this simple and fast, these include:
To use these tools, you’ll first check out your competition. Find content of theirs that is ranking well and copy the URL. Then paste the URL into one of the above tools.
These tools will give you an analysis of which keywords are popular in their
organic search strategy.
If your competition is ranking then they’re no doubt getting traffic for those keywords. These tools estimate based on the ranking, what the expected traffic would be. If it's a popular keyword, they get the search volume for that keyword.
If you know your competitors have position one for that keyword you do some math. You can figure out the estimated amount of traffic coming through to this competitors website.
It's almost like hacking their Google Analytics!
Actually, it's more like hacking their Google Search Console to get what keywords are popular because Google Search Console is what reports on the keywords not Google Analytics. It’s like getting inside the inner sanctum of your competitors.
How to use keywords in your content
So now that you’ve got a bunch of keywords, you're going to create content and optimize existing content around these keywords.
Use a plugin for SEO on the backend of your WordPress site like Yoast. Yoast will analyze your content and give you an SEO rating (a yellow, red or green light).
Let's say you’re optimizing your services page. Right now this is probably called “Services”.
But that's not a great keyword. You’re not going to want to rank for “services” because that's not going to get you the right kind of targeted traffic.
Let's say it's podcast guesting services, or podcast marketing services. That's a much better title tag and it's going to bring in relevant traffic of people that are searching for that phrase.
You’re going to go into the SEO title tag field and put those additional keywords in there.
The title tag is what shows up when you do a Google search, it’s that clickable first line in the search listing. It's given a lot of weight by Google in comparison to the rest of the copy on the page.
Even if you include relevant keywords in the rest of your blog post, if you don’t optimize your title, you probably won’t get the traffic and rankings you’re aiming for.
You can put multiple keywords in your title just be careful not to keyword stuff. Don’t write this long laundry list of all the keywords that you want to rank for. That looks spammy and is not a good strategy.
How to optimize title tags on multiple pages and posts at once
Stephan’s plugin, called the SEO Title Tag plugin, allows you to mass edit title tags across dozens, even hundreds of pages all on one screen. And not just title but meta descriptions and post slugs too.
Talk about a time saver!
If you were to manually edit, you’ll be stuck loading each screen, saving and loading another. It’s a painful and time consuming process.
Give it a try to optimize a bunch of pages quickly.
Wait, what is a meta tag anyway?
According to Stephan, there's a lot of misinformation about meta tags, meta elements and mount meta tags out there. Here’s what you need to know.
Not all meta tags hold weight in Google. There are certain meta elements that have some use in SEO, but none of them move the needle in terms of your rankings. They're additional information Google needs in relation to things like indexing.
If you're trying to move up the rankings for a keyword, focus on things like
the title tags, as discussed, and the placement of the copy.
If you have copy that's really far down the page and you have to scroll and scroll to get to it, it doesn't count as much as if it's above the fold.
You don’t have to write the meta description for each page or post, but if you do, then you have more influence -- not control, but influence -- over what is displayed in Google Search listing.
The page or post meta tag shows up as a snippet underneath the title. If you write something enticing and if you have the same keywords that users search for in the meta description, then those get bolted.
These short descriptions emphasize that your listing has the stuff they're looking for. It won't move you up the rankings, but it will improve the listing and make it more attractive.
Myths about meta descriptions - How to separate the professional from the charlatans
When you’re ready to outsource this area of your business to the pros, use this tip to sort out legitimate SEO agencies that know their stuff from the snake oil salesmen.
According to Stephan, there are trick questions you can ask that there is only one right answer for. Slip these question in nonchalantly into the interview process while you're talking to a potential SEO agency.
One of those questions is, ‘Tell me about meta keywords and your process for optimizing meta keywords.’ If they don't know that Meta Keywords never counted in Google it's going to be really obvious to you that they are full of it.
The only right answer to this question is, ‘What are you serious? Those never counted in Google, never, ever counted not on day one, never.’
SEO best practices for architecture optimization
The architecture pillar is the technical “stuff” which includes page, post and URL structure. Plus the details of things like XML sitemap, robots txt and canonical tags.
A strong architecture pillar considers questions like, “Should I have one page called services? Or should I have four pages for each of my four different services?’
Or, ‘Should I have a URL structure that is separated, as in the keywords are separated by underscores or by hyphens?’ WordPress, by default, uses hyphens, which is good, that's what you want.
If you have long URLs that are full of ampersand and equal signs that can
be problematic for SEO.
Your architecture is a consideration of these technical details. All of which are things you’ll want to plan out and optimize before filling your site with lots of content.
SEO best practices for building your link profile
Stephan shares, “Links is the one pillar people just don't seem to be able to move the needle on. They don't know how to get links. It's not something that's under their control. They can't go into somebody else's website and add a link.”
What Stephan recommends is doing outreach. You provide content that is so valuable, so worthy of people linking to it and buzzing about it, that it has a good shot at getting shared.
However, shares on social media alone do not move the needle on SEO. It's the links that move the needle, that is, when another blogger or website owner links to your content on their site. These are called dofollow links.
Dofollow links vs Nofollow links
It’s important to remember that not every link works for SEO.
If you post a comment on someone's blog (adding your own website URL), that's not going to work because it’s considered a nofollow link.
Links directly to your content that a website owner placed within their content is a dofollow link.
Avoiding spam comments
Almost every WordPress blog allows nofollow links in comments. Even if you get spammed to death, if you have it set up properly, these links will be nofollow links.
If you haven’t set your comments section up properly, then there’s a chance spammers might get a legitimate link that counts for SEO.
If you have some useless comment like “Great post,” or some nonsense, there’s a change it’s a spam comment. You can get an anti-spam plugin like Akismet to keep a handle on this.
Optimizing your comments for SEO
Stephan also warns against using tools like DisQus for your website comment which is run through Facebook comments.
His recommends not using this tool because Facebook will then have some control over your content. If they decide to shut your account down or they change their policies, all of your comments are in their system and could potentially be lost.
Commenting systems that are part of your site inside of WordPress are under your control and counts for SEO. Especially if people write insightful, thought provoking, keyword rich comments, they count as part of the content on the page. More comments means longer form content!
Why you need to analyze the link profile of your website
It’s important to regularly analyze the link profile of your website, that is what websites link to you.
When people link to you they're essentially voting for you. But not every vote is created equal. A link from CNN is worth a heck of a lot more than a link from Jim Bob's personal homepage. You want quality over quantity.
Websites that have both trust and importance in Google’s eyes are the best kind of links to have, otherwise you’re less likely to get the rankings you’re after.
To check your profile links, Stephan recommends a tool called Majestic, which gives you a trust flow and citation flow score for your website. Your citation flow is your importance and trust flow is your trustworthiness.
It’s possible for these scores to be lopsided. As in Google sees that you’re important but doesn’t view you as trustworthy (think someone like Harvey Weinstein).
Or, more commonly, you can be considered trustworthy (typically, the older your site is the more Google will trust it) but not important.
Majestic can also look for “toxic links.” This happens when your competitors or other marketers target you and try to ruin your reputation with Google.
One way they do this is by buying low quality links that point to your site, or getting quality links removed from your link profile.
Essentially they pretend to be you, contact website owners who link to you and say, ‘Your link to me is spam and I want it removed, or I'm going to report you to Google.’
There's a lot of shenanigans that go on and you have to keep an eye on it. Periodically do a link detox analysis on your link profile to see how many toxic links you have, and to what degree.
The secret sauce for finding whatever you want on Google
Stephan literally wrote the book on finding whatever you want on Google using advanced search.
‘Google Power Search’ will teach you how to find things like Forrester Research reports that are normally thousands of dollars. Unbelievably, they're just sitting there in Google.
Stephan also says he has found confidential business plans, and confidential marketing plans. Even files with credit card numbers and expiration dates.
He assures us this information is not in the book though! (Sorry bad guys)
What Google can and cannot find
Still, you'd be surprised at what you can find in Google, because it literally follows everything. Even if you think you hid something where nobody's going to see it, if it’s a clickable link, Google can find it.
While it cannot find pages and posts you’ve never published (drafts are not live), Google can find trashed pages that were alive at one point. Google may even continue you to show the page in the Google search results.
If the user hits the cache link, the little green down arrow in the search listing, which shows cached as an option. When you click on cached, it shows the web page that was last downloaded by Google.
This is a great tip for finding something you really wanted in the Google search results, but you click and it's not there. Hit the back button, click on that little down arrow and choose cached then you'll see the version of that page that is still on Google's database.
If it's gone from there, you can find it in the Wayback Machine on Archive.org. The Wayback Machine stores stuff from as far back as the 1990s. You can still see what a website looked like back in.
These are great ways to find content you may have thought you lost!
- The best SEO techniques include optimizing your content with keywords, paying attention to content architecture, and to your website’s link profile
- Use keywords that are popular, revelavent and achievable
- Be sure to place good keywords in your title tag
- Make sure you have plenty of quality dofollow links pointing to your site which will boost your trustworthiness and importance to Google (comments are not dofollow links)
- Regularly check the health of the link profile of your website and for “toxic links” which can damage your site’s reputation in Google’s eyes
Conclusion - Don’t try to optimize your SEO all on your own
Stephan doesn’t recommend trying to do all this yourself (it’s a lot!). Hire an independent contractor or an agency who knows their stuff.
Check out Stephan’s website for the SEO Hiring Blueprint, a seven step process Stephen uses himself for hiring, finding, screening, onboarding and training an SEO contractor or agency.
This methodology is from chapter seven of his book ‘The Art of SEO.’ Stephan recommends all beginners interested in SEO start here. It's one of the least technical chapters and has plenty of clever ideas for content marketing and link building too.
You can get chapter seven for free by going to MarketingSpeak.com/nicole
Stephan also offers SEO and online marketing services, including SEO audits, link building, content marketing and keyword strategies at StephanSpencer.com.