HubSpot Certified Partners Instrumental Group - Premiere HubSpot Experts, with 15+ Years of SEO Experience
This resource was built by tapping the experience and learned tactics of Elite HubSpot Partner, Instrumental Group. This guide empowers organizations to manage their own SEO strategy in HubSpot.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
Search Engine Land defines SEO as 'the process of improving your website to increase its visibility in Google, Bing, and other search engines whenever people are searching for the products you sell, the services you provide, or information on topics in which you have deep expertise and/or experience.'
But here's the ticket: While it's great to pop up on Google for a bunch of keywords, what's even more rewarding? Ensuring that every time your potential customers are online, they're finding you at just the right moment of their buying journey.
We get it. If you're like most business owners, wrapping your head around the maze that is SEO can feel daunting. You know that like most things in life, your results will be better if they follow a strategic course of action. But, you're juggling a million tasks already, so where on earth are you going to squeeze in time to learn about keyword ranking and meta tags?
Think of SEO less like a switch you flip on and off, and more like a garden. It needs planning, nurturing, and consistent care. No shortcuts, just strategies and continual action. Dive in without a plan, and you're just throwing seeds to the wind. But with the right strategy and a plan to execute? You'll see your business bloom in the online world.
Stick around, and we'll show you how.
Ranking Factors: Rise to the Top
You are ready to step up your SEO game, but how do you start? Before you develop your SEO strategy, you need to have a basic understanding of how search engine algorithms are designed. Once you do, you’ll see that you can influence how the algorithm interprets your website based on three categories of factors.
Your rank is the position your website falls in the search engine results page (SERP) when a query is entered. If you are the first website in a string of search results, then your rank is one. Your rank is an indicator of how relevant and authoritative your website is in the eyes of the search engines as it relates to the search query entered.
Pro tip: Don't be confused by the paid ads at the top (indicated as Ads), as those companies and websites paid to be at the front of those search results. Those paid advertisements don't fall under the SEO umbrella. Instead, they are associated with paid media accounts.
Check out this list of over 200+ ranking factors from Backlinko.
Search engines are complex, and you won’t understand the smaller nuances of SEO right away. That being said, as you learn more about how sites are ranked and track your progress, you will see real results on search engines and adapt your methods.
From reading the remainder of this article, you'll learn the basics of search engine optimization and how to create an effective SEO strategy by following Google’s algorithm guidelines and understanding the ranking factors for success. The first step to creating an SEO strategy is to understand what keywords you're trying to rank for.
Keywords, Pillar Pages, & Content Clusters
As part of an SEO strategy, it is important to have a good pillar and topic strategy with high-quality keywords. Rand Fishkin describes utilizing the pillar page and topic cluster approach as developing “10x content,” or content that can be 10 times better than any other content on the subject matter.
The first step in creating your strategy should be keyword research. It is crucial to do keyword research before you start writing or putting together a strategy, this way you know what people are looking for and what questions you can help answer. You don’t want to create an entire pillar page and cluster posts to get one click a month due to the subject not being searched. Once you’ve found the topic, it’s off the races with writing and formatting your content to get the most clicks and engagement. Since Google is getting better and better at finding out what kind of content people like, as opposed to robots, it is important to write for people as well as format well.
Best practices for pillar pages include having 3-5 main keywords that you’re going after, as well as utilizing the hub and spoke method with your cluster topics. You want to ensure that the content you create will show both Google and the user that you are a thought leader in the industry and that the content they are reading/crawling can be trusted and ranked well.
Make Friends: User-Friendly Website
Each year, Google gets better and better at determining how user-friendly a website is. They tell this by evaluating your website's engagement rates, click-through rates, and total time spent on the site. They can check mobile usability, as well as load times in specific areas to help determine your site’s performance and how users react to your site.
Knowing this, you can make your website more user-friendly by optimizing it to encourage visitors to stay on your site, visit more than one page, and regularly return to your website to read your content.
Below are some strategies that you can use to enhance how people use your website:
- Make sure the objective of your website is clearly communicated, especially on the home page.
- Make calls-to-action (CTAs) that tell users what to do next on your site.
- Ensure all potential questions and uncertainties are answered on your site.
- Navigation must be prominent and make it easy to ﬁnd other pages and information.
- Break up big chunks of text so visitors do not get lost in words.
- Use images to portray information and make sure those images have alt text.
- Keyword-friendly URLs help the user understand what the page is about.
- Add a site search option for ease of ﬁnding information.
- Include testimonials and reviews to help gain visitors' trust.
- Forms must be simple. Do add more information than is necessary.
- Last but not least, always have a mobile version of your website.
On-Page SEO: The Call Is Coming From Inside the House
Content marketing is an essential part of your SEO strategy and your company's content needs to be valuable and engaging. Every page you build, blog you write, and content you create gives you another page on your website for search engines to evaluate and hopefully rank well. Search engine bots regularly crawl and index pages. The more expertise, authority, and trust (EAT) you can demonstrate, the better you'll rank for specific keywords and search queries.
On top of this, it is possible to format your website so that it affects how search engine bots crawl your content and display it, as well as make it relevant to your industry and readable. Here are several ways to optimize your on-page content to help your SEO goals.
The formatting of your website's URLs can have a major impact on a search engine’s ability to properly crawl, understand, and index your website's content. You want to have an organized URL structure, as this will have the greatest benefit.
Some website managers or content management systems will insert arbitrary numbers, words, or code in the URL. Although this may be optimal for the software, it serves no other purpose. If you can edit the URL to include the title of your web page or keywords, you should do so. Often your website creation software can help you edit the URL automatically.
Pro tip: Avoid numbers, miXed Case lEtTers, underscores, spaces, excessive folders, and special characters in your URLs.
Landing on a page and being faced with mountains of text is not good for user experience. For that reason, pictures are a great way to compliment your site's text. Images can break up sections of text and bring context to an aspect of your site's content.
Normally, search engines can't see what your image is because they only see the image file name. You can help search engines know what an image is by including alt tags or alt text. This tag appears when you hover your mouse's cursor over an image. This enables Google and other search engines to have context about the image you're showing. More importantly, it helps address an often overlooked section on your website, accessibility compliance. It is crucial for you to understand and optimize for users who may experience the internet differently than regular users and be ADA-compliant. At Instrumental Group, we partner with Accessibe to help all of our clients be ADA-compliant.
Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
Metadata is code you can include within your web page’s HTML to help people and search engines understand what the page is about.
Every page you create should have a title tag. It's that simple. If you don't have page titles, it's likely that you'll miss out on traffic. If you have title tags but they are not optimized then you are still missing out on traffic. Title tags are the blue link that search engines show and they max out at 60 characters, so choose your words wisely.
Meta descriptions refer to the text underneath the blue link, and these tags are meant to give people an idea of the information on the page. Meta descriptions max out at around 155 characters, so you have more to write, but it is less prominent on the SERP. Obviously, the higher the quality meta description is, the more organic clicks the page may receive.
Come up with a title tag that resonates with the user and is easy to understand, and make sure your meta descriptions provide an honest summary of those pages and try to earn users' clicks. Remember, Google and other search engines will likely reward you with higher rankings if your metadata includes the right keywords and matches the user's intent.
One thing to note is that Google is rewriting or replacing words in more metadata than ever before, but they are going after meta descriptions more than title tags. Therefore, if you’re looking to redo all of your metadata but only have time for one, pick title tags first. Google will still likely rewrite your title tags, but it’ll change out a word or two as opposed to the entire text. The reason this is done is to help with CTR and user experience, if Google has determined that your current title tag isn’t up to snuff then it’ll be changed.
Header or Heading Tags
Header tags help search engines determine the most important topics or sections on a page, they are also what browsers use to help style text to display a certain way. As search engine bots scan your website, they look for clues to understand what your pages are about. When specific keywords on a webpage are given special treatment, it signals to search engines that they hold greater significance compared to other keywords present on the page. This is why the use of header tags within your pages is so important.
By using various header tags (H1 - H6), you make your web page easier to digest from a reader’s standpoint and give the search engines definitive clues as to what is important on the page. H1 tags should be used to denote the most important text/keyword with H2 and H3 tags used as subheadings. There should also only be one H1 per page, the H1 should contain the most important keyword that you want the page to rank for.
When creating content for your website, you should find areas to link to other relevant pages on your website. Doing this helps Google crawl your site quicker and make connections between pages. but it also helps to keep the user on the page longer by clicking deeper into the site as opposed to leaving.
Anchor text is the text that has the link associated with it, and is typically a different color or a button. While you’re internally linking you want your anchor text as descriptive as possible and to avoid using terms like ‘click here’, ‘learn more’, or ‘next page.’ If you have full control over what your anchor text is it’s important to take advantage of it.
Off-Page SEO: Gain Some Respect
While optimizing your on-page SEO is pretty straightforward, it can be much more difficult to put together a quality off-page SEO strategy. Off-page SEO involves enhancing your brand’s authority and expertise through the use of online and offline content, personal and professional relationships, and backlinks (when another website links to yours) to create an optimal experience for both the user and crawl bots. It typically leads to gradual increases in positive brand mentions, search rankings, traffic to your site, and conversions. Essentially it is everything you don't have direct control over which is why it can be a challenging area of SEO.
Building Links & Authority Score
Link building, or the overall process of acquiring hyperlinks from other websites that link back to your site, is one way to enhance your off-site SEO. Backlinks to your website are still one of the highest-graded ranking factors for your website, even in 2023!
A single link from a major website will go much farther than all the small ones combined. Educational websites and newspapers will often link to authoritative websites because as they build on-page content, they prove that they are credible. The domain authority of the sites that are linking to you is an essential factor of your organic search performance. You want a highly relevant and reputable website to link to you.
While focusing on other authority scores is important, so is keeping an eye on your own, the authority score (also known as domain ranking/authority) you want differs depending on your industry. So don’t freak out if it seems low compared to Wikipedia if you’re on par with your competitors, then there is nothing to stress about, but you can always strive for improvement.
See how this is all working together?
Building links is nothing like it used to be. Now links must be obtained by creating original, thought-provoking content that is then shared through social profiles, guest posts, or other relevant web pages on the same topic or subtopics.
When your content is linked by someone via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok+, and other networks, it allows search engines to see what is credible and help you rank for specific keywords. Unfortunately, when you’re linking from these social media sites the links are nofollow which means that Google does not follow the link when crawling the website.
A nofollow link on a credible site is better than no link and you cannot avoid links on most social media platforms. Despite this a follow like is always preferred but not always possible. At time the nofollow link is enough because the traffic that the page gets is enough even without Google crawling it or making the connection between the websites.
Black Hat Link Building
These are SEO techniques that violate the guidelines of both Google and Bing. If you use these techniques, it is highly likely that you will receive a penalty.
Make sure that you steer clear of:
- Link schemes (any manipulation of your site or of outgoing links from your site)
- Advertorials or excessive guest posting
- Press releases with overly-optimized anchor-text
- Check out this resource from Cognitive SEO for a more comprehensive list of bad SEO techniques.
White Hat Link Building
These SEO techniques fall within the guidelines of search engines, and will not cause any penalties. Make sure that you understand that these techniques do require some content marketing efforts.
It's important to focus on creating content that your target audience or community will engage with. The more 'linkable content' you produce, the more likely someone might want to link to it
The best way to obtain new links is through any existing relationships that you have. Think about your clients, customers, vendors, organizations, and other places where you can ask for a link to your website.
Another beneficial link building technique involves small-scale guest blogging. However, this method doesn't have as much of an impact as hyperlinking to a vendor's website.
Evaluate Your SEO Strategy: Adapt or Die
Moz reports that Google makes over 500 tweaks to its algorithm every year — that's more than one per day! Keeping up with the changes and modifying your SEO strategy is definitely important. But while most marketers know they need to monitor and tweak the SEO elements of their website constantly, the question of "how often" is oftentimes a puzzling one.
How Often Should You Update Your Keyword Strategy?
When crafting your initial keyword strategy, keep track of the average monthly searches, so you can go back later and check the relevancy.
According to industry experts, it's recommended you revisit your keyword strategy on a quarterly basis and at least 3-6 months before any promotions. Google rewards fresh content so keeping your keywords up to date and aligned to your strategy is crucial to your overall success. While updating your keywords is important, remember to follow this through to the actual content on the page. Updating your page titles and meta descriptions is an easy way to ensure search engines are satisfied that you’re continuously optimizing your website for users.
Generally, there are two instances where you would want to revisit your title tags and meta descriptions. The first reason is if you have heard of a new Google Algorithm update and you think you might be in danger of losing ranking due to not following Google’s guidelines.
The second time you would need to update your title tags and meta descriptions is if you have just updated your keyword strategy. These elements should strongly reflect your keyword strategy, so if you have changed any of these keywords, then it is also time to revisit them to ensure they align properly.
If a particular content is getting a lot of visits, it probably means the content is well-received and does not need refreshing. However, if you see the number of visits decreasing over time, it's a good idea for that content to get refreshed.
Consider updating the title tag or meta description, or even promoting the piece via social media again (to get more visits or backlinks). For best results, SEO experts generally give a piece of content 3-4 months before deciding whether to refresh it or not.
Because freshly updated content is seen as better than older content by Google, smart marketers know that they need to revisit their older blog posts and revise them for accuracy. Not only is Google changing on a daily basis, but most industries also change at a similar pace. For example, this post was originally written in 2018!
Historical blog optimizations are one of the overall best practices for optimizing older content so it's fresh and up-to-date. This strategy is a great way to generate more traffic, leads, and ultimately, customers.
It is absolutely essential to remember that your contact information (business name, phone number, address) should be the exact same across all of your online profiles. This means that you must go to sites like Yelp and Yellowpages to make sure your contact information matches exactly across all profiles. As well as having and optimizing your Google My Business page, ideally with some location-specific pages on your website as well.
Pro tip: Investing in a tool like Bright Local will allow you to analyze your local listing profiles to see if your information matches on all of your online profiles.
Starting an SEO campaign from scratch can seem daunting. There are so many steps involved and the entire process requires extensive attention to detail, but the rewards can revolutionize your business. Once you understand how all the facets of SEO can work together, the concept behind it starts to become more clear.
One of the last things that I want to touch on is how SEO is changing and developing with the improvements in ai technology. In a lot of the areas mentioned in this article, ai can be utilized to, speed up, eliminate, or reduce errors within.
Every part of your SEO campaign will work together, from the on-page to off-page optimization. Focus your efforts on specific keywords (both long-tail and broad keywords), and you’ll start to see real results from organic search and ultimately your business. The need for a high-quality SEO strategy has never been higher, and it's essential to take it seriously. If you don't, you can bet that your competitors are!
We hope that this overview of search engine optimization has been helpful, and if you are interested in hearing more about SEO and how it can help your business, feel free to contact Instrumental Group to discuss your strategy with one of our experts!