SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the practice of optimizing a web site or webpage to extend the amount and high quality of its traffic from a search engine’s organic results.

The benefits are obvious: free, passive traffic to your website, month after month.

But how do you optimize your content for search engine optimization, and what “ranking factors” truly matter?

To reply that, we first need to know how search engines work.

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Search engines are like libraries for the digital age.

Instead of storing copies of books, they store copies of websites.

When you type a question into a search engine, it looks through all of the pages in its index and tries to return the most related results.

To do this, it uses a computer program referred to as an algorithm.

Nobody is conscious of exactly how these algorithms work, but we do have clues, no much less than from Google.

Here’s what they are saying on their “How search works” page:

> To provide the most useful info, Search algorithms look at many factors, together with the words of your question, relevance and usefulness of pages, expertise of sources and your location and settings. The weight applied to every issue varies depending on the nature of your question – for example, the freshness of the content plays an even bigger function in answering queries about present news subjects than it does about dictionary definitions.

Speaking of Google, that is the search engine most of us use—at least for web searches. That’s as a result of it has essentially the most dependable algorithm by far.

That stated, there are tons of different search engines you presumably can optimize for.

Learn more about this in our guide to how search engines work.

In simple phrases, search engine optimization works by demonstrating to search engines that your content material is one of the best outcome for the subject at hand.

This is as a result of all search engines like google and yahoo have the same aim: To show the best, most related outcomes to their users.

Precisely how you do that depends on the search engine you’re optimizing for.

If you want more organic traffic to your web pages, then you have to understand and cater to Google’s algorithm. If you need more video views, then it’s all about YouTube’s algorithm.

Since every search engine has a special ranking algorithm, it’d be unimaginable to cowl them all on this guide.

So, going ahead, we’ll give attention to how to rank in the biggest search engine of all of them: Google.

Google has a market share of ~92%. That’s why it pays to optimize your website for Google as a substitute of Bing, DuckDuckGo, or some other web search engine.

Google famously makes use of greater than 200 ranking elements.

There was even talkway back in 2010 that there could possibly be up to 10,000.

Nobody knows what all of these ranking components are, however we do know a few of them.

How? Because Google advised us, and tons of people—including us—have studied the correlations between numerous components and Google rankings.

We’ll talk about a few of these shortly. But first, an important point:

Google ranks web pages, not web pages.

Just because your small business makes stained glass home windows doesn’t mean that every page on your site ought to rank for the query, “stained glass home windows.”

You can rank for various keywords and topics with different pages.

Now let’s talk about a number of the issues that have an result on rankings and search engine visibility.

Before Google can even contemplate ranking your content material, it first must know that it exists.

Google makes use of a number of methods to discover new content on the net, however the major technique is crawling. To put it simply, crawling is where Google follows links on the pages they already find out about to those they haven’t seen earlier than.

To do that, they use a pc program called a spider.

Let’s say that your homepage has a backlink from an web site that’s already in Google’s index.

Next time they crawl that site, they’ll comply with that link to find your website’s homepage and likely add it to their index.

From there, they’ll crawl the links in your homepage to seek out different pages on your site.

That said, some issues can block Google’s crawlers:

* Poor inside linking: Google relies on inner linksto crawl all the pages on your site. Pages without inside links typically won’t get crawled.
* Nofollowed internal links:Internal links with nofollow tagswon’t get crawled by Google.
* Noindexed pages:You can exclude pages from Google’s index utilizing a noindex meta tag or HTTP header. If different pages in your site solely have internal links from noindexed pages, there’s a chancethat Google won’t discover them.
* Blocks in robots.txt:Robots.txt is a text file that tells Google where it could and can’t go in your website. If pages are blocked here, it won’t crawl them.

If you’re concerned about any of these issues on your site, think about working an search engine optimization auditwith a tool like Ahrefs Site Audit.


63% of Google searchescome from mobile devices, and that number is growing every year.

Given that statistic, it most likely comes as no shock that in 2016, Google announceda ranking enhance for mobile-friendly web sites in its mobile search results.

Google also shifted to mobile-first indexingin 2018, that means that they now use the mobile version of your page for indexing and ranking.

But here’s an even more critical statistic from Adobe:

> Nearly 8 in 10 of shoppers would cease partaking with content that doesn’t show well on their device

In different words, most individuals will likely hit the back button when a desktop version of a site loads on mobile.

That’s necessary as a end result of Google needs to keep its users happy. Pages that aren’t optimized for mobile result in dissatisfaction. And even should you do rank and win the clicking, most individuals won’t stick around to eat your content.

You can verify if your web pages are mobile-friendly with Google’s mobile-friendly testing tool.

If they aren’t, hire a developer to fix them.

Pagespeed is how fast your web page hundreds. It’s a ranking issue on desktopand mobile.

Why? Once again, Google wants to maintain its users satisfied. If their users are clicking on search outcomes that take too lengthy to load, that leads to dissatisfaction.

To check the speed of your web pages, use Google’s Pagespeed Insights tool.

Alternatively, use Ahrefs Site Auditto verify for slow-loading pages throughout your site.

Just head to the “Performance” report and look for the “Slow page” warning.

Search intent
Finding a keyword or keywords that you wish to rank for is easy. Just paste a subject into a keyword analysis toollike Ahrefs Keywords Explorer, then search for related keyword ideas with search volume.

That said, what many people fail to consider is whether their web page aligns with their chosen keyword’s search intent.

To reveal search intent, let’s look at an instance.

Here are the present Google search outcomes for the question “slow cooker recipes”:

Compare those with the outcomes for the query “slow cooker”:

Despite the similarity between the two keywords, Google exhibits two fully completely different units of search outcomes. For “slow cooker recipes,” they show pages listing a lot of recipes. For “slow cooker,” they show product listings and ecommerce class pages.

Google is interpreting the motive behind the question and exhibiting outcomes the user wants to see.

This is search intent in action.

How do you optimize for this?

Look at the top-ranking pages and ask yourself inquiries to determine the “3 C’s of search intent.”

1. Content sort:Are a lot of the results blog posts, product pages, category pages, landing pages, or one thing else?
2. Content format: Is Google primarily ranking how-to guides, list-style articles, tutorials, comparisons, opinion items, or something totally different? (Note. This one applies primarily to informational topics.)
3. Content angle:Is there a standard theme or distinctive selling level across the top-ranking pages? If so, this offers you some insight into what may be necessary to searchers.

Beyond this, you can also examine for the presence (or not) of SERP options to deduce intent.

For instance, if there’s a featured snippetin the results, then this will indicate that the searcher is looking for info.

If you’re doing keyword research, you can filter for keywords with or without particular SERP options in Ahrefs Keywords Explorer.

Recommended reading: What is Search Intent? A Complete Guide for Beginners

Google’s ranking algorithm relies on something referred to as PageRank.

In easy terms, this interprets backlinks as votes. Generally speaking, pages with extra votes are inclined to rank higher.

How can we know? Last 12 months, we studiedalmost one billion web pages and found a clear correlation between referring domains (links from unique websites) and organic search traffic.

Long story brief, backlinks matter if you wish to rank for anything worthwhile.

The drawback is that links could be difficult to build, particularly to sure forms of content material like product pages.

There are tons of link building techniques but if you’re new to the sport, aim to build links to your best informational content material (e.g., a weblog publish or a free tool).

Here’s a method to do that:

Search for your goal keyword on Google. Look for pages that aren’t nearly as good as yours. Paste the URL of that page into our free backlink checkerto see its high a hundred links.

Consider reaching out to those individuals, explaining why your content material is healthier, and ask if they’d swap out the link for yours.

This tactic is usually generally recognized as the Skyscraper Technique.

Learn more about this technique, and different backlink building techniques, within the articles and movies below.

Not all backlinks are created equal. Some carry more weight than others.

This fact is built-in to the way PageRankworks.

Generally speaking, backlinks from high-authority pages are stronger than those from low-authority pages.

Unfortunately, Google discontinuedpublic PageRank scores in 2016. That means there’s now not any approach to see how much “authority” an online web page has in Google’s eyes.

Luckily, there are related metrics round, certainly one of which is Ahrefs URL Rating (UR).

URL Rating runs on a scale from and takes under consideration each the quantity and high quality of backlinks to an internet web page.

When we studied the relationship between UR and organic search traffic, we found a clear positive correlation.

For that reason, when building backlinks to your content material, you need to prioritize the building of links from robust pages over weak ones.

If you’re analyzing competing pages for backlink alternatives in Ahrefs Site Explorer, the best way to do that is to take a look at the UR column within the “Backlinks” report.

Of course, backlinks aren’t the one method to increase the “authority” of a web web page.

URL Rating (UR) additionally takes under consideration inner links, meaning that links from different pages on your site contribute to the authority of a web page.

If you wish to increase the “authority” of a selected page and are struggling to construct backlinks to it, consider including some relevant inner links from different high-authority pages.

To see your most authoritative pages, verify the “Best by Links” report in Ahrefs Site Explorer.

The golden rule here is not to shoehorn links where they don’t belong. Always link contextually.

This tactic presents a good way to spice up the “authority” of pages with business value like product pages. You’ll often struggle to build backlinks to those pages directly.

Content quality
Google needs to rank probably the most dependable and helpful results—always.

To do this, they have a look at content-related alerts like expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.

Collectively, these are often known as EAT.

(Learn more about EAT in Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines.)

Other issues you are able to do to extend the perceived quality of your content might be:

* Stick to a 7th or 8th-grade reading stage. MostAmericans learn at this level.
* Use quick sentences and paragraphs.This is web content material, not an essay.
* Link to useful resources where appropriate. Don’t be concerned about “hoarding PageRank.” Aim to make your content as valuable to visitors as potential.
* Avoid big partitions of textual content.Break issues up with images, quotes, and so on. Aim to make your content material skimmable.

Generally speaking, the more accessible your content is to the overwhelming majority of searchers, the higher.

Freshness is another important issue for some searches.

For instance, if you Google “best router,” you’ll see that almost the entire results were printed or republished recently.

That occurs as a outcome of know-how moves quick. Nobody needs to know what the best routers have been in 2016. That wouldn’t be helpful.

For other queries, freshness is much less of a deciding issue.

Take a look at this top-ranking result for “how to tie a tie”:

Nobody has updated the page for over six years, but it doesn’t matter as a outcome of the method in which you tie a tie is similar now because it was then.

Look on the search results in your goal keyword to see whether or not freshness is seemingly an necessary ranking issue. Adjust your technique as acceptable.

Google seems at components like location, previous search historical past, and search settings to “tailor your outcomes to what’s most helpful and relevant for you in that moment.”

That means even when you see your site ranking #1 for your goal keyword, that may not be the case for everybody at all times.

For example, should you seek for “flapjack recipe” within the UK vs. the US, the results are completely different.

Why? In the UK, flapjacks are oat bars. In the US, they’re pancakes.

To check “true” rankings, use an incognito tab to offset any personalization out of your search historical past. To offset location elements, use VPN.

Alternatively, you must use a rank tracking tool like Ahrefs Rank Trackerto monitor keywords for a particular location—right right down to the zip code. This is particularly helpful for native SEO.

That said, rankings still fluctuate.

Here are our rankings for “SEO audit” over the past year:

For that reason, it’s often higher to pay more consideration to organic traffic over rankings.

You can do that with analytics tools like Google Analytics, or you could get a tough estimate in Ahrefs Site Explorer.

Just paste in a URL, then go to the “Organic traffic” tab on the “Overview” report.

For essential pages in your site, what you wish to see is a graph like this:

Or this:

Not this:

The purpose it makes extra sense to pay attention to traffic over keyword rankings is that many pages rank for 1000’s of keywords. And they usually get traffic from many of these keywords—not just one.

Final ideas
Knowing how search engines work and the attributes they’re on the lookout for when ranking content material is essential when making an attempt to create content material that ranks.

That mentioned, search engine algorithms change all the time and there’s no assure that what’s necessary at present will still be essential subsequent 12 months.

Don’t let that panic you. Generally talking, the essential things keep constant over time.

Factors like backlinks, “authority,” and matching search intent have been critical factors for a lot of years—and there’s no sign of that altering any time quickly.

Looking to be taught more about SEO? Check out our SEO tutorial.


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In the previous version of this post, we asked 40+ SEO industry experts to define SEO. Check out their definitions right here.

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