If you are an internet marketer chasing the golden nugget of first page rankings, you undoubtedly ran into some issues this past year. It's no easy task, and the rules are always changing. The great Panda update of 2011 was sure to drive search experts mad with dancing rankings and penalization. Those who paid attention and followed Google's rules were far better off. I've said it before and I'll say it again: you have to give Google what they want.
Now I'm not going to guarantee that you will get first page rankings by following this checklist, I'm just saying that you will be in far better shape if you abide by these rules in your search marketing efforts. And at a bare minimum, you will have a better understanding of what NOT to do in order to maintain your rankings, because the last thing anyone wants is a Google slap.
In the past year Google has come out and stated that it is their business to provide high quality, relevant search results. If they don't meet the needs of users around the world searching far and wide, then they will lose their monopolistic stranglehold on the search engine market, and that is the last thing Google wants. So we have to think in the mind of the visitor's perspective and what they would perceive as quality. It is only once that element is fully understood that you can start to comprehend the complexities behind Google's search algorithm.
The following checklist is my personal guidelines for SEO success. Follow these and you will be well on your way to better search rankings, and maybe even that coveted number one spot.
This algorithm measurement isn't as straightforward as some of the others, but it still has a major impact on rankings. If your surfers are waiting for your site to load, they are likely to leave, rather than waste their time. Check your hosting, consider using a cache utility and look into S3 image hosting. Optimize your site's structure and images and you will be well on your way to a faster site.
I haven't made an ultimate conclusion on this one yet, but early on indications are that the most recent Google update makes this much more pertinent. This directly ties into having a fast loading site. Other things can also cause high bounce rates, like unrelated content to the search query, or redirects where the user is led through an affiliate tunnel. Most of the time, bounce rates can be attributed to your visitors not finding what they were looking for and leaving, but regardless of the reason, this will negatively affect your rankings. Monitor your bounce rate and make sure visitors aren't leaving your site after just a single visit. Google analytics is a great free tool for this.
The old days of getting top rankings for stuffing a page with keywords are gone. Now it's quite the contrary; too much keyword density and Google may flag you for trying to game the system. There are some great tools available like Serp IQ that give you meaningful metrics on how densely you should populate your content. A good rule of thumb is to keep your keyword/phrase below 10% of the total text on page.
Do your keyword research and have a good idea of related keywords and phrases that are close but not the same as the keyword you are targeting. Make sure to use them throughout your content, but make sure that the regularity is less than your main keyword. Scribe is another great tool specifically for WordPress blogs that allows you to see your keyword density and related keywords in real-time while offering other suggestions on how to improve your on-page SEO.
Having a solid site structure goes a long way in Google's eyes, and the more interlinked pages of relevant useful content, the higher value your site will get. Stay away from serving up too many outbound links and affiliate landing pages, squeeze pages and pre-sell pages as Google will discredit you for making the visitor bounce away from your site. Instead, weave your interlinks like a finely-knit thread and make sure there are plenty of related articles for each page on your site.
Something that didn't change much in the Google algorithm update is how many inbound links you have. This is still the mainstay in terms of how popular your site is; however you will need to make sure you have as many authority backlinks as possible. Backlinks from flagged sites or sites with very high outbound link numbers will not pass much link juice, much like a nofollow backlink. Aim for high quality backlinks from niche related sites that have quality content. This will be a challenging task, but will have a positive impact upon your rankings.
The main title tag is still pulling its weight and you should absolutely put your main keyword in the title. Make sure to use unique titles for each page on your site in order to garner maximum pull for each keyword and phrase. Take a look at the competition for high rankings websites using your keyword. You will notice a trend with their title tags and it isn't by chance.
Similar to the above, you are attempting to show something of value to your visitors while still using your main keywords as naturally (and liberally) as possible. This appears right beneath the main title, and also should be unique for each page.
The value of these has really decreased, but it is still good practice to include them. They will not, however, show up in the search query. For your Meta keywords, you want to include your main keyword first and then a few related keywords. Make sure the keywords are the same as the content on the page you are putting them on and it is also good practice to include different keywords for different pages so as to spread your keyword diversity and rank for terms other than your main keyword.
Make sure there is an option for your visitors to share your site, your content, or whatever it is that you're providing of value. As we move forward and mobile grows, this will become even more important as things are shared instantaneously. Google is shown to be giving more credit to social sharing and links from social networks.
Do yourself a favour and make sure you have an active Twitter and Facebook account for your business to interact with your visitors and let them know you are listening to their needs and concerns. I suspect that Google+ will have a significant impact on rankings moving forward, but as of yet it hasn't had that much of an impact.
Overall, SEO is an ever-changing medium so take these 10 tips in stride with your current internet marketing initiatives and you will soon be well on your way to better rankings.