SEO 101: 18 Search Rankings & Engagement Factors You Can’t Ignore

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18 Search Rankings & Engagement Factors You Can’t Ignore

There are a lot of SEO guides and “How-to” blog posts available, but the truth is, many of these resources contain outdated or just incorrect (and outright bad) advice. Over the past few months I have been auditing a lot of websites for various law firms throughout the country. I decided to put together a list of 18 factors that many people simply ignore or forget to implement.

18 Search Rankings & Engagement Factors You Can’t Ignore

1. Proper Title Tag Optimization

It is amazing how many websites are still stuffing keywords in their title tag. For example, I was auditing a law firm’s website and their previous SEO company has the homepage title set as “Bankruptcy Lawyer (City) | Hire Bankruptcy Lawyer (City) | Best Bankruptcy Lawyer (City)” and it reeked of spam. We quickly changed it to something along the lines of “Law Offices of XYZ – Your Local (City) Bankruptcy Lawyer” and this resulted in a more natural title while still including the keyword “(City) Bankruptcy Lawyer” the firm was clearly targeting.

Stick with titles that make sense and only use your target keyword if it can be used naturally. You also want to think about writing a title that is going to attract search traffic to click on it in the results. Ranking on top is just part of the battle – you need to have the individual click on your title as well.

2. Descriptions Optimized For Click-Through-Rate

Your descriptions need to be written with one goal in mind, and that it to get the search traffic to click-through to your website. Descriptions hold zero SEO value in terms of ranking, but they hold a lot of weight when it comes to CTR.

A good description provides a solution related to the search that was performed to display your page in the results. For example, if someone is performing a search because they want to “buy a widget” you want your description to mention that you have the largest selection and lowest prices on different widgets.

3. SEO Friendly URL Structure

I am a big fan of using the page or post title as the URL structure, because it looks more eye appealing and it will often result in having your target keywords in the URL as well.

What do you think looks better and will perform better?

  •; or

Not only is the title URL more SEO friendly, but also it just looks better. If you are using Word Press you can quickly change your URL structure in the general settings under permalink structure. Select the “post name” option and you will have SEO friendly URL’s for all of your pages and posts.

4. Headings and Sub-Headings For Readability

Your content needs to have headings and sub-headings in order to break up your text and make it easier to skim though while still retaining the main point. Wait, what? The majority of your website visitors are not going to read your content. They are going to quickly skim through it and if you have never-ending paragraphs without headings then they aren’t going to take anything away from their skim sessions.

The search engines also pay attention to your H1 and H2 tags, so it is a good idea to make your important information into headings. Remember, write for the reader first while also keeping SEO tactics in the back of your mind. In this case, the use of H1 and H2 will help your SEO as well as provide a better reading (skimming) experience for your website visitors.

5. Expand Beyond Just Text Posts

The majority of website content is text. The average consumer comes into contact with boring text posts on a daily basis, so what can you do to really grab and hold their attention? Spice it up by adding some other media elements to your content.

Video is great and so are infographics. I have had some of my law firm clients create a weekly video series where they talk about common questions that many prospective clients have. It also helps to put a real face to the firm and it helps to build that client-lawyer relationship prior to them ever speaking. The video doesn’t even need to be very long to be effective. This firm posts a 3 minutes video and they film them using the new iPhone, so you don’t even need to invest in expensive equipment to get the message across.

6. Avoid Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing and focusing on keyword density was popular back in the day. There are a lot of websites that still have content that is just jam-packed with keyword stuffing and it is amazing that they haven’t been penalized yet. It is a good idea to audit all of your content, even posts done several years ago. Any low quality content can trigger a penalty, no matter how long it has been on your site so take the steps necessary to clean it up. The days of inserting exact keyword phrases into content even when they don’t fit or flow well are long gone.

7. Image at The Top of Blog Posts

You should always include an image in each post, because it adds SEO value and it grabs the attention of the reader. I always include an image at the very beginning of the content. I find content with an image at the very top performs better, and if you look around at the content here on SEJ you will notice that every post has an image at the top as well. It just works.

If you need a good source of images for your website you can use Shutterstock or one of the other several paid sites, but if you are looking for a free image source, give Photo Pin a try. It is a quick Creative Commons search engine that uses the Flickr API.

8. Write For Your Visitor—Not Google

I touched on keyword stuffing in #6 above, but I feel writing for your visitors needs its own topic. Your website content is what tells your visitors about the products or services you offer. If you write with a focus on the search engines, your content will not flow naturally and it will actually turn off your visitors.

If your visitors don’t connect with your company through the content on your website the conversion number are going to be small. Aside from your visitors, other websites aren’t going to link to your content if it is low quality. With such a focus on high quality content there will be absolutely zero link earning opportunities if your website has content that has obviously been written (or scraped) to game the search results.

9. Include External Links to Authority Sources

Linking out to high quality websites that are relevant and trusted is a good way to signal to the search engines that your content is also high quality. It is a good practice to link out to at least one top website in each piece of content on your website. Keep this in mind when writing your blog posts.

If your website allows guest posting then you really need to crack down on the outbound links and make sure that all external links are pointing to relevant and high quality websites. I have noticed that several of the websites I have been auditing lately had participated in link swaps, complete with a dedicated “links” page on their website. These websites had outbound links to several websites that are no longer live and to some spammy websites so naturally I removed these pages immediately.

18 Search Rankings & Engagement Factors You Can’t Ignore

10. Interlink Blog Content

Interlinking is something the majority of websites I look at just aren’t doing. It is so simple to do, provides a great SEO benefit, and also keeps your visitors exploring your content. If you aren’t currently interlinking your blog posts then you need to start immediately – and also go back and link your previous posts.

Internal links within your content pass your website’s power and authority to other pages, namely newly created pages. Linking relevant content within your website also keeps your visitors on your site and reading new content. If you use descriptive anchor text you can pass them from page to page. This reduces bounce rate and increases the odds of them completing an action, whether that is picking up a phone, visiting your physical location, completing a form, or making a purchase.

11. Target Long Tail Keywords—Don’t Focus on Search Volume

I see a lot of websites targeting the completely wrong keywords. Not only are they wasting money targeting keywords that they will never rank for, but also all of the time wasted could better be spent acquiring new leads and business. It is sad to see, but many SEO companies will simply target high search volume keywords.

Some of the law firm websites my company audited were targeting very general terms like “lawyer” and “law firm”. Does a small firm located in Austin, Texas, stand a chance of ranking for these general terms? No. But even if they did rank #1, how many of the searches would be from people in the Austin area? Very few.

Make sure that you target keywords that are going to bring you qualified traffic. They would have been better off targeting long tail versions like “Austin TX personal injury lawyer” because not only could they rank for it but it would also attract quality traffic.

12. Have a Social Presence & Make it Easy to Find

Social media is everywhere and virtually everyone is connected to at least a few social media outlets, particularity Facebook and Twitter. I know Google wants everyone to believe that Google+ is alive and well but can you honestly name anyone outside of the SEO and marketing world that uses Google+? It is dead.

Personally, I suggest my clients focus more attention on two winners (Facebook and Twitter) rather than waste effort on a dying network. Out of all of the websites I have audited, the majority had social profiles set up, but they weren’t using them and they didn’t have them linked to their websites. Make your Facebook and Twitter profiles visible, either using the badges you can create within your account or design some custom ones to match your website.

13. Publish Frequent Content

You should update your website with fresh content on a regular basis for several reasons. First, it signals to the search engines that your website is a reliable source for information. Second, it gives your website visitors something new to engage with every time they visit. If they keep coming back and see the same content, they are going to lose interest and find another website in your niche to spend their time on. Also, it gives you fresh content to share on your social media profiles, keeping your followers engaged – and coming back to your website. Every website will have different publishing needs – some publishing weekly, some daily, and some multiple times a day. You will need to determine what is suitable for your visitors.

14. Consider Explainer Videos

Sometimes it is hard to get your message across in text and sales copy. An explainer video allows you to deliver a message to your visitors in a visual manner that will capture their attention and make it easier to present an offer. They can be used to generate leads, trial offers, and even sales. A lot of websites are using videos now, and it is very easy to differentiate between a really well thought out quality video and a crappy template Fiverr video. If you don’t have a few thousand dollars to invest in a professionally produced video then hold off. A poor video can hurt you more than help you.

15. Focus on Quality Over Quantity—$199 SEO Doesn’t Exist

I lost count of how many websites I audited that had a pure spam link profile. It was shocking that so many law firms, who did million of dollars in revenue, were paying for SEO that rivaled about a half-dozen Fiverr gigs. I’m sorry, but you aren’t going to get quality SEO for a few hundred dollars a month. There are some that will argue with this (like the ones selling crappy services), but you are better off starting slowly and creating great content and attempt to earn some high quality links if you can’t afford a high quality service that is going to keep your website out of Google’s penalty radar. There are plenty of things you can do on your own until you budget allows for quality SEO.

16. Encourage Comments

Ending every blog post that you publish with a question is a great way to encourage comments and interaction with your readers. Check out the very last sentence on this post – simple and to the point in order to spark a conversation. Comments serve several purposes. They give you the chance to see what your visitors think about your content and allows you to communicate with them in a non threatening way. Many of your visitors might not be ready to pick up their phone or request more information, but they will be willing to leave a comment. Active comments also help with website traffic because visitors are likely to return to read your response.

17. Avoid Re-Published Content

When we discuss duplicate content in the SEO world, we are usually referring to scraper sites and spammy sites that steal content and put it up on their site. I didn’t encounter that during my audits, but I did notice that a lot of the firms were republishing content from other websites on their own. This ranged from press releases to content from law resources. They had no idea this was a potential problem, so it is a good idea to always be on the lookout for “innocent” duplicate content. If you do need to include content that can be found elsewhere make sure that you use the rel=canonical tag.

18. Build a Sitemap—Connect GWT and Analytics

Something as simple as having an XML sitemap and connecting Google’s Webmaster Tools and Analytics are things that many websites simply forget or ignore. An XML sitemap improves the visibility of your website so there is absolutely no reason that you shouldn’t have one. Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools give you access to so much valuable data that you should really be looking at it on a regular basis. Analytics can help you understand what your visitors are doing while they are on your website, and Webmaster Tools can help you identify keywords to target as well as notify you about potential problems with your website.

There you have it. As you can see, lots of websites lack simple optimization best practices. It is impossible to work towards higher search visibility if you ignore the little details.

What are some factors you notice a lot of websites ignore when it comes to SEO? Let us know in the comments below.


Image Credits

Featured Image: Tashatuvango via Shutterstock
Image #1: rassco via Shutterstock
Image #2: Cienpies Design via Shutterstock

Alan Schill
Alan Schill is passionate about all things digital marketing. As the founder of Denver, CO based, he oversees all marketing and digital lead generation strategies for the company and the law firms they serve.
Alan Schill
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  • David

    This may seem simple, but I see a lot of sites that don’t take advantage of keeping an updated and content rich blog. Many of the clients I have worked with started a blog but haven’t posted for months. Not only does keeping an updated blog help your chances of Google regarding your content as fresh, but it also helps to keep your users engaged.

    • Carver

      I find it very off-putting as a site visitor when I see a blog remain untouched. Makes me wonder how often their content is reviewed for quality as well. Even the smallest bit of doubt in quality can result in a lost conversion.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Great list. You’re right, there’s a lot of bad information out there. That’s partially because the SEO industry is always changing!

  • Norton Loomer

    Great list. Only one I’m not convinced by is #16 (Encourage Comments). Not every blog needs to have comments. Many people interested in leaving comments on a blog post aren’t the same people who are going to become potential customers. It all depends on what you are selling and what you are writing about.

    But, if you are going to allow comments, you should certainly encourage them.

    #11 is dead-on. So many people want more and more traffic when the current traffic they have isn’t converting. Instead of worrying about more, worry about what you are doing with your current traffic.

  • Alex

    That was spot on Alan! In an ever-changing SEO landscape, the 18 factors you mention above have remained consistent and true through-out and moving forward, are a good baseline on which to judge your own SEO efforts.

    Regarding Comments: I see what Norton is saying but think that encouraging comments is important even if you dont allow comments! (the word here that you were looking for is ‘engagement’ and I think that without it your content is dead in the water.

    In fact, I would go so far as to say that #16 should be reworded to say ‘Encourage Engagement’ and should be the #1 most important factor on the list

  • Joe Simmonds

    Great list, Alan. It’s hard to tell if it has any impact on SEO but I would always encourage clients to include social sharing buttons on each blog post or page. At the end of the day, the goal is more customers or sales, regardless of where they come from, and social shares can be very effective at getting the word out about a product or service!

  • Craig

    You are spot on with all of them! Three of the most common issues I have come across are images without ALT Title Tags, a really messy heading structure, and little to no internal linking. It is really important to get the basics right to implement any SEO changes.

  • Pawan

    Great article. We must consider these factors to improve site visibility in Search Engine Result Page(SERP). If you use seo in right direction, your site will get good results.

  • Richard Saling

    I appreciate the article and can see how you have come to these conclusions. I know on my blog, it has been a challenge to grow readers and engagement which is my main goal. The thing which could be the root cause is developing fresh content on a shorter schedule. I would rather create quality content that takes time to research and develop rather than throwing out lower quality content which doesn’t add value.

  • Kyros Asfis

    Thanks for this very nice article, Alan! My only argument is about point 12. I believe that you should also include other social networks (depending on the nature of the business). And with Google enforcing a new update, it somehow makes having a presence on Google+ a pre-requisite since it is also being taken into consideration when it comes to organic search ranking.

    • Brendan Cain

      I absolutely agree. It is a huge misstep for a business not to claim their Google+ Business listing. We all know that Google is the big dog in the yard and not giving deference to their own profile is missing a very easy way to give your website a boost on Google SERP.

  • Rob

    It is easy for you to say “A couple of hundred dollar a month is simply not enough.” For those of us in small business, it is an impossibility at this point to do even a hundred at times.

    You are out of touch.

    • Kelsey Jones

      Rob I think you’re right in the fact that even $100 is too much for some businesses; however what I think the author was trying to say was that if you want certain results, you should expect to pay more (in some cases, depending on goals and industry, etc).

    • V.C.

      We worked around that by making “learn about SEO, make recommendations, and figure out how to get them implemented,” one of the assistant’s duties. This wouldn’t work for every small business, but educating someone in-house has spared us from hiring and paying for an SEO consultant.

  • Adnan Hameed

    Yes, definitely these important factors makes major impact on search rankings. Great list!

  • Alison Brown

    This is a great list! I just have a query, though, regarding point #11: If we want traffic to our website we should use short tail keyword. How is it possible that long tail keywords can bring in good traffic?

  • V.C.

    Concerning #10, “Interlink Blog Content,” is there a particular way of linking blog posts to each other that you have found most effective? Or do you mean simply that the blog pages should link to and be linked to by other pages on the site (which I totally agree with)? That’s easily done with WordPress, which provides pages of blog posts by author, month, and category, and sidebar widgets listing recent blog posts, categories, etc. Plus, as a blogger, I’ve always found it natural to say, “As a followup to our blog post of last month about …” and link to that post, as well as occasionally updating older posts to link to newer, closely related posts.

    Thanks for summing up these nice tips.

  • Arpit Roy

    Great Stuff ! Posting regularly is very important. I have seen real improvements in traffic by regular posting. It is obviously good for an SEO perspective as Google and other search engines love fresh, quality content.