7 Under-the-Hood Optimization Techniques That Will Rock Your SEO

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7 Under-the-Hood Optimization Techniques That Will Rock Your SEO

Whether you’re an SEO at the top of your game, or a site owner looking to do more with your SEO, this article is for you.

Most SEO advice is pretty straightforward (and worn out): Optimize your title tags! Content is king! Use a sitemap!

I get all that. And that’s fine advice. And you should do it. But sometimes we need a little bit more — those under-the-hood optimizations that can move the needle even further for SEO. I’m about to give you seven of my secret weapons for doing just that.

Just so you don’t get your hopes up too high, I’m not providing any home run hacks that are going to boost you to the top of the SERPs by tomorrow morning. SEO doesn’t work that way. These seven techniques are reputable, slow-but-steady, and hard work.

But they do work.

1. Make Your Site Secure

Google has tipped its hand regarding one of their newest ranking factors: Site security.

In the summer of 2014, Google declared that HTTPS is now a ranking signal. Although its immediate impact on the search landscape is marginal, we can expect this signal to grow stronger as time goes on.

Security, with all its massive disruptions of late, is a big deal for users, and therefore for Google. We as SEOs need to understand this. Although we crave data — especially the data that gets snatched away from us (not provided) — we still need to respect the limits of privacy.

If you have the ability and/or resources, add encryption to your site. In addition to being a ranking signal, it is also a user signal. Sites with encryption are recognized in the SERPs with an “https://” preceding the URL, unlike non-secured sites.

7 Under-the-Hood SEO Optimization Techniques | SEJ

This little change in the SERPs alerts conscientious users to the presence or absence of a security layer on a given site, which may in turn affect click-throughs, bounce rates, and dwell time.

2. Add Above-the-Fold Images or Videos With Full Optimization

We all know images and videos can improve a site’s ability to engage users. What we may not realize, however, is that such images can improve a site’s ranking in Image or Universal Search.

The click-through rates for no-image pages are, on average, lower than pages that contain images. Although the first position results gain higher CTRs (20% vs. 10%) for no-image pages, the tables turn in the third through tenth SERP positions. For these results, users show a preference for pages that contain images.

Here is research from Jim Yu in his discussion from Search Engine Land. The chart indicates CTRs for image vs. no-image SERP entries.

7 Under-the-Hood SEO Optimization Techniques | SEJ

To make your images as SERP-supported as possible, you need to optimize them. Here are the most important features for optimization:

  • Make the size of the image appropriate to the necessary resolution. Get the file as small as possible to improve page load times.
  • Add alt text.
  • Title the image appropriately, using keywords if at all possible.
  • Use a good quality image. It’s for the users, remember.
  • Add supporting Schema for the image.

You can use videos, too, with similar results in the SERPs. The additional effort of adding above-the-fold images and video is that it improves SERP rankings while also adding value for the user. Value for the user means your site visitors will click through more frequently, bounce less, stay longer, and thereby improve your rankings.

3. Create an Image Sitemap

Every search engine professional understands the importance of an HTML sitemap and an XML sitemap. I’m suggesting that you create an image sitemap.

So, what’s an image sitemap? And how many sites even have one?

Not many sites have an image sitemap. That’s why we’re under the hood right now. This optimization will boost your rankings particularly in Google’s Image Search.

To create an image sitemap, simply add extra information about images on the page to your existing xml sitemap.

Here is Google’s example of a sitemap with image information:

7 Under-the-Hood SEO Optimization Techniques | SEJ

You can add the following image tag definitions:


If you want to gain additional image search traffic and ranking, this is a must-have optimization maneuver. Be sure to check out Google’s support article on the topic.

4. Regularly Review and Request Removals From Your Link Profile

Behind every site lurks a powerful and sometimes ominous force. It’s your link profile.

You have limited control over what sites link or don’t link to your site. You could become the victim of a negative SEO attack, or you could be rewarded by links from a high-authority government (.gov) or education (.edu) site.

But you do have some control. You should exercise this control in three ways:

  • Monitor your link profile. Every now and then, scan through the list of sites that are linking to you. This data is available in Google Webmaster Tools. You can also purchase services that will scan your link profile for possible risk.
  • Request low authority or spam sites remove their links to yours. A polite removal request is the best solution to spam links. Simply email the webmaster, informing them of the links and ask that they be removed.
  • Submit a disavow file. Regardless of the SEO brouhaha over the issue, Google has provided a tool that allows you to disavow any links that you deem undesirable.

5. Create Keyword-Specific URLs

Aren’t ranking for a specific keyword? Check your URLs.

Exact match domains (EMD) are an SEO spam technique of yesteryear, but there is no question that Google still considers the URL to be a significant indication of a page’s relevance, and therefore a ranking factor.

Notice how each of these sites, top-ranked domains for a competitive keyword, have URL pages that use the exact query.

7 Under-the-Hood SEO Optimization Techniques | SEJ

If you are angling for a longtail keyword, I suggest creating a specific targeted page that uses the keyword string in the URL.

6. Use Your Target Keywords Across The Entire Site

One of the lesser-utilized SEO techniques is employing a target keyword throughout the site as a whole. Many SEOs believe (mistakenly) that they can rank for a given keyword by churning out a few blog articles surrounding the keyword. They target a keyword by developing content on one or two pages, but they neglect its presence on the rest of the site.

In reality, Google prefers to see an entire domain that supports the keyword and its semantic variations.

Here’s how you can check this:

  • Do a Google search for inurl:domain plus the selected keyword in quotation marks.
  • Look at how many results Google provides.
  • Compare this to as many domains or competitors as would be helpful.

Let me show you an example. In the screenshot above, I showed you how the website CreditKarma.com is outranking Experian.com for the keyword “what is a good credit score.”

I recently analyzed the SERPs for this keyword, and found that the top organic result has the highest sitewide saturation for the given keyword. I tested several other semantic variations and found it to be consistently true. The site with the highest sitewide occurrence of a given keyword ranked higher.

Look at the comparison. Here’s CreditKarma.com, the top organic result for “what is a good credit score.”

7 Under-the-Hood SEO Optimization Techniques | SEJ

Here is Experian.com, the second organic result for the same keyword.

7 Under-the-Hood SEO Optimization Techniques | SEJ

CreditKarma.com has 3,500% more occurrences of the keyword than Experian. Even though CreditKarma’s domain authority, page authority, and domain wide link quantity are lower, they still rank higher for that keyword.

7 Under-the-Hood SEO Optimization Techniques | SEJ

My informal survey doesn’t prove that top results will always be backed by the highest occurrence of a keyword throughout the site, but it does suggest it is an important factor in Google’s ranking system. Sites that contain semantic variations and/or keywords throughout have a higher chance of ranking in the SERPs for any given keyword in that semantic domain.

7. Optimize Your Brand’s Social Profiles

Google’s Knowledge Graph is a significant aspect of SEO that we can’t ignore. Google recently began displaying the social profiles for brands directly in the Knowledge Graph.

It’s not apparent how this will roll out for small to mid-sized businesses. Most of the results I’ve seen are for large corporate brands.

My sense is that Google will continue to refine KG settings to bring up a full array of information for most brands that have optimized social profiles. It’s worth giving some optimization effort to your social accounts.

8. Add Schema Everywhere

According to a study by Searchmetrics, Schema markup shows up in more than a third of all Google’s search results. With this huge SERP preference for Schema, you’d think that sites would be flocking to implement Schema snippets wherever they could.

Well, apparently not. A mere 0.3% of Internet domains are using Schema integration.

7 Under-the-Hood SEO Optimization Techniques | SEJ

Image from Search Engine Land

This definitely falls into an under-the-hood optimization technique. Learning schema isn’t that difficult, and it will certainly look familiar if you have any coding background or awareness of structured data.

Google has even given you some help with their Structured Data Markup Helper.


No matter where you are at on your SEO journey, there is always more to do. You can spend months optimizing, optimizing, optimizing, and never actually reaching a pinnacle of perfection. However, these under-the-hood optimization techniques will bring you closer to perfection than most sites.

What are your favorite under-the-hood SEO techniques?


Featured Image: PointaDesign via Shutterstock

Neil Patel
Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics, an analytics provider that helps companies make better business decisions. Neil also blogs about marketing and entrepreneurship at... Read Full Bio
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  • Nitin Balodi

    Hi Neil,

    It’s a wonderful article that is full of informative content. There’s lot to learn for me. My fav one is constant use of target keyword throughout the website. The one that you’ve mentioned by using credit karma’s example.

    The image site map is something that I’ve come across for the first time and surely that will be in my to do list. Thanks again for the wonderful article.

    Regards – Nitin

  • Nikhil Ganotra

    Again, A Great Post, Neil!

    Using target keywords across the content is the great strategy but sometimes it do lead to spam and Yes, LSI indexing is an important factor affecting it.

    Thanks a lot for sharing this informative post! 🙂

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Great point that there is “always more to do” in SEO. Regularly reviewing your links is a big one. That way you can potentially catch an issue before it becomes major and really hurts your website.

  • Craig Griffiths

    More great tips from Neil! I’ve always used keyword and key phrases throughout a site as I always believed it had the effect that you say it does (improves ranking more). I don’t understand why people always just seem to think they need to have single pages for all of their keywords or key phrases!

  • Camilla Todd

    Great article – I am always pleased when I get enough time from a client to start working on more detailed/specific work like this.

  • Nick Kringas

    Nice list Neil, thank you.
    We use outbound authority links to point visitors to relevant content on authority/government websites.
    We also use links from blog posts to “money pages” to get a boost in ranking.
    After reading your post, we will start paying closer attention to schema.

  • anees muhammed

    Thanks for these great tips. I’m using seo by yoast plugin which helps me to manage most of the points mentioned here at once.

  • Vijina

    Excellent tips, Neil! Especially Schema is a concern to most SEO professionals out there. It’s high time to implement rather than just learning it. Thanks Neil for highlighting some important points to consider for today’s SEO success.

  • Jason

    maybe I’m misunderstanding….how do images on a site increase the serp click through rate, when the searcher has no way of knowing that the site has any images until *after* they cluck?

    • Jason

      lol – cluck?

  • Iman

    Besides fees of both domain name and web hosting service, the https is additional cost. Don’t let the certificate of the SSL (related to https) be expired, because web browsers (that from visitors) can prevent visitors to visit.

  • James

    How would you balance using a target keyword throughout your site against keyword cannibalisation ?

  • Amber

    Hi Neil,

    How does one get the social profiles to appear in the Google plus box in serps in that last screenshot? Just implementing schema for the social links on the website itself? Or is there something you have to do in your Google plus page too?


  • Shariq Khan


    Great tips! increasing volume around the globe definitely requires increase in SEO strategies and as Google and other search engines become smarter SEO strategies must too!.


  • Andrea

    My favorite under-the-hood optimization is:
    structured data, change HTTP to HTTPS, canonicalization of html & PDFs & automatically updates of xml-sitemaps such as for Mobile, News, Video, Geo, Images & Code Search.

  • Amit Jain

    I have a question Neil, If my website is just a informative website despite of this should i have secure my website.

  • Jeffery Morgan

    Neil Patel always rocks. He would always find better ways at getting above basic SEO stuff. Right now, learning as to how to influence the most basic act of search engine optimization – the search box itself. I have been hearing a lot about search engine optimization but I guess there is not real conclusion if is safe or not.

  • Rohan Gupta

    your blog is more informative and helpful for getting high rank in search engines very fast.

  • Jawad Satti

    Thanks Neil Patel For 7 Tips very helpful for me


  • Jumi

    Hi Neil,

    Another insightful well researched contribution from You to the SEO World. Thank You very much for sharing these sort of highly valuable research with us. i have a small suggestion that would it be better if we use the operator “site:” in place of “inurl:” to find out the mentions of our targeted keywords across the entire website.
    “inurl:” returns a lot of noise (like the whois sites and review sites) and “site:” operator can remove these noises.

    Example: “what is a good credit score” site:creditkarma.com
    in place of: inurl:creditkarma.com “what is a good credit score”

    Whats your precious point on this?

    • Eric Vallee

      This is a great article, but I agree 100% with Jumi. The example of using inurl to find keyword density (which is what you are looking at) doesn’t really work using inurl as that site operator will pull up all kinds of other websites that refer to the searched site (i.e., seometrics.com refers to credit karma.com). Using “site:” operator seems to be much more effective.

      I would also add that it is important not to use the same keywords in title tags as that will probably canibalize your keywords.

  • george

    Thanks a lot Neil!
    I,m a beginner in these things, but i love the way you teach, cause even a newbie like me can follow your instructions.

  • Tara Woodruff

    FANTASTIC post!! Oh Thank you Neil for making this easy enough for a New Blogger to Understand!

  • Alex James

    Hey Neil,

    Wonderful content you have shared with us. Your example is so simple. I really like it.


  • Brent Jones

    Didn’t know about the image sitemap! Thanks. That’s really helpful. 🙂

  • Jess

    Excellent article. I am excited to implement some of these strategies and learn Schema. I am also hoping I can figure out that knowledge box thing too.


  • umer

    Great article really learn so much especially Schema integration and our profiles am going to implement on my site as well. keep it up good work. love to study your articles.

  • Dermot

    Nice post. Schema is one thing I am not yet crazy about. But as it’s becoming important to ranking, I may as well implement it. Not exactly sure how though. Anyone here good with that?