White Hat SEO 101

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Level 1 – Getting Prepared

Keyword Research – Doing extensive Keyword Research really should be the first part of any SEO plan. Knowing which keywords you want to rank for will dictate everything you do moving forward. More importantly, doing proper Keyword Research will tell you which keywords you can actually rank for. It doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of time and money optimizing your site for ultra-competitive keyword terms that you have absolutely no chance of ranking for. SEOMoz has some amazing keyword research tools that are a great compliment to the Google Keyword Tool.

On Page SEO – On Page SEO is the single most important factor in determining where your website ranks. The good news is that it’s one of the few things in SEO where you control 100% of the puzzle. People often jump the gun working on external factors, but the fact of the matter is you should have your On Page house in order before even thinking of external factors. Well written title tags, descriptions, headings, content, incorporating blod & italics text on the page, and tweaking your keyword density are all just a few of the On Page SEO factors you should be considering. On Page SEO is a complicated topic that would require a lengthly post on its own to do any justice. I plan on writing a post like this in the future, but there are already several great posts on this topic out there. SEOMoz has a particularly good one.

Site Blog – Having a “blog” for your site is a particularly great way to communicate with your visitors about site updates, direction, and achievements. It’s also a great way to do some interlinking within your site. Starting a blog for your website is a great initial SEO building block and should be updated at least once per week. Blog posts should be a minimum of 300 words and be well written original content.

Notify Google – Google gives you great tools to notify them about content on your website via Sitemaps and Webmaster Tools. This is a critical step in ranking better and should be considered an essential building block of your SEO plan. Webmaster tools also notifies you about performance of your website and crawl errors – among other things. Add your site to Google Webmaster Tools and evaluate the data on a weekly basis.

Level 2 – Great Content

Industry News – Writing about industry news is a great way to build valuable content. You can find out about industry news by simply going to Google News and searching on current topics in your niche. Just be sure to write original content and spin the article in your own compelling way. You can also reach out to all your partners and ask that they notify you of any major events within their organization. In some cases, with the right relationships, you can be the one to break the news on your site first. Breaking news is a great way to get links and eyeballs to your site. These types of articles don’t convert into sales incredibly well, but they are a vital component to your SEO plan. Finally, if you are lucky enough to be in a niche where you can write enough of this type of content, you shouldsubmit your site to Google News. This is a great way to capture more searches and drive traffic to your site.

Infographics – Infographics are a new trend that started in late 2009. They are a great way to communicate a message visually and generate an amazing amount of links, retweets, Facebook likes, and Google +1′s. In doing some research I found that the average infographic was getting at least 10 links and 50 tweets – not a bad investment.

Link Bait – In addition to Infographics you should be creative about creating other forms of link bait to your website. Writing something controversial, writing a custom plugin that you give away, doing a study that provides eye-opening information, etc are all good examples of link bait. The best types of link bait are going to require a lot of thought and effort to create – don’t be lazy.

Industry Contributors – A great way to get links to your site is contract respected industry insiders to write content for your site. People who have large amounts of Facebook friends or Twitter followers are a great way to find these potential contributors. The great thing about these candidates is that they are prone to tweet the content they write or even link to you.

Authority Content – Authority content is a great way to attract links. The key is to write content that is useful and add it to your site often. Over time your site will become an “authority site” in Google’s eyes and in visitors eyes.

Level 3 – Link Building Foundation

Directory Submissions – The majority of directories are considered a waste of time and money in today’s SEO landscape. However, directories such as the Yahoo Directory and other niche industry directories are still regarded as good links. It’s important to do your research since links from spammy directoires can actually be counterproductive. Link building is hard work, but these can be the easiest links you’ll ever get.

Press Releases – Press Releases are also regarded as good and easy links to get. Services such as PR Web allow you to purchase upgraded releases where you can insert any links you like. It’s a great way to get focused anchor text to help your overall SEO strategy. Use this strategy sparingly since doing an excessive amount of Press Releases can be counterproductive. You should reserve releases for important topics that will get readership.

Get Links From Partners – Getting links from your partners can prove to be difficult, but it never hurts to ask. I find that being persistant really helps, or asking what you would need to do in order to get a link from them. Many times partners will give you a goal to hit and give you a link in return. Links from your partners are some of the best links you will ever get to your site. They will almost certainly be authoritative, be 100% relevant, and are totally white hat.

Level 4 – Advanced Link Building

DMOZ – We placed the DMOZ under advanced link building because you typically cannot get a link from the DMOZ to a newer site. A good editor will only approve sites that are well established and of high quality. Of course, depending on what niche you are in, it might prove difficult to even get a quality site in the directory. Many of the categories are corrupt and are almost impossible to get into.

Blogging Contests – Blogging Contests seem to be the new wave of link building. I feel like these are pushing the envelope of white hat SEO, but they are still considered white hat nonetheless. There are 100′s, if not 1000′s of blogging contests going on at any one time. The basic idea is that a site will run a blogging contest that has sponsors. These sponsors get links from everyone entering the contest; the people entering the contest have a chance to win part of the prize money the sponsor is putting up. Find a site doing a blogging contest in your niche and put up some prize money.

Guest Blogging – Writing a guest blog on another site in your niche is a great way to get a link. There is no doubt that other sites in your niche are just as hungry for good content as you are. Most sites will gladly let you write for them if you are respected in the industry. The end of your article is a great place to add a link by crediting your site. Something like “This article was written by Michael Jackness of ABC Company”.

Reviews – Product reviews are a great way to get links to your site, and are no doubt the cornerstone of most affiliate related websites. Putting maximum effort into writing amazing product reviews will get you a lot of attention. Be sure to include pictures, personal experience with the product, positive & negatives, etc. It’s also a good idea to open up visitors comments on your review page so others can read their opinions. These comments build trust (and links).

Wikipedia – Everyone knows who Wikipedia is and a link from them is highly valuable. While their links are “nofollowed“, they still count for something. The best way to get a link from WikiPedia is to write a piece of content that you specifically intend to use as a reference link from WikiPedia. It’s not unusual for a link that you add to a page to get removed by an editor. If that happens keep trying until one sticks.

Level 5 – Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, Google +1 – Late last year Google and Bing confirmed what most people in the SEO industry suspected for some time; social media interactions affect SEO rankings. This means that it’s more important than ever to post good quality content. Junky content that is written by people in India for something like $5 for a 500 word article just isn’t going to cut it in today’s SEO world. Every piece of content you write should be good enough for vistors to want to click on “like” or “tweet”. It’s also important to include social like buttons in prominent places on your webpages.

Level 6 – Refine

Review Analytics – It’s important to review your analytics and Webmaster Tools data on a fairly regular basis. This is a great way to see what keywords you are ranking for and how your site is performing on the web. This data also includes page load speed, which is another important factor in your SEO rankings.

Keep Learning – Since SEO is a moving target it’s important to never stop learning. SEOMoz is a great place to learn about what’s going on in the industry. They have amazing videos each week called “White Board Friday”. Additionally, they have 2 webinars per month for members only that are interactive and provide amazing insight into current trends. There are also other great SEO forums such as SEO Chat.

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