From the world’s biggest brands to modest personal websites, search engine optimization (SEO) is an essential tool to drive traffic, acquire new customers, and get found online. For small businesses, ranking in search not only helps customers find you, but it can also increase your credibility with them.
SEO offers incredible opportunity and access (it’s an inherently free marketing channel) to inbound traffic, but it can be hard to know where to start and what advice to follow. This SEO guide is here to give you what you need to know about SEO to show up in Google and other search engines and, ultimately, use SEO to grow your business.
This SEO guide is split into four sections, designed to help make the learning process easier while providing quick reference as your SEO programs grow in complexity. From the most complex ideas to the most basic, this is a step-by-step blueprint to SEO success. We know it’s a lot to cover, so each section serves as its own specific reference point when problems or questions come up, or you can read the guide from start to finish for full SEO mastery.
Table of contents:
- Getting started: These are the basic elements you need to cross off your to-do list when you first build a website.
- Keyword research: These are the strategies and tools you need to pick the right keywords for your site.
- Growth strategy: Turn here for more advanced, long-term growth strategies. Continue to grow your SEO to build business, drive traffic, and rank for more terms.
- Tracking: This section walks through how you can track your success and tie your efforts back to real traffic and business.
Choosing a domain name
A domain name defines the location of your website on the Internet. For example, www.hummingbirdcandleco.com is the domain name for Hummingbird Candle Co.
Choosing a domain for your website is an important first SEO step. Keywords in your domain are no longer an SEO ranking factor, so you need to choose a domain name that matches your business and brand. Generally, the best domains for SEO are short and memorable, because unique, easy-to-remember domains help with link building and branding.
If you do not want to invest in a custom domain you can always start with a free Square subdomain, like mysite.square.site. These types of subdomains are easy to set up and optimize.
Choosing a domain on Square
When building a website on Square you can choose a free subdomain, transfer a domain from another provider, point a domain from an outside service, or purchase a domain from Square. Square also offers a range of gTLDs (generic top-level domains) and ccTLDs (country code top-level domains). For example:
.co.uk – UK
.ca – Canada
.nl – Netherlands
.de – Germany
.es – Spain
.us – United States
.eu – European Union
SEO for URLs
The URL (universal resource locator) is the location of a page on your website. For example, https://www.hummingbirdcandleco.com/candlemakingexperiences is the URL of the candlemaking experiences page on Hummingbird Candle Co.’s website. The URL slug, which is the part of the URL after the domain extension (.com), can benefit your search ranking as it shows Google the structure of your site and what content is on the page.
It’s important to create descriptive URLs related to your page content. This will help you with link-building and social sharing, and will be easier to remember and share by your visitors. It will also tell your customers what the URL is about.
When creating your URLs, make sure they are valid. The best practice is to use words, and hyphens when necessary to separate words for readbility. Avoid underscores, spaces, or other characters. Adding related keywords will help you have a semantically related URL. You want your URL to immediately make sense to users and describe the topic and content of the page it represents. A string of confusing numbers or nonsensical keyword stuffing can really hurt your SEO.
Use at least one keyword in your URL, but stay away from keyword stuffing, as this might get your page flagged as spam and provides a bad user experience (no one wants to visit a link called https:///www.yourwebsite.com/yellow-socks-blue-socks-green-socks). You also don’t want the URL to be too long. Keep it on the short side and consider removing filler words such as “an” or “the” unless they are part of your business name. An example of an optimized URL is https://www.thekebabshop.com/catering.
How to customize URLs on Square
Everything you need to create SEO-friendly URLs is available directly in the Square Online site editor. When you create a new URL, remember to customize it to match the page topic and the keywords you are targeting.
Standard page URLs
Go to Website > edit site > pick your page > click the setting wheel > select view page setting >. Here you will see an option to change the default page URL.
Product page URLs
Go to Website > edit site > select your product page > click the settings wheel > select view page setting >. Here you will see an option to change the URL. By default the platform will use your product name for the URL.
Story post URLs
While creating or editing a story URL, go to View Page Settings > Page URL. Here you will have the option of editing the URL. By default, Square will use the title of your story as the slug of the URL.
Title tag optimization
Title tags, or meta titles, are HTML elements that you can use to tell users what your page is about. Title tags will show on search engine result pages (SERPs) as the title of your page. They are important in telling users what to expect from your page and entice them to click on your result.
You should create a custom title tag for every single page and post. Try including one keyword on your tag to improve the relationship with your page content. Similar to creating URL best practices, avoid spamming your title’s tags with keywords.
Consider creating a short sentence that describes the content of the page and utilizes one or two of your most important keywords. Google displays between 50-60 characters of the title tag in search, so try to keep it around that length.
You can edit and optimize your title tags in Square Online:
Go to Website > edit site > select the URL you want to edit > click on the settings wheel > view page settings > select SEO from the top of the dialog box. There you will be able to add and edit your title tag.
Meta description optimization
The meta description is a short piece of text that summarizes the content of your page. It is displayed on the search engine results page (SERP) right below the headline (title tag).
Write a description that is compelling, includes relevant keywords and important terms like brand names, and, if it makes sense, a call to action. Include one or two keywords that define the topic of the page — not to help you rank, but to help match your content with user intent. If someone searches for a keyword and sees it defined and explained in your meta description, they are more likely to click.
Google shows between 150–160 characters in the SERP, so you should keep it around that length.
You can customize your meta descriptions in Square Online:
Go to Website > edit site > select the URL you want to edit > click on the settings wheel > view page settings > select SEO from the top of the dialog box. There you will be able to add and edit your meta description.
Links are an incredibly important part of SEO. External links come from other websites and point to your site, while internal links are the links you place on your site to other pages on your site. Your navigation menu and links to other website pages in body content are common internal link types you will use on your site.
Internal links not only help users navigate to relevant pages and content, but they also help search engines crawl and discover your content. Internal links pass link equity or PageRank to the pages you link to. Think of a link like a vote for the content of that page. You are telling a search engine that this page is important. In this way, internal links can help with SEO for individual pages on your website.
The structure of your website should help both visitors and search engines navigate to your most important and relevant pages.
“User first” is the best strategy for navigation and site architecture. What structure will make the most sense for a visitor to find your products, or your about page, or the most important sections within those pages? A logical structure for internal navigation should reflect how your site visitors actually click through your pages. This also makes your site more search-friendly because it’s crawlable. “Crawlable” means the links on your website can be discovered and followed by search engine bots, allowing your content to be catalogued in search results.
Internal content links
Creating internal content links is a bit more strategic than navigation internal links. Look at pages and content that you think are valuable for reference (product pages or your most popular blog posts are perfect for this), then link to these pages with a text link from your content. You can mix it up with image, button, and text links. When including text links, consider the anchor text, or what words you are hyperlinking. Best practices include keeping the anchor text succinct and relevant to the page you’re linking off to, and considering what words or phrases will actually encourage users to click.
Your homepage is usually the most powerful page on your site for SEO, so it carries the most link equity (passes the most SEO value to other pages). Creating a text link on your homepage to a product page is a powerful way to send PageRank to that page and help it improve its ranking. It’s also useful for visitors because you’re helping direct them to a product page that they may be interested in instead of waiting for them to find it by navigating around your site.
This is a portion of the homepage for Bespokuture, a men’s custom clothing boutique. The Custom Shoes, Custom Tuxedos, Custom Suits, and Custom Leather Goods tiles are all crawlable by search engines and point to important internal product pages on the site. This is a perfect example of using internal links to help users find products and show search engines that these pages are important.
Creating links for blog posts is also a good idea to direct visitors to more relevant content and help search engines find your blog post.
Body content is the main text blocks on your page, like the menu item description, your product description, or the content on your homepage. At the most basic level, you want to fill the pages on your website with content that is unique and is going to provide value to someone searching for the keywords represented in that content.
You need to have a basic level of content on the page to rank in search; a page with all images and no text will have a tough time ranking for any term.
When you use headlines on your page there is HTML markup to tell your browser that it’s a headline. Search engines also look at a headline as a factor for context of the page. While the actual ranking signal for this is not as powerful as it once was, it’s still valuable to use keywords in your content headlines. You should try to create descriptive headlines for all content (pages, blog posts, product pages) that mention your keywords to help users understand the topic your page is about.
In HTML, headlines are denoted by H tags, from H1 to H6, with H1 being the most important. On your homepage, H1 will be the text you are using in the main banner element. You can find this component in your Website > edit site > page sections > main banner. Be sure to use this component on your homepage to generate the H1 heading.
On individual product pages, Square Online uses your product name as an H1, so you do not need to worry about setting it up. If you decide to optimize the H1, you only need to edit the product name on your page. On menu pages, using the banner component will create an H1 heading.
It’s also valuable to use H2 subheadings, because Google will rank passages out of a piece of content for relevant queries, which is called passage ranking. If you’re writing blog posts on your site, for example, you can break up sections of a longer post with H2 subheadings, giving those individual sections an opportunity to rank.
All site templates have the same basic components needed for great SEO: They are responsive, load quickly, and don’t contain blocking resources or unruly scripts. Templates impact SEO when you use them to put lots of unique, high-quality content on the page. All templates give you control over layout and design so you can build content-focused pages; you just need to find the template that works for you.
Understanding image SEO
Images offer unique SEO opportunities to help your page send additional topical signals to search engines. Search engines crawl data related to images just like text content, and not only work to understand and display them in image search, but also use them as another source of guidance for the topical relevance of a given page. Here are some effective and simple ways to add additional SEO juice to your images.
Image alt tags
The image alt tag gives search engines and other bots context for your image. This tag helps search engines understand the meaning of your image and is also used by screen readers, so it serves both SEO and accessibility functions. You should write an image alt tag for each image you add to your website. A good alt tag can provide extra keyword context for your page and help the image rank higher in image search.
Best practices for image alt tags:
- Keep it short, under 125 characters.
- Don’t stuff with keywords; keep the text natural and descriptive. Imagine if the image didn’t load or someone couldn’t see the image. What short line of text would accurately describe the context of the image?
- Focus on context versus being too literal. For example, imagine that you are a clothing boutique. If the photo you post on your site is of a woman at a bar with friends, but what you are selling is the blue chenille sweater she’s wearing, focus your alt tag on the woman wearing a blue chenille sweater.
- Don’t use alt tags on decorative images, like those in the background of your page.
Captions provide SEO value as well. Not only do they give you more on-page content, they also help provide additional information for visitors looking at your image. Google often looks at text near an image to understand the context of the image (in addition to the alt tag). Image captions aren’t an SEO requirement like the alt tag, but it’s certainly a good idea if a caption works for the image and page.
Image URL and filenames
Adding keywords to your filename is another image SEO best practice designed to provide even more weight to your target keywords. Search engines will look at filenames in images for context on an image, giving you another opportunity to rank in image search and help with your page’s overall topical relevance for a given keyword set.
An optimized image URL helps your image rank in image search and makes it easier to link and share your image, so make sure to create short, contextual filenames for each image that features important keywords. For example, rather than simply uploading photo-25352353, change the filename to blue-chenille-sweater.
Image size can have an effect on page speed. It’s important to have pages that load fast, since Google doesn’t want to show users a website that loads slow (and you don’t want your visitors to wait on slow pages). If you have a large image file that you can reduce in size to match your page content and design, you should make this a priority.
You can resize images using free tools like Preview for Mac, Squoosh, or TinyPNG to compress the size of your images without losing quality. Always try to use original image sizes that are close to the actual size you’re showing visitors on your page (basically, upload an image that’s close to the display size in your content so that it will load faster).
Get your videos to rank in search
If you create videos, the videos you place on your site can rank in organic search results. Understanding basic video SEO can help your videos get discovered in search results and drive attention to your content.
Video SEO is all about placement and context. YouTube videos perform the best in Google search pages, and you can easily embed them on your site.
Make sure you add a good description incorporating keywords to your video on YouTube or wherever it’s embedded. Also, write an exciting headline with your main keyword and include relevant tags. Adding the right descriptions, headlines, and tags to YouTube videos can help your content rank both in search engine results for terms and also for searches on YouTube. YouTube itself is one of the top search engines in the world!
Mobile SEO matters
Globally, almost half of web traffic comes from mobile, and mobile traffic might be much higher for your site depending on the demographic your business targets. As more traffic moves to mobile, it is important to think about how your content looks on phones and tablets.
Square Online does most of the hard work for mobile SEO. You will see the “Mobile Friendly” tag next to your website automatically. Square Online themes automatically stake and shape your elements so your site is responsive and loads quickly, but it is up to you to make sure that the content that is displayed makes sense for a mobile visitor.
When you’re working on content in the Editor, be sure to check the mobile display option (at the top left of your screen) to get a preview of how your page looks in mobile. Is it readable? Does it make sense? Imagine if a new visitor found your site after Googling it on their phone. Are they seeing the most important and valuable pieces necessary? Use the mobile preview tool to double check that your content looks good on both mobile and desktop. Square Online will do the rest in the background to make sure Google loves the mobile version of your site.
Sitemaps help Google and other search engines find and index your content quickly. Sitemaps also provide information on site architecture and page priority. Square Online automatically generates a sitemap for you. To access your sitemap simply add /sitemap.xml to the end of your homepage. For example, the sitemap for hummingbirdcandleco.com is available at https://www.hummingbirdcandleco.com/sitemap.xml.
You can submit your sitemap directly to Google through Google Search Console to make sure the search engine finds and crawls all your pages.
- Visit https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools
- Sign up and verify your site, or just log in if you already have your site verified
- Go toCrawl > Sitemaps from the left-hand navigation
- Click Add/Test Sitemap
- Add sitemap.xml into the text box
- Click Submit
You can do the same thing with Bing/Yahoo by visiting http://www.bing.com/toolbox/webmaster.
If you’re adding a lot of content to your site on a daily basis, or your content isn’t indexing quickly (pro tip: type site:www.yourdomain.com into Google to find indexed pages), you can resubmit your sitemap on a weekly basis. If you’re not making a lot of changes, just resubmit anytime you do something major or add new pages.
Setting up 301 redirects
A redirect forwards visitors and search engines from one URL to a new URL. It is used when you move content to a new domain or page. It’s important to create redirects that preserve your SEO, which means it tells Google and other search engines that everything they know about an old page is now attributed to a new page. This way, all the work you did on the old page to get it to rank is preserved and passed to your new page.
If you want to redirect one of your Square Online pages, go to Website > select the page you want to redirect > click on the settings icon > View page settings > and under general you will find the option to enable the redirection. Be sure to have the URL you want to redirect handy.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is one of the most important tools to use for SEO. This is your best direct connection to Google to help you understand how your website is crawled, indexed, and generally interpreted by the search engine. You can use Search Console to get alerts when there are problems, and to provide Google with important information about changes and updates to your content. It also serves as an incredibly valuable keyword tracking tool (and it’s free!). You’ll need to create an account with Google Search Console before you can verify your site.
To verify Google Search Console with Square Online:
Go to Website > Integrations > Google Verification > Add the HTML tag provided by Google Search Console.
Setting up for both www and non-www versions of your domain
Make sure to register both www and non-www versions of your domain in Search Console. www or non-www refers to different versions of your domain, so https://www.squareup.com is the www version and https://squareup.com is the non-www version.
Other sites and visitors will often link to your domain using both versions so it’s important to capture both and set the preferred version so you can consolidate link equity and not have any duplicate content issues.
After you verify your www version in Search Console, create a new property for the non-www version. Since you’ve already verified the www version, the non-www will automatically have verification. Just click “add property” at the top of the main dashboard in Search Console and follow the same steps as your www site.
Setting up Google Analytics
Google Analytics is the most comprehensive and most-used website analytics tool on the internet. It allows you to see how people are getting to your site and what they are clicking on, so you can make tweaks that’ll result in more sales.
Making Google Analytics work on your website is easy. First, you’ll need to create an account using your Google username and password. You have a Google username and password if you use Gmail, Google Apps, or other Google services (e.g., YouTube, Voice, Google+, and so on).
Next, follow the basic signup process, adding your site’s URL and basic information to your account. Google will respond by showing you a block of code that you’ll be able to add to your Square site by following these steps:
Go to Website > Integrations > select the Google Analytics option > add the tracking code provided by Google Analytics.
Google Analytics will begin tracking your site immediately, but you may not see data for another 24–48 hours.
Keyword research strategy
A basic keyword research strategy is fundamental to any SEO program. Essentially, your goal is to show up in the first few pages of search results when consumers are looking for something related to what you offer. You can’t rank in search results and drive traffic to your site without understanding what keywords are valuable to your business and which keywords make sense for you to tackle.
Keywords are the phrases or queries people use to search Google and other search engines to find the content they’re looking for. Keyword research is used to find those keywords so you can apply them to your SEO efforts. For a successful keyword research strategy, you want to match user intent with your business value.
- User intent is about why the user is searching.
- What answer does the user intend to find with their search?
- Are they trying to buy a product?
- Are they trying to learn new information?
You want the content on your website to best answer their question, effectively connecting the right person to the knowledge, products, or services your business offers.
Evaluating a keyword: Interest and relevance
The ideal keywords for your website meets two requirements: interest and relevance. The keywords must be something people actually search for, otherwise it’s not going to impact your business. You also want keywords that make sense for your business and the content on your website. If a visitor found your website after typing a keyword in Google, would it answer their question? Would the person who found your site through this keyword be a valuable visitor for your business? For example, if you run a website that sells socks, do you want to rank for “baseball facts?” While the latter might drive traffic to your site, it’s not the most impactful set of keywords for you to target.
When doing keyword research, do not think of keywords as independent units. Instead, think of them as a topic or an idea. This will allow you to use multiple keywords that represent your product or service. Armed with those keywords, you can start using them on your main pages. To make it easier for users and search engines, try to tackle an idea or topic per page with a set of unique keywords. For example, if you sell sports gear, you may have a page dedicated to baseball gear and will want to use a cluster of keywords around that topic, such as baseball gear, baseball uniforms, baseball mitts, etc. You do not want to have multiple pages around the same topic, as they will end up competing against each other.
Remember that people who type keywords into Google are looking for an answer, and search engines want to provide the best answer to the person who is searching.
Picking the best keyword opportunities
Now that you understand interest and relevance, take a moment to think about the words or phrases that best describe your business and website.
- What industry are you in?
- What’s your brand name?
- What products do you sell?
- What do you write about?
Make a list of all these words without thinking about SEO at all. Just write them all down and you’ll get a good sense of topics that matter to you. Talk to your customers or friends and see how they describe your product or service. What questions do people naturally ask you about your industry or areas of interest? These questions will help you develop your keyword ideas.
Next, run these through a keyword research tool to start to get real data. All keyword tools will bring you more relevant keywords based off of this initial list. This will be what you use to build a pool of keywords.
Take the terms you’ve gathered and note the amount of searches they get to gauge the level of interest. Then evaluate them in terms of their relevance to your business. You can give them a score of one to three, one being most relevant and three being least relevant. Terms that have the highest interest (most searches) and highest relevance (most important for your business) should be at the top of your list.
Additionally, look to include a couple of long-tail keywords. These are keyword phrases that are very specific; while they might not have a search volume as high as more general keywords, they will likely bring visitors who are very interested in what you offer. For example, in addition to “designer handbags,” you may want to include “eco-friendly designer handbags” or “handbags made from plant leather.”
Once you have the list ordered, take another pass with an eye for balance. If the top keyword is searched over a million times a month, it might be too competitive. Whittle these down to a list of starter keywords. Now, look at the current search results pages where the keywords led you. Can you provide better content on those pages than competitors? Make your decision based on the opportunity and what you can realistically achieve on your site. There might be some keywords you hold on to for later if you’re just starting out, because your site will only grow in strength as time goes on.
If you already have Google Search Console set up, look at keywords that you currently rank for and that are already driving traffic. This will show potential opportunities to optimize your pages further, and these can become some of your lead first-level keyword targets.
Keyword research never stops and should be a consistent monthly activity for you to evaluate performance and interest over time.
Keyword research tools
There are several useful tools to help you identify the right keywords and complete your keyword research projects. Keyword tools fall under two basic categories: SEO tools that focus on keyword discovery and competition in search engines; and content/social media tools that provide discoverability and trend analysis on platforms outside of traditional search.
Here are some keyword tools to get you started:
- Ahrefs Keyword Generator has a free version that gives you a set of 100 related keywords with the estimated monthly search volume and difficulty. The paid version will offer more features and tools for your keyword research.
- Answer The Public offers a free version that provides question ideas around your keywords.
- Ubersuggest gives you huge lists of data and content. The tool is free to use but you will be limited to three keyword searches per day.
- Moz Keyword Explorer offers keyword recommendations and detailed clickstream data. You can access it as part of the Moz Pro suite of SEO tools which starts at $99/month with a 30-day free trial.
- Semrush is a highly regarded tool in the SEO community that provides plenty of advanced keyword options. There’s a limited free version with paid packages starting at $69.95/month
- Google Trends is a free tool that will allow you to visualize the interest around keywords or topics. The tool does not provide any search volume, but it is very useful to understand the interest around your keyword.
- Google Search Console is also a free tool that helps you measure your site search traffic and performance. For example, Search Console will provide you with your best performing keywords and pages.
SEO cycles and the two most important signals
SEO is always evolving. To grow your business with SEO, you need to understand these cycles of change and the steps required to succeed within them.
Among these cycles, content and links are the most important SEO factors. While there are over 200 ranking signals that decide what terms and rankings your site achieves in Google search results, everything revolves around content and links.
Understanding great content and links is just part of the picture — understanding all the steps you need to take to achieve these goals will drive your site to the top of search results.
Step 1: Optimize your site elements based on keywords. This includes all the pieces mentioned in the “Getting started” section along with writing great content.
Step 2: Work on external SEO signals to build up your site’s standing and drive traffic from outside sources. This includes link building, local search, and social media.
Step 3: Track performance and optimize your website based on changes to search rankings and visitor behavior.
Step 4: Research new keyword opportunities and apply them back to steps one through three.
Content and keywords
Making great content with keywords
Keywords have always been important for SEO, but correct implementation of keywords on your website has changed quite a bit over the years. It’s no longer a simple act of stuffing keywords into every element of your page. Google is getting better about understanding context around keywords and related topics, so it’s more important now to write high-quality content first and apply keywords second. We call this “keyword drafting.” Focus on great content, then use keyword research to tweak what you’ve written to address high-value keywords that people are using in search engines for the topics related to your content.
Google doesn’t need to see the exact keyword you’ve written mentioned a certain number of times anymore. Google can look at the surrounding topical relevance of content to understand what you’re covering. To be clear, you still need to use keywords, but it’s more important to produce really unique and valuable content that naturally incorporates relevant keywords.
Keyword mapping involves taking the keywords you want to target and connecting them with the content you’ve already written on your site. Map them together to see what you can optimize. Look at all your pages and the keywords you’ve built, and see where you can improve the page with content. Find content that has no keywords, or keywords with no content, and look for link-building opportunities so you can bolster your pages.
What you need to know about content
Creating quality content is not only great for building your brand and connecting with customers, but it’s essential for SEO. Content is a foundational element for your SEO plan, and if it’s relevant, high quality, and gives readers a good experience, it can boost your rankings.
Your content needs to provide information that people are looking for and that is unique to your website. Think about how a visitor would interact with your content. Is your content easy to read and well organized, and does it communicate your points effectively? Is it well designed? These elements and the ones listed below provide information to search engines while providing readers with an engaging user experience.
Content is why people visit your website. The purpose of your site determines the type of content you have to create. People are searching online to answer questions and look for solutions to problems, some are seeking trends, and some are bored and looking for entertainment. When making content for SEO you need to think about the questions of your intended users.
Content needs to tie back to keywords, and the keywords need to be user focused. Even if a term has traffic, it doesn’t mean it’s relevant. All keywords should point back to your site’s overall purpose since this will help contextualize your SEO strategy and ensure that the traffic you get represents people who will want to engage with your business.
These keywords are almost always included in articles on the topic, so search engines expect them. For instance, if you’re publishing a page about iPhones, the proof terms would be phone, Apple, and mobile. These terms prove to Google that you are actually covering the topic.
These keywords show Google that you have comprehensive coverage of a topic. These terms aren’t always present in every article on the topic, but they are something that search engines still look out for. For example, if you’re writing about the iPhone, you would also have words like technology, apps, and iOS. These words show Google that you have breadth of information related to the main theme.
Do keyword research in addition to writing naturally. Look at Google autocomplete and keyword tools like Google Planner to show related terms and related Google searches, along with competitor pages to back up your research.
The importance of fresh content varies between queries, but you can bet that it’s never a bad thing to give an update with a new sentence, paragraph, image, or section, especially if the topic of your page can benefit from the update.
Link building matters
Links are still one of the most important factors for SEO. An external link or backlink is a URL that points from another website to your site. If a blogger links to your site from a post, that’s a backlink. If a company that you do business with lists you on a page of partners with a link to your homepage, that’s a backlink. Google and other search engines count these links as votes of popularity, like citations in scholarly papers. The more votes, the more valuable the website, and the more it will help you improve your search rankings.
Even with all the updates to Google’s ranking algorithm, building high-quality backlinks is still one of the most important signals to help your pages rank highly in competitive search results. Google has made many updates focused on identifying and penalizing spam links, so it’s not only important to learn basic link-building strategies, but to understand what makes a good link.
What makes a good link?
The key to a good link is context. A good link connects two sites in a way that provides value and is relevant to the content on both sites. If you sell socks and you get a link from a computer repair site, it might not be the best link — unless the site was talking about their favorite socks to wear while repairing computers.
There are dozens of other ways to look at good links versus bad links. There are footer links, paid links, and many others. However, if you just focus on a good link — one that provides context and value — you won’t have to waste time worrying about bad links.
Wherever your home, office, or storefront may be, your physical location gives you an angle to get unique local links. A local link is any link from a site based on its physical location. An example would be links from your hometown’s chamber of commerce site to small businesses that operate downtown. Even if your business doesn’t have a physical presence, you are still local just by being a small business.
Local links are a trust signal that helps Google attach real-world locations to your website. It’s also harder for your competitors to get these links because they have to be in your same location to reach them, so they add nice backlink diversity signals to your site.
To get local links, do a search for a local businesses (not yours) in your region and see where they are mentioned online. You’ll find local business associations, event pages, and personal sites. Add these to your outreach campaign that you built using the tips above.
Lost and broken links
Finding broken and lost links can be a quick way to win links back to your site. To do this, you can check for pages on your site that have links but are down (returning a 404 error). Use Google Search Console to check 404 pages on your site and see if they are getting links. Any links to 404 pages will not be counted for SEO.
To find these in Google Search Console, go to Crawl > Crawl Errors > Not Found and then click on the URL returning a 404 and click the link from the tab. Ahrefs also offers a broken link report that you can use and then reclaim links, along with the Open Site Explorer from Moz.
Once you find the 404, publish the page (make sure it’s the same URL), and resubmit your sitemap or the page itself through Google Search Console to get those links back.
The keys to local SEO
Local SEO has become much more important in recent years. According to Google data, 76% of people who conduct a local search on their smartphone visit a physical place within 24 hours and 28% of those searches result in a purchase. Local SEO helps your website show up in these search results. Local results pages look very different from normal search results. These are queries where Google has decided approximation to a local area is an important factor. So if you look for sandwiches, Google believes the best results to show you are businesses that offer sandwiches in the city you search from.
The amount of queries tagged as local is growing, along with the amount of special additions to those search result pages.
Local search results have a lot of different pieces that make them stand out from non-local results. These are designed to help searchers find relevant information and can be defined by location.
There are tons of ways for users to interact with your content in local search results, so it’s not just about being in the number-one slot.
NAP (name, address, phone)
Your name, address, and phone (NAP) is an important early signal for local search. It establishes your physical location, whether it’s a home-based office or an actual storefront. Make sure your NAP is visible on your website. Some of the best places to include NAP include your contact page and in the footer on every page. You want to make sure you use the same NAP information when you list your business in external places, like listing sites.
Listing sites are the driving force behind local SEO. Search engines know they are some of the first places customers look for local information, so the sites are used to match location and send relevance signals.
- Google My Business: The first thing you need to do to improve your local SEO is get your listing set on Google’s local service. This will help you get found in local search packs and Google Maps. It’s free and a must for all businesses.
- Yelp: This site is still one of the most popular listing services for a variety of industries, and it’s free to create a listing.
- Bing Places for Business: Listing your business on Bing’s local business listing service will help for Bing local search.
- Facebook: This site is vital not only for the traffic and attention you’ll find on Facebook, but a Facebook business page ranks remarkably well for many searches.
- Nextdoor: With over 100 million monthly visitors, the Nextdoor community is very active. Claim your free business listing, and you can market to that community with one of NextDoor’s advertising options or with free Business Posts.
- Better Business Bureau: The BBB is good for additional trust signals and business verification.
- YP.com: Listing your business in the Yellow Pages sends strong local review signals for a variety of verticals.
It’s also important to check on listing sites that are specific to your business. Potential customers will certainly reference these places and so will search engines. Examples include TripAdvisor or Angi. Do a quick search for your business vertical + “review sites” to double check so you don’t miss any valuable listing sites.
Always do a search on a listing site for a previous listing before creating a new profile or updating an old one. Duplicate listings confuse customers and can be bad for business, especially because they might cause legitimate listings to get flagged for spam and removed. This happens more often than you might think, usually if you move business locations, change names, or make updates to important business information.
Reviews are extremely important as both a ranking signal and a traffic driver. According to the Local SEO Ranking Factor Study, businesses with lots of reviews tend to rank higher in local search. A lot of this is probably because the more reviews you have, the more likely someone is to click through and visit your site, and click-through rates will help improve search ranking. However, it is totally possible that reviews, both rating and volume, have an impact on position in search results.
Try and work reviews into your normal business activities. Running a great business is the main way to get great reviews, but there are some other strategies you can use to accelerate your review counts. There are two different types of reviews you can gather: reviews on external listing sites like Yelp or Google My Business, and reviews you gather and place on your website. Both types of reviews are important for SEO.
For listing site review sites, you can email customers after they make a purchase or receive a product, thanking them for their business and encouraging them to share feedback on Yelp or Google My Business, including a link to your profiles on both. You could also create a page or section on your contact page that encourages people to share their experience with your business. You could take the best ones and post them on your site, or reach out to people with positive reviews and ask them to share it on a review site.
Once you start getting reviews, it’s also important to engage with them. Respond to reviews, both positive and negative. Google likes to see businesses listening to and interacting with their customers, and it also shows customers that you’re paying attention.
SEO focused on product and store pages is known as eCommerce SEO. With these strategies you can turn your products into vehicles for inbound traffic. The best part is that these SEO programs drive the most valuable traffic you can find. Product (or service) pages are inherently conversion-focused, and visitors to those pages from search are already thinking about your product. Therefore, ranking in these search results gives you the best return on investment and the chance to drive sales quickly.
Product page SEO
Build out the content on your product page. To start, add a long description. Update the title tag, the page URL, and the meta description. Use keyword research to pick the optimum keyword targets for the content on these product pages.
Structured data markup, also known as schema markup, is now automatically included on your product pages in Square Online. Structured data gives you rich snippets that will help improve click-through and look better in search results. Rich snippets are special results snippets that show additional information that’s not in the metadata, providing a more engaging search result. Information can include:
Link building for eCommerce
After working on content and keywords, your eCommerce SEO needs links to your product pages. To build links for your product pages, you need to take a slightly different approach from general link building.
Start by reaching out to business connections for testimonials and links back to your site. Any providers you use might want to use you as a testimonial on their website, and manufacturers are typically happy to share where consumers can find their goods. A business is one big network of other businesses, so tap this network for easy link opportunities. If you use an accountant or a lawyer, they probably have a website and will be willing to link back to you as well.
You should also try to find other products and businesses that complement your offerings. Look for other companies selling things that would pair well with what you offer. Reach out and see if there’s an opportunity to work together. You can link from each other’s product pages, offer announcements, or blog posts.
Google Product Listings
Google Listings, which can be activated as part of your Google My Business profile, allows you to share your product catalog across Google Search and Google Images. If you sell gold butterfly earrings, for example, and a customer searched that term on Google, they may see the image and product listing for your earrings and will be routed to the product in your Square Online store if they click on it. To surface your products in Google Listings, you’ll need to also have a Google Merchant Center account. Learn more about how you can connect your product catalog to Google Listings and increase sales.
Analysis and performance
SEO tracking helps you understand value and opportunity. With the right analysis, you can begin to understand movement in search results and use your knowledge to build a better SEO program.
The first tracking skill is to know when you change rank. Google Search Console is one of the best tools to track your page rank over time. You want to see when things are changing on search pages sooner than later.
Sometimes traffic drops are due to broader search engine changes and not in your control. Sometimes it’s because a competitor is now stronger. These are all important changes that you can understand and use to improve your SEO program. Once you see these changes, you can update the pages affected by them.
You should also take time to identify pages that may not have moved in search, but have an opportunity to rank higher. For example, track pages that rank on page two for keywords, or track keywords in positions four to seven. In either scenario, if you move up a few spots, you could immediately double or triple the traffic you currently receive from those terms.
It’s also important to look at pages receiving search traffic. Study all the traffic coming to a page and see if it’s actually helping your business grow. Pages will rank for keywords you might not have targeted. This could give you valuable business insight into relevant terms customers search for that you didn’t even know about.
If people stop clicking on your site or bounce from your site back to search, it’s a strong signal that other pages on the SERP are more valuable and should be ranked in front of you. To check this and potentially make optimization decisions, look at your bounce rates from search traffic in Google Analytics and check click-through rates in Google Search Console. If you start to see dramatic changes or negative trends, update your page title, page description, and page content to try and be more relevant to what people are searching for.