What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO), is the process by which owners of websites make their content as attractive as possible. They want content to rank highly in relevant searches on search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
Billions of Websites and the Competition
The internet is a very, very big place. In fact, it is so big that no one really even knows how big it is. The range of estimates vary widely, but they center on a billion. A billion websites.
That's 20 times as many books as the entire collection of the New York Public Library.
How Smart Are Search Engines?
Search Engines use automated programs (sometimes called Bots or Spiders) to browse the internet and then create a gigantic index of their content.
Then they use a number of techniques to figure out which of those billion websites might be the most relevant search results when someone opens up a web browser and types in "Vegetarian Chili Recipes" or "Best Web Hosting for WordPress."
We can divide SEO practices into two general categories: On-page content SEO and off-site SEO activity.
How to Have Good On-page SEO
The most important aspect of Search Engine Optimization is good on-page content.
Search engines want to be able to look at a page and determine what the page is about.
This is primarily dependent on how high-quality that content is likely to be.
- Ideal Article Length
- Keyword Use
- Text Originality
- Structure and Clean Markup
- Images and Media.
Ideal Article Length
Single-topic articles between 500 and 1000 words, lots of them, on related subjects. These aid a website in boosting reader and visitor engagement.
Relevant cross-linking between articles as well as links off-site to relevant content. The best pages and posts have both internal and external links - all relevant of course.
Clear keyword use in the title of the page, within section headings, and in the URL. The content should also contain the main keywords, ideally listed in the keyword content plan prior to publishing.
Fluently-written and original text. Search engines have unique algorithms to detect text originality. The quality of your text can also be recognized as search engines like Google become smarter.
Structure and Markup
Structured data when appropriate, such as the Facebook's Open Graph protocol or schema.org's markup. A clean markup is essential for good SEO overall.
Images and Media
Images with relevant alt text, captions, and file names. Moving images and videos are also a great way of adding interactive content.
Bad for On-Page SEO
There are a number of qualities which can damage your on-page SEO. While they may seem minor, they affect your page's score in the long run. Some of these are:
- Broken or incomplete markup
- Accidentally hiding content
- Deliberately hiding content
- Outdated page structures.
Hiding content could be accidental by Flash or AJAX, alternatively deliberate from humans. Page structures must also be kept up to date for decent SEO scores.
Off-site SEO activity
Search engines analyze your on-page content to determine what it is about and if it is likely to be of high quality. How do they determine that it is relevant? Primarily, by looking at who else links to it, and how they do so.
Website Linking and Credibility
When one website links to another website, search engines consider it a "vote" in favor of that website. They consider it a small sign that at least one person thinks that this webpage is worth looking at.
The more links a site gets, the more credible it appears to be. On top of that, the more credible a site gets, the more its votes (links) count.
High-Quality Links for Better Ranking
If a very famous site links to your blog, that does more for your SEO than if a little-known site does so. Social media marketing has an impact as well. If a lot of people share a link on Facebook, and then a lot of other people like that link.
Search engines consider this a sign that the link refers to a high-quality site that people want to see. High-quality links naturally boost the 'score' of your site, aiding your on-page SEO. This results in better overall ranking across search engines.
Despite its status as a mysterious strategy for marketing a website, search engine optimization is actually not that difficult to complete on your own - you just need to know the right fields to edit and the right keywords to put in there.
Below are some of the most important areas of your website to edit as you are optimizing your website for success in the search engines.
Optimized Title Tags
In search engine optimization, your title tag is one of the most important areas to tweak for ranking improvements of your website. A general rule of thumb for title tag optimization is to start the tag with the most important.
Start with the most generic keyword phrase you want the page to rank for ("Web Hosting" or "Funny T-shirts," for instance). Following this, add a descriptive phrase or series for keywords ("For WordPress Websites" or "For Adults And Children") to further describe the topic of the page.
Search Engine Title Tag Requirements
Be sure to include your brand name in the title tag also. Try to limit the number of characters to between 50 and 70 characters in length. Title tag requirements do vary, so it's worth keeping up to date.
On the Internet, content headings and subheadings break up the text on a webpage. There are great user benefits to this. It can make text easier on the eyes and help users to scan a page of information for efficient reading.
However, optimizing your content headings with keywords can also provide benefits to help your pages rank better in the search engines.
Key Phrase Placement in Headings
Consider writing your page headings and content subheadings with your target keyword phrases. Ensure the phrases are as close to the front of the headings as possible.
A good example is: "Web Hosting For WordPress: Reviews And Rankings Of The Best Web Hosts" or "Funny T-shirts: The Most Popular Funny Shirts For Adults And Children!"
Most search engines crawl the links included in the content of your website and use the text of the links as a way to better understand the topic of a webpage.
If your website is a specific topic (say web hosting or t-shirts), it is a good idea for your SEO campaign to add links to your pages about "WordPress Web Hosting" or "Funny T-shirts". These links should link to articles, blog posts, or other pieces of content where you talk about "WordPress" or "funny" items.
How Web Hosting Affects SEO
Search engines want to deliver excellent, highly relevant content, regardless of where it is hosted. There's no magic that a hosting company can do, but there are a handful of ways in which web hosting services can affect your SEO:
- Page load speed
- Ease of management
- IP address diversity
- Applications that are already optimized.
Let's break down those factors in more detail.
Loading Times and User Experience
Google has said for years that loading speed affects rankings. It makes sense, no visitor wants to wait a long time to see a page - it's a bad user experience.
Page load speed can mainly be divided into 2 areas: your website content, and your hosting server.
7 Ways How Servers Affect Speed and SEO
But your hosting server can play a huge role in page speed. When a visitor comes to your website, their browser makes a request to your server for the page. Your server is responsible for fetching the right data and transferring it.
If you compare how long a page takes to load on a bad host to on a top host, the difference can be up to several seconds. This is bad for SEO and any other form of marketing.
There are 7 main ways that servers directly affect speed:
- Server Type
- Server Speed
- Available Resources
- Content Distribution Network (CDN)
- WordPress Optimization.
There are 2 main types of servers, Apache and Nginx. The vast majority of hosting services are based on Apache servers.
Apache is good at some things, like flexibility and power. It has a huge community behind it. It supports a wide array of software, like cPanel for hosting.
Nginx Advantages for SEO
But Nginx is better at other things, most importantly, it is usually faster. There isn't too much difference at a low level of traffic, but Nginx scales much better than Apache.
The best SEO web hosting leverages both server types. They offer plans that are based on Apache, but then use Nginx as a reverse proxy to optimize how fast page requests are handled.
If you're on a shared hosting plan, your traffic likely isn't at a point where you'd see a huge difference. But if you're on a VPS or above, choosing a host that incorporates Nginx can be a significant SEO win.
For any product, you can buy a cheap version or an expensive one. The expensive one usually wins. Servers are no different. Some hosts invest in the latest top of the line servers, while other hosts buy older, cheaper, lower performance servers.
Additionally, many hosts have started offering SSD storage space. SSDs perform certain common server operations several times faster than standard HDDs, which further increases server speed.
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Put simply, server caching allows you to store a version of popular pieces of content for faster retrieval.
This prevents your server from having to assemble the data from scratch each time. The benefit that caching will bring you depends on the complexity and popularity of pages.
The leading hosts who really care about server speed build their own proprietary caching systems. These are always prominently featured on their website and plan details because it's a big investment on their end.
As your website receives more traffic, issues of scalability can come into play. You don't want your load speeds to slow to crawl once you start getting more search traffic (or go viral). The better your server handles the extra traffic, the more scalable it is said to be.
Scalability is also impacted by your host's infrastructure on certain types of plans like virtual private servers (VPSs). Some hosts will scale up the number of resources your site gets more generously than others. This is tough to know ahead of time, but be aware of it.
Every time someone visits your site and load a page, that data needs to be transferred from your server to their browser. This is how bandwidth is consumed.
Depending on the hosting plan you're on, you may have a very limited amount of bandwidth. Once you hit this limit, your data transfer speed will either be throttled or shut down completely.
Content Distribution Network (CDN)
A CDN consists of data centers and their servers. In the context of hosting, a CDN typically has data centers all around the world, in many locations. Using a CDN with your website allows you to store content in those data centers (usually media).
Then, when someone visits your site and requests that content, the CDN delivers it from the closest data center to that visitor. This results in the fastest possible loading time.
You can use a CDN with any website, regardless of host. However, some hosts offer free CDNs and integrate easily with them. Keep that in mind when looking at hosting plans.
Optimized for WordPress
Servers can often be optimized for certain programming languages and frameworks.
It's not usually worth it for a host to create servers specifically for one framework. It could prevent potential customers that don't use that framework for signing up.
So most servers are generally configured to perform decently in most cases. However, one specific framework is so popular that hosts have made the extra effort to create special server configurations for it. That host is WordPress.
WordPress-specific hosting packages put your WordPress site on servers that are specifically optimized to improve WordPress performance.
Stability and SEO
Just like how a slow loading page is a bad experience for searchers, so is clicking a link and finding that the website is down.
Any good SEO web host offers an uptime guarantee. The higher this is, the less your site will be down.
Keep in mind that every extra decimal helps. For example, a 99% uptime means that your website is down for a bit over 7 hours per month, while a 99.9% uptime means that it is down for about 44 minutes.
Why Ease of Management Will Affect Your SEO
This is an indirect hosting factor that can affect your SEO. You have tons of things you can work on to make your site better, and improve your SEO, but you have limited time.
If your host is constantly a pain to use, that leaves less time available for the work that actually benefits your SEO. Picking a host that provides you with a simple to use control panel is important. Luckily, most hosts offer cPanel nowadays, but not all do.
To make your administrative processes easier, watch out for a number of other factors when selecting a host:
Quality of Support
A major factor, how easy is it to sort out issues when things go wrong?
Availability of Support
Is the support team there 24/7 to assist? If not, what other options do you have? Ensure it is enough for your satisfaction.
Type of Control Panel
cPanel or Plesk? Which one do you prefer? Both are as good as each other, with brilliant user-interfaces and features.
If you're a solo team, does your host provide installation support? If not, you must think of other ways to get past installation obstacles.
Good database management can greatly make your SEO tasks easier. What sort of database options does your host offer?
Similarly, if you get frustrated by not being able to do something like make a simple redirect, you'll end up ignoring it because it's not critical. However, things like redirects can have an impact on your SEO.
IP Addresses and SEO Web Hosting
Google tends to group sites on the same IP address together. That has a few implications for SEO.
First, if you host multiple sites on a single hosting plan that has a single IP address, any links between the sites will have reduced link juice.
IP Addresses on Shared Hosting
Second, sharing an IP with dodgy sites isn't a good idea. Since shared hosting plans that are popular with SEO, it's possible that Google associates your site(s) with those shady sites. You could be penalized in some way as a result.
Ideally, you want your domain on its own IP address. There are different levels of IP diversity. For the sake of simplicity, look for hosts that offer multiple dedicated IP addresses (for a single domain), or c-class IP addresses (for multiple sites on one plan).
Which Hosting Applications are Best for SEO?
Pretty much all hosting plans come with some sort of website builder, or way to install applications.
Just about every customized cPanel that a host gives to customers will be able to install the most popular content management systems (CMSs):
As well as e-commerce management systems:
Those all have their own SEO strengths and weaknesses.
Hosting Plan Freebies
Some hosts bring more value to their packages by giving customers free access to premium plugins for those site builders, CMSs, or e-commerce solution. The most common ones that I've seen are BoldGrid and W3 Total Cache Pro.
Many of those plugins help optimize their respective parent software for search. These are not a huge deal usually. You could purchase them separately, but could be a nice freebie for you.
Which Plan Type is Best for Your SEO?
Most hosts offer a variety of hosting plans, and if you're not used to technical web development terminology, it can get confusing.
The right plan for you depends a lot on your project. Before we break down each hosting type in greater details, a quick side-by-side comparison won't hurt.
|Shared Hosting||Shared resources, therefore lower performance||Low||Due to limited resource, this option is for smaller websites and businesses|
|VPS||Partitioned resources, although still limitations in performance||Reasonable||VPS hosting can support a growing business|
|Dedicated Server||Server for yourself, the highest performance of the three||High||Should a website or network of websites be expected to skyrocket in size, Dedicated Servers can handle it|
Main Types of SEO Hosting
There are 3 main types of plans that you'll see, although sometimes they have weird names.
Shared hosting for SEO
If you're just starting out with one or more small sites, a shared hosting plan is fine. It's the most basic and cheapest form of hosting, geared towards small businesses and hobbyists.
When you hear an SEO guru recommend Bluehost, they're referring to their cheap shared hosting.
As the name implies, you share resources with other customers, which means your site performance won't be the fastest.
If those other customers use a lot of resources, it can affect how fast your site loads.
Many of these plans claim to offer unlimited resources, but in reality, they're not unlimited. Once you use too many resources, they'll throttle your speed down to a crawl.
Limitations of Shared Hosting
If you're competing to rank for keywords with high competition, speed and stability make a big difference, and shared hosting won't be good enough.
Additionally, shared hosting slows down further if you have high levels of traffic. In short, shared hosting is fine to learn and test on, but isn't ideal for any serious SEO project.
Virtual private server (VPS) for SEO
This is the next level up in terms of performance and cost. With a VPS, you're technically still sharing servers with other customers.
The difference is that you have a certain amount of resources dedicated to your sites, so your website(s) won't be affected even if other customers are using a lot of resources.
Qualities and Perks of VPS Plans
The quality of a VPS can vary greatly between hosts. Compare the specific bandwidth and disk space available on each plan to get an estimate of how much traffic the plan can comfortably support.
The nice thing about a VPS is that it's usually easy to scale up. Some hosts even offer to auto-scale up the resources available to your sites if needed (like if your site went viral).
Dedicated servers for SEO
A dedicated server is a server all for yourself. You typically have root access and can put as many sites as you'd like on it.
Again, the quality will vary greatly depending on the specific plan and the host.
Unless you have hundreds of thousands, or millions of visitors a month, a dedicated server is probably overkilling. However, if budget is no issue, it's best for SEO.
3 Winners of SEO Hosting - Your Best Choices
There are 3 main SEO web hosting services that I would recommend when SEO is a big concern, depending on your situation and needs.
The difference between these hosts and a hosting provider like Bluehost is huge.
When I need to manage several sites (whether personal or for clients) for some sort of SEO project, my go-to web host service is SEOHosting.com. Each plan comes with a different number of unique c-class IP addresses.
It's a very simple website for a hosting business, devoid of most of the technical jargon that others are cluttered with. It's clearly designed specifically for SEO.
Value for SEO-Friendly Goods
All the plans are priced reasonably. Not cheap, but good value for what you get. The price depends on the type of plan you'd like (shared, VPS, dedicated), and how many sites you plan to host.
Importantly, all plans come with a standard cPanel and SSL encryption. 24/7/365 live chat support is also included. Finally, if you pick an annual hosting package, you get a free domain name.
SiteGround is a more traditional web hosting company but has a lot of features helpful for SEO.
First, it's probably the best host for leveraging Nginx with Apache.
Nginx is included into all shared and cloud hosting plans as a reverse proxy server.
It comes with certain add-ons on dedicated plans.
Storage and Freebies
Next, all plans come with a generous amount of SSD storage space.
Furthermore, their cloud hosting plans (essentially VPSs) have auto-scaling resources to accommodate traffic spikes.
Finally, you can get a free domain, SSL, and dedicated IP address on most plans.
Support and Money-Back Guarantee
SiteGround checks all the big boxes you should look for in SEO hosting. The support is incredible as well, both the live chat support and the thorough knowledge base.
It's not the cheapest web hosting, but of the highest quality, you'll find. There is a 30 day money back guarantee on shared plans if you'd like to test it out.
The 2 main things that A2 Hosting focuses on are speed and price.
They have a unique turbo server option for certain plans (even on some shared hosting).
They claim that turbo servers have 20x the speed of normal server due to the server design.
This consists of several tweaks and PHP specific configuration settings.
Perks and Speed
Each hosting plan also comes with free SSL and SSD storage.
There are several plans for each hosting type to pick from, so you'll find one that fits.
Overall the pricing is very good for this speed of web hosting.
On the cheap side compared to other hosts that focus on speed, you get a good deal.
Important Points About SEO Hosting
Key things to remember when looking for SEO web hosting:
- Speed - Do they integrate Nginx? A CDN? High-quality Servers?
- Stability - What uptime guarantee is offered?
- IP addresses - Do you get your own IP address(es)? Can you buy more if needed?
- Support - How easy is it to get help quickly to prevent downtime in emergencies?
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Other features in Specialty
- Multiple Domain hosting
- DDoS Protection
- Domain Name
- Streaming Audio/Video
- Green Hosting
- Unlimited Sites
SEO Frequently Asked Questions
- What is SEO?
SEO stands for "search engine optimization. It is a process to help webpages rank as highly as possible in search engines.
- What are organic search results?
Organic search results are listings on the search engine results page that appear solely because they are relevant to the search terms — as opposed to paid search results, which are essentially paid advertisements.
The SEO industry revolves around affecting visibility of the unpaid listings in the SERPs (search engine results pages).
- Where can I learn about SEO?
Google isn't the only search engine on the web, but it is the most popular, and the most sophisticated. A good place to start is the Google Search Console.
There are also a lot of websites dedicated to SEO like Moz.
- What is the Google Search Console?
Google Webmaster Tools, rebranded as Google Search Console in 2015, is a service to help you optimize a website.
It gives you access to data, tools, and diagnostics to help you optimize your website for Google's web crawler. There you can find free SEO training, which includes technical advice on: hosting, keyword research, web development, and lots more.
- What is Google Analytics?
Google Analytics is the most popular analytics tool on the market. It is freemium tracking software available to anyone with a Google+ account. You can monitor traffic on your website, and view statistics on things like the number of daily visitors on a page.
- Is affiliate marketing bad for SEO?
Search engines do detect affiliate links, but it should not affect your page rankings as long as your page adds value and is not just affiliate links.
- Is SEO for mobile different?
The technical principles of optimizing a website for mobile devices aren't much different from optimizing for desktops.
Two things you may want to consider optimizing is latency, and user experience (readability, responsive design).
You can use Google's Mobile-Friendly Test to see if a web page is easy to view on mobile devices.
- How important is link building?
Crawlers analyze links to find new web pages, and to determine the rank of web page. Web crawlers like GoogleBot place high importance on links. Links from reputable websites can help you, while links to sites deemed untrustworthy can hurt your rankings.
- Where can I test my site's performance?
You can use Google's PageSpeed Tools to see how well your site performs on mobile and desktop. The Google Search Console also has a number of diagnostic tools you can use to determine what areas of your website you can improve.
- Does Google's PageRank still matter?
The Google PageRank Toolbar is no longer part of the browser. But the PageRank algorithm is still enormously important to a page's ranking.
- Should I upload an XML sitemap?
Yes, it is still good practice to upload an XML sitemap to a search engine. Modern search engines don't require a sitemap in order to index your web pages, but doing so can help search engines index your pages faster.
- Do I need to submit my site to a search engine?
No, you don't need to submit your site to a search engine, but it is good practice to do so — especially if you have a new website that isn't well linked. Search engines make this easy, all you need to do is enter the URL into a form.
- How long does it take to see the results of SEO efforts?
Your SEO efforts can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to reflect in the SERPs. Ongoing SEO marketing campaigns, and branding efforts can take much longer to materialize.
- How has SEO changed over the years?
SEO has become more intricate as web crawlers have evolved. Indexing is much faster, more accurate, and more detailed. The quality of links is more important than in the past, as well as the importance of having a mobile-friendly website.