How to Optimize Your Website for SEO Purposes

So, you want to optimize a new or existing site for SEO purposes, and you wonder if this will make it rank higher in Google’s search results? Here’s a true story.

I decided to kill this site a while ago. Not the entire website, but a page that has been ranking organically in Google’s top 5 for years. The page was optimized for a competitive keyword with a monthly search volume of about 1,000 and a $15 CPC (cost-per-click).

That keyword has sent me qualified SEO leads for years. I can understand why some people would call my action “madness”. I call it an “SEO experiment”, though.

I decided to tweak the page title for two months. I changed it from the targeted keyword to one that was SEO-related, but didn’t have a commercial intent.

Aren’t you curious to know what happened? I know I was!

how to optimize your website for seo

Just by changing the title, my rankings moved from #5 to #14. Google thought that my page wasn’t relevant for that keyword anymore, even though the actual page content did not change!

Yes, even a minor change like this can make a website profitable, or send it into the web abyss. Because if your site doesn’t show up on Google’s first page, people will never see it, so they won’t buy your stuff.

That is why it’s critical to optimize your website for SEO purposes. If you want to build an SEO-optimized site from scratch, or want to redesign an existing website, making it SEO-friendly, this article will walk you through the entire process, step by step.

1. Keyword research and analysis

Everything starts with keyword research. If you target the wrong keywords, you will waste your time and money trying to rank for keywords that don’t convert visitors into customers.

So, how can you do proper keyword research? Most people use Google’s Keyword Planner, but this means that almost everyone is targeting the same sets of keywords. If you go this route, your chances of discovering great keywords, which have a good commercial value and low competition, are quite slim.

Here’s how you can do thorough keyword research (and do it fast!) using Ahrefs, a powerful SEO tool. You can take their $7 “Standard” trial, and then cancel your account. I guarantee that you will save a lot of time.

Begin by researching your top 10 competitors’ URLs. To get them, type in a few of your targeted keywords into Google’s search box, and then see which websites show up consistently.

Let’s imagine that you want to create a website that offers online marketing services. I will use the “SEO company” keyword as a starting point. This is what people from San Jose, California see when they search for “SEO company”.

seo company search results

I will limit the number of competitors to 3 for this article. Be sure to evaluate the top 10 ranking websites for all your projects, though.

Don’t study business directories, company review sites, etc. in the image above isn’t relevant, for example. Only pick websites that are run by your direct competitors to do your analysis.

Input your competitors’ URLs into Ahrefs “Site Explorer”, one at a time. Then, click the “Organic keywords” link in the left side menu.

competitor organic keywords

Export the keyword lists for the top 10 sites, and then merge all the keywords into a single Excel spreadsheet.

With my top 3 sites, I have gotten a list of 8,000+ keywords. After removing the duplicates, the list was shrunken to 4,107 unique keywords.

merged keywords lists

It would take me several days of work to go through the entire list! Fortunately, there is an easy way of getting rid of useless keywords: we will filter them according to their CPC.

sort keywords according to ppc values

Why do we sort the keywords this way? Because companies are paying a lot of money – up to $145 per click! – to have their ads displayed in Google’s search results, whenever people are typing these keywords. Business owners don’t like to waste their money, so keywords that have a big CPC are very profitable.

My recommendation is to delete all the keywords that have a CPC value of under one dollar. It is true that some industries rely on search volume, rather than traffic quality, so use your common sense.

If you still have more than 3,000 keywords, you can also remove the ones that have monthly search volumes below 50. Each industry has its specifics, so feel free to adjust this limit as needed.

Okay, so now we’ve got a list of unique keywords that have a decent monthly search volume and a good commercial value. Companies pay at least a dollar for each visitor that clicks an ad and arrives at their websites.

You don’t have to use my Ahrefs-based competitor keyword research method, of course. You can use Google’s Keyword Planner, but you will miss several profitable keywords. Not to mention that if you don’t have an active AdWords campaign, you will see ranges (rather than actual values) for the monthly search volumes.

2. SEO keyword mapping

You will be surprised, but some of the high CPC keywords on your filtered list will be useless. In fact, the list I’ve created for this article includes several keywords I’d never want to rank for.

How is this possible? Well, Google’s algorithm isn’t perfect, so it will make mistakes.

Also, some sites get hacked, and hackers add their own pages and affiliate links, using the authority of the host website to rank fast for those unwanted keywords.

So, just because a keyword is profitable, it doesn’t mean that you will want to rank for it. We need to go through all the keywords on the list, one at a time.

This phase of the process is called “keyword mapping”. We want to reverse engineer the searchers’ intent for each keyword. In other words, we want answers to these questions: “What are they searching for?” and “What do they actually want?”.

Our goal is to create website pages and blog posts that are optimized for the search queries/keywords that interest our visitors.

Start by creating a copy of your keyword list, and then work on it. You don’t want to destroy your filtered list, and then start the entire keyword research process again.

Then, create a new sheet for each category, pasting each keyword into the appropriate sheet. Let’s map the first ten keywords together!

keyword mapping example

The 1st keyword – “adwords” is too vague. Yes, it’s got a huge search volume, but lots of these searches come from people who want to learn about AdWords, and aren’t necessarily interested in purchasing your AdWords Management services.

The 2nd keyword – “search engine optimization” is better. It’s not laser-targeted, but companies are willing to pay Google $13 per click for it. This keyword is profitable, so we will create a sheet for its category.

We will name the new sheet “search engine optimization”, and the URL of the website category will be “search-engine-optimization”. We can always change these names later, when we discover better keywords.

seo keywords and categories

The 3rd keyword – “deals and steals” is irrelevant. We will simply ignore it.

The 4th and 5th keywords – “seo services” and “seo company” belong to the same “search engine optimization” category, so we will add them to the same sheet.

The 6th keyword – “reputation management” must be included in a new category, so we will create a new sheet for it.

reputation management keywords

The 7th keyword – “web design company” falls into a new category, so we create a new sheet for it as well.

The 8th keyword – “wordpress seo” gets its own category and sheet.

The 9th keyword – “online reputation management” will be added to a “reputation management” sheet.

Finally, the 10th keyword – “social media campaign” will be added to a new “social media” sheet.

Repeat the process until you go through all the keywords in the filtered list. Here are the categories that I have gotten after going through 300+ keywords.

– Home page (“online marketing” keywords);
– Search engine optimization;
– Pay per click;
– Email marketing;
– E-commerce SEO;
– Content creation;
– Mobile advertising;
– Social media campaigns;
– Web design;
– Reputation management;
– WordPress SEO;
– Blog posts.

Here’s the content of the “search engine optimization” sheet.

search engine optimization keywords

The “Blog posts” sheet includes several useful blog posts ideas: “what is search engine optimization”, “how to switch to https”, “what makes a good website”, “how to manage your online reputation”, and so on. If you have a big keyword list, you will get enough blog posts ideas to create a content roadmap that can last for years!

3. SEO-based competitor research

You may have noticed that I ignored SEO competition (“Difficulty”) until now. Here’s why: I may not be able to rank on Google’s first page for a very difficult keyword, but I will rank for several related, long-tail keywords, which can bring in an equivalent amount of high-quality traffic.

There are over 62,000 monthly searches (ms) for the SEO-related keywords in the sheet above. But let’s assume that you will only be able to get first page rankings for a few keywords, which have less than 1,000 ms. These keywords are typed in 10,350 times into Google’s search box each month.

If you manage to get the #1 spot for a particular keyword, your website will receive 20…40% of its associated monthly traffic. Here’s a graph that shows Google’s typical click-through rates.

expected google click through rates

Let’s assume that you have gotten the top spot for “search engine optimization companies”. It’s got 700 monthly searches, and you are getting about 30% of the visitors – that would be 210 people per month.

If your website’s conversion rate is 2%, you will get 210 * 0.02 = 4 clients per month. If each client pays you $1,000 and your net earnings per client are $600, you will have a monthly net income of $600 x 4 = $2,400 from that keyword alone.

This example isn’t 100% accurate, of course, but it can quickly show you if an online-based business has the chances of being profitable or not. It helps you validate a potential business idea fast, without spending any money.

Since your website has several pages and it will rank fine for several keywords, its earning potential is much bigger than this.

People working in competitive industries should examine their top 10 competitors’ SEO metrics before attacking their keywords, though. Sometimes the search volume may be too small, and you may not be able to outrank your competitors.

You can study the top 10 competitors using your favorite SEO analysis tool, or finish the entire task in only two minutes using Market Samurai.

Create a new project using one of your best keywords, and then click the “SEO Competition” button. Click “Generate Results” and you will see your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses in a single window.

market samurai competitor research

– “DA” is the acronym for “Domain Age”. Newly bought domains don’t carry that much authority. Still, if your domain is at least a year old, this shouldn’t worry you.

– “CF” is the short version of “Citation Flow”, the number of links that are pointing to a website. It’s not a relevant metric, because it can be easily gamed.

– “TF” measures a website’s “Trust Flow”, evaluating the quality of the links that point to it. If there are lots of high TF sites in top 10, the competition will be fierce. Stay away from competitors who have sites with TF > 30.

– “IC” refers to “Indexed Content”. Back in the day, sites with more pages were ranking better. Everything changed with the Google Panda update, and now quality trumps quantity. Feel free to ignore this metric.

– “RDD”, “RDP”, “BLP” and “BLD” count the number of domains that point to your competitors’ domains and pages. Don’t waste your time trying to outrank websites which have millions of links –, and in the image above.

– “BLEG” stands for “Backlinks from Educational and Government websites”. Some of these links can be very powerful, but don’t let this stand in your way.

– Finally, “Title”, “URL”, “Desc” and “Head” will specify if the targeted keyword can be found in your competitors’ page titles, website URLs, description tags and H1 tags. All of these are powerful on-page SEO factors, and they show if your competitors have optimized their websites for that particular keyword.

As a conclusion, use Market Samurai to check your competitors’ DA, TF, RDD, RDP, BLP, BLD, Title, URL, Desc and Head. Ignore all the keywords that are way too competitive.

Here’s another top 10 example, which shows why the website that’s got the #8 spot can be outranked without too much effort.

weak top10 competitor

That website has got a TF value of zero, a small number of RDDs and BLDs, and a page that isn’t optimized for the target keyword.

Analyzing your top 10 competitors is useful, but not mandatory. This is especially true if you target lots of long-tail keywords, which have a small monthly search volume and less competition. Nevertheless, if you want to eliminate any risk, a top 10 competitor analysis will help you understand who you are fighting with.

4. Choose a good domain name

You have discovered many great keywords, and you have mapped them. You have analyzed your top 10 competitors, keeping the keywords you can rank for. It’s time to purchase the best domain name.

Start this phase of the process by thinking at your target market. Who are your ideal customers? And will your domain name idea be appealing to them? Is it short, punchy and easy to remember?

Always go for a .com domain name. Don’t ever pick a .online, .rock, etc domain. They may look cool to some people, but you want to buy a domain that will rank high in Google.

Use one of these online services to discover great domain names:

a) Instant Domain Search if you already know what you want. Go to that website, and then type in the desired domain name; you will see its availability in real time. Make minor changes (use synonyms, plurals, etc.) until you discover the best .com domain.

instant domain search

Domains that display a green bar below their names are available, so you can purchase them. Move the mouse over the three green dots, and you will get access to several useful options. You can check if the corresponding user accounts are available at the top social media sites, for example.

b) Lean Domain Search is a better option if you are looking for ideas. The website will add several terms at the beginning and end of your targeted keyword, and then it will show you what .com domain names are available.

lean domain search

You can sort the domains according to their popularity, length or alphabetically. The site will also tell you if the desired Twitter user name is available.

Always pick a domain name that allows your business to grow. Don’t go for “” if you plan to offer SEO services in the entire country in the future.

5. Choose a good website hosting company

This section is short because I can’t recommend a specific hosting company. Amazon Web Services has a more complex setup, but it works great for me. I have built several sites that load in under a second – see for yourself.

web page test results

To verify the quality of your hosting account, install WordPress, and then check its loading speed using the Web Page Test service. If loading time exceeds two seconds, ask for a refund, and then move on to the next hosting provider.

Be prepared to spend some money for a high-quality web hosting account. Prices can range from $20 to $200 per month, depending on your requirements (loading speed, estimated number of monthly visitors, additional services, etc.)

6. Install and configure WordPress

Most providers use cPanel, a hosting control panel which makes installing WordPress a breeze. Simply log into cPanel, and then click the “QuickInstall” icon.

cpanel quick install

Pick “WordPress” from the list, and fill in the needed details. Then, press the “Install WordPress” button.

install wordpress

Don’t ever use “admin” for the “Admin User” name. This is the default name for most WordPress installations, so you will make it really easy for hackers to get into your site. Always use admin names such as “xy32tyM47”.

Now that WordPress is installed, it’s time to customize it. Log in using the provided user name and password, and then make these changes:

a) Choose “Users” -> “Your Profile”. Set a user-friendly “Nickname”, and then have it displayed publicly, instead of using your real “Username”.

wordpress nickname

b) Pick “Settings” -> “General”, and then set the “Site title” and “Tagline”.

website title and tagline

Make sure to use the best keyword in the “Home Page” category for your website tagline. This is a strong ranking factor.

c) Create two pages: one that has the same name as your tagline (main keyword), which will be used for the home page, and one that will be used for your blog posts.

home page and blog posts

d) Choose “Settings” -> “Reading”, and then pick the option to display a static page for your Home Page. Pick the proper pages for “Front page” and “Posts page”.

wordpress reading settings

e) Select “Settings” -> “Permalinks”, and then choose the “Post name” option. This way, your page and article titles will be included in the website URLs by default.

wordpress permalinks settings

Keywords in URLs are another important ranking factor. And since your titles must include the targeted keywords, the resulting URLs will include them as well, giving your website an SEO boost.

7. Install a good WordPress theme

It is time to install a niche-related WordPress theme, which will make your website look professional. There are three possible options.

a) Use a free WordPress theme. Choose “Appearance” -> “Themes” -> “Add New Theme”, and you will see a huge list of free themes.

add a wordpress theme

Use the search box in the upper right corner to find themes that were built for a specific industry.

Still, you shouldn’t use free themes for projects you care about. You want to use a theme that won’t be discontinued in a year, and comes with tech support.

b) A much better option is to purchase a WordPress theme. Websites like Theme Forest offer tens of thousands of high-quality themes, and their prices range from $30 to $60.

Most of these themes include detailed manuals and tutorials, and you can ask their developers any questions that you may have, in case that you get stuck.

c) The best solution is to work with a web designer and get a custom, high-quality WordPress theme that matches all your expectations.

No matter what theme you use, don’t necessarily go for one that claims to be “SEO optimized”. Very few people understand the inner aspects of search engine optimization, and some SEO plugins do a much better job.

8. Use the best free SEO plugins for WordPress

I install two SEO plugins every time I set up a new site for one of my clients. Choose “Plugins” -> “Add new” in WordPress’ dashboard to find and install them.

a) Yoast SEO

This is by far the best SEO plugin out there! Install it, and then you will see a new section appear below each post or page.

yoast seo

Click the “Edit snippet” button, and you will get access to the plugin’s key SEO options.

key yoast seo features

– “SEO title” is the title of your page or blog post. You already know that “keyword in title” is a powerful ranking factor, so be sure to include your targeted keyword here.

– “Slug” sets the URL of your blog post or page. In my case, the ” best-white-hat-seo-techniques” slug will create the URL. Be sure to include the targeted keyword here as well.

– “Meta description” is what Google will (hopefully) pick and add below your page title in its search results. Include your keyword as close to its beginning as possible. Also, use this opportunity to entice people to click through to your article.

meta description tag example

Sometimes Google will pick a few random words or phrases from the page, rather than using your SEO-optimized description. If this happens to you, try to rewrite the description. It’s not guaranteed that it will fix the problem, because Google sets the rules. Still, it is always a good idea to optimize the meta description tag.

– “Focus keyword” is the keyword you want to rank for, with that blog post or page.

yoast focus keyword

The plugin will highlight several factors that have the potential to help your content rank higher: keyword density, meta description length, number of inbound links, etc.

Don’t butcher your content trying to get all the items green, though. Google is much smarter than that.

b) Google Analytics for WordPress This plugin will help you track the number of website visitors. Here are the plugin settings I’m using.

google analytics plugin

Get the “UA code” from your Google Analytics account. To test if visitor tracking works, go to Google Analytics -> REAL-TIME -> Overview. Open a “New incognito window” (Google Chrome), “New InPrivate window” (Microsoft Edge) or “New Private Window” (Mozilla Firefox), and then open your website URL. You should see a new visitor on your site after a few seconds.

google analytics real time traffic

Congratulations! You have built an SEO-optimized website that is ready for content.

9. Write SEO-friendly content

Posts and pages are very similar from an SEO perspective. We use pages for resources that should be featured permanently in the website menu, and posts for resources that discuss a topic which belongs to a specific category.

Use the keyword map to create the needed pages and blog posts. Here are the key guidelines that must be followed:

a) Include the targeted keyword in the page/article title and in the URL. Shorten the URL, if needed, but keep the entire keyword.

seo optimized articles

b) Similar keywords should be included in the same page or post. Don’t create separate pages for keywords like these:

search engine optimization company
seo marketing companies
seo firm

Group similar keywords, and then pick one as your main target. Then, use the other keywords in the content, as headings, etc. whenever it is possible to do that in a natural way. If a keyword can’t fit in naturally, ignore it.

c) Use “People also ask” and “Searches related to”, and you will discover lots of ideas that can be used in your blog posts and pages.

Search for the targeted keyword in Google, and then take a look at the “People also ask” section. You will see lots of relevant questions, which are actually typed by people into Google’s search box. And each time you click one of the questions, the list will grow.

people also ask and related searches

The “searches related to” section can be found at the bottom of Google’s search results pages. Yes, go through several pages of search results, and you may end up with a list of dozens of great ideas for your article sections.

Let’s use the “How to manage your online reputation” article idea as an example. I can easily write a detailed article by answering some of the “People also ask” questions.

What does online reputation mean?
How do you protect your online reputation?
How do I clean up my online reputation?
What is a reputation management system?
What does an online reputation manager do?
What is corporate reputation management?

Some of these suggestions can also be used for article headings, of course.

d) Create the article outlines in one go, and then save them as drafts. They won’t be published, so nobody will be able to see them until you write the actual content and hit the “Publish” button.

e) It’s time to start writing! Create amazing, comprehensive content that is packed with useful, actionable information. Make sure that your content includes at least some of the related keywords from your list, as well as a few keywords that were suggested by Google. However, you shouldn’t make this your primary goal.

Write your content using short paragraphs, and separate them using white space, images, etc. Use stats, relevant graphics, videos, and so on, whenever they add value to your article. Each word/image/video should have its clear purpose. Don’t just add a stock photo to your articles; it is much better to create and use a graph that is based on fresh industry data, for example.

Write articles that answer your visitors’ questions fully, explaining everything there is to know about the targeted topic. If you do proper research, your content pieces will easily exceed 1,000+ words. Don’t focus on content length, though. Keep your content 100% meaty.

Post links to related articles at the end of each content piece. You want to keep the readers on your site, because Google rewards longer dwell times with higher rankings.

I use a “Further reading” section at the end of my articles, suggesting several related, useful articles.

As you now know, building a website that’s fully optimized for SEO purposes from scratch isn’t that complicated. It takes time, of course, but the results are well worth the effort.

Further reading:

101 White Hat SEO Tips

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