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Make 2018 the year you take your website’s SEO ranking from beginner to boss mode.

Search engine optimization (SEO). Some of the most misunderstood – and repeated – words in the digital-marketing matrix.  

You’ve talked about SEO, read about SEO, maybe even gone to a workshop or followed a blog discussing its ins and outs.  

You know you need to incorporate better SEO strategies into your website to grow traffic, capture leads – or maybe just get a better night’s sleep. But where and how do you start – and is it already too late?   

Thanks to Rand Fishkin and our content comrades at Moz for their 2018 SEO insight, we’ve been inspired to create a checklist of our own.

It’s a step-by-step guide to up your SEO game and boost your website’s ranking this year – plus some extra tips and terms only the insiders know.    

SEO in 2018 Step 1: Maximize all your URLs and embedded links to be clear, classable Google keyword-striking goldmines
Google uses its complex, “crawlable” search algorithms to find, sort, and classify your website. It surveys and targets a range of digital metrics, with one of emerging importance: URLs.  

Every link matters, and in 2018 we mean every. From your top-of-page target URL to your body copy anchor texts, hyperlinks, and even embedded links placed in images and videos, your website’s URLs should be teeming with clear and concrete keywords for Google’s “crawlers” to store in their ranking library.     

They’re dubbed “crawlers” because they literally crawl, point by digital point, through your copy, looking for context words and keyword-heavy URLs that neatly compartmentalize your website. The better they compartmentalize, the better you rank.  

SEO in 2018 Step 2: Play spy and research what search engines themselves rank as important – then mirror it 
Google, Bing, Yahoo –these search engines tell you explicitly what they believe reigns SEO supreme. It’s there in front of your eyes every time you use them.

A search engine results page (SERP) is the findings a search engine delivers in response to your typed query. Explore niches and keyword combos for yourself, and see what consistently pops up on page one. Research the search engine’s own autosuggestions (those words that appear in real time as you type). Categorize recurring phrases and syntaxes. Follow them. Study them. Memorize them.  

A great SEO researcher doesn’t stop there. Resources like AnswerThePublic, Quora, and even Reddit have subthreads, pages, and entire forums dedicated to helping you hack search niches for an improved SERP

SEO in 2018 Step 3: Research your seed keyword(s), then target, target, target
Gone are the times when a handful of cute body copy keywords cut it. There’s a whole hierarchy to SEO keywords these days, beginning with your “seeds” and trickling down to your secondary and modifying phrases.   

Your seed keywords are your broadest, most basic pain-point addressing words and phrases. It’s what you get when you ask yourself “what are people googling to find me?” It’s casual, colloquial, and more and more in question format. 

Once you’ve research and identified your main seed keywords, you research and target smaller, niche language related to the specific problems you solve. These are your secondary and modifying keywords.

For example, say you’re a weight loss and nutrition counselor with a private practice in Chicago. Your seed keywords may be “weight loss program,” with secondary modifiers being “weigh loss programs Chicago” “weight loss program with nutrition services,” or “weight loss program with accountability partners.” The list varies, the importance does not.

SEO in 2018 Step 4: Choose the most efficient terms from your research, then nix the rest  
Now that you’ve done your wordsmith research, it’s time to hit the sweet spot: a rank tracker’s keyword efficiency index (KEI).

KEI takes the number of monthly searches for a keyword and divides it by the number of searches competing for that same result. The larger your KEI, the better your ranking. It can be found and tracked using numerous data analytic softwares, some of which even offer free downloads and reports.

Metrics like KEI are your secret SEO sauce, while avoiding top competitive wordings (or getting savvy with them) gives you a pixelated leg up. They’re at the cutting edge of optimization, funneling your hard work into some real query results.

SEO in 2018 Step 5: Develop a content plan that addresses your ideal audience’s pain points, then draw that audience to you like a lighthouse

You’ve gotten attention with those sharpened keywords above – your seeds, secondaries, and KEIs in place, plus perfectly tweaked URLS. Now you want to rank high for the long haul.        

Second wave search-engine rankings love content. And they love content that centers on three things: Consistency, credibility, and addressing an expressed query’s problem.

In 2018, build an industry savvy blog and publish informational articles that speak to your audience’s headaches. Show how you get it, how you’re the only one who does. Write frequently and comprehensively. Use the same keyword strategies outlined earlier, and blast content throughout your listserves and socials worked from an adaptive team calendar. 

SEO in 2018 Step 6: Integrate your keywords and indexing strategies into your content’s skim points

Keyword placement in page titles, subheaders, headlines, and meta tags – these things are like leg day at the gym, easily overlooked but critically important. In 2018, they’re still a pivotal building block for your website’s overall ranking.  

Incorporate your main seed keywords and syntax KEI research as the backbone to your content calendar, crafting compelling blogs and articles titles around them.

Likewise, reiterate your secondary keywords and phrases when writing all subheadings (the text that appears directly below your article’s title).

Finally, mix and match all of the above in your h1 and h2 headers and meta tags, ensuring you’re putting the right words in the right places for search engine crawlers to hyperindex.  

SEO in 2018 Step 7: Make your audience’s experience on your website a well-oiled machine  

Don’t forget about user experience, the “little” details of web design, usability, and mobility that aren’t so little after all.

Search engines now take into account elements like page loading times, navigation bar crawlability, video playback speed, and HTTPS security.

What’s more, with the explosion of mobile searching, having a website that’s been tweaked and tested for smartphone satisfaction is no longer a luxury.

No one wants to hang out on a clunky or slow website, no matter how high it ranks. And they certainly won’t return there.

SEO in 2018 Step 8: Flex your networking muscles and market that website like it’s the end of the month and the rent is due tomorrow

It’s the cherry on top of all your hard work.

You’ve got a clean, compelling, optimized website with industry savvy. You’ve hustled to map and create shareable content with maximum impact. So get out there and share it!

Network with professionals on LinkedIn and Google+ and other relevant platforms. Leverage your growing audience for cross-marketing campaigns. Look into affiliate or influencer marketing, and see where intuitive partnerships lie. A little boost goes a long way.