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My Quick & Easy Synopsis of Moz's Beginner's Guide to SEO

By Nate Riggs on April 20, 2016 |

In recent years, eBooks have become some of the best content that can be found online. Unfortunately, at times, comitting hours to comb through pages of a PDF isn't our top priority. 

Moz, one of the foremost authorities on SEO, has produced a fantastic eBook titled The Beginner's Guide to SEO. Its an excellent read and full of information that all inbound marketers need.

But, if you don't had time to read through the full eBook, not to worry - I've done that for you and you will find some of the best highlights below. 

Without further adieu, here is my quick and easy synopsis of Moz's Beginner's Guide to SEO.

Synopsis of Chapter 1: How Search Engines Operate

Search engines have 2 main functions:

  • Crawling and building an index
  • Providing search

Crawling and Building an Index

  • Search engines use links as their path for crawling the web
  • Links are crawled by "crawlers" or "spiders"
  • Spiders decipher the code of these linked pages and store that in a database where it can be later accessed
  • Data centers worldwide have been created to store and process this massive amount of data

Providing Answers

  • Search engines strive to provide relevant results and rank according to popularity
  • SEO seeks to impact this relevance and popularity
  • Relevance and popularity are determined by hundreds of ranking factors

Recommendations straight from Google and Bing

  • Make pages that are content rich and useful for users, not their search engine
  • Don't "cloak" your content - i.e. what you show users should reflect what you tell search engines 
  • Have a clear site hierarchy and use text links
  • Each page should be reachable by at least 1 link
  • Use keywords to create human-friendly URLs
  • Utilize 301 redirects to prevent duplicate content
  • Don't bury content in rich media such as Flash Player and JavaScript and be sure to verify that rich media doesn't hide links from crawlers

You may be asking -- How do I verify it isn't hiding links?

There is no technical process for this verification. You simply need to manually check your rich media to ensure no critical links that should be indexed are included. Make sure you produce fresh content consistently, and don't use important text you'd like to be indexed within images. An example is including key company info (phone, address, etc.) within a logo image.

The Key Takeaway 

The #1 way SEO researchers form their conclusions and insights on search engines is through performing controlled tests and analyzing the results.


Synopsis of Chapter 2: How People Interact with Search Engines

People typically have 3 types of search queries:

  • I want to do something
  • I want to know something
  • I want to go somewhere specific on the Internet

Note: due to some of the studies cited in Moz being a bit outdated, I have provided my own research following some of the themes in the ebook.

According to Statista.com the worldwide desktop market share of search engines is:

  • 88.36% Google
  • 4.85% Bing
  • 3.3% Yahoo
  • .73% Baidu
If you are unfamiliar, Baidu is a Chinese-based search engine company often called "the Google of China". Here is a profile of Baidu's story.

According to Moz's own study of click-through rates in July of 2014:

  • On average, 71.33% of searches resulted in an organic click on page 1
  • Position 1 received 31.24% of clicks
  • Position 2 receved 14.04% of clicks
  • Position 3 received 9.85% of clicks
  • Position 4 6.97% of clicks
  • Position 5 5.5% of clicks
  • Positions 6-10 3.73% of clicks

To sum up the rest of the message/statistics in this chapter - we rely on search more and more now, it has a tremendous affect on our overall economy, the growth in search reliance correlates with a growing focus on online marketing within advertising budgets, and being ranked highly and on page 1 is VERY, VERY important.


Synopsis of Chapter 3: Why Search Engine Marketing is Necessary

Search engines, as impressive and complex as they are today, are still not sophisticated enough to perceive some things as a human would (such as images) and have some limitations:

  • They are not great at completing forms and as a result, sometimes cannot crawl the content on the other end of those forms
  • Duplicate content presents issues for search engines and forces them to try to decipher what and how to rank
  • Websites can block search engines from crawling them
  • Poor link structuring on websites can lead to less than ideal results after crawling
  • Search engines are getting better, but still can't properly crawl rich media (images, video, audio, Flash, etc.)
  • Queries using uncommon terms can be hard to find the best results for ("slow-burning wick encapsulated in scented wax" vs. "candle")
  • Understanding language and dialect subtleties/differences
  • Mixed signals from title, meta data, and the actual content

The Key Takeaway 

Search engines can't accurately gauge content quality - i.e. you can't just build the "perfect website" and expect it to rank highly without also marketing the content. Google looks for how users interact with, link to, and share the content - and this is something you can influence.

Because so much attention is paid to the top few results in terms of our own click-through behavior - there will always be a financial incentive tied to search engine results. And because of this, search engine marketing will always be important for those trying to compete online.


Synopsis of Chapter 4: The Basics of Search Engine Friendly Design & Development

Indexable Content

Your most important content should be housed in HTML text format

Non-text content is either devalued or ignored by search engine crawlers

Some methods can help search engines with more visually-based pages:

  • Assign alt text to images 
  • Utilize navigation and crawlable links in lieu of search boxes where possible
  • Use on-page text to complement rich media
  • Provide a transcript for video and audio content 

Use tools like MozBar or Google's text cache to see what elements on your (or your competitor's) page are indexable to search engines.

So how do you view the Google text cache of a page? Simply copy and paste the URL below and replace "www.example.com" with your desired page URL: http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:http://www.example.com/&hl=en&lr=&strip =1

The Importance of Crawlable Link Structures

  • One of the biggest mistakes websites make is not having a complete and logical linking structures that crawlers can follow
  • In other words, if you have a page that is an "island" and not clearly linked to, search engines may not ever find it

Common Reasons Why Pages May not be Reachable

  • Submission-required forms may prevent search engines from crawling the content that follows after submission
  • JavaScript links either are not crawled or are given little weight by search engines
  • The robots.txt file instructs search engines to not crawl particular content 

The Key Takeaway

Often times these directives are used to block other bots and webmasters don't realize they are also blocking search engines. Always be sure to double check your settings. 

Remember that links in frames or iframes are technically crawlable but present some complications - typically you need advanced skills to navigate these complications. Links in Java, Flash and other plug-ins are not visible to search engines, and search engines may not completely crawl pages with hundreds or thousands of links for quality/spam control. Adding "rel="nofollow"" in the HTML of a link will instruct search engines to not follow or put link value on any particular link


  • Millions of small databases house information about specific keywords - allowing for the quick data retrieval 
  • Word order, spelling, and capitalization all provide context that search engines can account for
  • Using target keywords in text, titles, and metadata is one of the best ways to optimize a page
  • Typically speaking, the more specific a keyword or phrase the less competition you will have 

The Key Takeaway

Keyword density as a part of modern search algorithms is a myth. The rule of thumb is to use keywords naturally and strategically, so always keep in mind that keyword stuffing was made obsolete long ago. It will get you nowhere. The bullets below are on-page keyword guidelines directly from Moz:

  • Use the keyword in the title at least once and closer to the front is ideal
  • Use the keyword prominently towards the top of your page
  • Use the keywords 2-3 more times throughout the remainder of your content - potentially more for longer pages
  • Use the keyword in the alt attribute of an image at least once
  • Use the keyword in the page URL
  • Use the keyword at least once in the meta description
  • Don't use the keyword in anchor links that point to other pages of your site - this is known as keyword cannibalization

Other Important SEO Elements

Title tag - a concise and accurate description of the page

  • Search engines only display the first 65-75 characters — you can tell if a title tag is too long if it has an ellipsis (...)
  • Place important keywords towards the front 
  • Include your brand to increase brand awareness. This may not always be feasible depending on your length
  • Using keywords in the title tag will bold those terms when a user searches for the terms
  • Be creative, clear, and compelling - write something that will grab a searcher's attention

Meta tags - snippets of text that describe a page's content. Some common meta tags include:

  • Meta Robots tag - controls search engine crawler behavior on each page
  • Index/noindex - includes or excludes a page from the search engine index
  • Follow/nofollow - crawls or does not a crawl a particular link
  • Noarchive - prevents caching a copy of the page
  • Nosnippet - removes any descriptive block of text next to the title and URL in the search results page

Meta Description - a short description of the page's content found in the search results

  • Search engines typically cut meta descriptions longer than 160 characters
  • As with the title tag, how you craft the copy of your meta description can make a big impact on click-rate
  • If you don't set a meta description - search engines will create one for you using the page elements
  •  (Note: considered a meta tag but this deserves its own section)

URL Structures

  • URLs should accurately reflect the content one would expect to find after reading them
  • Shorter URLs are better - simply because they are cleaner for sharing and showing in search results. To help avoid longer URLs, especially ones that have jumbled characters and symbols, use a URL rewrite tool such as Microsoft's IIS URL Rewrite 2.0 to change these into shorter, more-memorable URLs
  • Do include a keyword in the URL
  • Use hyphens to separate words

Canonical and Duplicate Versions of Content

  • Avoid duplicate content through proper canonicalization where possible
  • Typically when faced with the choice, search engines will favor what is most likely the original piece of content
  • 301 redirects or Canonical URL Tags can help avoid this problem and create a much stronger, singular page
  • Here's a great post from Moz for more on duplicate content

Rich Snippets

  • Structured data used to mark content to provide information to search engines
  • Learn more about how and where to use rich snippets on schema.org

How Scrapers Can Still Your Rankings

Many crooked sites use content from other sites and republish it—this is called "scraping". When publishing content in a feed format, such as RSS, pinging blogging/tracking sites like Google and Yahoo can help prevent this.  Remember that some publishing software will auto-ping when content is published. Major sites include instructions for pinging, or services like Pingomatic can automate this function.

Using absolute links that point back to your site can maintain your authority since many scrapers don't take the time to scrube copied content and remove those links

Moz's Sarah Bird has great advice for how to respond if your content is being stolen

Download the Guide to 17 Seo Myths Guide You Should Be Aware of in 2016

Synopsis of Chapter 5: Keyword Research

To assess a keyword's value for your site:

  • Ask yourself if users will find what they are searching for on your site when using that keyword
  • Know what websites are already ranking for keywords you are researching and check if they have ad results — many ad results typically means it is a high-value keyword
  • Test Google or Bing PPC campaigns on target keywords and see how well your site's content converts  

Long-tail keywords as a group make up a majority of the world's search volume, even though they don't individually have high search volume. Long-tail keywords also tend to convert better than keywords and phrases at the head of the tail.

Sources for Keyword Research Include:

Also be sure to check out the full Moz blog on Keyword Research for deeper insights and the latest news/trends.

Synopsis of Chapter 6: How Usability, User Experience & Content Affect Search Engine Rankings

While the "best" search results often vary, their websites also often have similar qualities:

  • Easy to use and navigate
  • Direct information related to the search query
  • Good design and browser accessibility
  • The content is high quality and credible

Through patterns, machine learning, and user engagement search engines can help guage what is a quality site and what is not:

  • Engagement metrics: how does a user engage with the results presented to them? A quick hit of the back button is a pretty clear sign that the results did not satisfy you 
  • Machine learning: replicating a previously human-driven judge of content quality, search engines. This big shift came in the Panda update in 2011  
  • Linking patterns: search engines analyze links which can be a sign of "votes" or popularity and reward content that receives more links

Search intent comes in a few different forms:

  • Transactional: I want to purchase, identify a business, or complete a task
  • Navigational: I want to go to a particular website 
  • Informational: non-commercial searches for answers and information

Creating great content is the #1 cliche recommendation you will receive - it's a cliche for good reason. It's what will work.

Synopsis of Chapter 7: Growing Popularity & Links

Search engines learn how pages are related to one another and how, so the number and popularity of links pointing to your content can make a big impact. Therefore link building is one of the most important SEO tasks.

Link Factors to Consider:

  • Global Popularity: the more popular a site is the more weight/importance its links hold
  • Local/Topic-Secific Popularity: links from sites related to your topic matter more. For instance, if Moz or HubSpot linked back to this post, that would matter more than if a manufacturing expert linked here 
  • Anchor Text: One of the strongest signals - this is the visible/clickable text that houses a link. If many links containing your target keyword point to your page that is high quality and optimized for that topic/keyword, this is a very good signal for search engines
  • TrustRank: a measure of how trustworthy your site is—often times influenced by your link graph 
  • Link Neighborhood: search engines will recognize if you are hanging out with the wrong crowd. In other words, if spammy links are pointing to you and vice versa, you are in a bad link neighborhood 
  • Freshness or "FreshRank": it is important to continue earning new links over time; they are a sign of continued popularity and relevance
  • Social Sharing: social sharing links are treated differently but are still measured/accounted for by search engines. Currently quality links are still far more important than social sharing 

Link Building Types:

  • Natural Editorial Links: given by sites that want to link to your content 
  • Manual "Outreach" Links: emailing bloggers, partners, and other influencers or submitting sites to directories to obtain links
  • Self-Created, Non-Editorial Links: forum signatures, comments, etc. that have lower but still some value 

Link Building Techniques:

  • Get customers to link to you
  • Blog frequently and consistantly on a cadence
  • Create viral/share-worthy content 
  • Earn the attention of press and other influencers 
  • Don't buy links ... ever.


Synopsis of Chapter 8: Search Engine Tools and Services

Common Search Engine Protocols:

  • Sitemaps: essentially hints for search engines to use when crawling 
    • XML: stands for Extensible Markup Language; it is the easiest to use but creates large file sizes
    • RSS: stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary; easy to maintain but harder to manage
    • TxT: stands for Text File; very easy but less ability

  • Robots.txt: gives instruction to web crawlers; some common ones are:
    • Disallow: prevents robots from accessing specific pages/folders
    • Sitemap: shows the location of a websites sitemap(s)
    • Crawl Delay: the speed at which a robot can crawl the server

  • Meta Robots: page-level instructions

  • Rel="Nofollow": tells search engines not to follow a link—removing most or all link value

  • Rel="canonical": tells search engines which is the authoratative version of content; can help avoid issues that arise from having duplicate content

Search Engine Tools:

  • Google Webmaster Tools: free toolset that helps you understand and improve your website activity 
  • Bing Webmaster Center: similar to Google Webmaster Tools; here's a more in-depth comparison of Google Webmaster Tools vs. Bing 
  • Moz Open Site Explorer: provides insight into your website and especially your links 


Synopsis of Chapter 9: Myths & Misconceptions About Search Engines

Search engine submission is no longer needed. Meta tags, especially the meta keyword tag are no longer the central facet of SEO. In general, keyword density is a false metric and keyword stuffing will not help your ranking. 

Paid advertising (or PPC) does not help organic search results, and Spamming or manipulating search engines has become very diffucult, and is likely not worth the effort you will put in.Put that effort into creating really informative and well researched content.

Also keep in mind that "cloaking", or showing search engines content that humans don't see, is often penalized. Here is some more information on cloaking.  Also remember that search engines can now identify and filter out "low value pages" such as duplicate content or dynamically-generated content

How to Know if You're Being Dinged by Search Engines

  • First look for errors that may prevent crawling using Google Webmaster Tools
  • Then make sure no changes have been made that would impact how search engines view your content 
  • Check for sites that have similar backlinking to see if they've experience similar drops
  • Check for duplicate content
  • Make sure you aren't just losing ranks to competitors
    • Is your site indexed? If not you've likely been banned
    • Do you still rank for your domain name? If no you've probably been penalized
    • Search for unique terms that tie into the title tags of your pages; do you still rank on the first couple pages? If not you may have been flagged 
    • Here's some more information from Google on the topic


Synopsis of Chapter 10: Measuring & Tracking Success

Keep track of traffic sources to your site such as direct navigation, referral traffic, and organic search traffic. Measure traffic by the major search engines, and check for traffic by certain search terms and phrases. Always make sure you understand what your key terms are, and track conversion rate by search terms and phrases.  Be sure to look at the overall number of pages receiving a minimum of one visit from search engines.

Moz Metrics

  • Page-Specific
    • Page Authority: the likelihood a single page will rank well
    • MozRank: 10-point measure of global link authority—both internal and external links 
    • MozTrust: a link trust score (not link popularity)
    • Number of Links: # of pages that have at least one link to a page
    • Number of Linking Root Domains: # of unique root domains that link to a page 
    • External MozRank: only measures the amount of MozRank from external links

  • Domain-Specific
    • Domain Authority: predicts how well a page on a domain will rank 
    • Domain MozRank: the popularity of one domain against all others on the web 
    • Domain MozTrust: MozTrust but on the domain level
    • Number of Links: # of pages that contain at least one link to the domain 
    • Number of Linking Root Domains: # of domains that have at least one page with a link to any page on the site being measured 

You've reached the end! Again this is just a synopsis of the much more detailed ebook from Moz.

6 marketing metrics


Nate Riggs

Written by Nate Riggs

Nate Riggs is the Founder and CEO of NR Media Group, a Certified HubSpot Partner and inbound consulting firm. He leads a team of experienced strategists, content marketers, creatives and technologists that help organizations deploy and use HubSpot’s marketing, sales, and service software to operate more efficiently and accelerate growth. Nate regularly presents keynotes and workshops at top industry conferences like INBOUND, Content Marketing World and Oracle’s Modern CX. In 2017, Nate was recognized by HubSpot for his contributions to the development of the HubSpot Education Partner Program. Nate regularly presents keynotes and workshops at top industry conferences like INBOUND, Content Marketing World and Oracle’s Modern CX. In 2017, Nate was recognized by HubSpot for his contributions to the development of the HubSpot Education Partner Program.