The term “SEO” gets thrown around quite a bit these days, but what does it really mean for you and your business?
This article will provide you with some basic knowledge about what SEO is, how it works, and how you can incorporate it into your own marketing strategy.
What is SEO, Anyway?
The term “SEO” stands for search engine optimization, the process of using a number of different strategies to help your website rank higher in search results.
The main purpose of SEO is providing users with the most relevant content possible while demonstrating your expertise in your industry and converting them into paying customers.
Before we go any further, you need to understand 3 main things about SEO:
1. Your website is a critical part of your sales funnel. It’s the customer sales rep that’s always at work, and whose appearance (design), knowledge (content) and “people skills” (usability) will factor into any buying decisions your customers make.
2. SEO is what helps your customers find your website. Without good SEO, your favorite sales rep might as well be talking to an empty room.
3. SEO is one of several ways to increase the visibility of your website, but it is one of the most important. Paid advertising only lasts as long as your marketing dollars do, but having a solid SEO base could serve your business for a lifetime.
How to Make SEO Work for YOUR Business
Now that we’ve gotten the basics out of the way, it’s time to discuss how SEO can fit into your marketing strategy.
SEO strategies are usually divided into two main categories: on-page SEO (or what you do on your own website to increase its visibility) and off-page SEO (what you do outside of it).
Remember that famous Bill Gates quote?
It was true in 1996, and it’s still true today, at least when it comes to ranking highly in search engine results.
Google (and any other search engine for that matter) prioritizes user experience by attempting to provide them with the most relevant content available.
Any super-advanced SEO techniques you may have heard of in the past will be absolutely useless if you don’t have your content figured out.
Your number one job when it comes to SEO is consistently producing and sharing great content with your target audience. Every other SEO tip, trick or tweak is secondary.
But what does “great content” mean?
What exactly does Google care about when selecting content to show users, and what should you be focusing on?
There are a number of factors, some of which you can’t really influence, and some of which you can, including:
Produce High-Quality Content
Coming up with great content isn’t easy. You can’t just throw together a quick blog post and cross your fingers it does well – you have to be strategic!
Here’s a great formula for producing high-quality content:
1. Find great content in your niche.
You can do this by googling your chosen keywords (more on that later!) and seeing what comes up first.
2. Create something (much) better.
Don’t just copy what your competitor has created. Provide additional advice, make it easier to read, or even create a video/infographic to go with it.
3. Get the word out.
Promotion is key! Make sure people are reading and interacting with your content.
Remember: to write great blog posts, you have to step into the role of a teacher, and a good one at that. It’s not easy, and it takes time, so make sure you’ve included all of the important “ingredients” before you hit “Publish”!
Do Your (Keyword) Research
Doing your keyword research upfront is a crucial part of creating great content.
Ideally, you will want to include your chosen keyword in the title of your article, as well as thorough it, so you really need to know what you’re going for before you start writing.
For example, if your business is all about selling solar panels, you are going to want to think about related topics or questions your customers often have. Long-tail keywords like “what to look for when buying solar panels” could be a good option, but you should also head over to Google and look at what people are really searching for!
Use Your Keywords Effectively
Google has gotten smarter over the years, and websites littered (or, quite frankly, stuffed) with keywords are no longer the way to go.
You will, of course, want to use your chosen keyword through your content, but jamming it in places it does not belong will hurt your search rankings rather than improve them.
Plus, these days, keyword usage is not just about semantics! Google now knows how to interpret the meaning of search terms people use. It looks not only at your keyword, but also it’s synonyms, to find the most relevant content possible.
For example, when you search for “SEO consultant”, Google will return results that include the phrase “SEO expert” and “SEO services” as well.
Keep Your Content Fresh
Frequently updating your content tells Google you are still “in business” and improves search engine rankings.
However, creating new content is not the only thing you can do to keep it fresh – there are plenty of ways to update your old content as well.
You also don’t have to post every day.
While it’s important to keep your content updated regularly, you can get great results with just one blog-post per month, as long as your content is in-depth, relevant and valuable to your audience.
Provide Direct Answers to Your Audience’s Questions
You know that handy little feature that shows you answers to related to what you just searched for?
If your content is written clearly enough for Google to recognize it as a direct answer to a particular question, it will show up beneath the search bar.
Here’s an example:
That’s super useful for SEO purposes – and if you can write content that gets you in that little box, you are going to be light years ahead of your competition.
Now that you’ve got your content taken care of, “cleaning up” your HTML is the next step.
Let’s take a look at 4 aspects of your website’s HTML you should optimize for each and every piece of content you produce.
A title tag is the online equivalent of a newspaper headline. They are what shows up in the tab of your browser when you open a new page:
The HTML tag used for them is called “title”, but in case of blogs it often becomes an h1-tag, which stands for “heading of the first order”.
If you are using an online editor, you will often find these under the “Style – Heading 1” drop-down menu.
Every page should only have one h1-tag to make the title clear to Google.
If title tags are newspaper headlines, then meta descriptions are essentially the little excerpts of content that precede the “Read More” button in their online versions.
When Google shows your page in search results, they show up as little excerpts under the title:
Optimized meta descriptions will never be cut off with a “…”, or end mid-sentence. They often include the keyword upfront.
It’s easy to spot the people who haven’t done their SEO homework by the lack of meta descriptions, so make sure you’re not one of them!
Schema is a compilation of HTML tags that you can add to your content to improve the way search engines read and present your content.
It can be used to add ratings, publication dates, and other data to your content.
A small thing – but useful nevertheless!
Subheads, or subheadings, help format and structure your content, and give your readers easy reference points to look for when scanning your content.
While the H1 tag is the most important one for the purposes of SEO, h-2, h-3, etc. tags still matter.
Plus, they are easy to add to your content and tend to vastly improve the user experience on your site – so definitely use them for a quick, painless SEO boost!
3. WEBSITE STRUCTURE
Remember what we said about Google being all about user experience?
When users are browsing your page, things like quick loading times, a safe connection, and mobile-friendly website design lead to great user experiences.
That means you need to pay particular attention to your website architecture – and that starts before you even buy a domain.
You are going to want to get into the head of your potential customer. Who are they ? What are they looking for?How can you make their experience on your site as smooth and pleasant as possible?
This way, you can reverse engineer a great UX, paying particular attention to aspects we are going to talk about next.
Easy to Crawl
The easier it is for search engines to crawl and index all pages on your site, the more likely they are to go back and tell Google that you are a “good” result, and should be ranked highly.
The thicker the “webs” between pages on your site, the easier it will be for Google’s bots (spiders) to crawl and index them.
Fortunately, you can help them along by creating a sitemap of your website. Some platforms (e.g. Squarespace) generate these automatically, but, depending on what you are using, you might need to use an XML sitemap generator or a plugin.
A common mistake business owners make is thinking that duplicate content (e.g. republishing their blog post on another platform) will always hurt their search engine rankings.
There’s, of course, some truth to this, but publishing your guest posts on your site, or republishing your content on others, does not have to hurt your SEO if you do it the right (read: non-spammy) way.
This approach does have on caveat, though: if you publish your content to a huge platform like Medium, you run the risk of damaging your SEO as that article will get indexed first because it’s a more authoritative domain.
Keep that in mind when choosing to syndicate your content – and if you’ve got any questions, you can always drop us a line and ask!
If someone has a question they need answered, they might not bother to open up their laptop and ask Google there – they might just type it into their phone. If your website is not optimized for mobile users, they will click away and go to the next search result immediately.
Google knows this, so, if your site is not mobile-friendly, it will be ranked less highly than it could have been.
This one’s really important. If your page takes too long to load, it will absolutely kill your conversions.
Keywords in URLs
This is another easy way to give your SEO a boost, but you might need to tinker with the permalink structure on your site a bit.
Including your target keyword in your post URLs should be a no-brainer, but remember to keep your human users in mind. There’s no need to turn your URL in a long list of repetitive keywords – incorporating the main keyword will do just fine.
HTTPS and SSL
For a while now, domain security has been a big ranking signal for Google.
The two most common security protocols are HTTPS (the secure version of the good, old HTTP) and SSL (secure socket layer).
If you are just starting out and purchasing a new domain, we recommend getting a secure domain from your web hosting provider. If you are preparing to move from a non-secure one, it can take a fair bit of work, but it is still definitely worth your time.
Check your site and seo health with our Free Digital Marketing Assessment here!
(Are you still with us? Good.)
Wait, what’s off-page SEO?
Off-page SEO usually refers to actions taken OUTSIDE of your own website that are intended to improve your search engine rankings. Link building is a popular one, but off-page SEO is about much more than that.
Remember PageRank, the famous formula invented by the founders of Google?
It’s not the only thing that determines whether your page will make it to the Top 10 search results for a particular query.
There are 4 major areas to consider when it comes to off-page SEO: trust, links, personal factors and social media influence.
The most recent Google updates have hit spammy and obscure websites, and you need to make sure you are not considered one of them.
TrustRank is a way for Google to see if your site is legit or not. While links from authoritative domains (like .edu and .gov) help, if you want to create an impression of legitimacy, you need to start thinking and looking like a big brand.
There are 2 types of authority that you can build:
- Domain authority (how authoritative your domain is)
- Page authority (how authoritative a single page on your website (e.g. a blog post) is)
There are a couple of tools you can use to check yours.
High-quality links from mainstream media sites will help you boost your authority score, so if you can manage to get your foot in the door at a major publication, it will definitely be worth your time.
Reduce Bounce Rate
Your bounce rate refers to the number of people who view a single page on your site and leave immediately afterward.
Your goal is to reduce your bounce rate as much as possible, which involves:
1. Creating better content
2. Reducing loading time
3. Increasing the usability of your site
4. Attracting the right kind of visitors
It’s simple, really: users will spend more time on a site that looks great, loads fast and has the type of great content they were looking for in the first place.
Get an Older Domain
Older domains are usually trusted more by Google. While this isn’t a huge factor, it still matters, so if you are just starting out, consider buying a cheap, expired domain in an online auction instead of creating a new one.
Build Your Brand Identity
Ever wondered why some search results look like this?
When you google yourself and this pops up, you will know you’ve made it.
This means that you have built a solid brand identity online, which is a huge trust signal for Google and other search engines. It prevents you from being penalized by future Google updates and makes you look much more trustworthy in the eyes of potential customers.
Creating this also takes time – so don’t despair if you are not there yet!
If you’ve been around the SEO block a few times, you’ve probably heard someone talk about the importance of backlinks.
Many people consider them the holy grail of SEO, but that’s not really the case. (Just look how far into this article we’ve gotten without even mentioning them!)
That said, they are still a pretty important part of your overall strategy, and there’s plenty of ways to get them. You just can’t sit around waiting for high-authority sites to link to yo. You have to ASK for them (politely and respectfully, of course).
Here’s what matters when it comes to backlinks:
Quality- As with content, quality is key here. Search engines will ignore a large number of links if they are low-quality or seem spammy, so make sure to reach out to the right sources and avoid “experts” that promise to generate a large number of backlinks for you in a short period of time.
When you are reaching out to influencers and high-authority sites, make sure to keep your message respectful, and offer them something of value. Don’t expect influencers to link to you out of the goodness of their heart – make the content worth their time!
Quantity- More isn’t always better, but as long as you keep your links high-quality, having more backlinks will definitely help.
Keep in mind that a link from a new authoritative domain will get you more SEO “juice” than a link from a site that has already linked to you previously.
Anchor Text- This is getting into the nitty-gritty details of SEO but bear with us.
Anchor text is the text used when sites link to you, and Google uses it to understand what the content is really about.
Instead of using basic anchor text like “Click here to learn more”, make it natural sounding and weave it into your writing. It’s called a “contextual backlink”, and generating these should always be a priority for you.
3. Personal/Demographic Factors
Most of these might be out of your control, but it doesn’t hurt to be aware of them and do what you can to reach your target audience.
All users are first shown results that are most relevant to the country they are in (such as open times for restaurants in their timezone).
Some words are even interpreted differently in different countries. Someone searching for a “comforter” in the UK will probably see pacifiers instead of blankets, and vice versa!
Want to target certain countries? Use them as keywords in your content, but keep in mind that it is not always worth it, as it positions you as a more of a local authority and can hurt your rankings internationally.
Google’s geo-targeting does not end there – it applies to the city level, too. That’s why you often see results for restaurants that are only a couple of blocks away.
Again, feel free to use cities as keywords if you are more about building a local presence, but don’t focus on this if your business has a more global outlook.
If the user has visited your site before, Google will give it a little boost because it thinks you are relevant to their query.
Social Media History
If the user has liked you on Facebook or interacted with your brand on any other social media platform, they will be more likely to be shown your business as one of the search results.
That leads us to our next point – using social media to boost your SEO!
4. Social Media
There are other ways social media can help you rank better, from getting you more backlinks to acting as a quick, inexpensive PR boost.
There are two main factors that will influence how well social media works for your SEO. What are they?
You guessed it.
Quality of Social Shares
Who shares your content matters. Google recognizes influencers, and a share from one of them will have more SEO “juice” than a share from your next door neighbor Tom.
The best way to get influencers to share your content is by featuring them in it (think quotes and interviews!), and letting them know AHEAD of time when your content will be published.
If you’re stuck and can’t figure out who’d want to share your content, you can find a similar article to yours, plug into a tool like Topsy, and see which influencers shared that.
Then simply reach out to them and let them know you’ve published another piece of content on the topic, and kindly ask them to share it with their followers.
Number of Shares
“Going viral” is everyone’s dream, but, in our experience, it’s a bit overrated.
Of course, the number of shares your content gets matter, but there is no magic bullet.
The best way to “go viral” is to consistently publish high-quality content and spend at least as much time promoting it than you do writing it.
Keep doing that, and you will be well on your way to a website that Google loves!
You can build the greatest, most beautiful website in the world, but if no one finds it, you won’t get any customers out of it.
SEO matters. But, as evidenced by the length of this article, it can be complicated and time-consuming to get right.
If you’d like a little help with yours, don’t hesitate to drop us a line!