Search engines are powerful, robust machines dominating almost every aspect of our lives. From online shopping and checking restaurant reviews to figuring out how to DIY a bathroom remodel and groom a dog, our search histories are like a stream of consciousness revealing more about us than a diary entry. According to a recent report, search engines drive most of the trackable website traffic making the art of search engine optimization (SEO) essential and fundamental to a competitive online marketing strategy.
This post will aim to provide a brief intro into the complex world of SEO, explain the importance of SEO for your business goals, and give you some basic tools to start optimizing for search today.
What is SEO?
The term “SEO” gets thrown around alot in the world of marketing and web development, but what is it exactly?
In a nutshell, optimizing for search is the process of improving your website’s SERP (search engine results page) ranking making it more likely someone will click on your page. The goal of SEO is to pull the right levers so your content is known and found by search engines and therefore search engine users. The more discoverable your page is, the more likely you are to drive organic traffic to your website.
Understanding SEO requires an understanding of how search engines work in the first place. Three important terms to understand here are crawling, indexing, and ranking.
An index is a giant running list of all known web pages along with a description of their content and location (URL). All of this information is fetched through a process called crawling which is done through automated bots that “crawl” the web looking for sites to include in the index. Search engine bots are constantly on the prowl for new and updated web pages which is why it’s important your website is primed for the finding.
Based on the relevance of pages in the index, search engines then rank the results so pages with the most pertinent information appear first. The ultimate goal when it comes to ranking is to make sure the user’s search intent is matched with the top results. How search engines determine relevance is based on a confidential algorithm that typically includes factors like mobile-friendliness, content, and backlinks. All of which will be discussed more below.
Why is SEO important?
First and foremost, the value of SEO lies in its ability to take a simple webpage and turn it into a dynamic component of your online marketing strategy. It ensures that your beautiful new website you’ve worked so hard on won’t be languishing on page two of the search results. It does this by driving high-quality, organic traffic to your site which is much more likely to convert than traffic driven by other means. This makes sense, right? Wouldn’t you be more likely to trust a link you handpicked versus a link you know is being promoted through paid advertising?
Focusing on SEO is important from a financial perspective as well. Learning to optimize for search gives you the chance to increase both the quantity and quality of your traffic at low or no cost to you. You’re going to see a much bigger return on your investment with SEO than through paid advertising alone. Not only do you avoid huge financial commitments, but you also avoid huge time commitments. Unlike paid ads, SEO is practically self-sustaining. Paids ads require constant funding and tweaking whereas SEO delivers major benefit with minor maintenance. And the true beauty of SEO is that it snowballs on itself making your efforts go even farther.
How do you implement SEO?
There are two basic schools of thought when it comes to SEO. One being a quick-fix approach that uses tricks and gimmicks to game the system and artificially inflate results. Alternatively, we’ll focus on the second camp which advocates for working within the existing framework to build successful SEO with long-lasting results.
Before you dive into the complex world of SEO, it’s important to establish your goals. What do you want to get out of your SEO efforts? If you don’t have clear objectives going into it, it will be difficult to know which techniques to use or how to measure success. Higher ranking results and more website traffic are obvious goals, but those are means to an end. What do you hope these things will ultimately accomplish? Below is a list of common business goals associated with website performance:
- Sales conversions
- Newsletter signup
- Contact form submission
Once you’ve narrowed down your main focus areas, you can start to build out an SEO plan geared at accomplishing those goals.
Depending on your specific business goals and needs, your SEO efforts will be unique; but here are five best practices to get you started:
1. Look for patterns.
Data analytics will be your best friend when it comes to effective SEO. Your goal is to find out who’s searching for what, what keywords they’re using, and how they behave once they land on your site. Is there a high bounce rate for a certain demographic? Which keywords trigger the best response? Do users respond better to email signup or contact form submission? By answering these kinds of questions you’ll end up with a website that both attracts users and converts them into paying customers.
2. Know which keywords to use.
Successful SEO is all about figuring out which keywords rank best and incorporating them into your SEO strategy. Keywords are the words and phrases people use when searching for a specific topic. For instance, if someone is looking for a wedding videographer in their area, they might search keywords like wedding, film, video, videographer, photographer, video production, etc. All of these keywords could trigger different results so it’s important to anticipate which keywords will get you connected with the right audience.
Include as many keywords as possible and think outside the box with related search terms. Using a tool like Google Ads Keyword Planner can help you think outside the box and choose effective related search terms. When optimizing for search, focus on keywords and content that are more likely to trigger quality ranking and conversions. This process will involve some trial and error.
3. Content, content, content.
High quality, relevant content should be one of your top priorities when it comes to effective SEO. Not only will great content vastly improve your SERP ranking, it will provide instant credibility with your audience. Create content that matches search intent and fulfills user needs. Your content should be accurate, original, professional, and reflect a high degree of expertise. If your content is a disappointment, it doesn’t matter how high you’re ranking, website visitors will leave and likely never return.
For help getting started on exciting content, check out this post.
4. Optimize for mobile.
If you’re serious about SEO, optimizing your website for mobile devices should be at the top of your list. As smartphones continue to dominate the online experience, mobile-specific SEO tactics will make sure your page is ready for the challenge. While many traditional SEO techniques also apply to mobile, there are plenty of mobile-specific techniques you should be implementing like proper formatting, responsive web design, and fast load speed.
With close to 60% of all searches being done on a mobile device, the mobile-friendliness of your website is a major determining ranking factor. In fact, Google has just announced that starting in September of this year, they will apply mobile-first indexing to all websites. as a deciding factor in how they rank search results.
Wondering how your website measures up? Use this tool to find out.
5. Include backlinks.
Backlinks, also known as inbound links, are links to your webpage found on other websites. They help redirect traffic to your website and boost your overall SERP ranking. Search engines like Google reward backlinks because they help establish the credibility of your website. The more quality links you’re able to get on secondary sites, the more you look like a legitimate source of information on the internet. Every time another website links to your site, they “vouch” for you and your content. According to recent research, backlinks remain a major ranking factor for Google.
Just remember, any backlink is not necessarily better than no backlink. The key here is to focus on high-quality backlinks so you aren’t being linked to by non-reputable sources. Showing up on a low-quality site could do more harm than not showing up at all.
SEO is all about enhancing the user experience. Great SEO is not about tricking the search engine algorithm to artificially boost results, it’s about working within the established parameters to optimize results. Optimizing for search and optimizing for conversion go hand in hand which is why it’s important your website is ready to receive the increased traffic that SEO efforts will bring. Check out these posts for more on bringing your website up to speed: