Search engine optimization has never been more important than it is right now. Most of what we do is online. If we’re shopping, looking for an answer to a question, or engaging with different types of content, we turn to the internet. There is so much content floating around the web and if you want your website to be seen by the right audience, you need to implement SEO strategies to help you get to the top of the search engine results pages.
Whether you’re a business or a blogger looking to get your content viewed online, this article takes you through all you need to know about SEO and demonstrates how to apply these practices to boost your site’s rankings on search engines.
What is SEO?
In simple terms, SEO is the process of improving your website’s visibility in search results. It enables you to understand how people search for information online so you can raise your rankings.
There are two types of traffic from search engines – paid and organic. Paid traffic, or pay-per-click (PPC), traffic is advertising and appears on the top or bottom of the search results pages.
SEO, on the other hand, is focused on organic traffic. Organic search results cannot be bought- you must earn your ranking. Organic traffic converts better than paid traffic because the user was searching with intent.
Image Source: DigiFabster
The main goal of SEO is to ensure your site is among the highest-ranked in organic search results. As you can see in the diagram pictured above, 51% of organic website traffic comes from organic search.
Search engines, such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo, crawl billions of web pages using automated programs called spiders or bots and then index the websites in an order based on various ranking algorithms.
In SEO, ranking refers to your content’s position on SERPs. If your site is ranked number one, your web page will be the first result when people search for a search term.
If a user was shopping for shower doors, they may do a comparison of what kinds of doors will work best.
For example, if they typed in this search query, their first instinct would be to click on Hausera.com since it is the first result.
If they don’t find their answer, they’ll likely keep clicking through the first few results until they do.
Most users will not go past the first page of search engine results so the higher your site ranks on the search engine results pages, the higher the chance that people will see it.
Image Source: Direction.com
By incorporating SEO into your marketing strategies, you will drive more traffic to your website, increase leads and sales, and build credibility for your business.
How can SEO help me?
Think about what you do when you want to find a product or an answer to a specific question. If you are like most people, you open your computer or mobile device and perform an internet search. On any given day, Google receives 78,000 searches per second.
When it comes to SEO, you can target the specific terms people are searching for so your website will appear at their time of need. SEO traffic is very powerful for a business not only because it drives more traffic to your website but because the traffic is very specific and the buyer is searching with high intent.
By ensuring your website will rank high, you can not only be there in their time of need but also provide them with any other relevant information related to their search query. By helping the user, you position yourself to become a trusted resource they will come back to when they have similar needs.
While there are many search engines, Google is primarily the leader in all consumer searches. Google is responsible for 94% of all organic traffic. This article specifically highlights how Google ranks webpages.
Google considers over 200 factors when ranking search results. It’s impossible to know them all and the factors may change as Google constantly updates its ranking algorithm. The most important include:
- Domain- level, link authority – quantity and quality of links pointing back to your domain
- Page-level link features – page ranking, number of links, anchor text distribution, quality of link sources
- Keywords – terms related to what users are searching for
Other known ranking factors include site speed (including mobile page speed), content quality, mobile-friendliness, social signals (sharing content on social media channels) and website security and accessibility.
All About Keywords
Keywords are the terms the user enters when conducting a search, and you want to ensure your website ranks high for these terms. The first step in optimizing your content for search engines is to determine the keywords you want to target.
When determining what keywords you want to go after, you need to look at:
- Search volume – how many people are searching for a specific keyword. The more people searching for a keyword, the larger the audience you reach.
- Relevance – terms related to your target prospect but may not be directly related to the service you provide. If a topic is relevant to your target audience, you can try to rank for the keyword.
- Competition – how competitive the keyword is to rank for. Knowing the likelihood of how the specific terms will rank will help you decide whether a keyword is worth targeting.
To get started in your keyword quest, you must determine your target audience and see what keywords they’re searching for. You can also look at your competitors to see what search queries they rank high for and find out if there is an opportunity for you to rank for those terms as well.
You should also utilize keyword research tools such as SEMRush to obtain a detailed list of different keywords. Once you decide on your target keywords, start including them in your content.
Make sure you are targeting attainable keywords. If you target a super competitive, broad keyword, you may have a hard time ranking for that term.
But, if you try to target keywords that have less competition and lower search volume, you may have a higher chance of ranking for that term.
Long-tail keywords will be your best bet here.
For example, if an employer wanted to figure out how to conduct an employee background check, they would likely input the question directly by typing in the search query “how to do an employee background check.”
ShareAble for Hires ranks number one for this long-tail keyword.
Long-tail keywords tend to be less competitive and bring in more quality traffic because the user’s search was so specific.
Try to think like your target consumers. If you were a consumer, what would you input into the search query? These long-tail keywords are easier to target and implement into your content.
It’s also important to consider the differences between branded and non-branded keywords. For example, branded keywords are keywords that are directly related to your brand. The most common branded keyword is usually the name of a company. If you are just getting started with your own company, you may want to conduct keyword research around potential brand names. For example, some brands have a name that can have lots of keyword crossover, like Mint. Mint is a keyword that is both branded and can be used in a non-branded context. Other brand names may not run into this specific issue, so it’s important to consider and recognize the differences between both branded and non-branded keywords.
Image Source: 123rf.com
Each page of your site should contain your target keywords as well as a few related keyword terms. To be effective your keywords need to be placed in certain areas of the page. To help drive traffic to your site, you need to understand the key on-page elements:
- Title tags – the title you see on the browser’s tab. Ensure the keyword appears natural because it is the first thing users will see when your content appears on the results page. Keep in mind, title tags beginning with a keyword perform better than title tags with a keyword at the end. The title tag is not to be confused with your page’s primary headline which will use an H1 or H2 tag.
- Meta description – a quick summary of the content appearing below the link. It helps users determine whether they are going to click on your page. The meta description does not appear on your web page. It’s more like an additional ad copy. Your meta description should be compelling so users are intrigued to click on the link and visit your site. As with the title tag, the keyword should be placed naturally in the meta description.
- Content – the substance of your website is most valuable to readers and should answer the question they searched for. Make sure your content is unique, engaging, easy-to-read and loads quickly. Otherwise, your audience will go elsewhere – likely to your competitors.
- Alt tags – additional information about a given image (if you use images). It helps usability if the user is not able to view the image. If the keyword doesn’t naturally fit into the alt attribution, you don’t need to include it, just don’t forget the alt tag is an important element of on-page optimization.
- URL structure – file structure of a given website. You want to have a short to the point structure and include keyword if it fits naturally. Try not to change your URL structure and if you do, make sure you have the correct type of redirect.
Links are one of the most important ranking signals. They tell Google what content on your site is valuable. Internal links direct visitors from one page of your domain to another. They are important in SEO because:
- Help users navigate through your website
- Spread link equity
- Establish page hierarchy
Below is an example of how SmartMove uses internal linking in the content on their homepage.
Image Source: SmartMove
Aside from having internal links, external links from other websites back to your site are extremely important because it establishes your authority. The more links you have from trusted sites pointing back to your domain, the better you will rank in Google’s algorithm.
Link building is an important element of content marketing. When you produce high-quality, useful content, people are going to be more likely to link to your page. To reach a higher audience – another important ranking factor – make use of your social media channels.
Technical SEO refers to optimizing your website to help search engines access, crawl and index your pages. It also includes any technical aspects of improving search visibility. Some important technical SEO elements include:
- Page speed – the measurement of how long a web page takes to load. Page speed is also important for usability. Most users will leave a page if it takes longer than three seconds to load. Your bounce rate will likely increase if you have a longer load time. This can also affect the average time a user is on a given page. Mobile page speed is also an important factor. In 2018, Google updated its algorithm to include mobile page speed since more than half of all organic search traffic comes from mobile devices. To check your page speed, use Google’s Page Speed Insights tool.
- Mobile-friendly – with more people accessing the web on mobile devices, Google shows results from sites optimized for mobile devices first. To ensure your site is mobile-friendly, make sure you have a responsive site design to automatically resize your pages to fit any device that’s accessing it. Make use of large fonts to ensure text is readable on a small screen, is easy to navigate and doesn’t hide content under ads. To see how mobile-friendly your site is, use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
- Redirects – when one URL is forwarded to a different URL. The most commonly-used redirect in SEO is 302, which means the content has moved permanently to another location. For SEO purposes, it’s not recommended to temporarily redirect content unless necessary.
- Duplicate content – content appearing on the internet at more than one web address. When search engines come across duplicate content, they don’t know which version to rank in search results. When they don’t know which content to include or exclude from indexing, your site can suffer losses in traffic and search ranking. To fix duplicate content issues, you need to specify the correct content and make sure you don’t have identical content on different pages on your website. Slight modifications do not help. You need to ensure all of your content is unique.
Tracking Your Rankings
Once you have your SEO strategy down, make sure to track your rankings to see the progress of your SEO efforts and if you need to make any tweaks. To help you see the volume of visitors coming to your site and what pages they are coming to, keep track of your keyword rankings as well as your organic traffic.
Results don’t happen overnight so you probably won’t see your site at the top of the SERPs right away. It can take months to see results but be patient and the results will come.
While the concept of SEO is pretty straightforward, it can be difficult to keep track of all the ranking factors and new rules.
After reading this article, you should understand what SEO is, why it’s important and how to rank higher in search results. The most important thing to remember is the ultimate goal of SEO is to attract more business by driving more organic traffic to your website. If done right, your SEO efforts will generate more leads and drive your conversion rate higher.
About the author: Corey Doane is a contributing editor for 365 business tips. She has a B.S in Public Relations from San Jose State University and has experience in PR, marketing and communications.