Unless your brand operates solely on face-to-face, hyper-local connections, you need to have a website. And you need that website to be easily discoverable by current and potential customers interested in your products or services. Otherwise, you’ll be at a distinct disadvantage with competitors who do.
It’s an increasingly global marketplace, and the internet provides a unique opportunity to reach people throughout the world. No longer do you just open a newspaper to look for ads for businesses. Now, of course, you search the internet with a search engine.
Wondering how and why specific sites appear when you search for whatever you’re looking for? That’s what this search engine optimization, or SEO, tutorial is designed to explain.
Keep in mind, however, that SEO does not work so fast. It’s a long-term digital marketing strategy that evolves dynamically as algorithms and technology change with time.
By incorporating an SEO strategy into your marketing plan, you’ll be well ahead of all the other websites on the internet. Because it’s an obvious step in the development of a business to simply have a website, you’re also at a disadvantage if you have not optimized your site to be found by search engines online.
Understanding Search Engines
Google is by far the most used search engine in the world, with other search engines like Bing, Yahoo!, Baidu, YANDEX RU, making up just a small percentage of searches.
Other search engines, like Lycos, Ask Jeeves, and MSN, have fallen by the wayside. It’s worth remembering that creating search engines is a business, and the engineers working on it are constantly figuring out ways to enhance their product by producing better results for what users are looking for.
Google may be the market leader, but they are also always changing to offer a better user experience. This, in turn, allows them to increase the cost of digital advertisements on their platform for a greater return. If you typed in a search term and got nothing but low-quality sites that don’t offer you solutions, you’d soon be looking for a new search engine.
The marketing budgets of most companies these days include a line for online advertisements, including Google Ads. Simple advertisements do not involve SEO. SEO is a different technique, instead relying on search engine rankings to generate leads. By optimizing your site, you will organically rank higher on search engine results page, or SERP, that you get when you run a search.
It’s simple human behavior: if your website displays before your competition, consumers will be more likely to click on your site. If they click on your site, you’ve just generated a lead for your business.
What is SEO?
It’s one thing to talk about how important SEO is for your business, but what is SEO, exactly? Imagine you’ve been on the hunt for the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. Here’s what you’d see if you searched through Google:
How did Google decide on what websites to show? Broadly speaking, it selected results based on website and content relevance—which webmasters and content creators helped to enhance through search engine optimization (SEO).
Good SEO Needs Good Content
SEO is not totally free. It is actually a front-ended budgeting process. You need to have compelling content on your website in order to be effective with your optimization. What makes compelling content?
It Solves a Problem or Fulfills a Desire
Let’s cut to the chase—if your product or service is not something that people are searching for, you’re not going to get much success from SEO. This is true for blog posts, as well—your photos and articles need to be of or about things that people want to see. Whatever you are offering must be helpful to the people who are searching for answers.
In order to grab the attention of future customers and keep the business of those who have previously purchased whatever you are selling, you need to be first, best, or different in some way.
It Speaks Directly to Your Target Audience
If you don’t know who you should reach out to, you’re not going to connect with them. You need to optimize for a certain person. This is called creating a brand identity, and it’s crucial to your success in business as well as SEO work.
Everything that is on your website needs to be on brand. If you properly identify your target audience, you’ll create loyal followers. For example, if someone loves a blog article you have on your site, they’ll share it through their social media. Shares make a page rise in the search engine index.
It’s Easy and Enjoyable to Understand
It goes without saying that your website and all of its content needs to be well-written. Keywords should be integrated in a way that is smooth and natural. Websites that are a challenge to read are definitely not optimized for search engines.
Good content is not one-way communication. By including video links, photos, GIFs, polls, and links that call to action, you make it more likely that customers will spend more time on your site. This, in turn, is the beginning of a relationship that can create brand loyalty. That’s something every entrepreneur, CEO, business owner, or marketing executive wants.
Best SEO Practices
1. Good Website Design
Regardless of the template or hosting platform you choose for your website, it’s vital that your site follows good design principles. This means that the site clearly leads visitors to perform the action you want them to. Want them to buy something? The shopping cart function should be easy to spot.
If you are looking to build your reputation as a thought-leader, meanwhile, you’ll want your blog articles to be front-and-center by design. You’ll also want to create systems that handle sales, post-sale care, and follow up. The more effort you put into your design, the higher your SEO ranking.
2. High Accessibility
There’s nothing worse than clicking on a website and it not loading. If you have hard-to-load graphics, large photos, or videos that automatically load, your site is going to be a loading problem. That’s the opposite of optimized.
It’s crucial to think about those who may have limitations of speed and bandwidth when you are creating a website. Even if your demographic is in a high socioeconomic bracket, they may still be unable to access an overly complicated site. If someone is vacationing in Fiji and searches for something you are offering, you want to make sure they can load your site.
3. Excellent User Experience
More visitors to a site can help SEO, but it’s a chicken-and-egg scenario. How can you get more eyes on your website? Enhance the user experience. Adding white space will make it easier to read. Improving the speed to load a page helps. Adding lots of lists or subheadings helps break up the copy.
The right number of images—not too many, not too few—can make a site a pleasure to visit. When the images include descriptive alt text and captions, people will be able to find them easier, too.
4. Appropriate Keywords
For good SEO, you must integrate the right keywords. Keywords are the strings of words that people use to search in search engines.
There are short-tail keywords, which are one or two words, and long-tail keywords, which are longer phrases. To optimize the text on your website, it is vital that a marketing professional research these phrases and words.
If you don’t include content that describes your products or services in the same way that customers are searching for them, customers won’t find you. Keywords are the very heart of SEO. You need to find the right ones, and you need to integrate them smoothly into your content.
5. Engaging Writing
You know when writing is bad. You’ll read a paragraph and cringe at the poor grammar or awkward phrasing. It may even be obvious that the person who wrote it does not speak the language well. Keywords may be stuffed into the content in unnatural places.
When phrases and words don’t naturally flow, Google’s algorithm takes note. You may be punished if you reduce your quality of the writing featured on your website in the name of adding in as many keywords as possible.
It goes back to being useful. The words on your website are part of what you are offering current and potential customers. If every other phrase is the exact phrase they searched for, they’re going to figure it out—and the same goes for Google.
Embedded quotes, social media, quizzes, and games will add to your engaging content. Stay interactive and compelling, even if your branding is especially serious.
When you’re working toward optimization for search engines, you’ll want to make sure that you’re not creating obstacles for your marketing objectives. Keep the following issues in mind.
1. Forgetting about Functionality
When you’re creating a website, you need to have easy navigation. Having a good roadmap with a manageable number of interesting pages will increase your functionality and the likelihood that people will discover your website.
Google does not share its formula for what specifically it crawls for, but they do consider user experience. Since there is no list to tick off to ensure your site meets their definition of good UX, you need to do everything you can to make your website attractive and user-friendly.
Don’t dedicate too much of your home page to advertisements. Creating a quality website will help you avoid Google ranking penalties.
2. Ignoring Your Backlinks
Backlinks are hyper-linked URLS that other sites include in their sites. While it is beneficial to be visible to other audiences through these links, the real benefit to backlinking is in SEO. Your URL will naturally rise in search engine rank when many other websites link to you.
There are many different ways to encourage backlinks. When there are sites for brands that are complementary, you can approach them with exchanges for blog posts. You can let them know about what you are offering and make an arrangement.
Everyone on the internet is looking for content, and everyone wants to improve their SEO. Collaboration is a good marketing strategy.
3. Not Caring about Social Media for Viral Links
Another way to increase your ranking on search engine results pages is by engaging your loyal customers. If you produce a blog post, video, or other pieces of content that people naturally want to share with their social media followers, your page will rise in rank.
Think about the psychology of your target audience when you are creating an SEO-friendly marketing plan. Prospective customers may not discover you by inputting a string of words into a search engine. They may find you through their social media feed thanks to a friend who already appreciates your product or service.
4. “Setting and Forgetting”
The challenge of SEO is that it is a constantly changing and evolving practice. There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to understanding what search engines are looking for. Google and other search engine algorithms are constantly changing, and you have to as well.
The easiest way to do this, besides monitoring industry news, is to create and analyze measurable objectives. Think about your goals for your comprehensive marketing plan. Using the tools that are available, including Google Analytics, you can see how your site is performing.
Getting Started with SEO
SEO takes work. Google and other search engines are able to see when sites are trying to hack the system in an effort to rise in the ranks.
In the past, sites with domain authority were able to produce content that contained keywords and unnatural backlinks to rank for nearly anything. Today, Google considers this practice on par with spam.
There’s no hacking anymore: you must implement a variety of strategies for successful lead conversion.
Start with Content
The first step to building a well-optimized site is to address your content. You must provide well-written, useful articles and other descriptive information throughout your site. The better your content is, the more likely you will receive attention (and backlinks) from third-party editorial sites. You’ll also naturally offer a better user experience.
First, though, do you have enough content? You need to fill your pages with words and links that search engines can crawl through when populating search results. While it is unknown how many words Google requires, articles generally need to be at least 500 words, while web pages should offer around 2,500 words. The more content you serve, the more likely your site will show up in a crawl for information.
Good content also positions you as an authority and facilitates a good user experience. It all works together to help you rise in organic rank.
Make sure that you don’t have misleading titles or links that send your customers to pages that are not helpful. The more compelling and helpful your page’s title and URL are, the more likely someone will click on it.
Also, don’t forget to optimize your images. Include descriptive alt tags and captions that can rank in Google Images.
Keywords need to be strategic, too. Use a keyword research tool to determine what short-tail and long-tail keywords can be naturally woven into well-written copy. Some keyword research tools include:
- Google Keyword Planner
- Ahrefs Keyword Explorer
- Keyword Tool.io
- Answer the Public
Some of these sites require a monthly subscription while others are free. Savvy marketers will use more than one tool to determine what customers are typing to search for them. You can’t rely on how you personally search as a way to determine keywords. A tool will help you better understand your target audience and the psychology behind organic searches.
Once you have a list of keywords, you’ll want to be careful to avoid keyword stuffing. Google is able to identify when a site is filled with searchable phrases instead of useful content.
Refine Your UX
Be critical of your own website when implementing an SEO strategy. Some site owners will fill their pages with user-generated content, such as comments and posts, that are unmoderated and not useful to readers. Others will duplicate content across different sites or pages. Avoid this for a better user experience, and consider:
- Does your site look good and function well on mobile devices? In 2020, Google switched to a “mobile-first” indexing system because so many people use their mobile devices for web browsing. It is crucial that your site’s content works on a mobile platform if you care about SEO.
- Are your pages filled with advertisements that interfere with the copy? Think of the way newspapers are designed. The most important information is above the fold, making you want to pick up the other sections of the newspaper. If the paper was filled with advertisements above the fold, you wouldn’t put the energy into opening up the paper to read the headlines. It’s the same for websites. Put your best content “above the fold.” Avoid pop-up advertisements that cover the main content of your site or ads that redirect users to other places that they may not be searching for.
- In general, don’t annoy your visitors with advertisements. Ads that suddenly blast music, for example, are frustrating. If you think it’s annoying, chances are Google will, too—and it will penalize you for it.
As you implement an SEO strategy, create some measurable objectives to track success along the way. Use the Google Search Console dashboard and KPI tools from keyword research sites to monitor changes in page views and engagement.
Perform regular audits of your content and monitor your keyword rankings to see if anything needs to change. The more effort you put into a smart SEO strategy, the better your results.
Your goal may simply be to make money, but Google demands more. You must provide expertise and authority in your content. This is how you gain the trust of not only of your target audience, but also of Google. You must provide value in order to have a high organic ranking.
The more you use well-established experts for writing your content, the more likely your efforts will be reflected in your KPIs.
Use a Guide
Remember, SEO is a dynamic process. Every year, Google reviews and updates its algorithm for searches. You’ll always need to be refining your site and researching new SEO techniques to incorporate into your digital marketing. There are plenty of resources for more in-depth understanding, including:
Successful SEO Takes Time
Even if you immediately implement all the best practices outlined in this guide, it will still take some time to rise in rank in search engine results. Marketers find that it can take anywhere from four months to a year before SEO practices start to pay off.
While you work to improve your content and user experience, you’ll want to continually maintain your site. Broken links, images that don’t load, or outdated information can negatively impact your SEO goals. Keep an eye out on the latest SEO techniques by searching for what the experts are saying.
Wondering why which pages pop up first when you search? After reading this, I’m sure you know.
This article was written by Compose.ly writer Suzanne Wentley.