What IS SEO?
An Explanation of Search Engine Optimization
SEO, SEM, CRM, CMS. We marketers throw out a lot of acronyms, don’t we? Today we’re going to demystify at least one of those acronyms for you, because SEO (or search engine optimization) doesn’t have to be confusing or scary!
What IS Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Search engines are the websites like Google or Bing that people use to find things online. Often your computer has a default search engine set so you can open your browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer) and just type a question into the top and it will pull up a search engine for you without you having to even know what that means!
Optimizing for search engines means writing your website content and setting it up in a way that will make your website rank more highly in their search results. An example: Say someone’s looking for “web design company in Delaware.” As a web design company, we make sure that we have a page specifically about the keywords people are using to search for us (like web design) and we write additional blog posts (like this one) about web design and similar topics!
BUT there’s more to it than just writing content that includes your keywords. Search engines look for content that is truly valuable to their users. Search algorithms are getting smarter all the time and they know the difference between keyword “stuffing” and content that is actually helpful. In addition to parsing your content, search engines also take a look at the way your website is set up. Does it load quickly? Is it accessible for screen readers? Is it secured with SSL?
We’ll go through some of the things you can do to improve your website’s SEO.
On-Page SEO vs Off-Page SEO
There are actually 2 sides to high search rankings, on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
On-page SEO refers to the different factors that you can control on your own website. To build strong on-page SEO, you should research the keywords people are using to look for organizations like yours, and then make sure your website is addressing those keywords in a meaningful way. In addition to keyword strategy, you’ll need to make sure your website is user friendly, follows general best practices, and is accessible for people who use websites in different ways, like those who have vision impairments. Some things to review:
- Keywords in page titles, headers, and throughout the copy
- Meta description filled out for the page
- Alt text filled out for all images (this is the text that will appear if an image doesn’t load for someone’s browser AND that screen readers read for those who are visually impaired)
- Your SSL Certificate is set up and working (look for the lock icon next to your URL in the browser!)
- Your website loads quickly and resizes well for different screen types like tablets and mobile devices
- Ensure that it is ADA compliant and meets accessibility standards for people with disabilities
- Linking relevant pages on your website to each other and linking to other websites that provide additional value to your users
- Set up a Google Business Page and get it verified! This gives you a chance to appear in the business list that shows up before the actual search results
Off-page SEO is about your reputation beyond your own website. In addition to crawling your website, search engines take a look at how many other websites link back to your website and the quality of those sites. It’s not enough to just get lots of backlinks — they should be from credible websites with high authority in your industry. Some ways to get backlinks:
- Guest blogging or submitting posts to publication sites in your industry
- Adding your website to online listings and joining membership organizations that will give you an online member profile
- Creating valuable content (blog) that is easy for people to share!
Black Hat SEO (What Not to Do)
Where there is a system, there are people who try to game it. Throughout the years people have come up with ways to trick the search engines. But the problem with using these tricks (also known as black hat SEO) is that search engines (and the people who program them) catch on and continue to improve their algorithms to detect them.
Our favorite example of black hat SEO was back when people used to pick a font color that was the same as their website background and then repeat the same keywords 100’s of times on the same page. The user didn’t see it, but the search engines did!
But here’s the thing: not only do you lose your rankings once search engines catch on to what you’re doing, they also start penalizing for these things. So those once highly-ranked sites are now flagged as spam and will probably never be able to get decent web traffic because Google doesn’t want to send users to a site that isn’t trustworthy. (Wondering if you’re using black hat SEO without knowing it? Here’s a list of tactics not use.)
If you’re ever tempted by a “quick SEO” tactic, think twice! Building high-quality valuable content takes time, and there’s just no substitute for that.
How to Pick the Right Keywords
So you’re ready to write valuable content for your users. But what should you write about?
Choosing the right keywords is partially intuitive — how well do you know your target audience? How are they looking for information and what questions are they asking? And the other part is good old fashioned research.
We recommend tools like Google Keyword Planner, which will let you put in the keywords you think your audience is using and then show you related searches and information on how many searches have been made for each one.
One thing to know about keywords is that they’re getting longer. There used to be an art to searching for information. You’d have to format searches like this “css syntax border properties.” Whereas now you can ask actual questions like, “what is the css syntax to change border color?”
As people start using search engines more freely and especially as speech-to-text becomes more popular, this more natural, human way of speaking is only going to become more prevalent. That’s why we always recommend getting to know your target audience and finding out what questions they’re asking. These should form the basis for the content you put out because providing value to your target audience will also improve your SEO.
The SEO Quick Summary
- Make sure your website functions properly and is easy to use
- Know your target audience and what information they’re looking for
- Create valuable content to help them answer those questions and try to incorporate the actual words they use
That’s it! Follow those 3 basic steps and you’ll have reasonably good SEO. However, if you ever do want to refine your SEO strategy to start generating leads in a big way or if you’re in a particularly competitive industry that’s fighting for keywords, set up a call with us!