SEO, or “search engine optimization”, involves increasing the quality and quantity of your website traffic. This increase in website traffic that SEO produces creates exposure for your brand through non-paid or “organic” search engine results.
The most important thing to know about SEO is it’s really about understanding what your customers are searching for online. Businesses need to know what questions their customers have, the words (keywords) they use to seek answers and the type of content they typically consume. Knowing these things about your audience will allow your business to connect with customers searching online for the solutions your business offers. However, knowing your customers is only one side of the SEO coin. Optimizing your website so search engine crawlers can find and understand it is the other.
Why is SEO important?
While paid advertising, social media, and other online platforms can also generate traffic to websites, the majority of online traffic is driven by search engines. Organic search results cover more digital real estate, appear more credible to searchers and receive more clicks than paid advertisements. For instance, of all searches performed in the US, only approximately 3% of users click on paid advertisements. This means that SEO has approximately 20 times more traffic opportunity than paid clicks on both mobile and desktop devices.
Paid vs Organic Results
SEO is also one of the only online marketing channels that, when set up correctly, can continue to pay off exponentially in the long term. If you provide solid content that earns a rank for the right keywords, your traffic can snowball over time. “Organic results” appear purely based on the quality and content of the page. The resulting traffic from users finding your page is called “Organic traffic”. Organic traffic is considered to be the most valuable traffic source because:
- Moving up in the rankings is difficult and takes time but, once you’re there you reap the benefits for a long time.
- Results on the first page of Google receive 92% off all search traffic on Google. Search traffic drops by 95% on the second page.
- 33% of clicks from organic search results go to the very first listing on Google.
Organic search is based on unpaid rankings determined by search engine algorithms which can be optimized with various SEO practices. Before everyone and their mom was online, ranking well on Google wasn’t difficult at all. In fact, the competition was so slim that simply writing a few articles about a subject was enough to gain the top spot on the rankings. Things have changed dramatically in the last ten years.
In contrast, paid search allows you to pay to have your website displayed on the first SERP (search engine results page top 10) when a user types specific keywords or phrases. Paid search has been more popular in recent years because organic search has become more competitive. Rather than having to wait patiently for your SEO to build up, you can pay for the chance to be seen on page one of Google immediately. A strong marketing strategy balances inbound with outbound, using a combination of search engine optimization and paid search to get found online.
When to hire an SEO professional?
While search engines are getting smarter, they still need help from us humans. Optimizing your website will help deliver better information to search engine crawlers so that your content can be properly indexed and displayed on SERP’s. Depending on your bandwidth, willingness to learn, and the complexity of your website, you could perform some basic SEO yourself. If you discover that you don’t have the time or the patience, you may opt for expert help. Either way is fine! Just be certain that the SEO expert you hire engages in best practices for SEO.
Beware of “Black Hat SEO”
“White Hat SEO” are practices that abide by strict search engine rules. This SEO strategy is about providing more value to potential customers the “right” way. “Black Hat SEO” refers to techniques and strategies that attempt to spam or fool search engines. While black hat SEO can work, it puts your website in risk of being penalized and/or de-indexed (removed from search results) and has ethical implications. For this reason, it’s important to be very careful when hiring an SEO expert and ensure they engage in “White Hat SEO” practices.
SEO Basics (Welcome to the other side)
Learn what your customers are searching for:
It’s impossible to optimize your website without learning what your customers are searching for. Duh, right? The best way to figure this out is to use plain old common sense: Ask your current customers how they found you. Or, imagine that you are a person searching online for the services your business offers. What would you type in the search engine? This is how to come up with some basic keywords or phrases. Done? Not quite. Once you have those basic searches jotted down, dive into complex search results. To expand on search results you will need to employ additional tactics to learn about engaging topics in your field. The next step is to create content that captures that audiences interests.
Optimize your pages for search:
Your pages need to be structured well and that starts with making sure your visitors are enjoying the UX (user experience) of your website. Use design and typography that makes it easy to digest your websites content. Be sure to streamline site navigation and remove any elements that can potentially annoy your users such as pop-ups and repetitive widgets. Clean up URLS and make sure they are short and descriptive of the page or post. For WordPress sites, Yoast SEO is our recommended plugin for on-page optimization. It’s also a guide for creating content that aligns with search intent, meta titles, descriptions, headers and subheaders. Last but not least is image optimization. Images are great for people but unfortunately, search engines have a hard time making sense of them. This is why image titles and alt tags are important. It’s also important to make sure that your images do not increase the page loading time of your website which can impede your search engine rank.
Your website must be accessible to search engines AND humans:
Your website needs to load fast, be mobile friendly, secure and properly indexed. Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to learn how fast your pages load. This tool also provides advice on how to improve your page load speed. Today, more than 60% of searches are completed from mobile devices. Google also has a Mobile Friendly Test tool to help with mobile device optimization. To secure your website, especially if you have an eCommerce website, install an SSL certificate. HTTPS is now one of the ranking indicators Google uses. Another important ranking indicator is a sitemap. A sitemap contains your website structure and tell search engines what pages to index whereas a robots.txt file provides instructions to search engines on which parts of a page they should and shouldn’t index.
Be sure to link both internally and externally on your website. Internal links improve SEO by increasing the crawling speed. External links provide your link to other websites as a referral domain. Referral domains have a positive effect on search traffic. These internal and external links are the foundation for building backlinks. To build backlinks you will also need to analyze how your competitors are building links. This is often the time to hire an SEO professional. Searching for broken links on relevant websites to your business and offering your content as an alternative, guest blogging and measuring the results of these efforts over time take a lot of time, patience, strategy and monitoring.
Monitor and Track your results:
Google Analytics is a free tool to track and measure the results of your SEO efforts. Two key items to track include Organic Traffic and Page Content Ranking.
Realistically, it takes 3 to 6 months to start seeing movement in search rankings. Most people just don’t want to wait that long or don’t have the time to devote to SEO while also managing business operations. Consider hiring an SEO professional and view it as an investment in your business, not an expense. When done properly, it will pay off in the long run.