Learning Hub | Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
What is SEO and How do I Improve it?
July 8, 2016 | Jon Teodoro
Two small words. One big idea.
Google is a noun that became so synonymous with information in our society that it turned into a colloquial verb. Add the pronoun “it,” and you’re left with a phrase that can lead you to just about every answer to any question you’ve ever had.
Actors in “Star Wars Episode 7.” Healthy green smoothie recipes. How to get rid of dog fleas. Yoga studios in L.A. Coffee shops near me….
According to internet live stats, “Google now processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average (visualize them here), which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide.”
With that much information floating around the Web, how can you possibly get your website to stand out? How can you get your service or product to be one of the “answers” at the top of the page?
This is where SEO comes in. Search Engine Optimization is an invaluable tool that affects the visibility of your site or individual web page in a search engine’s (think Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) list of results.
It is important to mention that SEO focuses on organic search results, not paid ones. By implementing SEO in your site’s content correctly, your page will move up on the list free of charge! There is no other marketing tool with such a low price tag and such a magnificent outcome.
So, how do you do it? And what is it exactly?
SEO and Content
SEO is a way of dissecting and looking at every aspect of your site from overall design and hierarchy of information to writing specific content and paying attention to links.
In a sense, everything that goes into your site is being optimized with one goal in mind: to boost traffic from your target audience to your business, service, blog, whatever. To be sure this happens, the first step is to decide what keywords your target audience would be typing into the search engine.
For example, let’s say that you own a massage therapy practice in San Francisco, California. When you begin to brainstorm for SEO content, you would make a list of possible keywords that your target audience may search. The list could look like the following:
- Massage therapy San Francisco
- Massages San Francisco
- Massage therapy financial district
- Massage therapy near Fisherman’s Wharf
- Massage for joint pain
- Deep tissue massage in San Francisco
You get the picture.
A simple way to think about SEO is to compare it to a matching game. If you know that “massage therapy near Fisherman’s Wharf” is a likely candidate for what your clients would search for, then you want to be sure to incorporate these words in key places throughout your site.
When Google or any other search engine combs through your site, it will register these keywords as a match for the search and pop you into a high result spot.
**It is important to note that although all search engines work similarly, Google is a leader in the SEO game, coming up constantly with innovative algorithms that detect exact keyword matches as well as synonyms. This means that on top of picking up exact words, Google is starting to be able to infer meaning behind similar word matches. Therefore, we may mention the use of Google search more than others in this article.**
The matching of a searched keyword to content in your site is one piece of the puzzle. It is important to have such words incorporated into your pages, but does it matter where they are located?
The short answer is it does.
Search engines will rank the hierarchy of each page from most important to least important information like an outline format. This helps them decipher the page in a way that they can quickly generate search results for their users.
The page title or main headline is the most important player in this matching game, followed by the subtitle, paragraph header and first paragraph down through the last one.
Making sure that you get those SEO buzzwords somewhere in the title or subtitle is important in ranking high on search results, so placement is a close second in importance to correct keyword usage.
Let’s go back to the example. If I know that “massage therapy near Fisherman’s Wharf” is a hot search for my clients, I may construct the page to look something like this:
Our Fisherman’s Wharf Massage Parlor
Massage Therapy for the average San Franciscan
Our parlor offers an array of massage styles geared toward combatting city stress. Stress lives in our muscles, and massage therapy can help even the busiest city dweller unwind. Conveniently located in San Francisco near Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach and Cow Hollow, our parlor provides massage therapy in a tranquil setting that will allow you to disconnect from the bustling city outside.
As you can see, I made sure to incorporate versions of that keyword phrase into the title, subtitle and first paragraph. I also peppered in some locator tags to snag search results in surrounding areas which, especially when dealing with cities, can be helpful.
Now that we’ve talked about how to select and incorporate SEO keywords into our content, let’s look at the more technical side of things.
According to Search Engine Journal, 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine, 68% of which use Google to do so. This means that if you’re missing out on search traffic, you could be excluding your site from the majority of your potential audience so let’s take a look at some things you can do on-page that can boost your SEO ranking.
Content Consultant Neil Patel says “On-page SEO concerns all of Google’s ranking factors that are determined by directly looking at the page you try to optimize, such as headlines, content and page structure.”
Patel breaks on-page SEO into three categories: content, HTML and architecture. Let’s take a brief look at each.
This is numero uno because Google’s main objective is to direct its customers to what it believes to be the best content for their search. Google will focus on content that exhibits:
- Make sure content is as easy-to-understand, succinct and compelling as possible based on cues from your target audience.
- Keyword Research
- Research and choose your targeted keywords before you start writing.
- Come up with creative wording to implement them in your titles and throughout your pages.
- Spend some time on this and look for “keyword research beginner’s guide” if you need help.
- Use of Keywords
- Don’t stuff your exact target keywords throughout your site’s text. It won’t read well, will come off robotic and can actually hurt your rankings with Google rather than improve them.
- Place your keywords in strategic places like headlines, URLs and meta descriptions, and incorporate them elsewhere when it sounds seamless.
- Google has gotten very good at detecting synonyms and “reading into” what you mean so make sure to keep your users’ experience in mind when writing.
- The goal is to get Google to detect you, but also provide your users with a personal and lovely experience. They don’t want to feel like they’re being sold.
- There are many ways to keep your site up-to-date. Some include:
- Page creation
- Frequent posts
- New links from fresh sites
- Increased traffic
- Inception date
- There are many ways to keep your site up-to-date. Some include:
- Direct Answers
- Fairly new to Google search, if your content is written well enough that Google can detect it as a direct answer to a specific question, it will pop up as a first result right under the search bar.
- Cut out jargon and get right down to specifics with your writing.
Patel compares owning a business and not knowing HTML basics with driving on the road without knowing what the colors of light signals signify. Broken up into four parts, HTML is a crucial focus when optimizing your SEO.
- Title Tags
- These are page titles, noted in HTML as <title> or <h1-tag>
- Denote a first-order heading
- One per page
- Incorporate your target keywords here.
- Meta Description
- Pops up under the page links on a Google results list
- Gives the user a brief description of what they will find on specific pages and why they should choose one in particular
- 160 characters or less
- Should mention keywords right up front to pull users to your page – That’s the end goal so consider your users more than the search engine with these.
- Specific HTML tags
- Improve your site display on the results page
- h2, h3, h4…and so on
- Have less SEO power than title tags (h1-tag), but are still considered by search engines so they are important
- Clarify and organize your content
- Provide a better user experience by setting reference points
- Act as a guide
Site architecture involves things like mobile-friendly design (aka responsive design), loading times and safe connections – all of which Google takes into consideration when ranking its results. Some things to consider:
- Make sure your pages are easy to “crawl.” The easier it is to reach and index all of the pages, the more likely programs will report back to Google that your site is a good option for a top result.
- Page organization and internal links (links that connect pages within your site) are important here.
- Create a sitemap to provide organization and clarity so that programs can easily get an overall look at what your site contains. You can use a WordPress plugin or XML sitemap generator.
- Be careful when reposting your exact content on other mediums. Thought it doesn’t necessarily hurt your SEO ranking, it could if the outlet where you post gets picked up by Google as having a more authoritative domain than yours. In this case, Google would point the user to the content on their page before yours.
- Mobile-friendly sites are pretty much the only option if you want to be successful in the SEO game. If your site isn’t responsive to different gadgets (cellphones, tablets, etc.), you will be far behind your competition. Google provides an easy way for you to test your site’s mobile-friendliness.
- There are many tools on the Web that will test your page-load speed. This is crucial, and you already know it. People will leave your page if it takes too long to load, and by too long we mean every second counts. This goes for words, pictures, videos – everything. The Internet is immediate, and your site’s pages need to be too.
- Include your keywords in the URLs to your individual pages and blog posts.
- Google takes the secure connection of your site into consideration when ranking it. Moving to an HTTPS (a secure HTTP) or SSL (secure socket layer) is worth your time. Not only can it boost you on Google’s end, but you want your users to feel safe when visiting your site or they might not come back.
You can find great detail on all of these aspects by doing a little research (ironically, on Google!), but there is a lot to learn. With plugins and added features on template generators such as WordPress, you can easily get through it by only knowing the basics.
If you hope to dig in further, web design companies like us can help you with every step, taking over the bulk of it so that you only have to worry about the need-to-knows.
Off-page SEO is largely out of your hands, but it is still important to know how it works because it affects your rankings.
Digital Marketing Consultant Shane Barker has a great infographic where you can digest all of this information visually, but let’s look at some of the most important off-page SEO factors.
- A backlink is when another web page that’s not yours links to your site like I did above to Shane Barker’s blog.
- To measure backlink quality, Google will look at how relevant, trustworthy and authoritative (.edu, .gov, .org) the site linking it is. The higher it rates on all three of these, the better.
- You can increase backlink numbers through guest blogging, testimonials, social media, infographics, website and product reviews, and podcasts just to name a few.
- You don’t have to wait around for backlinks. You can reach out to people and network to build them. Keep these things in mind when doing so:
- Quality over quantity for these links
- Natural Language
- The language that a user actually reads to link to your page is important.
- Shoot for contextual backlinks
- NO – To learn more about backlinks, click here.
- YES – Want to learn more about backlinks?
- Not as important as quality, but still important
- Aim to build quality backlinks over time.
- Your audience will come to you if you optimize your site content while providing them with what they want and need.
- “Content is King.” – Bill Gates
- We’ve hammered this nail a bit but just to reiterate, make sure that your content is fresh, valuable and engaging, and others will link to it.
- Two kinds:
- Domain Authority – How well-known is your domain?
- Page Authority – How authoritative is your single-page content?
- There are several online tools that will help you check the overall authority of your site.
- Two kinds:
- This rate measures how many people look at one page on your site and then leave before looking at anything else.
- Keep people on pages with intriguing content, videos, high quality images, infographics or testimonials.
- This takes time to build, but keep it in mind if you are just getting started because it will come in handy later.
- Come up with your brand, which includes everything from recognizable colors, styles and fonts to language and logo.
- Think about some popular brands to help you get an idea of what all this involves: McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Target are some highly-recognizable examples.
Location of Searcher
- The user’s location is taken into account by Google when it generates its search results. You’ve probably seen this if you’ve typed in “fast-food restaurants near me,” and the results told you that one was .02 miles away.
- Consider using location keywords sprinkled in your text so that Google picks you up when someone searches them.
- Also, if you get to the multinational level, keep in mind language barriers and country customs.
- Quality of shares matters just like the quality of backlinks. If a fashion blogger from E-News shares your handbag site in one of her articles on their page, that’s a quality share.
One Hat, Two Hat. White-hat, Black-hat.
Black-hat SEO is the get in, get out quick of the marketing world. Sure, it may increase traffic to your site, but it will do nothing for the quality of your brand over time.
Black-hat SEO is when you optimize your site taking into consideration only the search engines and not your human audience.
This type of SEO approach winds up using spammy, robotic language that will ultimately crush your site’s chances of getting views and, although you may rank as a high search result quickly, it will not last and is not a sustainable business practice.
You want to use white-hat SEO, which focuses on providing your audience with the best experience possible and the most valuable content according to the specs that will get you higher on search engine result pages (SERPs).
- Duplicate content
- Stuffed keywords
- Gimmicky language
- Non-relevant links
- Relevant, valuable content
- Seamless keyword usage
- Valuable links
- Images, videos, infographics, etc.
- Mindful spelling, grammar and page hierarchy
As you can see here, learning about SEO is somewhat like reading a never-ending story, and to top it off, things are constantly changing in the marketing world with daily innovations.
You don’t have to be a know-it-all. You most likely don’t want to go back to school to learn programming, and you are certainly busy running a business. But, you do need to be aware of the power of online marketing and the wonders that it can do for your profits long-term.
You wouldn’t want to make a bad investment with your company’s finances so don’t make one with your company’s future. Build these relationships now, take the time to learn SEO basics and above all, keep your users in the forefront of your decision-making process, and you will reap the benefits.
Trust us, SEO is the sharpest tool in your marketing tool belt. If you still need help honing the blade, contact us and tell us a little about your project.