Search engine optimization (SEO) is a combination of strategies used to increase the visibility of a website in search results in order to maximize organic (unpaid) traffic.
Put simply, SEO is about making sure your website is set up in a way that makes it easy for search engines to “read” your website pages and “recommend” them to users who are searching for answers.
There’s a lot that falls under the umbrella of SEO, so in this post we’re going to focus on just the basics. Once you have these concepts down, it’ll be easier to dive deeper into a particular SEO topic. Plus, you’ll be able to identify some quick wins to improve your website’s SEO right off the bat.
How Search Engines Work
As soon as you make your website live, search engines (like Google) “crawl” your website to learn what it’s about based on the information on each page. The “crawler” also takes note of every link, whether it’s to another page on the same site (an internal link) or to a page on a different site (an external link).
Each time someone makes a Google search, Google refers to over 200 points of criteria to determine which results (called SERPS, or search engine results pages) to display and in what order. All of that happens in less than an eighth of a second. Crazy, right?
Much of SEO describes the different ways that we (website administrators and content creators) can help search engines crawl, or understand, our websites. Done well, SEO can dramatically increase traffic and help get the most relevant users to your website. Done poorly, your website will have a hard time getting found — it will get buried by competitors who are continually learning and implementing SEO best practices.
Every decision you make that helps your SEO is like making a deposit into an investment account. It takes time to see the benefits but, as with financial investments, each deposit compounds and ultimately leads to enormous value.
Now that we know more about how search engines work, let’s talk about what you can do with your website content.
The term “content” refers to all of the headings, copy, images, videos and other files on your website. If users can read it or otherwise interact with it, it’s content. Without content, search engines have no idea how to index or categorize your site, and therefore won’t pull it up as a search result.
High-quality, relevant content is essential to building a discoverable website. “Relevant to what?” you may ask. We’re talking about how closely your content relates to the search queries your target audience is using to find information. Understanding your target users (buyer personas) and what topics and answers they’re looking for (also known as keywords) will help you focus on creating the most relevant content.
Voice search is expected to make up 50% of all searches by 2020. Consider how your users might phrase their questions differently when using voice search.
It’s impossible to relate to every search query, and trying to would be a terrible strategy. Instead, focus your content around a handful of core topics. Don’t be afraid of being too “niche” — if it’s what your buyer personas are searching for, you want to make sure Google knows that you have the answers!
Website Links (Building Credibility and Authority)
Another component of improving SEO is racking up some backlinks to grow your site’s credibility. Quality, relevant content is necessary but insufficient for a well-rounded strategy. The sites with the strongest SEO have a history of shares, links and referrals online. This is because Google likes to know how interesting other people think your content is, and it measures this through backlinks.
Backlinks are links to your domain (i.e., prosperforpurpose.com) from other domains. Bonus points if those backlinks are from websites that have high authority and credibility. For instance, a backlink from the New York Times will have much more clout than a backlink from a sketchy, spam-filled site.
If you already have an abundance of high-quality content published but only a few links from other websites, spend time growing your number of backlinks. Moz Open Site Explorer is one of several easy, free tools that estimates the number of backlinks to your domain.
Spread the Word
If you’re hard at work creating great content, make sure you’re also remembering to tell people about it. Social media is a great tool for sharing your website content and letting people know about your blog, downloadable guides, newsletter and/or other resources. Getting your content out there gives others a chance to read and enjoy it, pass it on to a friend or even post it on their own site, giving you another valuable backlink.
Other ways to spread the word include:
- Guest blogging and guest posting
- Joining discussion forums
- Turning written content into video for social media
- Registering with online business listings
- Creating an email newsletter with links to your content
The way your website is structured also plays into SEO, and this is where it can get a bit complex. From a high-level standpoint, a well-designed, responsive website (meaning that it loads correctly and is easy to use on any device) will increase dwell time, which is the number of seconds users spend on your site. Greater dwell time informs Google that your website is useful, user-friendly and worth suggesting as a search result. Another contributing factor is the speed and load time of your website — the slower it is, the worse for SEO.
Some Do’s and Don’ts
- Write and distribute content that’s relevant to your target audience
- Add alt-text to your images with descriptive text containing relevant keywords
- Incorporate links to other pages on your site within your content
- Link to external sources to give credit and build connections with reputable sites
- Write in complete sentences, and pay attention to spelling and grammar
- Use H1 and H2 tags (headers) in your content so search engines can easily identify the subject of each page
- Try to focus each page on a single topic that is clearly reflected in the page title
- Copying content from other sites without giving credit
- Masking one website as another using URL redirects
- Linking to irrelevant or untrustworthy websites
- Asking for backlinks from irrelevant or untrustworthy websites
- Hiding “invisible” text and keywords by making the text the same color as the background
- Emailing content to individuals who did not opt in to receive your emails (i.e., purchased lists)
If you build the right SEO habits, you’ll see the results. Improving your website’s SEO takes time, but it’s an important investment that will generate excellent returns in the long run.