This guide will be an introduction to and overview of search engine optimization (SEO), a hugely important tactic for driving traffic to your site.
In this guide you’ll learn:
- What is SEO & Why is it Important?
- SEO Keyword Research & Keyword Targeting Best Practices
- On-Page Optimization Best Practices
1. What is SEO & Why is it Important?
Search engine optimization is the process of optimizing web pages and their content to be easily discoverable by users searching for terms relevant to your website. The term SEO also describes the process of making web pages easier for search engine indexing software, known as “crawlers,” to find, scan, and index your site.
While the concept of SEO is relatively straightforward, many newcomers to SEO still have questions about the specifics, such as:
- How do you “optimize” for your site or your company’s site for search engines?
- How do you know how much time to spend on SEO?
- How can you differentiate “good” SEO advice from “bad” or harmful SEO advice?
Perhaps the most important aspect of search engine optimization is how you can actually leverage SEO to help drive more relevant traffic, leads, and sales for your business.
Why Should You Care About SEO?
Billions of searches are conducted online every single day. This means an immense amount of specific, high-intent traffic.
Many people search for specific products and services with the intent to pay for these things. These searches are known to have commercial intent, meaning they are clearly indicating with their search that they want to buy something you offer.
What Actually Works for Driving SEO Traffic from Search Engines?
It’s important to note that Google is responsible for the majority of the search engine traffic in the world. This may vary from one industry to another, but it’s likely that Google is the dominant player in the search results that your business or website would want to show up in, but the best practices outlined in this guide will help you to position your site and its content to rank in other search engines, as well.
Google’s algorithm is extremely complex, but at a high level:
- Google is looking for pages that contain high-quality, relevant information relevant to the searcher’s query.
- Google’s algorithm determines relevance by “crawling” (or reading) your website’s content and evaluating (algorithmically) whether that content is relevant to what the searcher is looking for, based on the keywords it contains and other factors (known as “ranking signals”).
- Google determines “quality” by a number of means, but a site’s link profile – the number and quality of other websites that link to a page and site as a whole – is among the most important.
Increasingly, additional ranking signals are being evaluated by Google’s algorithm to determine where a site will rank, such as:
- How people engage with a site (Do they find the information they need and remain on the site, or do they “bounce” back to the search page and click on another link? Or do they just ignore your listing in search results altogether and never click-through?)
- A site’s loading speed and “mobile friendliness”
- How much unique content a site has (versus “thin” or duplicated, low-value content)
There are hundreds of ranking factors that Google’s algorithm considers in response to searches, and Google is constantly updating and refining its process to ensure that it delivers the best possible user experience.
2. SEO Keyword Research & Keyword Targeting Best Practices
The first step in search engine optimization is to determine what you’re actually optimizing for. This means identifying terms people are searching for, also known as “keywords,” that you want your website to rank for in search engines like Google.
There are several key factors to take into account when determining the keywords you want to target on your site:
- Search Volume – The first factor to consider is how many people are actually searching for a given keyword. The more people there are searching for a keyword, the bigger the potential audience you stand to reach. Conversely, if no one is searching for a keyword, there is no audience available to find your content through search.
- Relevance – A term may be frequently searched for, but that does not necessarily mean that it is relevant to your prospects. Keyword relevance, or the connection between content on a site and the user’s search query, is a crucial ranking signal.
- Competition – Keywords with higher search volume can drive significant amounts of traffic, but competition for premium positioning in the search engine results pages can be intense.
3. On-Page Optimization for SEO
Once you have your keyword list, the next step is actually implementing your targeted keywords into your site’s content. Each page on your site should be targeting a core term, as well as a “basket” of related terms. In his overview of the perfectly optimized page, Rand Fishkin offers a nice visual of what a well (or perfectly) optimized page looks like:
While Google is working to better understand the actual meaning of a page and de-emphasizing (and even punishing) aggressive and manipulative use of keywords, including the term (and related terms) that you want to rank for in your pages is still valuable. And the single most impactful place you can put your keyword is your page’s title tag.
While the title tag is effectively your search listing’s headline, the meta description (another meta HTML element that can be updated in your site’s code, but isn’t seen on your actual page) is effectively your site’s additional ad copy. Google takes some liberties with what they display in search results, so your meta description may not always show, but if you have a compelling description of your page that would make folks searching likely to click, you can greatly increase traffic. (Remember: showing up in search results is just the first step! You still need to get searchers to come to your site, and then actually take the action you want.)
The actual content of your page itself is, of course, very important. Different types of pages will have different “jobs” – your cornerstone content asset that you want lots of folks to link to needs to be very different than your support content that you want to make sure your users find and get an answer from quickly. That said, Google has been increasingly favoring certain types of content, and as you build out any of the pages on your site, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Thick & Unique Content
How you mark up your images can impact not only the way that search engines perceive your page, but also how much search traffic from image search your site generates. An alt attribute is an HTML element that allows you to provide alternative information for an image if a user can’t view it. Your images may break over time (files get deleted, users have difficulty connecting to your site, etc.) so having a useful description of the image can be helpful from an overall usability perspective. This also gives you another opportunity – outside of your content – to help search engines understand what your page is about.
Your site’s URL structure can be important both from a tracking perspective (you can more easily segment data in reports using a segmented, logical URL structure), and a shareability standpoint (shorter, descriptive URLs are easier to copy and paste and tend to get mistakenly cut off less frequently). Again: don’t work to cram in as many keywords as possible; create a short, descriptive URL.