Search Engine Optimization (SEO) involves dozens of activities aimed at improving the rank of a website in search engine results pages (SERPs) when a user performs an online search using particular keywords.
Select Browser. Find search box. Click. Type. Enter. Instantaneously, almost magically, a list of answers appears. I say almost magically because it’s not magic; it’s math. Search engines use complex algorithms to determine which websites will appear first, second, third… from any combination of words typed into a search box.
What is SEO?
When you perform a web search, Google or another search engine does three things: it reviews the billions of websites it has indexed, lists the most relevant results to the search terms and, lastly, ranks the results in order of popularity. “It is both relevance and popularity that the process of SEO is meant to influence,” according to Moz. SEO is an umbrella term for a range of web development, management and marketing activities aimed at improving rank.
The algorithms used are a trade secret; Google, Bing, Yahoo, and others, each have their own unique algorithm which is constantly being tweaked and updated and which is never divulged to the public. Analysts, however, closely monitor and experiment with online searches. Their work keeps us updated on important rank factors and how they can be influenced in order to increase the final outcome of the equation = SERP rank.
Why is SEO Important?
The future of business isn’t on the web, the present is. There are 6.5 billion web searches each day; Google alone processes 40,000 per second, totaling about 1.2 trillion per year. As you probably know from your own experience, however, not all search results are equal for users (i.e. potential new clients).
Websites in the 1st position of a Google SERP attract 30% of click-through traffic; 2nd gets about 18% and 3rd gets 12%; meaning that every other website in the hundreds of thousands of results related to those keywords isn’t even being seen by interested users.
Websites ranked at the top of the results not only attract most of the traffic, but customers also perceive the associated company as more reliable, trustworthy and valuable. Billions of people worldwide use searches and results drive an incalculable amount of traffic both online and off. This is why SEO is imperative today; it’s a marketing investment often delivering the highest return.
How to Optimize Your Company’s Website
The hundreds of variables that go into search engine algorithms are known as ranking factors; they include things like the quantity of external links, search matches to your domain or keywords, quality of content, as well as traffic and engagement.
The first step for any effective SEO strategy should be deep keyword research. Important questions to ask at this point are ‘What types of searches bring visitors to our site? What are our clients looking for?’
Analyzing industry trends, potential traffic and competition associated with particular keywords will help identify the best ones for your company’s website. The window of opportunity in any competitive industry lies at the intersection between high traffic generation and low competition. In general, using more specific keywords helps filter out competition and improve ranking.
These targeted keywords will become the foundation of your SEO strategy; they should be included (but not to a distracting or forced extent) in titles, blog tags, page content and within the structure of the website.
Website Structure & Coding
The work of indexing websites is not done by humans, but by search engine crawlers; these automated programs methodically browse the internet, following links and creating a map of all of the websites and pages online. Optimizing particular elements built into a site assists search engines in properly indexing it and understanding its content, essentially improving rank.
For example, proper use of heading tags and subheadings to make a clear hierarchy within each page helps crawlers understand the structure of the website. Keywords are fundamental here; the use of keywords in URLs and within headings highlights content to be indexed in terms of relevance. This ensures that users can find your website when searching for a related topic and using related keywords.
Another technical aspect of a website that can be modified to improve rank are the meta descriptions – the two lines of text below a website link on a SERP. For SEO purposes, these descriptions should be concise (only the first 150 characters will impact search results) keywords should be used near the beginning of this text, and they should be unique for each page.
Search engines love unique copy and rich information that is useful to users. Here are some practical tips to increasing ranking through web content:
- ensure content is closely related to keywords for that page and vice versa;
- put an original spin on web content, paraphrase and use citations for things like press releases, event details and company history rather than copy and paste;
- update content frequently so that it registers as a more active site; this applies to copy, as well as videos and images;
- include links; search engines heavily rely on the quantity, quality (relevance to content, reliability, rank) and appearance of keywords in links to determine rank;
- use words that are more likely to be found in search terms;
- cultivate rich, useful, original content with a blog to engage followers on social media and increase traffic to your website.
- consider multi-language versions of website and blog content if a large portion of clients are not native English speakers.
Analytics provide a good gauge for the quality of your web content; look at the number of shares and the bounce rate to see how much time users are spending with your content.
Activity & Engagement
Content that drives engagement – in terms of traffic, comments and shares on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. – also boosts ranking. Interesting information, insightful and even controversial blogs, fast-paced videos and vivid images are sure to reach a wider audience and increase visits to your website and social media pages.