Definition: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) describes the tactical and strategic efforts to maximize a website’s placement in search engine results. SEO depends on (among other factors): on-page HTML structure, website architecture, page content and keyword usage, inbound links, and a domain’s collective content.
An oft-misunderstood practice, effective SEO involves much more than simply including the right keywords on a page. SEO touches on every part of a website, making a basic understanding of SEO best practices important for everyone who works on the user-facing portion of an online business.
Search Engines and Ranking
To understand why best practices are the way they are, it’s important to understand the search engines they’re trying to please. Search engines deploy bots (commonly referred to as “spiders”) that crawl websites and index their content.
Website architecture is a critical component of SEO because it lays the path for search engines to crawl a site’s various pages. If important sections of your website aren’t easy to find, a spider won’t crawl it and assumes it isn’t important.
When web users type a query into the search bar and hit enter, Google instantaneously scans its index and returns what it deems to be the most relevant results. Rankings are determined by search algorithms that take many factors into consideration. Google uses over 200 signals to determine its rankings, and a simple way to categorize these signals is on-page and off-page.
On-page SEO comprises most work that’s done to optimize for search engines. Important elements include:
Keywords: Every page has an objective, and using a primary keyword conveys a page’s purpose to search engines. For example, a product page for KitchenAid blenders should include some variation of the keyword “KitchenAid [model] blender” in the important HTML elements that follow.
Title Tags: The title tag appears in the SERP (search engine results page) and browser tab, and is widely considered among the most important SEO ranking factors. Title tags should include the primary keyword and brand name, usually separated by a pipe, colon, or comma.
Header tags: Most web pages are divided into sections, and header tags are used to label these. The <h1> tag should always include the primary keyword, with following header tags including the keyword where appropriate.
Body content: Pages should contain the primary keyword and have at least 300 words of text. Anything less puts them in danger of falling under Google’s “thin content” penalty, mandated by the Panda algorithm update.
Internal Linking: Universal navigation bars ensure that the important sections of your website are always accessible to users and search engines, no matter what page they’re on. It’s also recommended to link to relevant sections of a website when they’re mentioned within the body content.
What to look out for
- Blocking search engines: Noindex tags and robots.txt files tell search engines not to crawl a page. These tags are often implemented in a staging environment and, when not removed, will cause a page to go uncrawled by Google and other search engines.
- Duplicate content: It’s tempting to use manufacturer product descriptions, but these can be crippling to a product page’s organic ranking potential. Google penalizes webpages that borrows some or all of its page content from another webpage – whether on the same or another domain.
Off-page SEO refers to the ranking factors that don’t involve the content or structure of the page in question. While
Backlinks: Search engines view backlinks as “votes” of popularity, and these have historically been a highly-weighted ranking factor. All links do not carry equal value: links from “authoritative” domains are much more valuable than those from less-established websites. The original algorithm to weigh the aggregate value of a website’s inbound links was called PageRank, named after Google’s co-founder and CEO Larry Page.
Social Media: As social media use quickly took over the web, search engines took notice, incorporating a URLs presence on social media into their ranking algorithms. If a promotion or sale page is highly shared, it positively affects its search engine rankings.
What to look out for
- Unnatural links: The significant impact of backlinks on organic ranking spawned a sub-culture of manipulative link exchanges and paid placements. Algorithms have gotten increasingly better at identifying what they deem to be “unnatural” links, and websites can be heavily penalized for too many links that appear to be exploiting search engines.
5 Reasons Why SEO Is Important For Small Businesses
Why should you as a small business owner be concerned about search engine optimization (SEO)?
- Because you want to provide visitors to your website with such a fantastic user experience that they will tell others
- Because you want to provide search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo critical information so they will place your site in the top 5 spots on the returns page
The job of a search engine is to take the information typed in by the user and locate the most relevant websites using those keywords. Simply put, if you are not engaging in SEO, you are not on that first page of results – the other guy is! By investing in search engine marketing, you are staying competitive with those other guys while giving your brand name exposure 24 hours, 7 days a week and are sure to gain new customers – even while you sleep. Let’s take a look at what a good SEO service can do for you while you take a snooze…
5 Reasons to Invest in SEO Marketing
1. Optimal User Experience
SEO is ultimately about providing the user with the friendliest, fastest, best experience possible. A search engine wants to provide the user with what they are looking for, and when it can do that, both parties are happy. A happy visitor will become a returning visitor.
2. Optimal Reach
People unconsciously trust search engine results. If Google places Dave’s Donuts in the top spot of a search, then it must have earned that place and it must be good. User then tells all his friends on Facebook and Twitter that he’s going to Dave’s and he invites them, leaving the link for them to click as well. The laws of multiplication can work pretty fast, and before you know it, a dozen hungry teens show up at Dave’s Donuts! Why? Because the search engine matched everything perfectly, and it all pointed to Dave’s.
3. Optimal Potential for Conversion
Internet marketing, including SEO, attracts people who are already looking for your product or service. You don’t have to scream, dance, or wear cool clothes to gain an audience; they are already convinced of their need which is why they went searching in the first place. No bold print ad placed front and center on the magazine page is required. You just have to present yourself in one of those top 5 results and – voila! They were looking for you and you showed up right on time! You still have to convince them that you are the better company to purchase from, but half the battle is over. Once they come to your website, if you have invested the same tedious work to optimize the user’s experience with you by providing the content they seek, then you are well on your way to gaining a new customer.
4. Optimal Exposure for Brand Awareness
As stated in point #2, people unconsciously trust search engine results. If Dave’s Donuts is #1, then Dave’s serves the best donuts. But most users do not just run over to Dave’s the next hour and buy a dozen donuts (unless they are local teenagers)! They do, however, file it somewhere or bookmark it. They go clicking around the world numerous times before making a final decision. If your website is employing top notch SEO services, how often might that user come across your company name while conducting his search? What if your company came up 3 of the 5 times they searched for that desired product? Next thing you know, they have clicked through to your website.
5. Optimal Insight into Your Customers
If your website is properly optimized, it will increase your search engine visibility, usability, and credibility, all of which increase traffic to your site. Now that you are enjoying higher numbers of visitors, Google Analytics (which every website should have set up) can track valuable information about your visitors. Find out what browser they use, what key words, the technology they use, their geographical location, the days and times they are most active, how much time they spent on a page…on and on. This information will help you discover your target market, hone your advertising, and determine strategies based on facts rather than just educated guesses. The better you know your customers, the better product or service you can provide, the higher the ROI.
Search engine optimization is no longer an option for businesses that want to be competitive, grow, and see returns on investment. But it is only one piece of the puzzle. If your website does not contain viable content, then no matter how much money or time you spend on SEO, it is wasted. Content will always be king. But when used in conjunction with other important marketing tools, SEO will provide visibility, traffic, credibility, branding and help you gain valuable insight into customer behavior.
It IS possible be on the first page of Google. Business Marketing Engine can remove the roadblock which is preventing you from sitting in one of those cherished top 5 spots. Their SEO experts can analyze your website and provide a full report of where you stand, make recommendations, and implement them. Get noticed. Get visitors. Get sales!