Search Engine Optimization 101
What is Search Engine Optimization?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of increasing the quality and quantity of traffic to your website through organic search results, as opposed to other channels like direct, referral, and paid advertising. To do good SEO, it’s important to understand how search engines work.
Search engines are answer machines trying to return results that are useful to a user’s query. One of the biggest goals of your website should be to create useful, informational, keyword-rich content that ensures a quality experience for your target customers. In the vast majority of cases, what is good for SEO is also good for the customer experience.
When a search engine delivers a page of results to you, it can measure the success of the rankings by observing how you engage with those results. If you click the first link, then immediately hit the back button to try the second link, this indicates that you were not satisfied with the first result. Search engines seek the “long click,” where users click a result without immediately returning to the search page to try again.
How Do Search Engines Work?
The job of search engines is to provide the most relevant, high-quality results that will answer a search query as fast as possible. So how do they know which results to show? Crawling, indexing, and ranking are fundamental processes that dictate what content is eligible to appear in the search results and how high up it will appear. Recently, Google’s Martin Splitt gave a non-technical explanation of how they work.
It’s a simple analogy. Imagine a librarian has a new book that they need to put away. First, they need to learn what it’s about, what topics it relates to, and what other books it used as source material or references. The librarian is a crawler, or Google Search Bot, and the new book is a website or web page.
Next, the librarian has to figure out where to put this new book in the library. They must read the book, understand its content, relate it to other existing books, and then add it to the library’s catalog. The catalog is Google’s index, a huge database of web pages.
Building on Martin’s analogy, let’s say the new book is going to be reviewed to appear on a list of the best books about a certain topic. The reviewer’s process is the algorithm Google uses to hierarchically rank pages into a set of search results.
The link structure of the web serves as a proxy for votes and popularity; higher quality sites and information earn more links than their less useful, lower quality peers.
How People Interact with Search Engines
When you look at the billions and billions of queries that are typed into a search engine every day, they can be grouped into three general types of searches:
Do: transactional queries
Searching with the intent of buying something. Examples: “Plane ticket to NYC,” “Best laptop deals,” etc.
Know: informational queries
Searching to get information. Examples: “What is SEO?” “What’s the best restaurant in Utah?” etc.
Go: navigational queries
Going directly to a specific website. Examples: “google.com,” “huckabuy.com,” etc.
The primary responsibility of search engines is to serve relevant results to their users, so make your content relevant to users.
Why is SEO Important?
Here are just a few reasons:
- Most online traffic is driven through search engines.
- SEO can help you rank higher and drive more organic traffic to your website.
- More people click on organic search results than paid listings.
- Unlike other marketing channels, SEO efforts accrue over time and provide a phenomenal ROI.
How Does SEO Help My Business?
SEO offers a host of benefits to businesses of any size, in every industry, from local restaurants to B2B software giants. For businesses looking to be more visible in the search results, drive more conversions, and inspire brand loyalty, SEO can help. Here’s how:
Get to page one
- The majority of searchers never venture beyond the first page of search results. Page one means more traffic, more clicks to your website, and greater searchability and findability. When done right, SEO has the power to move you up the SERPs (search engine result pages) and get your website in front of your target audience.
Build credibility and trust
- SEO fundamentals (which we will explore in the next section) like quality backlinks, well-written content, and user-friendly web design all contribute to building trust with your target audience. When you rank organically, people are more likely to see you as an authority who earned the top spot, instead of paying for it. They know that when they interact with your brand, they will have a good experience.
SEO converts better
- People trust organic listings more than paid listings. And organic search generates qualified users — people who specifically searched for your product/service, rather than happening upon it through advertisements. Qualified users turn into better leads for your business.
What’s good for SEO is good for users
- Search engines are designed to help people, whether that’s answering their questions or helping them make a new purchase. So anything you do to help search engines do their job will ultimately help users. This includes all the technical, behind-the-scenes aspects of SEO, like communicating with search bots via structured data, that are geared more towards search engines than to users.
SEO offers the best ROI
- The benefits of paid search (PPC) disappear the second you stop paying for clicks. But with SEO, the market research and best practices you put into place now will help you grow exponentially over the long haul. This makes SEO the most profitable and sustainable tactic for long-term growth. Think of SEO as an investment. Good SEO takes time to build, and you won’t see business results overnight. But put in six months of hard work and good strategy, and you’ll see that work pay off.
SEO prepares you for the future
- You want to use your budget for marketing tactics that work now and later. SEO helps you stay ahead of the competition and be prepared for whatever comes next, like voice search and digital assistants.
Optimize for local search
- With highly specific search queries, such as “best Thai food near me” or “vintage stores in Salt Lake City,” users are looking for products and services near them. Local SEO fundamentals like Google My Business and structured data for things like ratings/reviews and contact information are key in gaining visibility and new customers.
Billions of people are making billions of queries each day on search engines, 85% of clicks go towards organic results, and Google is driving hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue for over 1.5 million US businesses. SEO is only gaining more importance for marketers in virtually every industry from companies of all shapes and sizes. If you are in business, chances are, your customers are searching for related products and services and starting and finishing their associated buying journeys here. All of the research bears this out. What are you waiting for?
10 Steps to Building an SEO-Friendly Website
New to SEO? That’s okay. In this guide, we will walk through the process for determining keywords, URLs, title tags, meta descriptions, adding structured data, creating good content, mapping out internal links, acquiring external links, and generating calls to action.
Search engines measure how keywords are used on pages to help determine the relevance of a particular piece of content to a query. One of the best ways to optimize a page’s rankings is to ensure that the keywords you want to rank for are prominently used in titles, text, and metadata.
Generally speaking, as you make your keywords more specific, you narrow the competition for search results, and improve your chances of achieving a higher ranking.
Since the dawn of online search, folks have abused keywords in a misguided effort to manipulate search engines. This involves “stuffing” keywords into text, URLs, meta tags, and links. Unfortunately, this tactic almost always does more harm than good for your site; in fact this practice will directly lead to your site being penalized in search rankings.
The point of using keywords is not to rank highly for all keywords, but to rank highly for the keywords that people are searching for when they want what your site provides.
Step 1: Determine Site Architecture
- Site architecture refers to the website style chosen to help users and Search Bots navigate across pages and find the information they are looking for as effortlessly and quickly as possible. For your site architecture, deploy a “demand-centered” navigation strategy in which you embed priority keywords in the header navigation and in titles across supporting pages. This shows Google your identity and matches the language and pattern of a target customer’s buying journey.
Include the terms that your target market is searching for in your header navigation.Geoff Atkinson
Step 2: Choose Target Keyword
- A keyword is a search term that customers use in Google. For the theme of your page, choose a keyword that has high search volume and low difficulty to achieve a higher ranking and reach more qualified audiences faster. Make sure the keyword is clustered with related, longer-tail keywords in content aligned with a specific stage in the customer journey. Long-tail keywords often convert better because they catch people later in the buying cycle.
- When choosing your target keywords and keyword phrases, remember that the goal is to drive the right visitors from the right search terms to your site. Ask yourself if the target keyword relevant to your page’s content, whether searchers will find what they are looking for when they click through, and if the traffic results in financial rewards or other organizational goals.
- It is equally important to understand the work required to achieve a high ranking in addition to the search volume for the term. This is referred to as keyword difficulty. If big brands take the top 10 results, for example, the uphill battle can take years of effort. Generally speaking, as you target more specific keywords, you narrow the competition for search results and improve the chances of a higher ranking.
One of the first steps in any good SEO strategy is creating a list of the keywords you want to go after.Geoff Atkinson
Step 3: Include Target Keyword in URL
When Google’s Search Bots hit a given page, you want to ensure that they can easily understand what it’s all about.Geoff Atkinson
- The URL is the address of your website. Include your target keyword in the URL for the page. URLs play a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm because they help users and Search Bots determine the theme of a page faster.
- The best URLs are readable for humans without a lot of numbers, special characters, or symbols. They use hyphens, not underscores, to separate words. And they aren’t too long either. Shorter URLs, for example, are easier to copy and paste into emails, blogs, and texts which makes them more useful and visible.
Step 4: Include Target Keyword in Title Tag
- The title tag is the clickable headline above the URL on a search results page. Like URLs, title tags play a ranking factor because they help users and Search Bots determine page themes faster.
- Create a 65-75 character title tag that includes and briefly describes your target keyword. The closer to the start of your title tag the keyword, the more likely users are to click-through to the website. Include brand terms as well.
Step 5: Summarize Target Keyword in Meta Description
- The meta description appears between the title tag and the URL on search result pages and summarizes the content on your web page. Create a 150-160 character meta description that provides an in-depth description of your keyword for that page. A good meta description stands out on search result pages and improves click-through rates.
Step 6: Add Structured Data to Page
- Structured data is the language that tells Search Bots what your page is all about. Research all the applicable markup types for your keyword and add them to the web page accordingly. Structured data qualifies your content for over 30 different types of rich results, also known as rich snippets, in SERPs that improve visibility and engagement with your links.
Step 7: Style Content According to Search Intent
- Study the search intent and content style for your target keyword on the first search results page. Craft your own content in a similar fashion and add additional, new value. Make sure it addresses the problems that need to be solved and is written in the same language and tone as the customers you are hoping to convert. Think, for example, whether the user is expecting to satisfy an informational, transactional, or navigational query. Optimized content is one of the biggest ranking factors in Google’s search algorithm.
- There are various signals for high-quality content, many of which are reliant on engagement metrics. For example, when a search engine delivers a results page, it can measure the success of rankings by observing how users engage with those results. Specifically, they are looking for evidence of what is called the “long click” where users click into a result without immediately returning to a search page to try again.
Step 8: Include Internal Links
- Internal links point from one page to another on your website. They help Search Bots crawl faster and visitors access the content in as few steps as possible. Including breadcrumbs, header navigation, and links to supporting pages in your content is a recommended best practice.
Step 9: Acquire External Links
- External links are endorsements of your content from other websites. Links from guest posts and podcast interviews are good examples. Focus on creating superior content compared to competitors and acquiring external links from websites that are relevant to your keyword and the overall theme of your website. Like content, external links are a critical ranking factor in Google’s search algorithm.
- In terms of link acquisition, the two most recognizable methods are natural editorial links and manual outreach links. The former approach is simply reliant on creating high-quality, link-able content, while the latter approach is more arduous and based on submitting a value proposition to another web host.
- Since the late 1990s, search engines have treated links as votes for popularity and importance. Consistently growing the link profile of a website remains critical to gaining traction, attention, and traffic from search engines. It is one of the top tasks for SEOs.
- We encourage maintaining a consistent link-building strategy to achieve “fresh rank,” sourcing from other sites relevant to your topic or industry to achieve “local popularity,” and leveraging highly-trusted domains like universities, government websites, and nonprofit organizations.
Step 10: Write A Call to Action
I don’t like content for content’s sake. I’m not a fan of blogs either. I prefer integrating content onto core pages that convert.Geoff Atkinson
- A call to action motivates website visitors to take steps towards becoming customers. Ask yourself what you want the typical visitor to do after engaging with your content and include that request accordingly. Pages should be built with a funnel stage and type of conversion in mind.
- People aren’t just using the internet to learn. They are using the internet to buy. So, you need to integrate your content on core pages that actually sell your products and services because if your target market is searching for these things, they likely have the intention of purchasing. Alternatively, it’s much harder to move a customer from a supporting blog page onto a product or service page thereafter.
So there you have it – the basics of a sound page by page SEO strategy. This a proven method to build pages that capture more qualified leads surfing the web and drive more revenue for your business.