What is SEO?
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is defined by author David Booth, as the “process of making improvements on and off your website in order to gain more exposure in search engine results. More exposure in search engine results will ultimately lead to more visitors finding you for the right reasons, and visiting your website”. SEO is essentially making your website the best it can be for your site visitors and search engines.
There are hundreds of contributing factors to Google algorithms (Google’s ranking formula that each search engine uses to determine the relevancy of their findings). As a result, SEO is an ongoing, adaptive process that involves a lot of work, a lot of patience, but produces great reward and long-term, sustainable value. With significant shifts over the past year alone, its important to have a good SEO strategy that is effective and adapts quickly to industry changes. Google keeps getting smarter, and technology continues to grow. This article provides core principles to SEO and a ton of useful resources to get you on the right track to an effective strategy in 2017.
What’s the Fundamental Approach to SEO?
With Google, Yahoo and BING being the most popular of search engines, SEO should entail every ongoing effort to improve your website’s placement (as it appears in search results). These efforts include:
- Keyword Research: Finding words and phrases relevant to your business in search
- On-page & Organic SEO: Good website content structure, title-tagging, URL rewriting, image ALT tags and various strategies
- Technical SEO: mobile-friendly websites, proper html markup, schema markup and site-speed
- Off-page & Local SEO: Link building, social media, directory submissions & online citations
- Content marketing: Market-relative content that is valuable and tailored to the needs of your audience that increases engagement and attracts more shares and links
Are keywords still relevant in 2017? This has been a common question among marketers and business owners seeking SEO. While much has changed over the years, the principle behind keywording in an SEO strategy remains relatively the same. Groups of words and phrases (search queries people will use to find info on your page) are still useful in helping prospects find your business. With keyword research and a competitive analysis, you can compile a list of effective keywords and phrases for your content strategy, while winnowing words not needed. Here are a few recommendations to get you started:
- Using keyword research tools such as SEMrush, Google keyword Planner and Keyword.io to find keywords that are relevant to your market and not super-competitive.
- Analyze your website and keyword performance using Google analytics. The importance of Google whipping up your web pages in search engine results when a user types in keywords related to your business and what you offer, is very obvious. However, rankings constantly fluctuate and are geo-targeted, personalized and will vary for different forms of your keywords. Through Google web analytics, many tools are available to track the performance of your site, measure search engine traffic and the behavior of your audience. You can find out what keywords are already generating traffic and sales and set goals to building additional content that improves the overall performance on your website and increases relative traffic and conversion rates. You can setup an analytics account by starting here »
- Focus on long tail keywords. Long tail keywords and key phrases are more specific and generally longer than more commonly searched keywords. While long tail keywords generate less traffic, they usually have a higher conversion value being more specific to a users search
In short keywords are relevant, but as Google becomes smarter and more sophisticated, the focus should be shifted to keywords relative to topics that are tailored to users engagement and experience. Understanding your audience, their needs and interests is an important part of good keyword research and SEO strategy.
On-page SEO optimizes your websites individual pages by implementing best practice in an effort to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines. On-page SEO includes both website content as well any HTML source code. Consider the following list of items in your on-page evaluation and strategy:
- Content optimization: In the world of SEO, there’s a phrase that states that “Content Is King”… to gain advantage in a competitive marketplace, you have to go beyond the products and services by offering informative, interesting website content that speaks to your audience. Your website should provide answers to questions commonly asked by your target market.
- Website accessibility and architecture: Your website’s architecture and how pages are linked together tells people, as well as search engines, what’s important and what isn’t. Lots of factors are determined when building a website with architecture that is friendly to users and to Google search engines. Consider your value propositions when structuring links to main categories and sub-categories of content within your website’s architecture.
- On-site best practice includes URLs that are friendly to Google search and include keywords (without keyword bombing your URL), keyword phrase-to-page mapping, HTML Tagging such as title tags, meta descriptions, proper usage of header tags, anchor texts and ALT tags for images.
- Internal link building strategy: Link building within your core content structure is essential for accessibility and allows users (and search engines) to navigate easily on your website, it also helps search engines establish hierarchy of content, and helps spread ‘link juice’ for ranking power for your website.
- A mobile-friendly website: With the explosion of mobile technology, Google released a mobile-first index in 2017 which creates and ranks search listings based on the mobile version of website content shown to desktop users. Google is using the mobile version of the web as their primary search engine index. It’s obviously imperative having a mobile-responsive website in 2017
- Proper content structure: Avoid errors within your markup and use structured data that is compliant to Google. Implement correct header (h1, h2, h3…) tags within your content structure. Identify duplicate content and crawl errors where Google is finding 404 pages. Also ensure that any resources search engines need to render your pages are not being blocked. One of the best resources for identifying these errors is Google Search Console. I recommend setting up an account if you don’t have one.
- Schema markup is useful with helping search engines return more informative results for users, and is recommended. Schema is a type of microdata that helps search engines to parse and interpret data, making it an essential tool for your SEO strategy.
- Website speed and quick loading time: Your website needs to load quickly across all devices. According to Searchmetrics, the top-ranking pages loaded in an average of 1.16 seconds for desktops and 1.10 seconds for mobile. Pingdom is a reliable tool I like to use for testing site speed. Your website speed can be improved in a number of ways; image compression or serving your website’s static content across a content delivery network (CDN). A CDN (I like to use MaxCDN) essentially distributes site content based on the users geo-location which results in fast loading time.
Off-page SEO essentially describes it all. It refers to all activities such as link building and other external signals used to increase ranking and the visibility of your business in search engine results. Consider these key items when building an off-page strategy for SEO:
- Link Building Strategy: If content is king, then consider link building in an SEO strategy to be queen. Link building is essentially the backbone of how search engines work. By developing comprehensive high-quality content in multiple forms, you can develop high-quality links that are relevant to your business, making you the authoritative go-to-source for your targeted audience. There are many ways to develop inbound links – for example, guest blogging still remains an effective strategy. Be certain that your content is of high-quality, and that it’s shared among reputable resources that are seen as authoritative among users and Google search engines. Here are 20 SEO link building tips for 2017
- Social media marketing: Social media has become a great avenue for inbound traffic (drawing users to your website), and is a great way to reach and engage people by becoming participants in relevant communities and conversations. A good social media campaign can help to promote you, recommend you to others and play a key role in your inbound marketing strategy.
- Directory submissions and online citation: Localizing your business is a great way to improving online visibility. By submitting your business to reputable local directories such as Googly My Business (GMB), Yahoo, Yelp, etc. it will help establish presence. Citations (defined as mentions of your business name, address and other criteria) are key components to ranking algorithms, and helps to validate your business as part of a local community.
While I’ve previously mentioned content as part of on-page SEO, it’s important to emphasize creative content as an extremely valuable component to SEO. Without content, SEOs would have nothing to optimize for search engines. The key to effective content marketing is to develop valuable, and in most cases FREE comprehensive content that meets the needs of users. Content types can come in various formats that enhance your overall strategy: blog posts, short-form or long-form articles, photos and visual galleries, videos and more. Who your site searchers are, and what they’re trying to accomplish should help determine what format(s) your business uses to better reach your target audience and their influencers. When properly distributed within a good strategy, content marketing can gain traction through social shares, links and an increase in search rankings.
Hopefully this information is resourceful to you and helps to narrow the focus on what an SEO strategy can look like. If you have any questions, or are seeking additional online resources to get you started on your campaign, please feel free to contact me. I would love to discuss in further details.